Singer to perform Oct. 7 at Fallsview Casino
Preview by Joshua Maloni
You can’t blame Samantha Fish for mixing up her North American geography when, clearly, she was still on Cloud Nine.
Speaking to reporters on the heels of a performance at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in L.A., she inadvertently mixed-up Green Bay and the Buffalo area.
Of course, both are storied football towns, with blue collar workers, hardcore sports fans and lots of snow. Fish said she’s excited for upcoming concerts in both markets … but it’s tough to top a weekend like the one she had prior to this interview.
“I just had the best weekend; it was so great, honestly. It was really nice,” Fish said. “I’ve got to say this whole Crossroads thing was a bucket list for me because, I mean, I watched that DVD when I was a young teenager and it was like, ‘Wow.’ It just looked so special. And now getting to go there as a performer myself and do it, I can say it absolutely is completely special.”
Crossroads, of course, featured the iconic Clapton, as well as a spectacular list of musicians, including Joe Bonamassa, Gary Clark Jr., Sheryl Crow, H.E.R., Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, John Mayer, Santana and ZZ Top.
“I was honored to be part of it, honestly. It was really cool,” Fish said.
While her fans appreciate what they see on stage – be it in L.A., Green Bay or Buffalo – they recently had an opportunity to learn more about the time, effort and resolve Fish puts into her craft when she was featured in a documentary titled, “Love Letters.” The biopic showcased the rising singer/songwriter/guitarist’s beginnings in Kansas City, Missouri, where she started as a shy drummer, avoiding the family instrument of choice; her ascent into stardom, and recognition as one of the world’s top blues musicians; a relocation to New Orleans to further refine her sound; and a fascination with the unusual cigar box guitar.
In addition, Fish recently released “Death Wish Blues,” an album her team said, “captured her inner world through combustible riffs, visceral rhythms, and spine-tingling vocal work. … The record, a collaboration with outlaw country badass Jesse Dayton, was No. 1 on the Billboard blues chart for three consecutive weeks.”
She will bring elements of “Love Letters” and a big dose of “Death Wish Blues” to the Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, Ontario, when she opens for The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band inside the Avalon Theatre at 8 p.m. Oct. 7. Find ticket information here.
Fish shared more in this edited Q&A.
Q: So, you and I chatted a few years ago when you were out this way. And since then, I have certainly been listening to your music. I saw the documentary. I think the question I want to ask is are you now the best guitarist in your family?
Samantha Fish: I've never even thought of that. Never, actually. (Laughs) I don't know where everybody's at these days, as far as I haven't heard anybody play in a long time.
I guess we'd have to get together and have some kind of competition, which I'm not sure how you would quantify all that, or qualify these feats that we'd have to go through to see who's actually the best guitar player. But maybe at Thanksgiving this year, we'll set up some kind of guitar Olympics between me and my family.
Q: And how is your drumming?
Samantha Fish: It's terrible. It was serviceable back when I used to do it all the time. But if you put a pair of sticks in my hand and told me to play drums in front of my drummer, I'd be mortified.
Q: We talked last time and you kind of joked about the fact that you were ranked the No. 7 guitarist in the world. The fact that you kind of shied away from guitar, that you picked it up relatively quick, and you've had such success in such a short period of time, was it something that came to you naturally? Was it something that came to you easily? Were you good at guitar right from the get-go? What was the progression for you?
Samantha Fish: I don't think so. I mean, I think I just liked it; and I just kept playing it. Once I picked it up, it was like I didn't really put it down for several years. I just kind of wanted to know more and more and more and more, and I really just liked trying to pick out things that I heard on the radio or in my record collection. I just kind of had this excitement about learning how to do it.
It's hard for me to say if I was always a natural at it or not. I guess some people probably would say, just because from when I started playing professional, from when I picked it up, it was like, I don’t know, three or four years. I'm not saying I should have been a professional after three or four years (laughs). I forced myself to be one. But, you know, I've played a lot of shows, and I’ve put a lot of hours in. I don't know what the average rate is for people to learn how to play guitar, but I put a lot of hours, and I don't know if I picked it up faster than the average person or not. But I feel like I've worked a lot at it.
Q: So, we are right on the Canadian border and, obviously because of that, we get a lot of Canadian radio stations. We have a lot of Canadian bands that like to play in the Buffalo area. One of the bands that we like a lot out here is Our Lady Peace. Their lead singer, Raine Maida, does a lot of philanthropic work around Canada.
What always interests me is, when I see him on stage, he sort of becomes a different person. He's just this amazing rock star.
