Telluride Blues & Brews: Samantha Fish

You find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair. People who haven’t red hair don’t know what trouble is,” said the heroine of Anne of Green Gables, the 1908 novel about a beguiling 11-year-old orphan.

“Once in his life, every man is entitled to fall madly in love with a gorgeous redhead,” quipped another gorgeous redhead, commedienne Lucille Ball.

 

A redhead who crushes a blues guitar is trouble for sure – but the good kind. And everyone in the crowd at Telluride Blues & Brews 2016 fell head over heels for one particular redhead in red heels named Samantha Fish. She gave us all, well, Chills & Fever – which happens to be the name of her latest release, a collection of retro-soul covers to which the lady applied her own flavors, accents and twists.

Chills & Fever features songs recorded in the 1960s and ’70s by Betty Harris, the Ronettes, Lulu, Bettye LaVette, Nina Simone, Ronnie Love and others. Composers include Allen Toussaint, Jackie DeShannon, Bert Berns and Jerry Ragovoy.

“I don’t think I ever enjoyed making a record quite as much as I enjoyed making this one,” Fish insists. “I love the sound of the brass and the edgier intensity. Channeling timeless artists who sang like their lives depended on it. To me, that’s what this music is all about.”

Samantha Fish returns to the 24th annual Telluride Blues & Brews Festival for an encore. Her sets are scheduled for Friday, September, 10 a.m. on the Blues Stage; Saturday, September 16, 4:30 p.m. on the Main Stage; Saturday, September 16, 10 p.m. at the Sheridan Opera House.

Expectations are high – though Fish has never been bound by any expectations whatsoever.

The ties that bind her are the things she sees when she looks into her rear view mirror. Whether it is a tropism for the blues or a passion for Americana that ignites some special fervor, the common bond is her reverence for the roots. Looking back towards an earlier template — no matter what the genre — underlines the driving idea that what came before is a stepping stone for what comes next – as evidenced in the music Fish has made throughout her rocketing career.

While she’s well known as a purveyor of blues, lauded by such legends as Buddy Guy, the Royal Southern Brotherhood and Luther Dickinson, Fish’s real love is simply raw, scrappy rock and roll.

“I grew up on it,” she insists. “Working with Luther on my last album further instilled that spirit in me. It made me realize just how much that basic, unfettered sound means to me, and how well it ties into soul music, R&B, country and so many other forms of music that are essential even today.”

In the end, Samantha Fish is all about remixing yesterday’s classics for maximum impact today.

“A fully-mature, nuanced singer, who has taken old gems and polished them to shimmering perfection,” sums up American Songwriter.

When Fish was growing up in Kansas City, a place with a storied history of jazz and blues, her father played many genres of music with his talented friends at the family home. Her mother sang in church. After Fish’s parents divorced, she and her father bonded over musical performances at Knuckleheads, an eclectic Kansas City music venue that presents blues, rock ’n’ roll, country, Americana, bluegrass and more.

Fish played drums in her early teens, but switched to guitar at 15. Singing and writing songs became her passion.

Still in her teens, Fish overcame her extreme shyness and joined Benoit, Zito and others on stage at Knuckleheads.

Zito became a mentor. In 2010, when Ruf Records needed a third female performer to join Cassie Taylor and Dani Wilde for the trio album Girls with Guitars, Zito recommended Fish. He also produced Girls with Guitars as well as Fish’s first solo album for Ruf, Runaway. In 2012, the album won Fish the Best New Artist Debut award at the Blues Music Awards in Memphis.

For years, Fish made a name for herself churning out no-nonsense blues and rock with a tightly honed guitar/bass/drum trio. But Chills & Fever introduced a larger ensemble and a more polished soul sound, a six-piece band which includes a keyboard player and two horns.

“Since the inception of the form, blues has been dominated by men. Fish’s remarkable vitality shows the historical bias is a musical misfortune. At just 28, Fish displays more imagination and creativity than some blues veterans exhibit over the courses of their careers,” raved the Kansas City Star 

“Chills & Fever finds her in cahoots with members of the Detroit Cobras, an elbows-up, fierce punk blues outfit that suits her insurgent proclivities and elevates her playing to the stratosphere. It will be a while before you cool off after her set,” commented Telluride Blues & Brews.

“Need a prescription for those Chills & Fever? We’ve got it, and her name is Samantha Fish,” Professor Johnny P.

In May, the singer-songwriter-guitarist moved to the Big Easy, where she has already made important Louisiana connections, including the Houma-based blues artist, Tab Benoit, (also scheduled at Telluride Blues & Brews 2017) and Rueben Williams, owner of the Larose-based Thunderbird Management, whose clients now include Fish, Benoit, Cyril Neville, Royal Southern Brotherhood, former RSB member Mike Zito, the Devon Allman Band and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux.

To learn more about Samantha Fish, listen to her podcast.

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Susan Viebrock

Susan Viebrock

Susan is Telluride Inside… and Out’s founder and editor-in-chief, the visionary on the team, in charge of content, concept and development. For 19+ years, Susan has covered Telluride’s cultural economy, which includes non-profits and special events. Much of her writing features high-profile individuals in the arts, entertainment, business, and politics. She is a former Citibank executive specializing in strategic planning and new business development, and a certified Viniyoga instructor.

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