© 2023 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events. Made possible with support from PNC Financial Services.

Love Letters Tour brings blues luminary and roots rocker Samantha Fish back to Bloomington

A woman with platinum blonde pin-curled hair and red jumpsuit holds a white and black electric guitar
Daniel Sanda
courtesy Devious Planet PR
Samantha Fish returns to the Castle Theatre Oct. 10.

Blues rocker Samantha Fish has been a staple at the Castle Theatre since the very beginning of her career. Now based in New Orleans, this Kansas City native returns to Bloomington next week at the tail end of her solo “Love Letters Tour.”

“Love Letters” is a career retrospective — Fish’s first-ever tour not centered around an album release. She pulls from some of her earliest records as lead singer and guitarist in a female blues trio, through to her latest solo album, “Faster,” from 2021.

“I went through and picked my favorites,” Fish said in an interview for WGLT’s Sound Ideas. “I picked fan favorites — songs that I knew people really liked over the years — and tried to build a really well-rounded show around that, something that’s dynamic and exciting. I guess that’s just what you do.”

Since her debut 2009 album, “Live Bait,” Fish has worked at a staggering pace, producing 11 more records since. In that time, Fish has proven herself to be not just a prodigious blues singer and guitarist but one whose refined her unique sound pulling from rock and roll, Americana, country, soul and even pop music with every passing record. That can make Fish's music hard to categorize, but at the end of the day, it's all rooted in the blues.

“We consider electric Muddy Waters to be blues, but when he first started doing that, people were like, 'That's not it,'" Fish said. "We always look back at things later on and define them clearly. But you never really know how to define them in the moment."

Family matters

Fish honed her foundation growing up in a musical family, while soaking up Kansas City’s inimitable blues scene. Fish’s older sister, Amanda, is an artist in her own right; she's released three original albums exploring her distinct take blending blues, folk and roots rock.

They've never worked together.

“We started doing music around the same time,” Fish said. “I think because we were so close in age, it was like demanding autonomy. I wanted to be myself. So, I’d go lock myself in my room and play and sing, and she’d do the same thing.”

Despite best efforts to strike out on their own, both sisters wound up becoming musicians in similar genres.

“How did that happen? We tried so hard to stay away from each other.”

Fish said there’s a stereotype about musical families working together, with examples of that going well— and plenty more that went poorly.

“Once we do it, people aren’t going to let us not do it,” Fish said. “So, let’s hold off and make sure we charge so much money for it. We might kill each other in the process. Or we might fall in love with it—I don’t know!”

While Fish is dialed into her expansive catalog, she said the "Love Letters Tour" was a chance to see how her sound, songwriting and confidence have evolved.

“It’s funny living through some of the experiences I was writing about when I was really young,” she said. “Now I’ve got a different perspective on those songs. It’s kind of cool.”

Perspective isn’t the only shift.

“I listen back to those first few albums and I kind of hear somebody who’s not exactly sure what to do in the studio,” Fish said. “Now, the studio’s one of my favorite places to be because it’s such a creative sphere and you can really try things. You learn how to sing in a studio, too. It’s totally different than being on stage. It’s a little intimidating when you put those headphones on for the first time. You hear your voice really close. It’s exposing. You feel very vulnerable. Now, I’ve just leaned into it.”

If those first few albums sound tentative to Fish, to the average listener, she rightly earned her reputation as one of the country’s leading contemporary blues artists. Even Buddy Guy — arguably not an average listener — took notice too. Fish has played numerous times with the 87-year-old Chicago blues legend, including several dates opening for the “Buddy Guy Damn Right Farewell Tour” currently circulating the U.S.

“He’s the one artist that I’m not gonna miss a show,” she said, “because it’s different every night. I like playing guitar with him because he’s so conversational. He loves that — this little back and forth. When you really pay attention to what he’s playing and come up with a good response that is actually communicating back with him, he totally loves that. It’s so fun.”

Death Wish Blues

Last May, Fish released a revelatory new album, “Death Wish Blues,” with country rocker Jesse Dayton. On top of an already aggressive schedule on the road, Fish has been out touring with Dayton, too.

Dayton’s resume includes stints with Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, which can be heard in the Texas singer/songwriter and guitarist’s distinctive sound culled from his early days as in the metal scene — and later collaborations with filmmaker and heavy metal icon Rob Zombie.

“This album that we made together, it’s really special.” Fish said. She and Dayton agreed to keep their solo tours separate, so “Death Wish Blues” songs won’t be played until or unless they come back through town together.

“I felt like that was the best way to please our hardcore fans and keep the ‘Death Wish’ collaboration its own entity.”

Two greasers in leather jackets subtly smile toward the camera. One, a woman with platinum blonde curls, wears sunglasses, one hand across her chest foregrounding a man in shades, too.
Kaelan Barowsky
courtesy Devious Planet PR
Jesse Dayton and Samantha Fish's debut collaboration, "Death Wish Blues," came out in May.

Bringing these two artists together isn’t inherently intuitive. But in practice, it’s extraordinary. A fraction of that magic is Dayton and Fish’s rockabilly styles. Fish’s is a visage: a platinum blonde badass who really rocks—in stilettos.

“When I first came on the scene as a young girl, coming up with all these surly, older guys, they treated my femininity like a gimmick,” she said.

Chasing approval at first, Fish eventually settled on an authentic image.

“I got to this place where I was like, you know, I don’t care,” she said. “I am this person, and I think there are more women out there who can relate to me being who I am and who I want to be. It’s one of those things that’s getting better, but it’s still not totally fair. There’s less representation for women. I feel like I have to go out there and unapologetically be myself.”

Samantha Fish’s “Love Letters Tour” with opener Eric Johanson stops at the Castle Theatre, 209 E. Washington St., Tuesday, Oct. 10. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; music starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 at the door or online at thecastletheatre.com.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.
Related Content