By Michael Lello
It might be surprising to some that blues artist Samantha Fish grew up to listening to rock music, but to her, it was a natural progression from one genre to the other.
“It’s all connected,” she said. “The blues is really the building block to lots of – most forms – of modern music,” said Fish, a guitarist and vocalist who will perform at this weekend’s Briggs Farm Blues Festival. “It was just kind of part of my journey early on. When I look at Stevie Ray Vaughan and Tom Petty and Mike Campbell, those guys were influenced by blues music.”
The Kansas City-based Fish worked her way through the city’s bar and club scene, eventually connecting with Mike Zito, a member of Royal Southern Brotherhood, a band that includes Devon Allman and Cyril Neville. Zito produced her debut album, “Runaway.” She worked with Zito again for her sophomore CD, “Black Wind Howlin’,” which she released last September.
Fish said the lessons learned on her first album paid dividends on the follow-up.
“‘Runaway’ was kind of like, I’ve been writing these songs my whole life,” said Fish. “‘Black Wind Howlin,’ it was more like the last two years. So everything I learned got put into this record. You just learn more about recording, so the process is a little faster. Because I was a little more used to it, I knew what I wanted. The first record, I had a vague idea.”
In addition to playing traditional electric guitar, Fish also plays an oil can guitar, which was made by a fan who comes to see her perform in Illinois and Missouri, she said. Fish said the instrument maker puts Fender Telecaster parts on an oil can, and she usually tunes the guitar to an open G.
The unique instrument leads to some unique sounds.
“Anytime you get something new, for me it broadens how I think about music,” Fish said. “I’ll end up saying, ‘I never knew I could do this before,’ or write a new lick. Especially with the alternate tunings and playing with the slide.”
Fish credited Zito with helping her develop as a musician.
“He’s been a great mentor to me. I first started seeing him in Kansas City, and he’d let me jam with him. He introduced me to Ruf Records and the booking agency and worked on both the ‘Girls With Guitars’ record and the two solo records,” she said, referring to the album she shared with Dani Wilde and Cassie Taylor.
Fish collaborated with Devon Allman, Gregg’s son and Zito’s bandmate, on the Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks classic “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” which was released on Devon’s 2013 solo album “Turquoise.” Fish said the relationship with Allman started when her band played a show with RSB, “and Devon really took a liking to my voice. We jammed together and he always wanted to do that song, and said he was looking for the right person.”
While both of Fish’s solo records have found acclaim, like most artists in today’s music industry, playing live is a top priority. On Friday, she’ll play the main stage at Briggs. She said she approaches festivals slots with a purpose.
“I just try to put all my best songs forward and hit them as hard as I can and show people who I am, because really a lot of these people are seeing you for the first time,” Fish said. “I try to give them diversity. If I can, I’ll pull out an acoustic song or a cover.
“When you do the bigger events, you’re touching a wider group of people and you try to appeal to as many people as possible. They’re there to have fun, and so are we.”