Grammy-nominated blues will fill the Egyptian Theatre
September 10, 2013
Grammy Award-nominated blues guitarist Tab Benoit started his musical journey as a drummer, while growing up in Baton Rouge, La.
He credits his parents for convincing him to switch instruments.
"The gave me a guitar to get me off the drums," Benoit said to The Park Record during a phone interview from San Juan Capistrano, Calif. "There are a lot of drummers around Louisiana, and, in fact, there are more drummers than there are horn players or piano players."
Benoit’s parents knew there weren’t many guitar players around at that time, and that it would be easier for their son to get bookings.
"If you played guitar and had good rhythm, you were able to get a gig," he said.
Benoit will make his parents proud and show some of his blues finesse when he plays the Egyptian Theatre Sept. 13 and Sept. 14.
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The guitarist said he feels lucky to be able to play music for a living.
"In Louisiana, it’s not unusual to play, because everyone basically plays an instrument, and if you have a family barbecue, you bring your instrument and jam," he said. "It is, however, unusual to make a living down there by playing."
Benoit’s road to becoming a professional guitarist just "sort of happened," he said.
"I’ve been playing since I was a kid, and it just took over, because more and more people asked me to play and then offered to pay me money to do it," he said. "It got to the point where the playing out-paid my day job, and I had to quit my day job to keep my night job."
Benoit has been playing for nearly 26 years, and through it all, his goal hasn’t changed.
"For me, it’s always been about the music," he said. "I started the career, if you want to call it that, as a way to play music for people who want to hear me play. I don’t worry about the record labels and what the industry thinks.
"It’s just about the people who come to see me and the band," he said. "That’s my industry and all I pay attention to, because the people who come see me are my bosses and everything else falls around that."
Keeping with that concept, Benoit doesn’t like to make set lists.
"There are too many songs in my catalog to play, so I play what the audience wants," he said. "They request songs and I play them, and I wouldn’t compromise that for anything."
In 2005, Benoit was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album, and in 2010, he was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. Earlier this year, he was nominated for a Blues Music Award.
He said acknowledgement from the music industry is appreciated and validating.
"It makes me feel good because of the work I’ve been doing," he said. "It helps because I have done all this on my own the way I thought it should be done."
Still, the real reward of the job is playing for his audiences.
"That’s why I do this," he said. "I have always wanted to work for something other than just money. I wanted to do something meaningful."
In addition to his music, the other meaningful part of his life is environmental activism, especially when it comes to the coastal wetlands of his home state.
The guitarist began working as a volunteer to bring awareness to the shrinking wetlands in 2000 and, in 2003, organized Voice of the Wetlands, a nonprofit organization that continued his original mission on a larger scale.
"It all started from me trying to figure out how to become an active citizen of this country," he said. "When you see problems, you want them fixed, but I realized early on that if you wait for the government to fix these things, you’re actually going backwards."
Benoit said he got tired of watching everybody blame everybody else when it came to the problems the wetlands were facing.
"I wanted to see if democracy existed to where I could tell if my voice got heard," he said. "The country was designed for us to be active. It’s supposed to be a government of the people, and that’s plain as day on the first line of the Constitution."
To his satisfaction, Benoit found that statement to be true and has testified before Congress about how oil pipelines are destroying the area.
"I was able to go in and say what I needed to say and tell them what I know," he said. "I have a whole bunch of examples of what has gone wrong and no one is going to argue with me. They look at me as an expert on my own home."
Benoit gathered his information during the job he had before he became a full-time guitarist.
"I was a pilot that ran pipeline patrols for various oil companies along the coast," he said. "I would fly over the wetlands and saw through a bird’s eye perspective of what was going on along the coast, but I also could see solutions.
"So, I was able to bring these things to the table so decisions can be made," he said. "In fact, anyone who wants to become an active citizen of our country can do the same thing. All they need to do is show up."
Grammy Award-nominated blues guitarist Tab Benoit will perform at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., on Friday, Sept. 13, and Saturday, Sept. 14, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $35 to $60 and are available by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com.
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