SELWYN BIRCHWOOD – BESSIE SMITH STRUT
SELWYN BIRCHWOOD – Part Of A New Generation Bringing The Blues
By Kimberly Sebring – 6-12-17
Contemporary bluesman Selwyn Birchwood is a 32-year-old performer who has been called a “powerhouse young guitarist” and a “master storyteller” because of his sound and lyrics. He plays tonight with his band on the Trestle Stage during the Bessie Smith Strut.
Though his music has been classified as blues and rock, Birchwood says he is always open to inspiration, which makes for a mix of various genres.
“I’m a blues lover, but I’m really a music lover in general, so we try to incorporate as many different kinds of styles and sounds as we can into our blues music,” he says.
“Somebody asked me how to summarize our sound in four words, and I came up with electric, swamp, funk and blues.”
Birchwood’s most recent album, “Pick Your Poison,” was released on May 19 and embodies the many styles of music that make up his sound. The record is the fourth for Birchwood and his second one produced with Alligator Records.
“It’s different in the song titles, but we’re trying to do the same as far as finding our own sound and just writing new music that people will dig on,” Birchwood says. “We started it about May 2016, and then it took until December for us to actually get finished recording ’cause we were traveling so much.”
Since his band started performing in 2010, he has traveled to 15 countries. Birchwood says that the biggest challenge he has had to confront is his touring schedule.
“It’s one of those things I would say is a battle because it’s a job, but it’s what I wanna do,” Birchwood says. “There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”
Birchwood was born in Orlando, Fla., and first picked up a guitar when he was 13 years old.
After discovering the music of Jimi Hendrix, he became immersed in blues music at 17 while listening to artists such as Buddy Guy, Albert King, Muddy Waters and Lightnin’ Hopkins.
Birchwood then took the opportunity to see Guy perform in Orlando and was “floored,” according to his website.
“Going blindly into it, I didn’t know what I was listening to, but I decided that whatever it was I was watching and experiencing, that’s what I wanted to do,” Birchwood says.
By the time he was 19, a friend had introduced him to blues legend Sonny Rhodes, who was so impressed with Birchwood’s skill that he took him on the road while Birchwood was still in college.
Through hard work and encouragement from Rhodes, Birchwood obtained an MBA from the University of Tampa in 2012, two years after he formed The Selwyn Birchwood Band.
“I challenged myself to get that degree,” Birchwood says on his website. “These days, it’s not good enough to just be a good player.”
Birchwood and his band went on to compete in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in 2012 and 2013 and emerged victorious out of more than 230 bands in 2013, when Alligator Records President Bruce Iglauer recognized his potential.
After releasing his debut album, “Don’t Call No Ambulance,” for Alligator in 2014, Birchwood won a Blues Music Award in the Best New Artist Album category in 2015.
“It’s very humbling and very surreal to have [those awards], and we’re just happy that people dig on what we’re doing,” Birchwood said.
“It’s not always easy times traveling and touring the way that we do, so when we get those kinds of positive feedback, it’s a good morale booster.”
Birchwood has been touring nonstop and performed at several festivals around the world. He also has opened for Guy and other blues stars such as Robert Cray, according to Alligator Records’ website.
“We show up to play because people show up to listen,” he says. “We love doing what we’re doing, and we just want our music to translate that.”
Currently residing in his native Orlando, Birchwood says that he’s “looking forward to getting back over” to play in Chattanooga since he was last there during Nightfall in 2015.
Those who attend his show during Riverbend may also see Birchwood barefoot onstage. No worries; he just doesn’t like shoes that much.
“I wear sandals and flip-flops, and that’s just what I’m used to wearing when I’m home in Florida,” Birchwood says. “It’s either sandals or flip-flops or no shoes, so it’s just more comfortable that way.”
He also plans to keep playing music as long as he is able to.
“That’s the way this business works,” Birchwood says. “You don’t ever retire from the blues — it retires you!”
Contact Kimberly Sebring at Life@TimesFree Press.com.