By Andy J. Gordon
An excited, boisterous audience greeted Louisiana native Tab Benoit for his sold out show at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach on September 21, 2012. Benoit has been presenting his unique style of blues to a continually growing fan base and critical reviews for over twenty years. In 2012 he released a greatest hits album, Legacy, The Best of Tab Benoit. His show at Saint Rocke featured smooth vocals, electrifying guitar work and a diverse selection of songs from his extensive catalog.
Benoit lives in Houma, Louisiana and he started playing in front of audiences as a teenager in Baton Rouge nightclubs. He eventually formed a trio that got gigs in New Orleans, elsewhere in the south and eventually throughout the United States. His reputation grew through widespread touring, Grammy nominations and a variety of Blues music awards. Benoit’s style is primarily Delta blues but he mixes in elements of Cajun, zydeco and rock. This unique musical gumbo, featuring his fine vocals, excellent songwriting and dynamic guitar skills has made him one of the best in the business. He is also a strong conservationist. In 2004 he formed Voice of the Wetlands, an organization dedicated to the preservation of Louisiana’s wetlands. Together with some other talented and like minded musicians, Benoit has performed at fundraisers and met with legislators to promote the protection of Louisiana’s natural resources.
Friday night’s Saint Rocke audience, especially the adoring ladies in the crowd, erupted with applause as Benoit took the stage. The opening song, “Why are People Like That?” immediately got the crowd bopping to an infectious beat. Benoit and his band mates, Corey Duplechin on bass and Eric Heigle on drums are a no frills trio that pump out heavy doses of steady blues beats. There are no electronic enhancements to the sound, just good raw energy and expert playing. On “The Blues is Here to Stay” Benoit paid tribute to the great blues legends based in New Orleans and others around the world, many of whom he has shared the stage. “Night Train” had a mesmerizing beat that kept the crowd dancing and “Medicine,” the title track from 2011’s award winning album, showcased Benoit’s clever writing and amazing solo work. The energy in the club stayed high with the 2006 zydeco infused foot stopper “Hot Tamale Baby.”
Benoit always admired great stand up comedians who knew when to give the audience a chance to breathe after a barrage of belly laughs. He did the same thing by allowing the crowd to relax a bit when his band mates left the stage and he did a miniature solo set. Benoit demonstrated some intricate finger picking on “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It.” “Louisiana Man,” from the 2005 Voice of the Wetlands album was a country/Cajun song about his rural roots and “Stackolina” from 2002’s Wetlands album was another finger picking gem about a mythical swamp boogeyman used by Tab’s grandfather to scare little Tab into going to bed.
The talented rhythm section came back onstage for a raucous version of “I Got Loaded” from the same Wetlands album. The band followed that with Tab’s remake of the Buddy Miller song “Shelter Me” which has gotten national attention from being the theme song for the Discovery Channel’s Sons of Guns TV show. The set ended with “Crawfishin’” a catchy blues tune about Louisiana’s precious shellfish. Benoit and the band left the stage briefly, but the thunderous applause and pleadings from the audience brought them back out for an encore. After teasing that the paid portion of the evening was over, Benoit said he was going to play what he felt like. That choice turned out to be a fine one as the band launched into “Make a Good Gumbo.” The crowd danced to the contagious beat, Benoit and his band continued to play with amazing skill and the night ended on a high note.
Tab Benoit puts on an incredible live show. If you happen to be in the Houma, Louisiana area on the weekend of October 12, 13, 14 be sure to go to the free Voice of the Wetlands festival. You will have the pleasure of seeing Benoit perform with an all star cast of musical friends over a weekend of great music, environmental awareness, authentic Cajun food and fun for the entire family. Otherwise, you can catch him as he continues to tour around the country. His extensive catalog of albums is available through all the usual sources and captures the passion of his playing. This artist, one of our greatest natural resources and a really good guy deserves your support – go to his live shows and buy his music. You’ll hear some great tunes and help keep one of America’s original art forms, the blues alive.
Photos courtesy of Andy J. Gordon