As Selwyn’s guitar proficiency grew, a friend told him that his neighbor was a blues guitarist and had a band. The 19-year-old Selwyn went over to check it out and jam. The guitar-playing neighbor turned out to be the Texas-born blues legend Sonny Rhodes, who was instantly impressed with the enthusiastic young guitar slinger. Within one month’s time, Rhodes asked Birchwood to pack his bags and join him on the road. It was an incredible experience for Birchwood, as Rhodes took the young man under his wing, teaching him not only guitar and lap steel, but also how to conduct business, how to run a band, and how to reach an audience. “Sonny always said, ‘Play what’s in your heart.’ I’ve never lost sight of that,” says Birchwood.
Rhodes insisted Birchwood go to college and always held the guitar spot in his band open for Selwyn whenever he was available. It was a win-win situation, as Birchwood—through hard work and scholarships—received his MBA from The University of Tampa. “I challenged myself to get that degree,” Birchwood says. “These days, it’s not good enough to just be a good player.” Combining the musical lessons learned from Rhodes and his business acumen, Birchwood created The Selwyn Birchwood Band in 2010, featuring veteran musicians older than Selwyn, testifying to Selwyn’s musical chops and his leadership skills. On stage, they play off each other with ease, feeding off each other’s energy, sharing the fun with the audience.
In 2011 the self-released FL Boy helped the band land gigs outside of their Tampa base, where they were becoming local heroes. Birchwood and his band won their way to spots at the 2012 and 2013 International Blues Challenges in Memphis. After taking ninth place in 2012, they came back determined the next year, taking first place. Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer was sitting at the judges’ table at the time. “I saw Selwyn’s potential in 2012. He absolutely deserved to win in 2013,” he says. The victory opened more doors for Birchwood, increased his exposure and helped the band land a deal with Intrepid Artists booking agency, which led to more and better gigs.
With his 2014 Alligator Records debut album, Don’t Call No Ambulance, Selwyn Birchwood announced his arrival on the international blues stage. The album is a fully realized vision of contemporary blues. Between his uninhibited sense of fun and adventure and his serious-as-a-heart-attack musicianship, Don’t Call No Ambulance opened a door into a bright future for the blues. Rave reviews ran in publications from Rolling Stone to The Wall Street Journal, from The Chicago Tribune to The San Francisco Chronicle.
The Selwyn Birchwood Band has been touring non-stop since before the Alligator debut came out. The band has performed at festivals including The Chicago Blues Festival, The Waterfront Blues Festival, The Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, The Tampa Bay Blues Festival, The North Atlantic Blues Festival, The King Biscuit Blues Festival as well as on The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise and Joe Bonamassa’s Keeping The Blues Alive Cruise. Internationally, they have performed at The Great British Rhythm & Blues Festival, Jazz a Vienne in France, the Rawa Blues Festival in Poland, the Moulin Blues Festival in The Netherlands, the Ottawa Blues Festival in Canada, as well as performing in Spain, Switzerland, Norway, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Belgium and Mexico.
Birchwood has opened for major blues stars including Robert Cray and Buddy Guy and has shared the stage with another friend and teacher, Joe Louis Walker. Not long ago, Selwyn had the opportunity, when performing in San Francisco, to bring his friend and mentor Sonny Rhodes on stage to sit in with his band. It was a moment Birchwood will never forget. “He did so much for me; it was a real honor to return the favor.”
With Pick Your Poison’s urgent, uncompromising music, Selwyn Birchwood is forging new directions for the blues. The Washington Post calls him a “tough, indelibly modern next generation bluesman.” The Wall Street Journal says he is “fiery and original.” The hard-hitting, cutting-edge songs on Pick Your Poison, along with his incendiary live performances, prove without a doubt his status as the blues’ most sensational young talent.