Blues phenom Samantha Fish released two very different albums in 2017. Catch her seven-piece band at The Steeple this Friday night.
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Band: Samantha Fish
Date: Friday, March 23, with doors at 6:30 p.m.
Venue: The Steeple on St. Francis, 251 St. Francis St., www.thesteeplemobile.com
Tickets: $20-$35, available through Ticketfly
From Memphis Minnie to Bonnie Raitt, the blues world is full of great female guitarists. From the time she was a teenager, guitarist and singer Samantha Fish has been sweeping the blues world with talent no blues purist can deny.
In 2017, Fish released “Belle of the West” (produced by Luther Dickinson) and “Chills & Fever” (produced by Bobby Harlow). These two albums demonstrate not only Fish’s guitar work but also her versatility as an artist. “Belle of the West” focuses more on Fish’s love for Americana, while “Chills & Fever” is a rock and soul collection of covers.
Before she takes the stage at The Steeple March 23, Fish spoke with Lagniappe about the blues and these two very different albums.
Stephen Centanni: Rock is generally viewed as a male-dominated genre, while the blues world seems to embrace and respect its female artists. To me, blues is focused more on musical prowess than image. What’s it like being a woman in the modern blues world?
Samantha Fish: I think when you’re talking about the gender thing, it’s still a hard world for women. They call it “a man’s world” for a reason. It’s an upward thing, and I’ve been climbing. I know a lot of people who have been climbing through that. It just takes some time.
I think there’s a mixture of curiosity, especially when you throw in the element of being a guitar player and a female as well. You also have to work really hard to be taken seriously. It’s more than just the sex-appeal thing. You’ve got to get your music across to get your point through and prove that you have something to say.
I think it can be kind of tough in this industry. You know, it’s something that I work with all the time and will continue to work with.
Centanni: What drew you to the blues?
Fish: I think it was the soulfulness of it, and the real raw delivery compelled me to it. Everything that I grew up loving and listening to was all rooted in this American tradition called blues, like rock ‘n’ roll, country and bluegrass.
My parents listened to Americana singer-songwriters. I really got a great music education when I was growing up, but we really didn’t listen to blues. When I started playing guitar, I realized that all these different guitar players were influenced by this style.
Kansas City was a major part in me peeking into blues because I grew up there. When I wanted to start going out and jamming with people, there were a lot of blues jams.
Centanni: With the modern music industry standard, artists have become very imaginative when it comes to how and when they release albums. You released two separate full-lengths in 2017. What made you want to give your fans a double dose?
Fish: Well, really, I don’t think it would’ve worked if I didn’t have these two completely different records. “Chills & Fever” is a rock ‘n’ roll/soul effort, and “Belle of the West” is an Americana album. I think the only way it worked is that we had two completely different records. If I had two records that were similar, it wouldn’t have happened.
I actually recorded “Belle of the West” before I recorded “Chills & Fever.” I had the opportunity to go to Detroit and record with this six-piece soul band, and we brought in horns from New Orleans. It just seemed like that was the album that needed to come out first. “Chills & Fever” was an album of covers, and “Belle of the West” was an album of originals. They’re both so very different.
Centanni: Were the originals written in the studio, or did you have a collection to choose from?
Fish: You know, there was pre-production involved in both. I had been writing for “Belle of the West,” so that was all stuff that I had been working on for months and years beforehand. Then, for “Chills & Fever,” that was several months of pre-production where we picked some covers that were some obscure classics.
Centanni: You used two different studios to record these. What was it like putting them together?
Fish: When we went to Detroit, I recorded with former members of The Detroit Cobras. So, we had this punk rock/R&B vibe going on. Then, we mixed in the New Orleans sound and what I brought to the table with my background. I thought that was a pretty unique session.
On the flip side, I had a really different studio session with Luther Dickinson producing “Belle of the West.” We brought in players from Mississippi and Memphis like Jimbo Mathus and Lightnin’ Malcolm and Lillie Mae, the fiddle player from Jack White’s band and all these phenomenal females that came in there. That’s a female-driven album, really.
We had Amy LaVere and Sharde Thomas (Rising Star Fife & Drum Band) and T.K. Jackson on drums and harmonies and bass. They both were similar in that we cut everything live, but the feelings in the sessions were so different from one another.
Centanni: You had people from Detroit on one and people from Mississippi and Memphis on the other. What was it like working with musicians from these musically different regions?
Fish: You know, Detroit is intense and Mississippi is laid back. Those are the two words that I throw into the mix. Anytime you step into the studio and you’re under the gun, you have to produce something worthwhile. Once it’s out there, it’s out there forever. It’ll be around longer than I am. There’s always stress involved, but Mississippi was so laid back.
We recorded really live. It’s an acoustic album, so we’re dealing with vocal mics and guitar mics in the same room with no overdubbing. Detroit was exactly the same way. We recorded in the same room. I guess the characters are more relaxed down in Mississippi.
Centanni: What do you have for the Mobile crowd on your visit to The Steeple?
Fish: We have a seven-piece band now. That was the question. How are we going to balance these two really diverse records and perform both? I got this R&B horn section and an Americana album with fiddles. The answer to that was everything. We got horns for “Chills & Fever” and fiddles for “Belle of the West.”
The whole show mixes well together. It’s a dynamic show with a lot of layers and drama to it. They’re still going to get just as much guitar, if they are worried about that. It’s a guitar-heavy performance.