Samantha Fish is on a mission. These days it’s more exploratory than search and destroy, but don’t think for a minute she isn’t capable of pinning your ears back. Fish is currently on tour with Jesse Dayton in support of their chart-topping album Death Wish Blues. For most performing artists, that would be enough—not Samantha Fish. She and her logistics team have decided if one tour is good, then two should be twice as nice.
In order for that to happen, the Death Wish Blues tour will take a brief hiatus this fall. That way Samantha can ramp up for the Love Letters project that kicks off later this month right here in San Diego. Don’t get ahead of me…then the Love Letters tour will break just long enough to allow Samantha to travel back to L.A. and join Eric Clapton at the Crypto.com Arena for his Crossroads Guitar Festival. It’s literally the Russian Matryoshka dolls of scheduling…a tour, within a tour, within a tour. Sounds crazy but Samantha says she wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s my whole life at this point, all-consuming! I love playing music; I love performing and feel the most at home when I’m on stage.
If you want to spend time with Samantha Fish you better lace up your track shoes. When I did, she had just finished a show in Indiana.
It was great. We played this place called the Sweetwater Pavillion, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Sweetwater, it has online gear and they have a big warehouse and showroom, and it’s basically where everybody in the company works and out back they have a massive pavilion. I’ve played there a couple of times, last year with Kenny Wayne Shepherd. This year we came out on our own and had a great crowd and a great turnout and a lot of fun. She hesitates before adding. I didn’t buy a guitar, so that’s a win! [laughing]
I’m thinking hazards of the profession.
Honestly, I’m joking. Once a year or once every two years I’ll get my eyes set on something. It’s like anything else; I’ll get online and find one that I like, and I’ll try to go find one in person to play it. It’s really hard for me to buy things blindly without putting my hands on it, because it’s such a physical thing. I try to at least go pick it up at a store. It’s the way of 2023—we just order stuff online. [laughing]
Would it be fair to say that’s the way you approach music, hands on and by feel?
I just feel that to me, it’s the way music is supposed to be. It’s a pure expression of your soul and your heart and a way to connect with other people’s souls and hearts.
Samantha Fish – Shake ‘em on Down
I’ve been looking at your overlapping tour schedules. Death Wish Blues with Jesse Dayton, prepping for the upcoming Love Letters Tour, a couple of dates in September with Clapton and Crossroads, then back to the Death Wish tour in Europe through October…how do you manage a workload like that?
I have a quasi-organized team that does the best they can with chaos. [laughing] They’re honestly brilliant! I have an amazing team, a great manager who sees a big, broad picture, and an agent who’s tenacious and puts these tours together, and I don’t even know how he keeps track of that. I’ve also got a tour manager who tries to make sense of it so we can actually, physically do it all. It’s a fine-tuned machine, but as far as bouncing between concepts [Death Wish/Love Letters], that’s yet to be seen. We’ll be attempting it in September. We’re literally jumping right off the Death Wish Blues tour in order to go do the Love Letters tour. Then straight to Europe for Death Wish again…then in December we have the “Shake ‘Em on Down” tour with Jon Spencer and Eric Johanson, but that’s more of a package…we’re kinda keeping it rolling. Even though we’re doing different music, it’s a different idea, it’s kinda fun, and it shakes things up a bit. It gets us out of our regular programming and makes it interesting.
Can you tell me how the collaboration with Jesse Dayton came about?
Well, my manager and I had been talking about doing a project like this for the last four or five years. And I knew I wanted to do a duets record with somebody in a certain vein or certain style…a certain aesthetic. It was something we just batted around for a long time, and I saw Jesse. We re-connected; we had actually known each other for several years. We got together in 2022, January 2022, and I remember seeing his show and thinking he’d be the perfect guy. He’s got a real depth to his artistry. He’s fairly well-known for his solo work in the Outlaw Country world but he’s definitely all over the map in a real good way.
You’ve shared the stage with so many people, collaborating with Joe Bonamassa, Eric Gales, “Kingfish” Ingram, Gary Clark, Jr., and a multitude of others…
Absolutely, that’s what keeps it interesting, you know? It really does. It gives you something and somebody new to play off of and a different energy, a different feeling. Everyone has their own approach and I just think it keeps it fresh.
