Born on November 17, 1967, in Baton Rouge, LA. Addresses: Record company--Vanguard Records, 2700 Pennsylvania Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404; Booking agency--Piedmont Talent, P.O. Box 680006, Charlotte, NC 28216; Management company--Thunderbird Management, 1245 Park Ave., Ste. 10 E, New York City, NY 10128; P.O. Box 1686, Larose, LA 70373 Phone: (310) 829-9355; (704) 399-2210.
One of the most impressive guitarists to emerge from the rich bayous of southern Louisiana in recent years, bluesman Tab Benoit serves as an inspiration to other aspiring players of the region. A guitarist who himself progressed naturally from classic rock and country to the blues, Benoit holds the belief that the next generation of guitarists will likewise discover the style that motivated him to pursue a musical career. "The blues are the roots of all American music," he expressed to Billboard magazine's Steve Graybow. "As people grow older and form their own opinions, they go back to what's real--and the blues is as real as it gets. When you are young, you want everything to be make-believe, but as soon as you get older you want something more tangible."
Content in his youth to play more popular music until a friend loaned him an album by Buddy Guy, Benoit redirected his energies and set out to recreate the older bluesman's deep-rooted emotion, adopting Guy's style and researching with intensity the blues tradition. Shunning those who were not receptive to a white man just out of his teens playing blues guitar, Benoit decided to follow his own path. And it was his blues rather than rock and roll that earned him his first record deal with Justice Records, for whom he recorded his debut album, 1992's Nice and Warm. Since then, he has gone on to record five more albums, including two in 1999: Homesick for the Road and These Blues Are All Mine, for the Telarc and Vanguard labels, respectively.
Born on November 17, 1967, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Benoit grew up in the nearby oil and fishing town of Houma, where he still resides today. Musically, he was exposed early on to traditional Cajun waltzes and the country music broadcast on his hometown's only radio station. Benoit's father was a musician the family home was filled with various instruments. Falling in love first with the drums while a Catholic school student, Benoit soon switched to guitar because the only gigs to land in rural Louisiana were held in churches and at church fairs, and organizers would not allow loud drums to be played at these events. Nonetheless, Benoit felt grateful for a chance to play. "Yeah, what I really loved was drums," he admitted in an interview with Rebecca West of the Blues On Stage, "but it doesn't matter what I play: it's music."
Despite his initial reservations, Benoit took to the guitar with little guidance, and within no time, his natural gift became evident. In fact, he claims that he barely remembers learning to play at all. "It was my ninth birthday when I got my guitar. [But] I was a guitar player and there really weren't any good parts in Cajun music for guitar, just strummin' rhythm chords," he recalled, as quoted by the Womp Blues website. "I had a book that showed you how to play chords. After I learned the first three, I got rid of the book."
However, Benoit would not discover his true passion--the blues--until his teens. "When I heard John Lee Hooker and B.B. King, I thought, 'That's what I've been looking for.' I always played music, but that's when I saw that this kind of playing came easy to me. I never sat down and tried to learn scales, I just enjoyed playing what I felt," he continued. From that moment on, and against his parents' advice, Benoit set about a career in music. Upon graduating from high school he played guitar in every type of band around, including country and rock, in order to hone his skills, even though blues music remained his first love. Consequently, every time he took the stage, hints of the blues came through. Whether playing music at weddings, local Cajun festivals, or 1950s-style rock and roll shows, Benoit seemed happy just for the chance to play.
Like many modern-day bluesmen, Benoit found it difficult to find an audience accepting of his style and grew increasingly discouraged. Fortunately, a trip in 1989 to New Orleans to see Albert Collins perform proved to be a life-affirming experience. And he soon looked toward Collins and other blues aficionados--among them Tabby Thomas, Raful Neal, and Henry Gray--for inspiration. "These guys are playing from a different era," he told Womp Blues. "Every note that they play means something. Every note has a specific purpose and place, so one note can say a lot more than a lot of notes can say."
Financial constraints and family pressures forced Benoit, albeit reluctantly, to attend college and place his musical pursuits on hold. There, he pursued another lifelong interest: flying. "I took all the courses first to get my certified flying license. And I was playing on weekends to pick up money," he recalled to West. Then, after coming in third at a blues jam contest in New Orleans, Benoit's music, too, began to take flight. Impressed by his performance, Justice Records invited the hopeful blues guitarist to participate for the compilation Strike a Deep Chord: Blues Guitar for the Homeless alongside such artists as Dr. John, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, and Johnny Copeland.
