Bluesman goes his own way: Tab Benoit at Crystal Bay Saturday
Tab Benoit is among the most successful of bluesmen today, something he attributes to staying true to his music.
It would have been easy for the guitarist to go in another direction, especially when you consider the success of his first album, “Nice and Warm” in 1992.
“I didn’t really understand what I was doing as far as the recording part of it,” Benoit said by telephone from his home in Houma, La. “I was thinking I was putting all this money into demo tapes to get more gigs. I’d go in the studios to record it and give to club owners to get more gigs out of it. So the first record deal I signed, I was thinking I was making a demo and these guys are paying for it.”
“Nice and Warm” turned out to be more than a demo recording. Its sales exceeded 100,000 copies. Others in the studio, which had all-star session players on the record, had arranged Benoit’s songs. He learned that the music would be a permanent representation of his work.
“(The record companies) are giving you shoes that you can’t fill, and they’re putting music out there that you can’t play,” he said. “I don’t have that band with me on the road, and I don’t sound like that anyway. They were trying to mold me to sound a certain way, and it wasn’t necessarily me.”
By the time Benoit recorded his third album, “Standing on the Bank,” in 1995, he had the control he wanted.
“The first two albums, I really couldn’t say much, but on the third album I said, ‘You all had your fun, but now I got to go back to work here.’ “
Benoit has been prolific. He’s averaged about 250 shows a year since “Nice and Warm,” and his last three albums have been as successful as any in the blues genre.
In 2006, he received the Blues Music Association Award for Contemporary Blues Album of the Year for “Fever for the Bayou” (2005), a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album, “Brother to the Blues (2006) and Blues Music Association awards in 2007 for Contemporary Blues Artist of the Year and B.B. King Entertainer of the Year. In June he recorded perhaps his best yet, “Power of the Ponchatrain,” with the band Louisiana’s LeRoux, which will accompany Benoit on the Crystal Bay Casino bandstand on Saturday.
New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, and, with piano greats Fats Domino and Professor Longhair, it’s possible to make a case for rock ‘n’ roll beginning there as well. But there aren’t too many blues guitarists from the Big Easy. Snooks Eaglin and Deacon John Moore have been successful but not as commercially successful as Benoit, who figured he’d be a seaplane pilot making trips to oil rigs like his father.
“Everybody’s a musician here,” he said. “Everybody plays, but not everyone makes a living at it. After high school, I got into aviation. Music was a way to make some money on weekends, and it was fun. I started in stand-up comedy, getting paid to do 10 of 15 minutes’ worth of jokes. When you’re in school and don’t have any money, those are good jobs, as opposed to being a clerk down at Kinko’s. Music was a side job.
“When I first started playing in New Orleans they don’t look at you as some great young talent. They say everybody’s got that talent, now let’s see what you’re going to do with it. I thought it was a good thing because if you can get accepted there then you were accepted everywhere. You have to earn it. It’s not about putting on a show. It’s about real music.”
While Benoit is an accomplished guitarist who plays a Fender Telecaster, he likes to keep his songs simple, focusing on the groove and the lyrics.
“I guess I’m trying to write music for everybody, even though it’s a lot of Louisiana stuff, but I think that only comes out because that’s where I am and what I feel what’s in my heart,” he said. “I think an artist should always be doing that. Whatever you are feeling at the time is what you should be putting down and you should put it down the way that you feel it and you should not try to make something out of nothing because the best stuff is the most natural.”
Benoit admires and tries to emulate the philosophy of John Lee Hooker and B.B. King, who never peaked. They just kept getting better.
“If you choose to go at the popular music of the day, you choose to date yourself and you choose to accept the fact that it’s a hit or miss. And if you hit it you’re not going to be around forever because that music is only going to be around for that period of time. I chose to say no to that and I chose to go the long route. I am glad God blessed me with the ability at an early age that I was able to see that and understand that and go in that direction.”
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