Best blues newcomer Samantha Fish caps off a day of music at festival
When Richmond blues fan Jerry Penniston saw Samantha Fish play guitar the first time it was in a small club in Merriam, Kan.
Fish, then 19, came on stage to play two songs in a jam hosted by Fast Johnny Ricker, a guitarist and something of a local legend.
“The first time I saw her, I thought ‘This kid’s going to be something,’ ” said Penniston.
That was his first exposure, but hardly the last. Since then, Penniston has seen 99 of her shows. No. 100 will come on Sept. 22, when Fish headlines the evening show at the Outlaw Days festival on Richmond square.
Fish was named best blues newcomer in Memphis, Tenn. earlier this year, so bringing her to Richmond is no small accomplishment. In discussing the idea for a new festival with co-organizer Dave Powell, a city councilman, Penniston said a rising national act would bring more people to the square and more customers to the beer and wine garden.
Past festivals had relied on local talent, which lacked the drawing power of someone like Fish and her opening act, The Andrew Justin Murray Band.
“I wanted to bring one of the top acts to town so people could see what they’re like,” said Penniston, who paid to bring both bands to town. “To be selfish, I also wanted to put my name out there with it. She had a chance to play up in Northern Missouri for more money, but she’s playing down here.”
It may be a while before Richmond can afford an act of Fish’s caliber – even with Penniston’s generosity. Fish and her band tour nationally, recently having opened shows for famed guitar virtuoso Johnny Winter. She’s played in Chicago, Memphis and other major stops on the blues circuit, including the Blues From the Top Festival in Winter Park, Colo.
“Probably the neatest place I’ve seen her is House of Blues in Chicago,” Penniston said. But “Memphis down at the awards ceremony’s pretty good, too.”
Others have helped set the stage to make Fish and her band feel welcome in Richmond. Ernie and Nancy Jones, owner of the Jones Store, are sponsoring motel rooms for the band, who’ll be traveling here from a show in Iowa. Bob McCorkendale and Jerry Bales pitched in to provide a banner for the stage. And the Outlaw Days organizing committee rented a stage and professional sound system to set up in front of Gabriella’s Garden on the east side of the square.
Fish started playing guitar and singing at 15, but her blues influences arrived later.
“I didn’t grow up in a blues family,” said Fish, now 23 and a resident of the Waldo area in Kansas City. “I really loved the blues thought I could express myself through it.”
Her earliest influences were the Rolling Stones and AC/DC, but it wasn’t long before she was listening to Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Ray Vaughn. From there, she worked her way back to the acoustic blues masters, people like Son House, Skip James and Charlie Patton, and then the electric pioneers – Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and the three Kings (not related), B.B., Albert and Freddy.
“I think a lot of blues players did that,” she said of learning how the blues genre developed. “It’s such a rich history.”
While she was listening, she was also playing. Although Kansas City is often thought of as a jazz city, its blues scene is wildly popular. There’s a regular circuit of clubs that offer blues music – Knucklehead’s, B.B.’s Lawn Side BBQ and Trouser Mouse are among the most well-known – and most host open jams where beginners and more advanced players can take the stage and play a few songs.