Can you talk a little about your creative instinct? For the fan, you don’t seem to have any limitations about musical direction, in style of play or genre. Is that intentional or just a happy bi-product of musical experimentation?
You know, a little bit of both. I try to set intentions on each record but honestly, things just kind of happen the way they happen. It’s really just my mindset when I’m writing. So, the songwriting is sometimes colored by that, and then you get in the studio with the producer and the musicians. There have been times when I’ve walked in and I’ve known just exactly the vibe I’ve wanted to go for and other times it’s been “let’s just play” and see what happens. You come up with these cool parts you didn’t even think of before by just letting it happen. It’s just a little bit of both.
Your musical influences are so varied as well. You list everyone from guitarist Mike Campbell of Tom Petty to Freddie King and Ozzie Osborne.
Well, I was into rock ‘n’ roll first. I grew up listening to the radio because it was the only game in town and before vinyl had its resurgence. My parents had a CD collection, but it wasn’t like the hip record collection, you know what I mean? When I first got into guitar playing and would be listening to the radio, the only stations you could hear guitar solos on were classic rock. I was into the Stones and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, my dad loved that band. [laughing] And Mike Campbell has written some of the most iconic guitar lines that have ever been done. Same thing with Black Sabbath, it’s the bi-product of me growing up in rock ‘n’ roll. I found the blues through basically listening to rock ‘n’ roll. Okay, who does Keith Richards like to listen to, and then you find every single rock ‘n’ roller came up cutting their teeth on blues music. Then I started down this rabbit hole, and it didn’t hurt that I lived in Kansas City because there’s a very real scene there. And if you wanted to go and cut your teeth on stage and play with somebody you had to learn some standards—either jazz or blues—which is really like the style of the city. So, I learned a bunch of blues songs in the style of my rock ‘n’ roll heroes, and then I started finding blues heroes.
You mentioned that your dad and the not-so-hip record collection, and I know your sister [Amanda] performs. Was the rest of the family musical?
Yes, my sister plays, my dad plays guitar, my mom sang in church, my aunts all sang in church. All my uncles play guitar, all my dad’s friends play guitar, and it was literally all around me 24/7. I didn’t really realize at the time, how unique that was, because most people don’t grow up with instrumentalists around them. And it was unintentional; it’s not like my parents did it professionally, so for me to become a professional musician was a little jarring for them and the people around me because it’s not a practical career choice.
All those guitarists, yet you started on the drums?
Yeah, I did. I wanted to be different. [laughing]
Do you still pick up the sticks?
It’s rare; there are so many good drummers around now that I’m embarrassed to even try. It’s a little like “use it or lose it!” I still think I have a pretty good meter, an internal clock when I start a song and I generally try to finish it at the same tempo. If I do push it, it’s kind of intentional. But, I wouldn’t pick up the sticks in front of my drummer. [laughing]
When did you first pick up the cigar box guitar?
Probably in 2015…2013 something like that. I remember going to a festival when I was 17 and seeing these guys playing cigar box guitars, and I just thought it was a really unique sounding instrument. There’s like this juxtaposition because it’s such a small guitar, but it sounds so fierce, right? I don’t know, I was just drawn to it. I bought one at this festival, where they were selling them on the midway, and it just became a thing. It was unintentional, really. I bought it to commemorate an experience. I pulled it out on a gig once and people just kind of freaked out.
You worked with Luther Dickinson on your album Wild Heart.
You know my first couple of records I did with Mike Zito—I look back on those experiences and think I was a little more reserved, like I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to do. And that’s okay, because I was a baby. But by the time I started working with Luther, I had found my footing in my songwriting, and I had more of an idea of what I wanted to do and what I wanted to make. Luther helped me find a vibe and a style; I learned a lot about guitar playing. I love Luther; he’s one of my favorite contemporary blues guitarists. He’s really dynamic and melodic and just one of the best. His tone is incredible.
His father was legendary as well.
