Florida might not be known for the blues but boy, is that profile changing with the steadily rising talent that is Selwyn Birchwood.
The Orlando-native Tampa resident has been praised by Rolling Stone as a “young, powerhouse guitarist and soulful vocalist” and by the Washington Post as an “indelibly modern and original next-generation bluesman; [with] tough vocals, guitar and lap steel touch on classic Chicago blues, Southern soul and boogie” — both extremely accurate accolades.
Barely 30, Birchwood cuts an impressive presence, 6’3” tall and with an Afro that adds another half-foot at the least. He’d be good enough as a novelty act, but Birchwood carries an enviable blues education evident both in his style of playing and his original compositions. You see, in the blues, if there’s no honesty, there’s no success, and Birchwood has honesty.
Picking up the guitar at age 13 and becoming steeped in blues in his teens, it was at a friend’s urging that he visit the former’s neighbor — casually described as a blues guitarist with a band – who turned out to be the legendary Texas axe-man Sonny Rhodes. Long story short: They jammed, they jelled, and Birchwood was asked to join Rhodes on tour, learning firsthand the rules of the trade.
At Rhodes’ urging, Birchwood received an MBA from the University of Tampa and held a spot in Rhodes’ entourage whenever his schedule allowed for it. The road since has continued to favor Birchwood’s growth. In 2013, he won the prestigious International Blues Challenge (IBC), beating out 125 other competitors from the U.S. and around the world, as well as an Albert King Guitarist of the Year Award.
It wouldn’t be long before the famous and crucial blues label out of Chicago, Alligator Records, would come knocking with a contract. The union produced 2014’s Don’t Call No Ambulance, one of the most fully-realized and succinct official debuts in modern blues; a perfect amalgam of Birchwood’s knowledge of country twang, Chicago blues, slow rollers, and rock 'n' roll.
Talent of this magnitude does not come by very often. With Birchwood, modern blues can place some bets for the long-run. His respect for the blues’ past shapes the honesty with which he imbues his modernized racket. As stated in the press release, "If I can play my music, travel the world, bring happiness to people, then I'm blessed and happy," he says. "It's like Sonny always told me, 'If you follow your heart, you'll always get what you want.'"
The Selwyn Birchwood Band
9 p.m. on Friday, November 27 at the Funky Biscuit, 303 SE Mizner Blvd., Boca Raton. Tickets cost $20 to $35, and $10 under 21 with parent or legal guardian. Call 561-395-2929 or visit funkybiscuit.com for complete event line-up and detailed ticket information.
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