Selwyn Birchwood Casts Out Demons of Tired Blues on Exorcist

Selwyn Birchwood: Honoring blues music's past while forging a modern sound.
Selwyn Birchwood: Honoring blues music's past while forging a modern sound. Photo by Marilyn Stringer
Read enough articles and press materials on Selwyn Birchwood and one modifying word keeps popping up: that he’s a “contemporary” bluesman. Come to think of it, the same word shows up in pieces on artists like Gary Clark, Jr., Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Toronzo Cannon and Quinn Sullivan.
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Record cover

For Birchwood himself, the singer/guitarist seems to know the reason why. And he’s cool with that.

“I don’t mind that at all. I feel like there’s a stigma with the word ‘blues’ and people automatically go to a toothless dude on some front porch tapping his foot to an acoustic guitar and singing about his woes,” Birchwood says from his home in Florida.

“It’s not like that. We’ve been able to draw younger people to our shows. They love blues music if you don’t tell them it’s blues music! Or grandpa music. That’s not what we’re doing. It’s rooted in the blues and tradition, but it’s as modern as any other music you hear. And I get up and sound like me—nobody else.”

A musician’s relationship to his geography is something that has also intrigued Birchwood himself. He notes the blues in North Carolina differs from the Delta which differs from the Hill Country. His own Sunshine State background is most relevant in his upcoming release, Exorcist (Alligator Records).

In the burning funk blues of “FLorida Man,” the Birchwood’s deep, graveled voice paints a picture of the person who’s become a staple of pop culture themes, memes, comedian's material. As in a large proportion of news reports about the strangest/weirdest/most bizarre crimes seem to begin with "Today, a Florida man..." The song even includes some news anchor snippets. And the “FL” is capitalized on purpose:
FLorida Man gets drunk and shoots guns at hurricanes/FLorida man gets high on bath salts and eats your face/FLorida Man reports a burglary to authorities ‘cause you stole his stash/FLorida Man commits a felony, armed robbery, in a Spider-Man mask.”

All, as the hilarious-yet-sad music video shows, are based on real incidents.

“Man, I went through my grieving process of hiding my head every time a crazy headline comes up and hoping it’s not about a man from Florida! People are crazy down around here. It’s a wild environment. But I dig it!” he laughs. “But down here where I live, you go four blocks and there’s Amish Mennonite people. And coyotes and bats. And trucks on lifts. I just have to walk out by the intersection by my house to see Florida Man. But home is home!”
In another number, “Swim at Your Own Risk,” a possible FLorida Man bandit is on the run from the law at night, choosing to evade capture while wading in some murky swamp water. Let’s just say he meets the same fate as that of the Louisiana sheriff in Jerry Reed’s 1970 hit “Amos Moses.”

The songs on Exorcist—all penned by Birchwood—also travel down many side roads of the blues, including rock (“Done Cryin’”, “Underdog”), gospel (“Lazarus”), slow (“Plenty More to the Grateful For”), jump (the throwback sound of “Call Me What You Want To”), uptempo (“Hopeless Romantic”), and shuffles (“ILA-View”). The record closes with an instrumental, “Show Tune.”
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Selwyn Birchwood
Photo by Paul May
For Birchwood, the variety is not a choice—it’s crucial and necessary.

“I hate when I hear an album and I feel like I’m hearing the same song at different tempos, and that’s not the case with this album. I really try and run the full spectrum of sounds,” he offers. “Not only blues, but other sounds. You can paint a really cool picture using the color blue, but it becomes more imaginative when you sprinkle some other colors in.”

On the record’s longest track, clocking in at just over seven minutes, “Plenty More to Be Grateful For” could also be Birchwood’s most personal.

“It wasn’t even a song to begin with. I was going through my own depression in 2020 being stuck in a room at home. We were supposed to have the last record, Living in a Burning House, out that year plus several European tours and an extensive U.S. tour. It all got chopped down to zero,” he says.

“But you have to be grateful for your health. And that song was me trying to recalibrate my emotions and coming to grips with reality in a world where you’re watching the news and all these people are dying. So not being able to tour and perform music is not the worst thing in the world.”

Birchwood says he specifically wanted to write something uplifting, to not only get him out of his funk (the not-great-kind), but help others as well.
“Blues music is about honest and relatability and the human condition. That’s how I approach my songwriting, and is what is missing in a lot of blues music today,” he says. “[Artists] have to share what they’re going through and not just tell other people’s stories and music.”

Asked what he wanted to do differently with this album or something he couldn’t do on previous ones, and Birchwood says he doesn’t see his current work in comparison with what’s come before.

“My goal is simply to write and perform the best music I can and put out what I want to hear when I go out and hear a band. And what turns me on with music is that it has to feel like it has some imagination and excitement,” he offers.
“I don’t want to go ‘Oh, I’ve heard this a hundred times before.’ I dig honest emotion, and I feel that we’ve done that with this record. To tiptoe the line between modern sounds, traditional sounds, and my sounds. And you’d be hard -pressed to find a band that sounds like the Selwyn Birchwood Band.”

That band—both on Exorcist and an upcoming extensive tour—includes Regi Oliver (saxophones), Donald “Huff” Wright (bass), and Byron “Bizzy” Garner (drums). Handling keyboard duties on the record was Ed Krout, but on tour will be Michael Hensley.
The native of Orlando, Florida was born in 1985 with a father from Tobago and a mother from the UK. He first started playing guitar at 13, moving from the then-popular grunge sounds to the artistry of Jimi Hendrix. But it wasn’t until he caught a show by Buddy Guy—a huge influence on Hendrix and a living bridge between blues and rock—that his musical path became clearer.

“I was floored,” he says in his official bio. “I completely connected with the blues. I knew this was my path, and I had to make this music.”

On the phone, Birchwood goes further. “I saw him when I was 17 and didn’t know what I was in for. It was the first time I’d heard blues music. I still have the concert ticket stub from September 2003!” he says. “Now, his producer produces my records, and I got to sit in with him for a couple of shows almost 20 years to the day of first seeing him. It’s really gone full circle”.
Guy’s music led him back to the Albert King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Muddy Waters, and Houston’s Lightnin’ Hopkins, all of whom knew their way around an electric guitar. At 19, he met bluesman Sonny Rhodes and joined his road band while working on his own music he’d eventually brand “Electric Swamp Funkin’.”

Birchwood self-produced released his 2011 debut FL Boy. Two years later came Road Worn and a victory at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Birchwood came to Alligator Records in 2014 with Don’t Call No Ambulance, followed by Pick Your Poison and Living in a Burning House. He’s become one of the storied blues label’s biggest young stars. And he’s ready to prove it across the globe.

“We have an absolutely slammed tour schedule with this album. I’m not sure we’ve ever had this much touring! And the reviews have been immense. The enthusiasm seems to have scaled up,” he sums up. “I couldn’t be happier. And I’m taking it out to the people!”

For more on Selwyn Birchwood, visit
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero