Interview: The Reverend Shawn Amos

Photo: Beth Herzhaft

Interviews are conducted to learn and share someone’s story; in the case of The Reverend Shawn Amos, there are a million narratives from which to choose from a man who has lived several lifetimes already. The son of business magnate Wally “Famous” Amos who had music industry roots, and former nightclub singer Shirlee Ellis, Amos lived a celebrity-like life when with his father, and a harrowed existence with his mother who suffered from severe mental illness, bouncing back and froth between those worlds was challenging, to say the least. “My childhood was sort of a bunch of different childhoods at once,” he recalls. “I got adept at learning how to operate within different kinds of realities early.”

Amos found solace at a young age in writing; “I wrote poems and short stories as a kid, it’s always been a comfort for me, having a private world to express myself in; it was a part of my survival tool kit,” he explains. In college, he was inspired to learn to play saxophone to impress a young lady—“The girl I was dating at the time said I looked sexy holding a saxophone, so I learned how to play it,” he says with a laugh. Playing in bands lead to to singing, which he discovered he thoroughly enjoyed. “I moved back to Los Angeles after college, and I found myself singing; I really liked how my body felt when I sang. I felt like I was getting in touch with a higher consciousness when I was singing, and that lead to writing my own songs.” he says. “My father was an agent and later a manager, so I spent a lot of time in recording studios and backstage at concert venues and on sound stages as a kid. At the time, I remember being bored by it and wanting to be outside playing,” he laughs. “Looking back on it, it was a super informative experience. I was getting a huge education, and it instilled the love of the work in me,” he adds. “I love the craft, and I love doing the work.”

After several musical incarnations in his decades-long career, Amos found himself in a period of self-discovery and acceptance when he embraced the blues. “I feel like it all came together when I went on my blues journey,” he explains. “I finally feel comfortable and committed equally to all parts—writing, recording, and performing. To me, the blues is a music of resilience and joy. It’s a great reminder of our commonality and our humanity. For a long time, I was a little embarrassed by the blues as a black male. I felt like it was like picking at a scab that I wanted to heal. I realized that there’s no greater reminder of, not only the strength of black Americans, but of the strength of the human spirit to triumph under duress, and to create something beautiful from the most trying of circumstances. It’s a reminder that, no matter how low we feel or how challenged we are, there’s always hope and endless possibility in creativity,” he says. “You can go anywhere in the world and play for people of all races and ages and economic circumstances, and all of them will respond to blues music. There’s something so primal about it, it touches this primordial part of our brains. It’s so powerful.”

“I felt this lineage and history that I was a part of,” he continues of his this latest phase of his life experience. “I became very aware that I was part of a continuum, and it made me proud. I’d never felt that degree of pride before, being a black male. I felt proud of what my forefathers had accomplished and given to the world, and I wanted to be a part of that and carry that forward,” he adds. “It connects my head and my heart and my spirit. It’s a joyful experience.”

[The Reverend Shawn Amos will perform at Sambuca in Nashville on Wednesday, May 24th, before heading to Muscle Shoals, Alabama and Memphis, Tennessee. For show and ticket information, click here.]

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