Interview: Samantha Fish talks music and being a woman in music business
© Videotree, used with permission

Samantha Fish is an artist who is often judged by her youth and attractiveness instead of on the quality of her music. Most women in blues music often have the style and aesthetic of legends like Ma Rainey, Memphis Minnie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Big Mama Thornton, and later Ruth Brown.  Bonnie Raitt did her best to bring recognition to women in blues music with her revival of blues songs and her commanding slide guitar.

Fish is the new girl around changing those stereotypes in blues music with her lusty guitar licks and smashing vocals. Fish released two albums in 2017. Chills and Fever landed on New York Times list of best albums of 2017. Rolling Stone Magazine deemed Fish’s album, Belle of the West, as one of “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know.”  

AXS was able to catch up with Fish between dates on her very busy tour for an interview. Here are the highlights.

AXS: During the last year, we were able to catch your show in Tucson at 191 Toole and then at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Both were amazing shows and you seem to be very comfortable in two polar opposite venues. You have greater than 200,000 followers on Facebook.  How did that happen?

Samantha Fish: Jazz Fest was pretty amazing. I know they came out of nowhere over the last couple of years. When I started it sat around 30,000 followers for a long time. Then it started blowing up. It’s a blessing and I’m very thankful. It’s a difficult industry to get any kind of success and recognition. It seems to be the right time and right place. Hard work is a big part it

AXS: Your last album is called the Belle of the West and Rolling Stone called it a country album. How did that happen? There are a couple of songs that have a country flavor, but the album as a whole is blues and rock oriented. Your voice is more prominent on the album.

SF: Yes, isn’t that crazy? I have a lot of country fans and I feel like that is where that comes from. You are right both Belle of the West and Chills and Fever are my strongest vocal albums. Belle of the West was more songwriting and it got more recognition in the Americana circles because it was the songwriting. With Belle of the West and country, the sound comparison may have come from the fact that we went to Mississippi to record it and there’s a lot of North Mississippi influence to it. My favorite style of blues is North Mississippi blues.

Luther Dickinson was at the helm as producer. We recorded it a lot in that style of music. His father’s studio is actually down in Mississippi. It’s in Coldwater, Mississippi, south of Memphis. It’s pretty far out in the country. It’s sort of a pinpoint on the map. Recording the album was a unique experience and pretty unforgettable.

AXS: What is the most fun album you have recorded so far?

SF: Chills and Fever may be the most fun. We recorded it in the back of this motel that was kind of a rough track. We recorded it with members of the Detroit Cobras. There was this rock and roll, punk rock, Detroit feel, but we also brought in horns from New Orleans. The whole thing from top to bottom was such a fun concept. We lived in that world and really connect to it.   I felt very connected to it. Also with Belle of the West, living in country environment, I really got inspiration from that.

AXS: You had a song on Belle of the West called “Poor Black Mattie.” Who was singing on that song with you?

SF: The singer was Lightnin’ Malcolm. He’s a blues singer from the Tennessee and Mississippi area.

AXS: You had two album releases in 2017. That’s a lot of music for one year. Are you currently working on more new music?

SF: Yes we are. I’m looking to go into the studio in the fall and plan on releasing something in the spring of 2019. That’s the plan as of right now. I will write the majority of the songs with some co-writers. I’ve been working and collaborating a lot. We don’t know which songs will make it to the final record. It’s a little early yet. It’s going to be mostly original songs.

AXS: You’re on tour constantly. How do you find time to write?

SF: I’m trying to find any time I can right now that I’m available to write. It can be difficult to find time to write and maintain balance, but I love what I do and I’m dedicated to what I do.

AXS: Are you married?

SF: No, I’m not married.

AXS: So you have a little more time there.

SF: There you go. I ‘ve got to find time when I can.

AXS: Can you tell me more about your background and how you got into the blues?

SF: I grew up in Kansas and spent some time in Missouri as well. Kansas City is on the state line between the two states. I spent a lot of time there. I started playing guitar when I was 15. I put a band together when I was 19 years old. I started touring and played a lot of clubs locally in Kansas City.

My parents were both hobby musicians. My mother sang in church and my father played guitar with some of his friends.  

When I started playing I looked into who influenced my favorite musicians, classic rock stars basically. I looked at whom they listened to. Many of their influences were blues musicians. All modern music seems to have started with the blues.

Living in Kansas City helped because it’s such a blues and jazz town traditionally. There were always jams. I wanted to go out and play music live, I learned this style of music so I could be part of the jams. I think the final nail in the coffin was that I fell in love with the North Mississippi style and became a fan of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. It sort of married the rock music that I loved with a punk rock attitude and blues. It solidified it for me.

AXS: So, who or what inspires you the most?

SF: If I’m lucky, anything and everything. I try to keep an open mind. I get a lot of inspiration from other music, other art, and my family. There’s a long list of different styles of music. As far as guitarists go, I love the blues guitarists of course. As a kid, I loved Mike Campbell, the lead guitarist of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Angus Young, Albert King, and Robert Johnson. The list is huge.

AXS: Dead or alive, who would you like see perform?

SF: He recently passed, he was always on my list, but I would have liked to have seen Tom Petty. I was such a fan of his songwriting and the band as a whole is an example of an amazing band.

AXS: Dead or alive who would you like to meet?

SF: Keith Richards for sure would be my choice. But he’s pretty busy.

AXS: If you weren’t a musician what would you be?

SF: I think I would have gone into psychology or social work or something like that. I like helping people.

AXS: What music are you listening to in your car today?

SF: Today I’m listening to Jason Isbell I love his writing. He’s amazing.

AXS: What is the best advice you have ever gotten?

SF: To be yourself, unapologetically. I think when you are young, you are female, and you are being told what to do, it can be hard to know what you own compass is. You need to connect with that. Listen to yourself. Always checking in and make sure you are comfortable with things. I have to live with my art for the rest of my life. It’s important to just follow your gut.

AXS: You are in a business that is male-dominated. Does that ever cause problems for you?

SF: I always give the same answer to that because I think every business is male-dominated at this point. I think it is tough for any woman in the workforce. I don’t let that bother me. I think having the confidence to say what you want. I don’t worry too much about that.

AXS: If you had to live a year with only three albums, what would they be?

SF: Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones would be number one. I Am Shelby Lynne by Shelby Lynne would be another because I love her. I may not say that every day, but today I’m going to say it. She is an amazing writer. It was the first Americana record before Americana came into being. I guess you would call it alt-country.

AXS: What dream that you have that you would like to come true?

SF: I think I’m going to go practical and say that I want the next record to be bigger and better than the one before. I kind of dream of stuff that I can make happen. I kind of want to go into acting. That would be something I could go into. I think I might be terrible at it, but it’s something to consider. I’m too busy right now to do it.

For a look at her busy tour schedule, please click here.