By Brenda Lorenz | Photos by Jayne Drooger
Skipper’s Smokehouse (version 2.0) is back and better than ever! Selwyn Birchwood and his band had it smoking with blues Saturday night with several songs from his latest album, “Living in a Burning House” which was released in January of 2020 – his third with Alligator Records. Among those were, “One More Time”, “Revelation”, “I’d Climb Mountains”, “Looking for My Tribe”, “My Happy Place”, and of course the title track, “Living in a Burning House”. He was excited to announce, and also told us during our exclusive interview, that this album debuted at #1 on the iTunes Blues charts and at #1 on the Billboard Blues charts! I can’t see how it wouldn’t with his deep, bluesy voice that can take your soul to places you didn’t know existed. His smoldering guitar will scorch a hole in your blues dreams that you don’t want to wake from! This was my first time seeing him perform and it definitely made its mark!
People were dancing from the first song and they didn’t stop until he said goodnight three hours later! The enthusiasm and excitement he brought to that stage was undeniable! Seeing him is like seeing the past and present at the same time – like a kaleidoscope of blues music bringing that familiar old school feel to a current-day inspiration. He is the embodiment of a young old soul. That was proven by just looking around Skipper’s. There were 20-somethings dancing to his music right along with the 70-somethings. That truly made my heart happy! With an influence that spans generations, I’d say he’s doing something right! The passion he displays is infectious – age not withstanding!
He broke out the lap steel in on “Hoodoo Stew” which is from his first album, “Don’t Call No Ambulance”. That lap steel guitar in his hands is pure magic creating a slide sound that pops and makes you want to move!
Selwyn’s appreciation of the greats like Muddy Waters and BB King are very clear. When I asked him how he learned to play the guitar, he said he’d hear a riff or lick that was on one of their records that he wanted to learn and he’d just work it out on the guitar through trial and error, which took some time, work, and determination. This was a lot harder than pulling up YouTube videos where you get step-by-step instructions. He learned from the best the hard way. However, when you hear him play, you are not hearing covers that tell you their stories – you’re hearing his songs, telling his story in his way. You’re hearing his truth in music and it resonates and touches the soul. The way he shares his viewpoint of that honesty is an art within itself.
Yes, he’s playing blues music but that doesn’t always mean it has to be sad and downtrodden. Something else you’ll notice when you see him; he is always smiling! He tells us where that comes from in “You Can’t Steal My Shine” (Living in a Burning House). When I asked him about how he came up with the idea of this song, his response was, “If you’re already happy on the inside, nobody can take that joy from you.” One thing that gives him joy is blues music; listening to it, writing it, and playing it for a live audience. “This is ‘My Happy Place’ – which explains why he wrote his song by that title. He was genuinely ecstatic to be back at Skipper’s after believing they were gone for good. Thank heavens they were not!
Blues has been in his blood from the beginning. I asked him if his friends in high school were into blues music like he was. “Not at all – not even a little bit!” He talked about how some kids would even make fun of the music he listened to. However, in an appropriate turn of events, some of those same kids now come to see his shows and have to pay $20-$25 for a ticket! “Searching for my Tribe” is another song on “Living in a Burning House” that speaks to that topic.
If you’re not blown away by Selwyn Birchwood yet, check this out! In 2013, at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN, he and his band won “Best Band” by beating out over 200 other bands from around the world! Wait – there’s more! He proceeded to also win the Albert King Best Guitarist of the Year. His dream since childhood was to have a genuine Gibson guitar, which just happened to be what he won in this challenge. He told us that he had to sell two other faux Gibson guitars that he had just to get to this competition. The guitar that he won that fulfilled his childhood dream is Custom Gibson 335 . I asked him if he still plays that guitar. “I still do! Almost every day!” Now, he is endorsed by Gibson Guitars. “I’ve been representing Gibson for many years now Gibson is representing me!”
Selwyn is not only an incredibly talented blues singer/songwriter, guitarist, and storyteller, but he is a sincerely nice guy that is extremely appreciative of having the opportunity to do what he does and to have people appreciate him for giving us his music!
“Music for me is therapy” ~Selwyn Birchwood~