Kansas City native Samantha Fish said her hometown was a great playground for learning her craft.
“There’s such a steep tradition there. It’s a great jazz and blues town, and a jam scene,” said Fish. “You could go out every night and play with some incredible, top-notch blues players.”
Access on almost a daily basis to those players, as well as nationally renowned clubs including Knuckleheads that would book national acts on a regular basis, was an inspiration to Fish.
“I would soak up that live blues experience up close. That experience was formative for me,” said Fish. “I saw Michael Burks and Tab Benoit … there was a lot of country and rockabilly and Americana as well as blues stuff. It’s kind of a well-rounded honky-tonk.”
Fish now lives in another of America’s music rich cities: New Orleans. She said the move was a business decision as most of her band is from the Crescent City. But palm trees and that city’s music legacy are nice perks.
“Just to come home and be inspired by things off the road … I’ve been drawn to this place for about five years now,” said Fish.
That is … when she gets home, as she spends much of the year touring.
“When I come home there’s a lot of opportunity to record and write,” said Fish. “And also experience live music pretty much on a daily basis. If you want to go out and get inspired, you can do it that way, but just taking in the scenery of the city is pretty inspiring in itself.”
Fish mashed a New Orleans horn section with the Detroit R&B sound on her early 2017 release “Chills and Fever.”
“So the horns have been part of the band for over a year now,” said Fish.
Any way to add a second line?
“I have my pads I work through. We’re kind of in the rock and roll/Americana/soul blues category. I don’t know how much second line can pop in there, but I’m sure certain aspects of New Orleans are going to rub off on the music in some ways,” said Fish.
Critics have been hip to Fish’s blues guitar since her 2011 debut, so the R&B left turn of “Chills & Fever” and now right turn on her “Belle of the West” album is keeping her fans guessing. She said that musical shape-shifting is more for artistic than financial reasons, though one would understand the financial decision in the low money world of blues music.
“It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. But when you talk about economic decisions, the trio was that when I first started,” said Fish.
Less side-players means more money at the end of a night.
“Keeping small is the best way to start on the road. After the ‘Wild Heart’ album came out, it just felt like time,” said Fish of the 2015 blues-rock album. “It felt like time, I always wanted to expand. Things were growing and moving in a positive direction, so it was the right time to do that.”
The Americana sound of “Belle of the West” extends all the way to country with the Jimbo Mathus authored title track.
“He brought it to the recording session and said, ‘I think this one is perfect for you.’ It ended up being the title track because I think it spoke volumes to what the album is,” said Fish.
“Belle” also includes covers of Mississippi hill country legend R.L. Burnside and young country artist Lillie Mae, but the rest are Fish originals. As a prolific songwriter that spends much of her time on the road, Fish said avoiding writing about life on the road can be challenging.
“You know they say when you get stuck as a writer, just write about what you know,” said Fish. “And being on the road seems to be my whole world the last five years. But (the key) is trying to stay connected to stuff outside of life on the road.”
Samantha Fish returns to the Castle Theatre in Bloomington on Thursday, May 17. Bloomington's Old Smoke opens the show.
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