Jim Dickinson is a massive producer. They grew up in the North Mississippi area, and I’m all about that style of music. I love the Fat Possum roster, I love Delta blues, and Luther has mastered that. Working with him was really special. We did two albums together; we did Wild Heart and Belle of the West.
Can we talk about your songwriting process? Do you write with a guitar, and what triggers your creativity?
Really…anything! Nowadays, I try to start with a melody that’s memorable; whether it’s a vocal hook or guitar melody, it’s something to build a song off of. I find that if I start with pages and pages of lyrics, it’s harder to assign them to something memorable. But if you start with something hooky and memorable, it’s easier to craft a song around that. People are going to hum the melody before they remember your most heartfelt lyrics. I’m sure Bob Dylan will tell you something much different than that. [laughing] But when it’s me, the easiest path to creating something memorable is to start with a melody, whether it’s a bass line or vocal melody or guitar that will be decided later.
You have an album titled Kill or Be Kind and a love song titled “Go to Hell.” Even the two tours you’re currently working, one is called the Death Wish Tour and the other is entitled the Love Letters Tour. Are there always two sides to your music and what you do, an element of conflict or clash of wills?
I think it’s probably just the human condition. I mean obviously love and hate are so close, chemically. Like the chemicals that are released in your brain…I think, it’s just part of the human experience. Love is like the most intense feelings you can have and it’s something that is universal and everybody can understand. I think I always come back to these universal themes just because it’s relatable.
Music communicates on so many levels ,and I’m sure your world-wide fan base would probably agree.
It’s nice to go to Europe; it’s funny when you go to a country where English isn’t always spoken and where lyrics literally don’t mean a thing at that point, but you still see people jammin’ and groovin’ to what you’re doing, and it translates half-way across the globe…that’s pretty touching. Again, the human condition, we can all relate to these things.
As a touring singer/songwriter, how much do you love what you do?
I mean, it’s my whole life at this point, all-consuming! I do…I love playing music; I love performing and feel the most at-home when I’m on stage. It matters to me and it’s why I’m doing it.
I noticed that you’re taking a break right in the middle of your two different tours to perform at Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in September. That’s got to be a thrill.
It’s pretty fabulous! I’m doing two days at the festival, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s a pretty big deal and I’m thrilled about it.
You do a version of Bukka White’s “Shake ‘em on Down” that just ignites the audience. How did you decide on that particular song?
I like Delta blues and North Mississippi hill country music, and that’s what drew me to that. As far as “Shake ‘em on Down,” I think I was really drawn to, I mean I like that R.L. Burnside An Ass Pocket of Whiskey album. That was the first time I heard it.
And the polar opposite of that, you recorded the duet “I’ll Be Here in the Morning” with Jesse Dayton on The Stardust Sessions.
I love country singers, country crooners, and Americana, and I love delicate songs. You don’t need to be beltin’ or screamin’ and cryin’ to get your emotions across. There’s something in country music I’ve always liked, and I try to have a least one song like that coming out every so often.
I’ll Be Here in the Morning – Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton
You’re coming back to Southern California [Belly Up Tavern and the Coach House] for the Love Letters Tour in September. Who’s playing with you?
Jamie Douglass on drums, Ron Johnson on bass, and Mickey Finn on keyboards with Eric Johanson opening.
And as if three tours aren’t enough, I see you’re working with Steve Miller later this year?
Yes, it’s awesome. I’m really excited by it. We were supposed to open for him at JazzFest, but we got called to another stage last minute. So we ended up not doing it. But we met a lot of the crew backstage and all of a sudden I’m getting a call to play this gig with him, so maybe getting changed at the last minute worked in our favor.
You’ve been so productive musically; you tour constantly and drop new recordings like clockwork every two years. What continues to motivate Samantha Fish?
Well, I have a need to make new music; we tour so much that I need to create something new just to keep myself from getting too bored…you know same old, same old. Keeps it fresh!
San Diegans have two opportunities to catch Samantha Fish live on September 12 th at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach and on September 13th at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. Both shows feature blues roots rocker Eric Johanson. Johanson is touring behind his latest effort, The Deep and the Dirty, which debuted at Number #1 on the Billboard Blues Charts.