Girl with guitar 

Samantha Fish grapples with genre and gender issues

Early in Samantha Fish's career, the Kansas City blues phenom was presented with an opportunity that challenged her youthful idealism. Her friendship with artist/producer Mike Zito presented an opportunity to join Cassie Taylor and Dani Wilde for a 2011 album and European blues revue, both somewhat unfortunately named Girls With Guitars.

"You worry more what people think of you when you're younger," she says of her 21-year-old self, "but I was really worried about not being taken seriously, going out on a tour that everyone would call a shtick and gimmick. I was just worried they were going to have us prancing around onstage in God knows what. 'Here's a bikini and a guitar. We'll throw some oil on you and shove you out onstage.'"

Thankfully, it turned out nothing like that. And since the German label producing the album also encouraged her to record her solo debut — so she'd have something to sell on the road — she suddenly found herself with two albums and a sold-out European tour.

That debut, 2011's Runaway, won a coveted Blues Music Award for Best New Artist Debut, and she followed with 2013's Black Wind Howlin', both produced (like Girls With Guitars) by Zito. With each album, she's broadened her range and expanded her sound to incorporate more roots, country and Americana.

That trajectory has come to rest in the fertile foothills of North Mississippi, where she met up with Luther Dickinson to record her third album, tentatively titled Wild Heart. She'd become more and more intrigued by the rhythmic hill country sound made by artists like R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. It began with an appearance at the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas, and grew from there.

"I started hearing all these cool lower tones and deep bass grooves; I started out as a drummer, so go figure I'd be attracted to that," she says. "It's really almost trance-y stuff that just hangs on one chord. I really got into that, and I started researching it."

Fish recorded with Dickinson on bass and drummer Brady Blades (Dave Matthews, Steve Earle) at Blades' Shreveport studio. She also did a second, shorter session at Dickinson's Zebra Ranch studios, in sort of a jug band vein. It was all recorded in three days.

"It was like I just played the riff for them and then they'd figure out a part," she says. "Nothing felt out of place, so we knocked it out a few times. It was a very fast and loose record. It was all very raw. There's not a whole shit-ton of polish."

They finished up by going to Memphis' famed Royal Studios to record some female background singers.

"It was such a girl power thing, just having all these girls' voices on it," she says. "There's something edgy about it."

Ultimately, Fish isn't all that concerned with adhering to any one genre.

"You have to be true to yourself and honest about who you are. Because if you can't feel what you're doing, nobody else is going to."

Samantha Fish "Lay It Down" from Mark Bergeron on Vimeo.


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