When Selwyn Birchwood picked up a guitar for the first time during the late ’90s, grunge was fading, nu-metal was in its infancy. No wonder Birchwood got the blues, literally and figuratively.
“When I started playing guitar back then, the stuff on the radio was just so repetitive and boring,” Birchwood said. “I was moved to look elsewhere.”
The pop, rock and hip-hop of that day didn’t speak to Birchwood, who discovered the blues.
“I just got a feeling from the blues that I got from no other music,” Birchwood explained during a call from his Carrollwood home. “I heard Jimi Hendrix and I was just blown away. He was larger than life. He played differently and dressed differently and acted differently. It’s still mind-blowing what he did. I learned that his rock was a product of the blues.”
So when he was 17, Birchwood went back into blues history and studied Muddy Waters, Albert King and Albert Collins and there was no turning back.
“By that time, I was completely sold on the blues,” Birchwood said. “I connected with it. I knew I had to make blues music.”
The Selwyn Birchwood Band was formed in Orlando four years ago and the band’s debut, “FL Boy,” dropped in 2011, which has the power and precision that is reminiscent of blues guitar hero Buddy Guy. Birchwood, 28, is that commanding with his ax.
“That’s a huge compliment since Buddy Guy has had a huge impact on me,” Birchwood said. “I remember seeing him when I was 17. I had no idea what I was walking into. He impressed me since he’s such a great guitarist and a great showmen. He certainly inspired me.”
The gritty vocalist is proud to have named his debut after the Sunshine State. “The name of that album represents me well since I’m all about Florida,” Birchwood said. “I loved growing up in Orlando, and I love living in the Tampa area. It’s not cool to say you’re from Florida and I’m fine with that. I wear Florida like a badge of honor. I wasn’t pretending to be from the Delta. I’m from Florida.”
The soft-spoken Birchwood, who will perform Friday at the Palladium, is thrilled to be based in the Tampa Bay area. “I’m crazy about living here because you have a great blues society (Suncoast Blues Society) and you have WMNF, which truly supports live music and plays recording artists, who you won’t hear elsewhere. I don’t get to play here as much as I’d like since we’re on the road a lot. But I have great memories playing Skipper’s and down in Bradenton and Sarasota. And you also have the Tampa Bay Blues Festival.”
Florida is a good market for Birchwood since many folks are at mid-life and beyond. “That’s true,” Birchwood said. “Most of the people that come out to our shows are 40 and older. That’s fine. But I wish we had more younger people come out. They need to know what the blues is about. They need to hear it. If they heard it, they would probably be moved like I was. The audience for the blues might be older but I don’t think the blues will ever go away. It’s something that is so relatable and so familiar.”
Birchwood and his band are working on an album. “The new material is funkier and rootsier,” Birchwood said. “But it’s still the blues. It’s my music. It’s what I’m always going to play.”