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 Telarc International, a division of Concord Music Group, 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.
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 straight up 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 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. Brother to the Blues received a GRAMMY® nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album.
Benoit’s Power of the Pontchartrain, released in June 2007, 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.
In 2007, Benoit won the dual awards of B.B. King Entertainer of the Year and Best Contemporary Male Performer at the Blues Music Awards (formerly the W.C. Handy Awards) in Memphis.
Benoit’s 2008 release, Night Train to Nashville, was recorded at The Place On Second Street in Nashville in May 2007. The 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.
In 2010, Benoit received the Governor’s Award for Conservationist of the Year for 2009 from the Louisiana Wildlife Federation.
Medicine, Benoit’s latest release on Telarc, successfully joins two gifted guitarists/songwriters in a session that proves greater than the sum of its very talented parts. Set for April 2011, the 11-track recording features seven new Benoit originals co-written with ace songwriter Anders Osborne. Engineered by David Z, Medicine spotlights the work of keyboardist Ivan Neville, drummer Brady Blade and bassist Corey Duplechin. Fiddler/singer Michael Doucet of BeauSoleil makes a special appearance on three tracks.
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