Signing with Justice, he released his solo debut, Nice and Warm, produced by Randall Hage Jamail, in 1992. Contributors for the set included Gregg Bissonette on drums, Steve Bailey on bass, and Paul English on keyboards. Along with a record deal, Benoit also finally gained his father's approval. "Well, now he says he taught me everything I know. Once I got a contract it was all different. Of course no one where I came from had ever made it as a musician before. He was trying to keep me from having to give up something I loved," said Benoit to West.
Although Benoit did not break any new ground with his subsequent albums, all of his efforts showcase a traditional, yet fresh and understated style, and critics marveled at his dexterity on the Fender Stratocaster guitar. "With tone as thick as gumbo and licks as fiery as a tablespoon of cayenne pepper, singer/guitarist Tab Benoit may be the hottest thing to come out of Louisiana since Chef Paul Prudhomme," Guitar Player once commented about his abilities, as quoted by Benoit's official website. "Influenced by Buddy Guy's intensity and Albert King's gutsy punch ... Benoit's mellow Big Easy personality contradicts the tear-your-head-off intensity of his performance."
After the release of What I Live For in 1994, Benoit returned in 1995 with Standing on the Bank, which revealed a more authentic feel than his previous albums and solidified his position in the blues world. Here, he enlisted a rhythm section comprised of Greg Rzab on bass, and Ray Allison on drums, both borrowed from Buddy Guy's band; the album also featured a duet with country great Willie Nelson. Recorded live in the studio in two days on a two-track tape, a method and a throwback to the days of old Benoit felt would give the album more spontaneity, Standing on the Bank indeed showed a cast of musicians completely on their toes. In 1997, Benoit released Live: Swampland Jam, his personal favorite because he considers himself more of a live performer than a recording artist. Recorded during two sold-out shows in Louisiana, this live set of songs, none of which appeared before on his studio albums, won applause for its raw-sounding blues.
Following his successful stint with Justice, Benoit in the late-1990s signed with Vanguard Records. In 1999, he released These Blues Are All Mine, an album featuring five original compositions as well as new takes on songs by Albert Collins, Albert King, and Hank Williams. Benoit recorded the record at Sugar Hill Studios in Houston, Texas, the oldest studio in the state. "We broke out the old tape machines and played live, just like we'd be playing at a gig. The energy just built and built so that everything we played was a keeper," Benoit said to Womp Blues. Earning rave reviews, the effort led Wall Street Journal contributor Craig Havighurst to comment: These Blues Are All Mine "spills over with emotion and fiery playing, captured with a vintage recording studio's ambience. You'll have to keep reminding yourself this is a new release and not a rediscovered master tape from a contemporary Magic Sam or Buddy Guy."
An important factor of his success, stresses Benoit, is touring to bring his music to his fans coupled with the ability to keep each performance fresh. "Music changes all the time," he explained to West. "It changes every time I play it. I'm just there. It's coming through me."
by Laura Hightower
Tab Benoit's Career
Began playing guitar at age nine; discovered the blues in his teens; signed with Justice Records, released debut album Nice and Warm, 1992; released Standing on the Bank, featuring members of Buddy Guy's band and a duet with Willie Nelson, 1995; signed with Vanguard Records, released These Blues Are All Mine, 1999.
- Selected discography
- Nice and Warm , Justice, 1992.
- What I Live For , Justice, 1994.
- Standing On the Bank , Justice, 1995; reissued, Vanguard, 1999.
- Live: Swampland Jam , Justice, 1997.
- (With Debbie Davies and Kenny Neal) Homesick for the Road , Telarc, 1999.
- These Blues Are All Mine , Vanguard, 1999.
September 27, 2005: Benoit's album, Voice of the Wetlands, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_2/index.jsp, September 30, 2005.
- Billboard, October 2, 1999.
- Blues on Stage, March 2000.
- Boston Globe, October 20, 1995.
- Down Beat, July 1993; August 1994.
- Guitar Player, January 1998.
- Wall Street Journal, July 21, 2000.
- Washington Post, June 16, 2000.
- Tab Benoit Official Website, http://www.tabbenoit.com (November 24, 2000).
- Vanguard Records, http://www.vanguardrecords.com (November 24, 2000).
- Womp Blues, http://www.wompblues.com (November 24, 2000).