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Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton deliver unforgettable collaboration with 'Death Wish Blues'

Daniel Sanda

Musician Jesse Dayton says that his new album with Samantha Fish, "Death Wish Blues," is informed by a sense of humor.

Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton will perform at Temple Live on Thursday, July 20, as part of their tour in support of “Death Wish Blues,” their debut LP as a duo.

Dayton comes from a varied musical background, having played alongside Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Glenn Danzig and others while having also released a series of acclaimed albums under his own name dating back to the mid-1990s.

Fish started her career in the Kansas City, Missouri, music scene, becoming an integral part of that city’s blues scene in her teens. Like Dayton, she has recorded a series of solo LPs that have established her as a formidable singer, songwriter and guitarist.

The pair previously issued a 2022 EP, “The Stardust Sessions,” before the Jon Spencer-produced “Death Wish Blues.” The record was a risk: The pair had never met Spencer before arriving in the studio and there was no guarantee that their unapologetically raucous brand of blues-inspired rock would result in anything that connected with their shared audiences.

They needn’t have worried, though, as “Death Wish Blues” proves an accessible but unapologetic affair, combining Fish’s sense of the melodic with Dayton’s bruised blend of blues and rock ‘n’ roll. Combined with Spencer’s deft production touches, the result is a record that proves unforgettable and eminently listenable.

Dayton recently spoke with KMUW about the making of “Death Wish Blues.”

Interview Highlights

You and Samantha actually knew each other for a while before making this record. What made it the right time for you to collaborate? 

We met at Knuckleheads in Kansas City. She was opening for me, and I looked over at my tour manager and said, “Who’s playing guitar downstairs?” He said, “It’s this young girl down there.” I said, “Really?”

I went downstairs [to hear her] and of course she blew my mind. The crowd was going nuts, and I thought, “Something’s going to happen with her.” We kept in touch over the years and 12 years later she walks into this gig I was playing in New Orleans and said, “Hey, do you want to get together and work on some stuff?” I said, “Yeah, sure, why not?” I flew from Austin to New Orleans, and we started making music.

At what point did you know that Jon Spencer was going to become the producer for this album?

After me and Sam reconnected in New Orleans, I started working with her manager, Reuben Williams. He said, “Why don’t you let me manage you? Just come on the team and it’ll make everything easier.” I said, “Sure, let’s do it.”

He said, “You ever thought about doing anything with Jon Spencer?” I said, “No, but I love Jon Spencer.” [Reuben said], “What do you think about him producing you and Sam?” I said, “Great!”

The day that we arrived in the studio in New York, we had never met Jon before.


A million things could have gone wrong, and it all went really great.

I was going to say that this record seems like a true collaboration between the three of you. I can hear Spencer touches in the production, and you and Samantha on musical end. Is it fair to say that it was a true collaboration? 

It really was. Once we met Jon, he became like the third Musketeer. Me and Sam and wrote all these songs together and we flew into … Albany and then drove up to Woodstock. We recorded at Rick Danko [The Band]’s old farm. This guy’s got this amazing recording studio in this old barn.

We all really trust each other because no one knew each other. Recording and writing songs and all of that requires some vulnerability. We just got really lucky with Jon. He makes really fun records. His records are like ear candy; they’re fun to listen to. We knew that he would bring something that wasn’t like your typical blues-rock record.

When I think about him I think about a sense of humor in the music.


I’m wondering if that carried over into the sessions? 

Absolutely, man. We were cracking up. There’s a couple of moments on the record where it’s like me doing Jon Spencer. I was just trying to get a rise out of him. If I did stuff like that, he would start cracking up. A lot of this record was about entertaining ourselves.

This was a risk in a lot of ways, but what was it like to hear the record for the first time and realize that you were onto something? 

I think we recorded “Deathwish” first. As I said before, I didn’t want to make a stereotypical blues-rock record. I don’t have anything against that. I love all of that stuff, especially the early stuff; the early classic rock stuff with heavy blues influences. We could have made a record with John Bonham drums and Stevie Ray guitar and all that stuff.

When I heard what Jon was doing, I realized it was different. It almost has this alternative quality to it. I was super stoked. We did first and second takes, all the musicians were in the room together. We recorded the record in 10 days to tape. We didn’t do ProTools or digital recording. The studio was really unforgiving for us. We had to have our act together.

Tell me about working with tape. It is unforgiving.

You have to know your parts, and you have to be a good player. I’ve done it both ways. When you work with ProTools, a computer-based way to record, you can literally fix anything. The newer generation today can go in, not know how to play any instrument, and will sound pretty awesome. They’ll sample some drums, they’ll sample some guitar chords and switch ‘em around, put it all together.

But if you’re playing to tape and you’re playing old tube amps and guitars, whatever happens, happens. Everything you hear on the record is stuff that we recorded in the room. We were trying to make events in all the sections of these songs, do something different.

 One of the songs that I really love on the album is “Trauma.” I think that that encapsulates what this record is about. 

That’s one of my favorite songs, too. That song has some really interesting parts in it. The first part sounds almost like this spy music, kind of Tom Jones type of feel to it. If you listen to the chorus, it could be a Motown or Philly Soul song. In the middle there’s a big rock ‘n’ roll, Led Zeppelin breakdown. You’re right, in a lot of ways, that’s a big track for me because it kind of showcases a lot of what we do on the record on that track.

I think the thing about that song and the album overall is the reminder that rock music should be a little impolite. 

Absolutely. I’m sure that I’m going to get tagged in Sam’s historical career as the edgy guy who worked with her, and I’m sure that Jon Spencer will, too. But that’s really what Samantha was looking for, too; Samantha wanted to get away from making a pop record with every note being perfect. But I think that that’s what’s going to differentiate [this] album from [others like it] in the future. People will say, “Wow, it’s real musicians in the studio just going for it.”

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.