The reason why I bring this up with you is you’ve talked about being a shy kid, and I find that sort of hard to believe based on what I've seen of you on stage, and in interviews, and your music videos. What would you say happens – what is that change that takes place when you get that guitar in your hand and you get up on stage in front of a crowd?
Samantha Fish: Well, I mean, playing in your room or playing to just a couple of friends is way different than playing on a stage, you know? I feel like learning how to be an entertainer – there's just as big of a learning curve as learning how to be a musician and learning how to be a writer. You have to learn how to entertain an audience, because it's one thing to play your songs and to play them good or make them sound good. It's another thing to captivate an audience.
That's just, again, it's taken years and years of just trial and error. And for me, it's like I don't want to just be a guitar player, or be singer, this or that, or just one thing. I want to be a really well-rounded entertainer. Part of that is how can you captivate the audience, how can you hold their attention. I had to just come out of my shell, and it took some time, you know. It took time. And you have to want to do it. You have to really want to do something, if it's not automatically in your wheelhouse. If it doesn't align with your personality, in a way.
I grew into it. I think I probably always had this juxtaposition in my personality, you know, where I am naturally kind of shy. Especially when I was younger, leaning more towards this insecurity, but also wanting to be – you know, I think we always gravitate to want to be these things that are hard for us to get to.
I don't know. I set to it, and I worked at it every day, like I worked to learn how to play guitar. How do you connect with people? Because that's really what people are coming to your show for: They want to connect.
Samantha Fish photo by Daniel Sanda // courtesy of devious planet media
Q: Clearly, they are connecting with you. I mean, the fact that you're headlining shows, that you get invited to play a show like Clapton's, that you're coming to this particular venue – you're sharing billboard space with some of the top musicians in the world. Both of the times we’ve chatted, you’ve spoken a lot about the work you've put in, and the time and effort you put into your craft. Does it make it worthwhile when you get those invites like what you had over the weekend, and when you get to tour, when you get to do all of these things? Does it make all that hard work and time and effort seem more worthwhile?
Samantha Fish: Yeah, of course, but it doesn't make me feel like, ‘OK, I can stop now,’ because I’ve just kind of become conditioned and accustomed to this level of output at this point. I take it for what it is now. I try not to celebrate the wins too much, because I want to keep rolling, and keep the momentum growing and going forward.
It definitely is like a pat on the back, in a way, in much smaller terms than what it really is. I mean, honestly, it's a sign that I feel like I'm going in the right direction. But it just kind of encourages me to keep rolling.
Q: That's what we see with “Death Wish Blues.” Tell me about that, and about working with Jesse Dayton.
Samantha Fish: “Death Wish Blues,” it's a collaborative record with myself and Jesse. So, Jesse and I are both solo artists. We came together to do this album that was different for us both. John Spencer produced it. If you're unfamiliar, check him out, because he's incredible. But we wanted to make an album that was exciting and rock ‘n’ roll and something that was collaborative. And so, we worked on writing these songs together and creating something that would be a really entertaining show.
I think we're both pretty well excited about it. We both love the record, and the show itself is really exciting – and it moves quickly. But it's nice. I think it's cool, because it keeps our fans on their toes because we're giving them something a little different than what they've been getting from us in our solo work. It keeps things interesting, for sure.
Q: Tell me more about the live show. How do you work in songs from the past with the new stuff? What is the mix these days?
Samantha Fish: What I'm bringing to you guys is kind of a mix of my solo career, which it's been really fun to not have an album focus. Usually when I put a show together, it's so heavily focused on the new record, but because we're kind of taking this month to do solo stuff, I've been picking stuff from kind of the entire course of my career and just trying to piece together the best show that I think will move people. So, that's been kind of fun.
But that's basically what I've been doing: Just picking stuff from newer and older records, and just putting together a dynamic show that I think people would respond to.
You’re our only Canadian show on this whole run, so it's pretty exciting. I've never played Niagara Falls, either.
Q: In watching the documentary, I'm fascinated with this cigar box guitar. Is that something that travels with you, or do you only pull it out for special occasions?
Samantha Fish: Oh, we put it in every show. If I don't pull that thing out, people will want their money back, I think. At least in my shows.
It's just become kind of a staple in my set. It's become something that I'm known for. I'll pull it out for a song, but I don't like to overuse it. But it definitely adds a different texture. And really, I do so many guitar changes in the show just because I really utilize them for the different tones and textures that they bring. Every guitar has a personality and a voice, and that one is just over the top. It's really cool.
Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton photo by Kaelan Barowsky // courtesy of devious planet media