Jesse Dayton and Samantha Fish Revive the Blues – Rolling Stone

It’s late afternoon in the back of the Princess Theater in downtown Decatur, Alabama. Blues rock singer Samantha Fish sits in front of a brightly lit mirror in the historic venue’s green room, preparing for a show alongside her musical partner in crime, Jesse Dayton. The duo is in the midst of a whirlwind tour for their album Death Wish Blues.

“The blues speaks to people of all generations at different times in their lives — it’s just kind of your soul,” Fish says. Rolling Stone behind the scenes. “Seeing a great band (blues), watching a great guitarist play and sing something really true from their heart, it moves you, it strikes a chord.”

A true powerhouse of vocal prowess with her vocal range, stage presence and six-string exploration through her signature white Gibson SG, Fish cut her teeth in the blues scene of her native Kansas City, specifically gigging around the famous Knuckleheads club. It’s the exact place where she first met Dayton many years ago.

“Jesse used to be with us all the time and we’ve stayed in touch over the past decade,” Fish says. “I’ve always admired his depth. He has a lot of projects and irons in the fire: solo work, supporting rock legends, work in film. When a certain idea came to mind for a collaborative project, it was that lightbulb moment.”

“Let’s put a band together and see what it sounds like,” Dayton recalls of his initial studio meeting with Phish last year. “We went out there and recorded a Clash song, a Magic Sam song, and a Townes Van Zandt song. We did the whole thing in a few hours. I brought the tapes back to Austin and Rounder Records said they wanted to release it.

“When you go into collaboration, you wonder if you will lose your identity – will I achieve enough, will this be who I am?” Fish (34 years old) adds: But (cooperation) had the opposite effect. Once we started working on things, I felt myself taking chances that I maybe wouldn’t normally take on a solo record. “I had no fear.”

And that was what resulted from that Stardust Sessions EP, which spread throughout the blues, rockabilly, Americana, and indie worlds. So, Fish and Dayton went straight back into the studio and produced the 12-song EP Death Wish Blues.

Recorded at the band’s late Rick Danko’s former studio in upstate New York, this record is a time stamp of two very creative and curious artists entering this exuberant new chapter of their lives, on stage and in the studio.

“A million things could have gone wrong. We were both shocked at how lucky we were,” Dayton says. “But the thing I know about Sam is that she is an amazing singer and guitarist. With Sam, she can play like Freddy King and Albert King – she’s done the 10,000 hours and done her homework.

It should be noted that John Spencer of the famous New York City rock trio, John Spencer Blues Explosion, was tapped to produce the Death Wish Blues soundtrack.

“We could go there and do the same old thing, this kind of post-’90s Stevie Ray Vaughan playing with John Bonham’s drums,” says Dayton, who arrives in Nashville this week for AmericanaFest 2023. Do. With John Spencer, we help turn it all on ears and bring you some funky stuff from the 70s.

“We had the North Star, and this idea and aesthetic that we wanted,” Fish says. “We wanted it to have elements of punk rock with a blues foundation. But all these other styles started to emerge — (the sound) just went where it wanted to go naturally.”

For Dayton, “naturally” was part of the ethos of his life and career. The itinerant Texas troubadour was raised all his life on quintessential country music, the bedrock of his musical aspirations that were eventually completed by work alongside Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings.

“I could always play Jerry Reed and all kinds of country stuff growing up in Beaumont, (Texas),” says Dayton, 56. “But when I was 15, I had five hit records that changed everything: Lazy Lester, Slim Harpo, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and Howlin’ Wolf.”

This constant immersion in the blues and its depths amid the sometimes dark and even sinister side of the human condition always remained close to Dayton’s heart and whatever projects he found himself in. He has toured with punk rock bands such as X and collaborated with Rob Zombie, both on stage and screen.

“I work with a lot of people and (Samantha) is as inspiring as anyone I’ve ever worked with,” says Dayton, who just dropped his latest single, “Talkin’ Company Blues,” from an upcoming album. “She’s laser focused and is a great natural talent. The upside is that we work together to diversify our audiences — some nights it’s ‘Who’s she?’ Other nights it’s ‘Who’s this guy?’”

The audience stands in the Princess Theater, studded with dapper blues cats, Southern neophytes, bikers and fat monkeys. It’s a subtle slice of the divide that exists at the heart of the blues, and in this rural corner of the South.

Regardless of background or intent, blues music—with all its timeless nature of sadness and grief—is actually meant to connect and uplift, and to spark solidarity in a shared moment of performance.

“I’m constantly moving the goalposts and always have the widest view possible,” Fish says. “It’s the ability to keep growing and changing – I’m not trapped yet, I keep following the inspiration.”


On stage in Decatur, Fish and Dayton emit a stabbing, snarling sound that is both confrontational and energetic, a tone that nurtures any worries and troubles you may have felt beforehand.

“You know, I don’t think I was prepared for how creative I could feel playing with Sam,” Dayton says. “Writing these songs and playing them is everything to me. It’s about feeding off each other’s energy and being excited about it.

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