You can buy the albums. You can listen to the music. But some things have to be seen to be believed. Samantha Fish’s prowess on the guitar is one of them. She doesn’t simply play the guitar, she wields it with the precision of a surgeon and the fire of Prometheus – electrifying crowds with fiery riffs and beautifully sculpted notes.
Although not rising to the conflagration that burned this great city to the ground over 150 years ago, Fish’s recent set at the Park West in Chicago was incendiary, tearing out of the gates with “Bulletproof,” “Wild Heart,” and “Better Be Lonely” to open the evening. She then switched gears, providing some swing to the evening with “Chills and Fever” (a song first recorded by Johnny Love & His Orchestra and appearing on Fish’s 2017 album of the same name), some Delta blues with R.L. Burnside’s “Poor Black Mattie,” and then some love for the name of the tour itself, playing the tender but funky “Love Letters” from 2019’s Kill or Be Kind.
Fish then stoked the flames with the killer title song from her 2021 album Faster and the swingin’ “Somebody’s Always Trying” from Chills and Fever. Following a two-song solo acoustic performance of Charley Patton’s “Jim Lee Blues, Part 1” and Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “If I Were Your Woman,” the rest of the band returned for the country-flavored “Need You More” from 2017’s Belle of the West, a cover of The Cineemas’ “Never Gonna Cry,” and the sultry “Don’t Say You Love Me” (which also appeared on Belle of the West).
Up to that point, there was no doubt that Fish was still smoldering, but the last four songs of the night were like a backdraft – her guitar igniting the evening with an explosive force that shook the audience. With each successive song – from the set closers “Dream Girl” and “Black Wind Howlin’” to the encores “I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and “Bitch on the Run” from 2015’s Wild Heart – Fish kept turning up the heat, playing with an intense passion and fire that left even the most ardent fans of the blues (and the guitar) shaking their heads in disbelief.
Several days later and I’m not only pining for those closing numbers, but I’m longing for her next stop in town. It will surely be one that can’t be missed.
Opening for Fish (as well as joining her to close out the evening with a jam on “Bitch on the Run”) was Eric Johanson, the bluesman from Louisiana with five top ten Billboard albums to his name, including the latest release The Deep and the Dirty. (Recent ABS interview here.)
The album epitomizes Johanson’s style. Clad all in black, including a black leather jacket, Johanson has the look of a classic gunslinger, walking the lonely and dusty backroads with nothing but a guitar case for a companion looking for the last roadhouse in town. The patrons give him no notice until the distinctive hum of the amp buzzes through the bar and those first notes leap from his guitar. At that point, they can’t look away. The notes are raw, deep, dirty and bluesy. And the music is fantastic.
To see if Johanson will wander into your town soon, check out his website here.
All images: © Derek Smith / High Voltage Concert Photography for American Blues Scene