The guitar-slinging diva Samantha Fish muses on blues, blizzards and curling irons...
What was your first gig and how did it go?
“One of my first official gigs was when I ended up getting a weekly thing hosting a jam night in Kansas City. All the musicians would come out to town and play. I did that for a couple of years, but my first real super- high-profile gig that I was excited about was at this place called Knuckleheads, where I used to go and see bands when I was 17. Frank [Hicks], the guy who owns that place, gave me a gig there and that was that. It’s like a saloon, a honky tonk... they do blues, Americana, country.”
Describe your current stage rig...
“I’ll start with amps. Right now I have a boutique company called Category 5 that provides amps for me. Basically, it’s all old-school point-to-point wiring, really amazing-sounding amps. On festivals, when I’m flying in, I’ll use Fenders, you know, Supers or Bassmans.
"Then my guitar setup; right now my favourite is my Gibson SG, followed by the Fender Jaguar and I’ve got a couple of custom builds from a company called Delaney Guitars. One is a 512, which is more like a 339-style Gibson and I’ve got a signature guitar they made for me called the ‘Fish-o-caster’ [Delaney’s Samantha Fish SF1], which is kinda like a Thinline Tele body style with an f-hole. I’ve got a cigar box guitar that I’m playing - my Stogie Box Blues - and a Taylor acoustic guitar with koa wood; it’s really pretty and it sounds great.
“Pedalboard, I’ve got an Analog Man King Of Tone (which is my favourite pedal on the ’board), an MXR delay, an [Electro-Harmonix] Micro POG, a [Boss PS-5] Super Shifter for divebombs and crazy octaves up and down, and a JHS Mini Foot Fuzz, and then I kinda play with a volume pedal.”
What’s your best tip for getting a good live sound?
“Turn the amp up! Honestly. I play with tube amps and they sound better if you turn them up... It’s just finding the way to be able to do that, y’know? If you’re playing in a smaller place don’t get the 90-watt Fender Twin; get something that’s a lower wattage so you can crank it up so that it starts breaking up and sounding warm.
"Everywhere you go you have to cater the sound to the venue, whether it’s a big open festival or it’s a smaller room where you have to finesse it a little bit more. You’re constantly going to have to tweak it. I don’t have a recipe for a perfect sound mix; it’s gonna take a song or two and you’re going to have to tweak it to get it to that sweet spot.”
What’s your best tip for getting the audience on your side?
“That’s the struggle, isn’t it? First of all, I think it’s just recognising the fact that they’re in the building, they’re there to have fun, so they’re already halfway to being on your side. Every crowd is different. Sometimes in the intimate venues it’s a little bit easier because it doesn’t feel so rushed. Sometimes on big festivals... how do you really connect with that many people?
"On those bigger rock shows I just kinda like throw the music at them and leave the banter to a minimum, but if we do an intimate show there’s a little bit more space to have a conversation. You just have to provide the right kind of entertainment.”
After the storm
What’s the best venue you’ve played in and why?
“That’s tough, because we’ve played in so many amazing venues. Some of my top ones are Telluride, out in Colorado, a beautiful mountain stage. Byron Bay [Bluesfest], this year, was an amazing venue just because I’ve always wanted to go to Australia; it’s just a stacked big festival that I’ve been looking at for 10 years, so that was a pretty incredible experience. The Acura Stage at Jazz Fest [New Orleans] this year was great. I love playing overseas. I love playing big cities.”
What’s the worst journey you’ve had either to or from a venue?
“We’ve only ever missed one show in my whole career because we couldn’t physically make it. We played in Edmonton, Alberta and we had two days off to get to Sioux City, Iowa and we hit this blizzard and we ended going at 30 miles per hour from Regina, Canada all the way to Des Moines. Took me 42 hours of straight driving. We stopped to sleep. At one point the road disappeared. We were on a highway and it was snowing so hard that our van got covered in snow and we couldn’t drive any more and we had to have somebody come and pull us out. We just couldn’t physically make it to the city on time.”
What’s the nearest you’ve come to a Spinal Tap moment on tour?
“Early in my career I played this event and, for some reason or another, we had an offer to play the main stage, but it made more money for us not to play the main stage. We played a little gazebo outside of the musical part - it was some sort of town fair, right? We had a magician opening for us and, man, he bombed so bad.
"All these little kids were turning on him and it was one of those moments where you think, ‘What am I doing out here, playing in this fucking gazebo?’. It was a disheartening show, but our fans still came out. That was kinda Spinal Tap-ish, having a magician open for us. He was kind of a dick, too.”
What non-musical item couldn’t you do without on tour?
“I’ll give you three, because it’s what makes my show. I need my heels, I need my curling irons and I need my eyeliner. I don’t know in what order.”
What’s your favourite live album?
“You know, it’s a movie, but it really is one of the greatest live performances ever captured on film - The Band’s The Last Waltz is classic. I think it captures that band and all these incredible players and the cast that was assembled for that show... Robbie Robertson’s guitar tone is perfect.”
Samantha Fish’s new album, Kill Or Be Kind, is out now on the Rounder label.