SELWYN BIRCHWOOD always gravitated towards music, whether he realized it or not.
“I kind of always knew I liked music, I just didn’t know that I wanted to play an instrument,” Birchwood tells us ahead of his Sep. 22 performance at Coach’s Corner for the Savannah Jazz Festival.
“Being a kid, I always liked the music in cartoons I was watching. I can look back now and say, ‘Wow, I always liked that stuff.’ Specifically blues music, even when I didn’t know when it was. I look back on different movies; stuff that I’d watch as a kid. I remember watching Back to the Future and seeing Michael J. Fox playing a Chuck Berry song.”
When he was 13 years old, Birchwood started playing guitar and discovered Jimi Hendrix not long after.
“It completely turned my world upside down,” he says.
“I said, ‘I need to know what this is.’ It sounded like alien music to me. I hadn’t heard anything like it. I feel like a lot of people jump on Hendrix stuff and want to play like him, but I was just amazed by the creativity of it. Hendrix is in a genre all to himself. You can’t really put him a box.”
Hendrix was the turning point for Birchwood, who decided to start digging deeper into the legendary guitarist’s influences to figure out where his inventive sound originated from.
“I said, ‘Man, what would inspire someone to write this stuff?’ I started looking back and he’s got all of the old blues guys in his bio. Muddy Waters, Elmore James—I started picking up records from all of the guys he mentioned in his bio, and I found the sound I’d been looking for,” he says.
“I said, ‘Man, this is awesome.’ Buddy Guy was coming to town within weeks of finding out about him, and I went to go see him but didn’t really know anything about him. I was completely floored. I said, ‘Whatever this is that I’m experiencing, that’s what I want to learn. That’s it for me. I found my calling at that point.”
Since then, Birchwood has honed his own sound that is rooted in the Hendrix music as well as pioneers of blues that he was enamored with. As a guitar player, Birchwood says he’s always developing his sound and exploring the confines of the genre.
“I’m still trying to figure it out, but the end goal is to find my own sound,” he expresses. “Especially nowadays in blues music, everybody wants to cover these Muddy Waters songs and Willie Dixon songs and stuff. But that’s not what they were doing. Willie Dixon was a prolific songwriter. It doesn’t make sense to me that people leave out songwriting. So that’s always been my goal—even when I was first learning, I’d learn a song and then try to make my own song from there.”
These days, Birchwood has garnered critical acclaim for his approach to songwriting and playing, and being rightfully lauded as an artist to watch. The Alligator Records artist seemingly has no plans to slow down as he ushers in the next generation of blues—putting his own stamp on it, while paying homage to the players who paved the way.