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Blues guitarist wins over fans with music that just feels good

Facing down doubts from musical purists

Steve Penhollow

Whatzup Features Writer

Published August 18, 2021

Let’s face it: If you’re a woman who plays blues guitar, some blues aficionados are going to be about as welcoming to you as the dinosaurs were to that meteor.

Of course, blues aficionados are more likely to sneer than panic.

The bottom line is some blues purists have a long list of the things they don’t consider pure. Samantha Fish is on that list. She may be on it several times for different reasons. One reason being she enjoys several genres of music other than blues and likes to mix them together.

Fish, who performs on Aug. 27 at Sweetwater Performance Pavilion, said she doesn’t get too bothered by blues purists.

“There are a lot of purists in this genre who believe it’s this thing and only this thing, that if you’re not doing it exactly this way, then it’s not the blues,” Fish said in a phone interview with Whatzup. “Fair enough. That’s one opinion.”

That Bluesy Element

Ultimately, Fish makes music that feels good to her.

“I always say that it’s got a bluesy element it,” she said of her music. “I could never remove the blues from my playing. That’s what was influencing me in my formative years when I was learning how to play guitar.”

Fish’s formative years involved Kansas City, Kansas, and a club called Knuckleheads Saloon.

Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, are part of the same metropolitan area. The music scene in one Kansas City overlaps with the music scene in the other.

Just don’t get on stage in Missouri and say, “Hello Kansas!”

When Fish was in her mid-teens, her father started taking her to Knuckleheads to hear blues artists. She was playing drums at the time, but later switched to guitar. Given the ratio of blues guitar legends to blues drum legends, it is easy to understand why.

By the time she turned 17, she was being invited on stage to perform with touring musicians that would come to town. Fellow musicians knew she had talent, even if some listeners who had exacting musical standards but no musical ability were skeptical.

Surprising Skeptics

There were a couple surprising skeptics in her life at that point: Her parents.

Fish said she knew the first time she stepped on stage that music would be her career. Still, her parents were a little wary. To note, her father was the one who had brought her to watch blues musicians perform in the first place. Perhaps he came to wish that he’d made her watch accountants perform instead.

Fish doesn’t blame her parents for being scared on her behalf. She was a little scared on her own behalf as well.

“I’m from the Midwest,” she said. “There were real practical aspects to my upbringing. Like me, they [her parents] weren’t able to see what steps I needed to take to get where I wanted to be. It seemed like a pipe dream. It seemed like something very far away. So there was definitely some apprehension.”

Despite apprehension toward the fesability of a music career, seeing the touring musicians gave Fish evidence that it was possible.

“I had always wanted to play music as a teenager, but it just didn’t seem practical,” she said. “It seemed like something that was really hard to reach. Then I’d see these touring artists and I’d think, ‘They’re making it work. So there’s no reason that I can’t make this happen for myself.’”

Facing Down Suspicion

Fish admitted that being in a profession in which young women are treated with suspicion was difficult at first, but she pointed out how it’s a common thing for young women to face suspicion in most professions anyway.

“I just ignore them,” she said of the scoffers. “I have been playing in front of those guys for years. I just don’t care.”

In the beginning, Fish didn’t have a lot of original material, so listeners formed their ideas about what sort of artist she was based on her covers. Now, she has a library of original songs.

Fish said she doesn’t know when she sits down to write a song what genre it will end up best representing. The only goal that carries over from one songwriting session to the next is to find a hook.

“You want something that’s just going to sink into the ears of people and catch them,” Fish said.

Starved for Live Music

Since pandemic restrictions on the live music industry eased, Fish has noticed an enthusiasm level in her audiences that she hasn’t seen before.

“People are so starved for music,” she said. “They’re ready. They’re engaged.”

It is both harder and easier to be a musician these days than it was 30 years ago. It’s easier to reach people but harder to make money once you do. Fish’s definition of success is rooted in how music made her feel when she was first discovering it.

“I think my main goal has always been to reach as many people as I can with my music,” she said. “The whole reason I started this was because I was a kid going to see concerts. I was a kid going to see live music. It changed my life and it made me feel good, and everything that was wrong in my life could be right in that moment. That’s the power of music. I want to do that for other people.”


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