By Brent Thompson
Thanks to artists including Samantha Fish, Jesse Dayton, Joe Bonamassa and “Kingfish” Ingram, guitar-based blues music is alive and well these days. Earlier this year, Fish and Dayton released Death Wish Blues [Rounder Records], a collaborative effort that has received a Grammy nomination in the “Best Contemporary Blues Album” category. On Sunday, December 10, The duo will perform at Iron City. Recently, Fish spoke with us by phone from her New Orleans home.
Southern Stages: Samantha, thanks for your time today. Congrats on your Grammy nomination!
Samantha Fish: Thank you very much – I’m pretty freaked out [laughs].
Southern Stages: How did the collaboration with Jesse come about? Had the idea been brewing for some time?
Fish: It doesn’t feel like it’s been in the works for that long. I’ve known Jesse for about 12 years. Growing up in Kansas City, Jesse would come through once or twice a year so I knew him through that and I became a fan of his. He has had his foot in so many different things artistically – he’s been into film, he wrote a book – he’s deep and he has a lot going for him. I reconnected with him in January 2022 – he was playing at this venue and me and my manager went out. Prior to that, I had been thinking about a project like this for a few years, but couldn’t really think of who the other partner should be. When I saw Jesse, it kind of clicked and he was down for it. We got together in May 2022 and we worked on songs until August and here we are now.
Southern Stages: Where is Jesse based?
Fish: He’s out of Austin, Texas.
Southern Stages: In writing for the album, was there a certain pattern that developed between the two of you?
Fish: We were open to any way we could get a song. Any time you write with somebody new, there’s a vulnerability you have to be able to achieve. We had to have this real conversation and say, “Nothing is stupid. The time frame we have is stupid, so let’s just keep working and come up with some some great songs.” We just dropped all the walls and decided to try any which way we could. For me, songs come in different ways. My most successful method is having a melody that is catchy and building off of that – having a hook. The hook is the most important part of a song in my opinion and it’s the hardest thing to come by. With Jesse, we both have our own approach, but in this setting we decided to try as many things as possible.
Southern Stages: Did either of you bring existing songs to the project or were all of the songs written for this album specifically?
Fish: We wanted something that was unique to us both, so starting from scratch was very important. We wanted to create material that fit this album and I feel like we both came to this with a clean slate.
Southern Stages: This album continues a great tradition of blues collaborations that has included Buddy Guy & Junior Wells and B.B. King & Eric Clapton.
Fish: The thing about a collaboration is that you are giving yourself an opportunity to step outside of yourself. With solo albums, you have a rigid set of boundaries, but a collaboration frees you up to try things that maybe you normally wouldn’t do on your own. I think it was a good thing for both of us and we came up with something really unique.
Southern Stages: As a guitarist, are you a big collector?
Fish: I go through little spurts, but I’m not really the person that walks into a guitar and says, “That’s it.” The way the world is now, I can just go online and find it [laughs]. I have quite an arsenal of guitars that I really like and I look at guitars like tools – it’s like screwdrivers and hammers. I’m going to use it and I’m going to abuse it, so I want something sturdy. I don’t spend a lot of money on it because I’m going to beat the hell out of it. I like fixing up cheaper guitars – I’m a renovator and I like customizing.
Southern Stages: Some artists say this is a great time given accessibility to listeners via Youtube, Spotify, satellite radio and other outlets. Others say it’s a challenging time to be found among the crowd. How do you view today’s musical climate?
Fish: I think the more you look back, the more disappointed you’re going to get about things. What you used to get paid for, people now get for free. For me, it’s part of fueling the touring machine and it’s a piece of that puzzle. Now we are in the world of creating experiences. I try not to look at it as a glass half-empty. I came to where I’m at now through Youtube – I don’t know if people would know about me if it hadn’t had been for a couple of my videos that did really well.
On Sunday, December 10, Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton will perform at Iron City. Advance tickets to the 8 p.m. show are $32.50 and can be purchased at www.ironcitybham.com.