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Published: 2005/10/13
by Andy Tennille

Used with Samantha Stollenwerck

A walk through the used record bins of some of the country’s finest music stores with musicians, both famous and infamous.

Nearly 40 years ago, a fiery blues singer from Port Arthur, Texas moved to San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury and set the city ablaze with her soaring soulful voice and southern charm. Channeling her idols Billie Holliday and Bessie Smith, Janis Joplin overwhelmed audiences with her sexy sultriness and balls-to-the-wall attitude, a rare dichotomy not found in rock music today.

Samantha Stollenwerck’s not from the Gulf Coast (San Diego, actually), nor does she share the late singer’s penchant for Southern Comfort, but her bluesy voice and ballsy attitude are Joplin through and through.

“I’ve heard a lot of people compare my vocals to Janis Joplin, and that’s a huge honor cause I love her music,” Samantha says as we filter into Amoeba Music on a busy Friday afternoon. “It’s interesting, cause she was the only female rock star back in old school San Francisco during the Summer of Love days with the Dead, Jefferson Airplane and everyone else and in San Francisco today you’ve got all these guys in Tea Leaf Green, ALO, Eric McFadden, guys like that, and then there’s me. So I kind of feel a connection with her in that way.”

Square One, Stollenwerck’s debut record on In the Pocket Records, is a poppy rock album featuring good songwriting and catchy riffs. It’s a nice start, but doesn’t adequately capture Samantha’s looser live sound.

“It’s funny, because I don’t think my vocals came across as very soulful on that album,” Stollenwerck admits. “I think I sound really young on that record. It was recorded over a year ago, so I’m ready to sit down and record something that’s more like what I sound like right now.”

Like many twenty- and thirty-somethings, Samantha was hugely influenced by Paul Simon’s Graceland. Mixing folk music with Afrobeat and mbaqanga music from South Africa, Graceland is a timeless classic that sounds as relevant today as it did when it dropped in 1986.

“Two days ago, I was driving up the coast and listened to all my old Paul Simon records. I’d forgotten what an amazing songwriter he is,” Samantha says. “Albums like Graceland, Rhythm of the Saints and The Concert in the Park are all classic records. I think he is a brilliant, brilliant songwriter. He’s one of my biggest inspirations. I’ve written so many songs just because I wanted to be like Paul Simon. He’s fused so many musical cultures together. There’s zydeco, afrobeat, the South American vibe and then he’s got the American songwriter thing, and it comes together beautifully. His imagery in his lyrics is amazing.”

If Paul Simon was the male folk influence on Samantha, Joni Mitchell was his female counterpart. As with Simon, Mitchell’s songwriting and use of imagery was what attracted Samantha initially.

“My mom bought me her record right after I learned how to play the guitar,” Samantha says as we swing through Used Rock. “Right around the same time, I had this really cool woman who was my English teacher at school. She was like a serial skydiver, one of those adrenaline junkie types, and really funny and goofy and wonderful. She loved Joni Mitchell and used to bring me her albums, like Ladies of the Canyon, Mingus and Miles of Aisles. Miles of Aisles was my favorite. I haven’t listened to her in a while, but she was a huge influence on my early on. I don’t sing like her or anything, but I’ll always love her songs and her words.”

As she paws through Mitchell’s extensive catalogue, Samantha suddenly looks up, glances to her left and then to her right and scratches her head.

“Where’s MOFRO?” she asks, sliding down the aisle in search of the Jacksonville, Florida-based band’s fantastic debut album, Blackwater. “I love MOFRO. Every time I see JJ (Grey, lead singer of MOFRO), I tell him I think he’s one of the great singers of our generation. The first time I saw him and the band was at High Sierra Music Festival a few years back, and I was just blown away. There aren’t many singers like him anymore that are in touch with the soul music side of things. He’s one of the few. I love their album, Blackwater. His voice just has so much soul. It sounds like they recorded that album with just one microphone in the middle of a room. The sound is so thick and rich, it sounds like a vinyl record I love it.”

Another contemporary Samantha’s into is Ray LaMontagne. Trouble, LaMontagne’s fantastic acoustic soul album released last year, received widespread radio airplay and earned rave critical reviews.

“I just saw him play at the Fillmore recently. His record is definitely one of my favorites of the year,” Samantha says. “It’s so stripped down and so simple, and his performance captured that beautifully. He seemed really nervous onstage and barely said anything the whole show, but I was so blown away. He was up there by himself for some of the show and then brought out a band for some songs with a string section. He did an amazing version of “Hold You in My Arms” with the strings. People compare him to Van Morrison. I think he’s great. Very mellow and subtle, but definitely one of my favorite albums of the year.”

Most folks don’t like picking a favorite album of all time. It’s a distressing request how can one choose between, say Fillmore East, A Love Supreme or Astral Weeks? They’re three completely different records that evoke very specific, individual responses. Despite all this, Samantha takes a stand – Traffic’s Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.

“Hands down, one of the most essential albums of my life. I don’t care how old I am or where I am in lifeit’s a great album.,” she says, brushing her blonde hair from her face as she runs her hand over the album cover. “I think I was introduced to it when I was 15 years old or so, and it’s one of the reasons to this day why I play music. I had already picked up the acoustic guitar at that point, but to be able to create that feeling, being able to jam and the folksiness of the whole English rock sound at that pointthey were a great, great band. I own all of these records. I used to play in a band called Shady Lady that had a flute player in it because I wanted it to sound like Traffic. Anything by Traffic is good with me.”

Samantha’s Picks MOFRO, Blackwater Paul Simon, Graceland Traffic, Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys Joni Mitchell, Miles of Aisles Ray LeMontagne, Trouble

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