Growing up in Bruce, Alberta, it was natural for Samantha King to gravitate to country music. At the tender age of 13, King won the 1998 Country Vocal Spotlight competition which led to her representing Northlands and the City of Edmonton at the Canadian Finals Rodeo.
For close to a decade, the multiple-award-winner swam in country waters receiving accolades for both singing and writing. But her heart, even as a teenager, belonged to blues and soul music. On Thursday, Sept. 2, King performs in St. Albert as the marquee act for the Arden Theatre’s Plaza Series.
And she’s making up for lost time as her songs hark back to soul, blues and jazz clubs tinged with dark lighting and vocalists singing poignant tales of love and loss.
“It was a natural switch. It couldn’t have happened earlier. I’d won a country music competition and did country music gigs. I loved it and I wanted to sing. People in country were so nice, so I did it for a number of years. But something was missing. When I sang the blues or Motown, I would completely lose myself in it. It was like therapy. I finally put my foot down and said, ‘This is me. This what I love to do,” said King.
Accompanying King on Thursday is Jimmy Guiboche, Edmonton Blues Hall of Fame Inductee and guitarist extraordinaire.
“I’m excited to be playing with Jimmy again. I haven’t played with him in years. The energy he brings to any stage is amazing. When we play together, I get lost in the moment,” said King.
“Jimmy and I love the blues so much. It’s like a therapy. We wake up every day and have blues running through our brains. When you work with a certain musician, and you have a natural connection, every time you play on stage, things just click.”
King's shift occurred after she returned from Vancouver in 2018 from studying an intensive global makeup program that prepared her to focus in any field from high-fashion runway gigs to creating special effect looks for TV and film.
A few days after she returned to Edmonton, Mark Beaudoin of the Retrofitz, was putting together a blues band and invited her to come on board as vocalist. He was gunning to perform in the 35th International Blues Challenge held in Memphis, Tennessee.
The band quickly jumped on the train and auditioned for the initial part of the challenge in Edmonton where they won a berth to Memphis. Unfortunately, Memphis was full of tough competition, and they scored 10th place.
“That was my first real hit on the blues. I’d never done a real blues gig before.”
Although not anointed as a blues champion, the competition gave King the push she needed to focus on expressing and translating music through the medium she loved.
Once COVID hit, she took a step back from singing and directed her energies instead on songwriting, some of which she hopes to record in the near future.
In talking to her, King exudes a bubbly personality mixed with the wisdom of an old soul, qualities that people who work with her admire. In early 2021, Tom McKillop, producer of her award-winning debut album, This Is Forever, phoned her with an offer she couldn’t refuse.
Tom Jackson, of the annual Huron Carole fundraiser to defeat hunger, invited her to perform on the 2021 edition that was taped in August at a Calgary studio.
“I had performed once with him when I was 17. I’d sung one song, and I’d always wanted to be part of the tour,” she said.
For King there was a personal reason for helping the hungry and homeless. Her father, once a prominent IT specialist who flew across the world working on major projects, developed serious addiction issues and lived on the streets.
Even when living on the streets, he never abandoned his daughter. King recalls seeing her father on the periphery of crowds watching her whenever she sang in downtown Edmonton.
“He taught me a lot, and it made me more grateful to be able to make choices he couldn’t. I’m grateful for the life lessons he gave me. I too have an addictive personality. I don’t drink and stay away from some situations. I have a choice and if I make the right choices, I won’t end up where he was.”
King will be singing mainly covers at the Arden bash with a few originals thrown in the mix.
Opening for her is Kate Blechinger, an Edmonton vocalist, composer and arranger. Originally from Regina, she’s a graduate of MacEwan University's Bachelor of Music program. She’s performed with the 1940s harmony group, The Jivin’ Belles and in 2019 released her 12-track album, Under a Dancing Sky.