Whether one leans towards the blues, opts for Americana or ignites some special fervor by playing with a garage band, there’s a common bond that suggests a reverence for the roots. Looking back towards an earlier template — no matter what the genre — proves the point that appreciating what came before can be a stepping stone for what comes next.
Samantha Fish knows that all too well, and it’s been evidenced in the music she’s made her entire career. While she’s well known as a purveyor of blues, having been lauded by such legends as Buddy Guy, the Royal Southern Brotherhood and Luther Dickinson, her real love is simply raw, scrappy rock and roll. “I grew up on it,” she insists. “Working with Luther on my last album further instilled that spirit in me. It made me realize just how much that basic, unfettered sound means to me, and how well it ties into soul music, R&B, country and so many other forms of music that are essential even today.”
It’s little wonder then that when it came time to record her new album, Chills & Fever (released March 17, 2017), Fish ventured off in another new direction, one she was exploring for the first time in her career. She traveled to Detroit and joined forces with members of the Detroit Cobras, a band whose insurgent ethic has made them darlings of the Midwest punk/blues scene. The two entities — which included Joe Mazzola on guitar, Steve Nawara on bass, and Kenny Tudrick along with Bob Mervak on keys, and the New Orleans horn section featuring Mark Levron and Travis Blotsky on trumpet and saxophone — bonded over a common love of classic soul and rollicking rhythms, so much so that the results testify to a seemingly timeless template. Covering songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s — indelible melodies from the pens of legends like Jackie DeShannon, Jerry Ragavoy, Bert Berns and Allen Toussaint — and revisiting some earlier demos she cut along with producer Bobby Harlow, Fish and the Cobras created an album that’s best described as a pure slab of rocking rhythm n’ blues.
“I listened to a lot of soul music, and I dug deep into people like Otis Redding and Ray Charles,” Fish recalls. “I was also influenced by people like R.L. Burnside and North Mississippi’s Junior Kimbrough. It’s a lot less restrained style of music than the sound people may be used to hearing from me, but it’s definitely a different facet of my personality. It’s far more straight forward.”
The fact is, Fish has never been bound by any expectations whatsoever. Growing up in Kansas City, she switched from drums to guitar at the tender age of 15. She spent much of her time in local watering holes listening to visiting blues bands. Samantha caught the attention of Ruf Records. The label subsequently released her album, Girls with Guitars, which found her co-billed with Cassie Taylor and Dani Wilde. That led to her forming her own trio and recording three more albums, Runaway (2011), Black Wind Howlin’ (2013) and Wild Heart (2015), as reaping an awards for Best Artist Debut at the 2012 Blues Music Awards in Memphis. Along the way she found herself working with other artists as well — Jimmy Hall, Devon Allman, and Reese Wynans, among them.
Still, nothing she’s done before can prepare her faithful fans and followers to the seminal sounds of Chills & Fever.
I don’t think I ever enjoyed making a record quite as much as I enjoyed making this one,” Fish insists. “I love the sound of the brass and the edgier intensity. One thing’s for sure. Nothing ever felt so authentic.”