Photo by Aigars Lapsa

In the seven years since she first picked up a guitar, Samantha Fish has accomplished what scores of musicians strive for throughout their career—and rarely achieve: She secured a record deal, toured the world, and now makes a living solely from her music. By all signs, she seems poised to become a key figure in modern blues. All at the tender age of 22. And she didn’t pull it off by using some Rebecca Black-style YouTube stunt or having an industry connection. She did it the old-fashioned way, by playing her ass off and paying her dues night after night in dingy, smelly clubs.

As a teen, after a long night of delivering pizzas, Fish would sneak into Knuckleheads in Kansas City, Missouri, to check out big-name blues guitarists. She also sat in with them at every opportunity, and soon she became a fixture on the blues scene there. Eventually, she quit her job and went after music full-time.

In February 2010, Fish recorded and produced a live album entitledLive Bait. Word spread quickly, and it wasn’t long before the stars aligned, so to speak: Tina Terry of Piedmont Talent saw Fish perform at Knuckleheads and was so impressed that she referred Fish to the company’s director, Steve Hecht, who then contacted Thomas Ruf of Ruf Records. Soon after, Fish was offered a contract. Upon signing the deal, the label put Fish on
Girls with Guitars, an album that placed her alongside female blues artists Cassie Taylor and Dani Wilde. This act toured Europe and the United States on the Ruf Records 2011 Blues Caravan.

Fish’s debut Ruf Records album,Runaway, was released last summer, and it’s an impressive outing that spans several styles—from the rumba-fied country-boogie of “Soft and Slow” to the smoky jazz vibe of “Feelin’ Alright” and “Today’s My Day.”

Who are your main influences?

That’s a hard question, because there’s so many. I grew up listening to a lot of classic rock, like Tom Petty, the Rolling Stones, and Sheryl Crow. Keith Urban was also a real big deal for me, growing up. When I was 17, I went to his concert, and I wanted to learn how to play lead after that. Stevie Ray Vaughan was also a big influence on me. I take influences from different styles of guitarists, but when I got into the blues it was, like, Freddie King and the old Delta guys. Right now, I’m really into Elmore James and contemporary guys like Mike Zito, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Michael Burks, Tommy Castro, and Tab Benoit— who ishugefor me.

How did you make the shift from Sheryl Crow to the blues?

I was 18, and I wanted to go out and jam in Kansas City. I live in a blues town, but I didn’t really know much about it until I started going out to the open jams. I didn’t even want to play the blues at first. I was into classic rock and I wanted to be a rocker, but then I started playing the blues and I felt the soul in it. I fell in love with it and started doing my homework by listening to the old guys like Son House and Skip James.

Did you ever take guitar lessons?

Not really. I took a couple of lessons here and there, but I’m mostly self-taught. When I was about 18, I started hitting the scales hard, trying to be a lead player. I started just making up my own solos, picking up little bits and pieces from things that I heard. I never had the patience to sit down and learn somebody’s solo, note-for-note. I kind of wish I did have the patience, but I would get distracted and start doing my own thing.