Samantha Fish: Gravitas in A Young Woman

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It would be hyperbole to suggest Samantha Fish is as revolutionary to the genre of blues as Muddy Waters was when he emigrated to Chicago in the late 40s, plugged in at South Side bars and recorded at Chess Records with Willie Dixon tweaking his sound for the “race record market.” At the time the fan base was still mostly black with Pullman car porters selling their product on trains. That said, I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say Samantha Fish is way ahead of most contemporary blues performers in pushing the envelope of the genre. 

It’s not that unusual anymore for a young white woman to write, sing and play electric guitar in today’s blues world. It is an anomaly for a young white woman to present an attitude that borrows from early blues mamas like Bessie Smith while at the same time playing the guitar that accents that attitude with an edgy gusto. Her sound is matched by arrangements of melodies that are fresh and new, two words you don’t often hear in blues. The fact that each of her albums has presented a different facet of that talent is just icing on the cake. 

Bottom line is that she’s in it for the long run. She’s going to make that run on her own path unfazed by whatever is the “hip” thing to do at the moment. Said another way, like Neil Young, Johhny Cash and Ray Charles in their respective careers, nobody is going to put her in a box, and each new step forward defies one-word descriptions like Americana, fusion, or any other catchwords music journalists come up with at the moment. And each release finds her poking around in a different alley. 

Get over it, she says about people who female musicians in a box. “Society believes that men have roles, and women have roles and the only way to fucking (change) that is to have women go and fill these roles and for young girls to see that happen and realize I can do whatever I want in life. I don’t have to fit whatever molds society thinks whatever a woman should be. You can do whatever you want, and honestly, I found people really want the female perspective on songwriting. People want women producers. They want women sound engineers. They want female mentors.  

“The world is changing. It shouldn’t be about gender. I think one peeve about that, I’m constantly being compared in a lot of ways. A lot of contemporary women –can be compared to other guitar players for no other reason than you’re both women. You don’t sound anything alike. Our styles of music aren’t at all alike if you’re comparing two male guitar players of two completely different genres. So, because we’re women, we’re constantly compared, no matter what. So, I think my one pet peeve is alright, we have that in common, but you know something? Let’s get into the more heady shit like music.” 

She recorded her first album, Live Bait in 2009 at age 16. In 2013 she released her second major studio album, Black Wind Howlin’; appeared on The Healers Live at Knuckleheads Saloon, producing a CD/DVD collaboration with Jimmy Hall, Reese Wynans, Kate Moss, and Danielle and Kris Schnebelen (sister and brother, formerly of the band Trampled Under Foot) and appeared on Devon Allman’s album Turquoise in a duet covering the Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks’ song “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.”  

Her latest album is Faster on Rounder Records. “I feel like Faster is the next version of me. It’s the next evolution. I feel like it’s a natural one from where I was going with the record before. I felt I was working my way into a contemporary soundscape. I know sometimes some people say pop is a dirty word. I feel it’s a word for a lot of different styles of music, but as far as things go, I definitely wanted to make things that had that soft edge to it, still the stronghold of the blues but utilizing different instruments and electronic aspects of this music to kind of create this – I don’t know – modern-sounding thing.” 

Martin Kierszenbaum produced Faster. His pseudonym is Cherry Cherry Boom Boom. He holds a master’s degree in communications management from the University of Southern California and has written and produced for Lady Gaga. Sting and Madonna. 

When I asked her to compare Scott Billington who produced her last album Kill or Be Kind to Martin Kierszenaum, she asked why? 

I answered why not? 

“They’re both great producers. They’ve both done incredible things. Scott’s a Grammy winner, and I think Martin’s a Grammy winner. Everything’s got that validation. As far as like the technical aspect of it, Scott and I working together, I’d bring him songs. Really, he was looking for songs, and I would bring him songs. (First) I’d bring it to the band. Like I’d send it to the band basically just me on acoustic guitar and my vocals as a demo, and then we’d (scope) it out in the studio, and that’s how I’ve done all my records.” 

Billington’s credits include Gregg Allman, Bobby Rush, Ruth Brown, Solomon Burke and Irma Thomas. Kierszenaum is far less traditional. 

“I’ll be honest, the way we did this new record, I feel enlightened. Like, ok, my God, we just took all of the guesswork out of it. Martin likes to get the preproduction work out of the way. We went through the songs for months before we ever went into the studio just creating the vibes. We had a really intricate skeleton of the song before we walked into the studio, I guess. I’ve always felt this is more of a critique on me than any producer because this is just what I’ve gotta do.” 

Samantha Fish gives fans the truth of classic blues, the energy of rock and roll, and the fun of pop. And she’s in it for the long run. 

She plays Empire Live Tuesday, November 9. Doors at 7, show at 8.  River Kittens open. 

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