The Hippo


Jun 2, 2020








Photo by Brian Rozman

Samantha Fish

When: Saturday, July 29, 8 p.m.
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry
Tickets: $25-$30 at

Soulful side
Samantha Fish hits Tupelo with bigger band, new sound

By Michael Witthaus

 After making three guitar-forward blues rock albums, Samantha Fish switched gears for her latest. Chills & Fever jumps out of the gate with a cover of the Ronettes’ “He Did It,” revved up with rapid-fire guitar bursts. Then the lights dim, and Fish’s soulful voice is the focus of a record that borrows from the genre’s finest — Betty LaVette, Irma Thomas, Nina Simone and girl group gems, all given a modern sheen.

Her take on the title cut, previously done by Tom Jones and Ronnie Love, among others, sounds like a musical hookup between Amy Winehouse and Morphine, with Travis Blotsky’s saxophone moaning. Skip James’ “Crow Jane” has a Black Keys vibe, with Fish on her trademark four-string cigar box slide guitar.
Echoes of the latter have been with her for a while, Fish said in a recent interview. 
“I started at Fat Possum when I got into blues,” she said, referring to the Oxford, Mississippi, record label that gave the world RL Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and other roots players. “That’s where the Black Keys got their start. You got these guys that are modernizing even the North Mississippi music. … It’s really cool to mix up these genres.”
Fish picked up the guitar at age 13, after a brief flirtation with drums that mainly helped her rhythmic sense. 
“I was a kid so my discipline ... was kind of lacking, but I like to go back and forth with it every once in a while,” she said, “just to keep my skills up.”
Chills & Fever was born from talks with producer Bobby Harlow (White Fang, the Go). 
“When we met, he was taken by my vocals, and he said we really need an album that showcases that,” Fish said. “Playing on the trio, we focused more in another direction; this was just a good opportunity to show people  another side of my musical personality.”
The lure for Fish was an opportunity to add horns, keyboard and pedal steel guitar to the three-piece configuration she’d used for a decade. 
“Top to bottom, the concept was the size of the band,” she said, sweeping away concerns that it might  worry fans of her guitar slinger side. 
“When they come to the show they realize I’m playing more guitar than ever,” she said. “So it’s just keeping those things that are important in the front, which are the vocals and the songs and the guitar playing. The rest is personality.”
She’s got that in spades. Fish began performing almost by accident, but she’s never looked back. 
“I got kind of thrown onto a stage with a guitar at a backyard party; probably that was the only way it could ever happen to me, because I was such a shy kid,” she said. “It was the worst feeling in the world, but it was also exhilarating. There was an adrenaline rush, and I realized I wanted to do that. The moment changed my trajectory in life.”
After making a self-produced EP, in 2011 she joined Girls With Guitars, a young supergroup with Cassie Taylor and Dani Wilde. Her first solo album, Runaway, came later the same year, followed by Black Wind Howlin’ (2013) and Wild Heart (2015), the first two made with producer and mentor Mike Zito.
Gender emphasis is “a double-edged sword; it sucks for the same reason it helps me,” she said. “A female instrumentalist is still viewed as a novelty to people … but I think the more we do it, it will become less of an interesting thing.”
For now, she’s exploring every artistic avenue she can. Fish’s next project is even more stripped down than her power trio, an Americana collection due in the fall made in Mississippi with Wild Heart producer Luther Dickinson. 
“Jimbo Mathis and Lightnin’ Malcolm are on it, Lili Mae from Nashville played and sang — I recorded one of her songs,” she said. “We’re going to have this juxtaposition of a really polished soulful record and a semi-acoustic songwriter album … I’m really excited for people to hear it.  There is so much to pick from, if they don’t like Chills and Fever because it was too much soul, they’ll love this.” 

®2020 Hippo Press. site by wedu