Hailing from Kansas City, MO, Samantha Fish is one of the most dynamic blues forces in the world today, headlining festivals and captivating audiences with her guitar prowess and power vocals. An award-winner and road warrior, she performs 200 shows yearly—all over the world. For her latest release, Fish has joined forces with country music mainstay Jesse Dayton for 'Death Wish Blues', out May 19th on Rounder Records. Gi chats with the duo in this issue's cover feature.
Over the course of her career as an award-winning artist, singer/songwriter/guitarist Samantha Fish has brought extraordinary power to her self-expression, capturing her inner world in combustible riffs, visceral rhythms, and spine-tingling vocal work. On her new album 'Death Wish Blues,' she joins forces with Jesse Dayton for a ferociously groove-heavy record.
'Death Wish Blues' showcases the raw power of Fish and Dayton's guitar playing, both with foundations grounded in blues music. And aided by Jon Spencer's production, they push the limits by seamlessly merging their strengths into an album of songs with both swagger and bravado, as well as emotion and sensitivity. The result is a raw combination of blistering blues, deep soul, punk, funk, and good old rock-and-roll.
Jesse Dayton boasts an exceptional resume as an acclaimed solo recording artist, collaborator with artists such as Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Duff McKagan, a touring guitarist for seminal punk band X, teammate with Rob Zombie on the soundtracks for his iconic horror films, and as a radio show host on Gimme Country. Produced by the legendary Jon Spencer of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Death Wish Blues ultimately melds their eclectic sensibilities into a batch of songs both emotionally potent and wildly combustible.
As Fish reveals, the making of Death Wish Blues marked the culmination of a musical connection forged in her hometown of Kansas City over a decade ago. "It was always a big deal when Jesse came through town to a play a show—we first met when I was 20, and I kept up with him through the years," Fish says of the Beaumont, Texas-bred musician. "I'd been wanting to do a collaborative project for a while and went to see Jesse perform in New Orleans, and right away, I knew he was the guy.
We got together and had this vision of making something of an alt-blues record, but it turned out to be so much more exciting and layered than I ever imagined."
The follow-up to Fish and Dayton's 2022 EP Stardust Sessions—a three-song effort featuring covers of classic tracks like Townes Van Zandt's "I'll Be Here In The Morning"—Death Wish Blues took shape at Applehead Recording & Production in Woodstock, a studio situated on a 17-acre farm once home to The Band's Rick Danko.
Over the course of 10 frenetic days, the two musicians joined forces with bassist Kendall Wind, keyboardist Mickey Finn, and drummer Aaron Johnston, cutting most of the album live and unleashing a bold collision of blues, soul, punk, funk, and fantastically greasy rock-and-roll. With Fish and Dayton sharing vocal and guitar duties, the sonic power of each track is exponentially magnified by Spencer's production work, endlessly tapping into the rule-breaking ingenuity that's made him a cult hero. "Jon's indie-rock royalty, and he's always been ahead of the game as far as moving the blues forward," says Dayton. "For this album, we wanted to keep everything blues-based, with a lot of inspiration from people like Albert King and Magic Sam on the lead-guitar parts, but we also wanted to have fun with that and take it somewhere new and different and way outside our wheelhouse."
One of the first songs that Fish and Dayton wrote together, the album-opening "Deathwish" immediately established the free-flowing nature of their collaboration. "Samantha sent me that melody, and I went into my writing room and started coming up with some lyrics inspired by all these true-crime documentaries I'd been watching," Dayton recalls. "It turned into a song about men taking advantage of women, and I knew that Samantha could really chew on those lyrics and sing them with a lot of attitude."
Anchored by a hot-tempered vocal performance from Fish, the result is a prime introduction to Death Wish Blues' incendiary sound, at turns gritty, exhilarating, and indelibly hypnotic. Although Death Wish Blues serves up plenty of swagger and bravado, much of the album embodies a powerfully raw sensitivity.
"As we were writing some of the love songs you hear on the record, I really had to open up my heart to Samantha to get to the core of what we wanted to express," says Dayton. "It was good for me to allow myself to be that vulnerable, and I don't know if it's something I would've been able to do when I was younger."
On "Trauma," Fish and Dayton spin a strangely thrilling portrait of heartbreak, taking on a furious momentum as Dayton lays his pain and frustration exquisitely bare. Building a heady tension between its slow-burning verses and hard-hitting chorus, "Settle for Less" unfolds as an achingly moving meditation on self-worth. "The sentiment of that song is that if you settle for anything short of what you deserve, that's exactly what you're going to get," says Fish, who co-wrote the track with her frequent collaborator Jim McCormick (Tim McGraw, Trisha Yearwood).
On "No Apology," Death Wish Blues slips into a moment of heavy-hearted outpouring, with Fish's graceful yet gut-punching vocals riding the line between tender longing and unapologetic self-possession. "'No Apology' is about fighting with the one you love and wanting to push through and make everything okay again," says Fish. "It's a love song but sort of twisted, because that's the only kind of love song I write."
Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton's 'Death Wish Blues' out now worldwide on Rounder Records.
Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton — 'Death Wish Blues' — Tracklist
2. Down In The Mud
4. Settle For Less
6. No Apology
7. Flooded Love
8. Lover On The Side
9. Rippin’ And Runnin’
10. Dangerous People
12. Know My Heart
For Fish, one of the greatest joys of making music is the powerful exchange of energy at her incendiary live shows. "I fell in love with music from going to shows, and I know how cathartic it can be. It heals your heart," she says. "Anytime I play live, I just want to want to make people forget about everything else in the world and feel that same joy that I feel on stage." And in the process of creating Faster, Fish experienced a similar exhilaration—a sustained head rush that's entirely palpable in every track on the album. "There's such a transformation that can happen in the studio when you really own that freedom to be creative," she says. "I feel so charged up in those moments, like I can be whoever I want to be. It's just me and these incredible musicians trying to make a piece of art that speaks for itself and contributes something new to the world. It's never hard to feel inspired or empowered when that's the mission."
Fish and Dayton are gearing up for a round of tour dates to support 'Death Wish Blues' as they hit the UK October 19-28th.
Order the album and book tickets at www.samanthafish.com