January 30, 2015, 8:15pm
Kansas City-based Samantha Fish has been on a major roll ever since she teamed up with Cassie Taylor and Dani Wilde on Ruf’s 2011 release, Girls with Guitars, and fueled by the trio’s Blues Caravan tour of Europe and the U.S., created an international buzz in the blues world. Later that same year she recorded Runaway, her solo debut on Ruf, which mixed gutsy riff-blues rockers like “Down In The Swamp” with the mellow small-hours jazz of “Feelin’ Alright,” while marinating her songwriting in the groove of the Rolling Stones and even tipping a hat to Heart.Read More
“It’s all the sounds I grew up with,” she explained at the time, “with my own spin.” Earlier this year Samantha joined labelmate Devon Allman for a sultry duet of the Tom Petty classic, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” that appeared on Devon’s Turquoise CD and accompanying video.
Hitting a receptive international blues and rock press, Runaway was hailed as a thrilling opening statement, earning a string of rave reviews and radio airplay, climaxed by her winning the Blues Music Award (BMA) for “Best New Artist Debut” in 2012. “I’m truly humbled by the recognition,” Samantha said afterward. “I can barely wait to make record number two…”
Now, the wait is over, as Samantha Fish unleashes a major storm of her trademark guitar work and soulful vocals on Black Wind Howlin’. “It has a rebellious streak,” says the bandleader of her game-changing new album, “and a prevalent theme is, ‘I’m not gonna take your sh*t anymore…’”
No “sophomore slump” here, as Black Wind Howlin’ leaps from the speakers with 12 smoking tracks that chart Samantha’s evolution as songwriter, gunslinger and lyricist. “Since completing Runaway back in 2011, I’ve been on tour pretty much non-stop,” she proclaims. “I’ve spent a lot of time writing, playing and listening to music. I feel like the themes and the sound of my music have matured. To me, it’s about the human experience from my perspective, as well as people I’ve come into contact with over the last few years.”
Rather than trying to duplicate what she accomplished on her first success, Samantha re-defines her sound throughout the tracks on Black Wind Howlin’. She can be brutally rocking on cuts like the tour bus snapshot of “Miles To Go” (“Twelve hours to Reno/ten hours til the next show”), the swaggering “Sucker Born” (“Vegas left me weary, LA bled me dry/skating on fumes as I crossed the Nevada line…”) and the venomous “Go To Hell” (“Oh, this ain’t my first rodeo/You hit yourself a dead end/Your voodoo eyes, ain’t gonna cast a spell/So you can go to hell!”). “I’ve become tougher,” she notes of these head-banging moments, “and I think that was reflected in the sound we went for.”
And yet, elsewhere, backed by the versatile production of longtime collaborator Mike Zito, you’ll find Samantha shifting gears to the aching slide-guitar balladry of “Over You” (“Echoing words, said I’d never make it on my own…”) and the redemptive country song, “Last September” (“Don’t remember the curves of my face/Can’t feel the warmth in my embrace/Well I’m here to remind you…”).
She might stop off for a gritty cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talking,” and co-wrote “Go to Hell” with Zito, but all other tracks are Samantha’s self-penned originals, and it’s a mix that will keep listeners on their toes. “I wanted this record to have a modern rocking sound,” she explains of the album’s vibe. “I also wanted it to have elements of Americana, country and roots.”
For Samantha, the recording sessions proved just as rewarding as the writing “I had a dream team of musicians and special guests,” she recalls. “And Dockside Studios quickly became one of my favorite places on earth.”
It hasn’t been that long since a teenaged Samantha Fish first started showing up at her local Kansas City blues club, Knuckleheads Saloon, and began soaking up the sounds of visiting modern blues guitar masters like Mike Zito and Tab Benoit, then going back to ’80s heroes like Stevie Ray Vaughan and following the lineage to the pre-war Delta masters. “I fell in love with it,” she told Premier Guitar of her growing passion for the form, “and started doing my homework by listening to the old guys like Son House and Skip James.”
With those influences as her template, Samantha incorporated the sounds of the classic rock of The Rolling Stones and Tom Petty, alongside contemporary artists like Sheryl Crow and The Black Crowes, in putting together a sound that would become her own.
By the age of 18, Samantha had settled on a searing lead guitar style that expressed her own voice rather than mimicking clichéd blues licks note-for-note. She quickly broke into a dues-paying period on the Kansas City jam circuit: an apprenticeship at the sharp end that tightened her musical chops, polished her stagecraft and gave her the grit to overcome occasional skepticism about her age, hair tone and gender. “I always hated the idea of the gimmick,” she told Premier Guitar. “People come out just because you are a girl, but then you have so much more to prove once you get them in the door.” And Samantha has delivered on that promise, as evidenced by one listen to the new recording. “I really got to do exactly what I wanted to do on Black Wind Howlin’,” she says, “and I’m incredibly proud of it.”