In 1991, Tab Benoit was hired by Justice Records to contribute songs to a compilation record called STRIKE A DEEP CHORD: “Guitarist for the Homeless.” The record featured Dr. John, Odetta, Gatemouth Brown, Sue Foley, Ronnie Earl, the late Johnny Copeland, and Tab Benoit all recorded tracks for the project . The record’s proceeds were to benefit Houston’s homeless, the city where the label had it’s offices. Tab recorded two tracks “Nice and Warm” and “Bone Pickin” for the record and was immediately signed to Justice Records.
The very next year in 1992 these two tracks would lead Tab’s national debut recording and Tab became the break-out roots Artist of the decade. Radio began playing his music on the same commercial stations that were playing the popular acts of the day such as The Dave Matthew’s Band, Spin Doctors, Blues Traveler, Big Head Todd and the Monsters. It was the first time since the death of the Stevie Ray Vaughn that a new roots Artist was receiving heavy rotation on commercial Rock radio stations across the country.
Since his debut in 1992 Tab has recorded with Junior Wells, Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, James Cotton, Cyril Neville, Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Henry Gray, and Jimmy Hall of Wet Willie to name a few and now fifteen solo recordings, three Grammy nominations, and a budding movie career later it may be his work as a wetlands activist that he will most be remembered but until then it is his rich tone, soulful voice, and seeped with tradition song-writing that makes him Louisiana’s #1 Roots music export.
Tab Benoit is a Cajun man who’s definitely got the blues. Born November 17, 1967, he grew up in Houma, Louisiana. A guitar player since his teenage years, he hung out at the Blues Box, a ramshackle music club and cultural center in nearby Baton Rouge run by guitarist Tabby Thomas. Playing guitar alongside Thomas, Raful Neal, Henry Gray and other high-profile regulars at the club, Benoit learned the blues first-hand from a faculty of living blues legends.
The nightly impromptu gigs were enough to inspire Benoit to assemble his own band – a stripped down bass-and-drums unit propelled by his solid guitar skills and leathery, Cajun-spiced vocal attack. He took his show on the road in the early ‘90s and hasn’t stopped since.
Benoit landed a recording contract with the tiny, Texas-based Justice Records and released a series of well-received recordings, beginning in 1992 with Nice and Warm, an album that prompted comparisons to blues guitar heavyweights like Albert King, Albert Collins and even Jimi Hendrix. Despite the hype, Benoit has done his best over the years to maintain a commitment to his Cajun roots – a goal that often eluded him when past producers and promoters tried to turn him and his recordings in a rock direction, often against his better instincts. These Blues Are All Mine, released on Vanguard in 1999 after Justice folded, marked a return to the rootsy sound that he’d been steered away from for several years.
That same year, he appeared on Homesick for the Road, a collaborative album on the Telarc label with fellow guitarists Kenny Neal and Debbie Davies. Homesick not only served as a showcase for three relatively young but clearly rising stars in the blues constellation, but also launched Benoit’s relationship with Telarc that came to fruition in 2002 with the release of Wetlands – arguably the most authentically Cajun installment in his entire ten-year discography.
On Wetlands, Benoit mixes original material like the autobiographical “When a Cajun Man Gets the Blues” and the driving “Fast and Free” with little-known classics like Li’l Bob & the Lollipops’ “I Got Loaded,” Professor Longhair’s “Her Mind Is Gone” and Otis Redding’s timeless “These Arms of Mine” (Tab’s vocal style has long been influenced by Redding).
Later in 2002, Benoit released Whiskey Store, a collaborative recording with fellow axemaster and Telarc labelmate Jimmy Thackery. Also along for the ride on Whiskey Store are harpist Charlie Musselwhite and Double Trouble – the two-man rhythm section of bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton that backed Stevie Ray Vaughn on his brief but luminous blues career.
After a prolific first year with Telarc, Benoit continued to explore the bayou backbeat in 2003 with the June release of Sea Saint Sessions, a collection of gritty, cajun-flavored tracks recorded at Big Easy Recording Studio (better known among musicians in the region as Sea Saint Studio) in New Orleans. In addition to Benoit and his regular crew – bassist Carl Dufrene and drummer Darryl White – Sea Saint Sessions includes numerous guest appearances by Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Cyril Neville, Brian Stoltz and George Porter.
That same year, Benoit and Thackery took their dueling guitar show on the road and recorded a performance at the Unity Centre for Performing Arts in Unity, Maine. The result is Whiskey Store Live, a high-energy guitar fest released in February 2004.
Benoit returned in 2005 with Fever for the Bayou, a straightened Louisiana blues recording that seamlessly merges his own songcraft with that of Elmore James, Buddy Guy and other masters. Fever for the Bayou also includes guest appearances by Cyril Neville (vocals and percussion) and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux (vocals).
Benoit dug further into his roots in 2006 with the April release of Brother to the Blues, a recording that encompasses not only his trademark cajun blues but also traditional country and vintage R&B. Joining him on the project are members of the cult blues/R&B/rock combo Louisiaina LeRoux, veteran country songwriter Billy Joe Shaver, Americana pioneer Jim Lauderdale and cajun fiddler Waylon Thibodeaux.
Benoit’s Power of the Pontchartrain, released in June 2007, was is in many ways a musical tribute to the natural beauty of his homeland and the dedication and perseverance of those who still live there.
An environmental activist as well as a stellar blues musician, Benoit has made the preservation of the endangered delta wetlands his personal crusade. He serves as president of Voice of the Wetlands, an environmental organization he co-founded in 2003, and he appeared prominently in Hurricane on the Bayou, a 2006 documentary by filmmaker McGillivray Freeman that chronicles life in Louisiana after Katrina. Hurricane on the Bayou played in IMAX theaters in the U.S., Canada and Europe throughout 2007.
Benoit’s latest Telarc CD is Night Train To Nashville, recorded at The Place On Second Street in Nashville in May 2007. The 11-track set captures the magic and intensity of Benoit in a live setting, joined by his faithful backup unit and New Orleans mainstay, Louisiana’s LeRoux, and a series of guests representing some of the most talented voices on the current blues, Cajun and country scenes: harpist/vocalist Jimmy Hall (Wet Willie), guitarist/vocalist Jim Lauderdale, harpist/accordionist Johnny Sansone, fiddler/washboard player Waylon Thibodeaux and harpist/vocalist and Fabulous Thunderbirds frontman Kim Wilson.
Other Musicians that Tab has recorded or performed with:
Junior Wells George Porter Jr Dr. John Johnny Vidacovich
Willie Nelson, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Billy Joe Shaver, Maria Muldaur,James Cotton Greg Bissonette Cyril Neville Kenny Aronoff
Allen Toussaint Steve Bailey Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds Jimmy Thackery
Tabby Thomas Charlie Musslewhite Raful Neal Tommy Shannon
Kenny Neal Reese Wynan Debbie Davies Chris Layton Jimmy Hall of Wet Willie Jim Lauderdale, Dash Rip Rock Vin Bruce Anders Osborne Waylon Thibodeaux
Johnny Sansone, Louisiana Leroux Corey Harris Alvin Youngbood Hart.