Samantha Fish rolled with the hard rain and treated fans to a rare small bar room blues blast at last year’s Black Swamp Arts Festival. She will be returning this year as the headliner on the main stage on Friday at 8 p.m.
“I got my start in rooms about that size. I love that kind of spirit. There’s no greater feeling than making music,” Fish said. “Whether there are 50 people in a room or 5,000 people in a field, I want them all feeling the same kind of pumped up push.”
The award-winning blues guitar player, singer and songwriter was to play the main stage at the 2018 festival. When rain washed out many of the performances, she played her set at Howard’s Club H, to close out the weekend.
Fish has a new album, “Kill or be Kind,” coming out Sept. 20. The first single, “Bullet Proof,” has already been released. There are limited edition items already available that might be at the merchandise table at the arts festival. This is her debut on the Rounder Records label.
Fish is known for her burning guitar solos. More than that, she is also a master with a cigar box guitar, which she uses on several songs. At last year’s show she also played a kerosene can guitar, built out like the cigar box.
“It kind of makes a big cameo in my show. That (cigar box) guitar has a really particular tone and it’s very aggressive. It’s got a real raw kind of a quality to it. Yeah, so I just use it for all kinds of different tones,” Fish said. “And then in the studio, I’ve got all my other guitars that I apply. If I’ve gotta have a jaguar tone or my side-12 sound on this, so it’s just applicable by song, by song. But it definitely has its own personality, that I kind of think attributes itself more to the delta, kind of Fat Possum, North Mississippi sound, which I was a huge fan of coming up.”
Fish started out playing small bar gigs in Kansas City, with a regular show at Knuckleheads. It was a time she remembers fondly.
“There’s a really appreciative music community in Kansas City,” Fish said. “I got to meet a lot of people from all over the world. It sort of helped me branch out and start touring. You start cultivating these relationships with people. They’re the ones you start to work together with. It’s where I met my first producer for my first album. It’s sort of one foot in front of another.”
One of those people was blues legend Buddy Guy, who she was able to sit in with early in her career. She has since played with him again, in June, on Guy’s most recent tour.
“I was already playing at that point, but it was a huge deal for me, being that he was such a, you know, legendary figure, inspiration and just a huge part of this blues world. He really is one of the last remaining legends. It puts you in awe to be able to watch him, let alone sit in with him,” Fish said.
She is a serious fan of a wide range of blues. Fans who were at that Howard’s show will recognize a little of the fuzzed-out punk influence she picked up working on the “Chills & Fever” album in Detroit, with members of the Detroit Cobras. Also, during 2017, she came out with “Belle of the West,” on which she worked with the North Mississippi Allstars’ Luther Dickinson.
She’s a big fan of that driving North Mississippi beat.
“I didn’t grow up in that environment. I can really just sort of nuance it a little bit in my music and pay homage to it. I’m really just a super fan of that style,” Fish said.
“There are people who have come up from that area, who grew up playing that style, guys like Cedric Burnside’s coming to mind. Like that sound is completely coming out of him naturally,” she said. “I’m just a huge fan of R.L. (Burnside), Junior Kimbrough and Cedelle Davis. I try to reference it at least once an album. Those are the dance songs that make people move. There’s something so natural about that groove and that tone on that guitar (the cigar box) just lends itself to it.”
Like last year’s show, she has taken both a fiddle player and a horn section on the road.
Fish tries to cultivate a party atmosphere and get a mix of her music in her live shows, from her burning ballads to the guitar solos that highlight how her fingers will fly on that fret board.
“The creative process changes and it has to adapt,” said Fish, who likes to adopt a persona with a song. “Personas are an extension of who you are. You have to be larger than yourself.”