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Full 'Tab' Fever - Louisiana's Benoit reminds us that nobody can take the blues away

Photos by Andrew W. Griffin
Louisiana blues musicians Eric Johanson (left) and Tab Benoit.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – The Sunday night sky over Oklahoma City was clear and featured the the last full moon of summer – “the green corn moon” or “grain moon” – which concerns the Native American harvesting ceremonies that would often begin at the end of summer.

And so that full moon seemed to be having an effect, or a pull on Houma, Louisiana-based swamp-blues musician Tab Benoit after he hit the small stage in front of a full house at VZD’s. (Read our preview story here).

In fact, Benoit would perform in front of the crowd simply behind a drum kit - providing a hypnotic blues-rock beat for his blues-rock protégé Eric Johanson - that was phenomenal to watch from my position in the crowd, most of whom were seated and eating supper.

There was a lot of soul on that stage this particular Sunday night. It strikes me as being even more strong when a full moon is out, something that Benoit himself even commented on after he began his own set, following the phenomenal Alexandria, La. native Johanson, who was interviewed a number of times by my former newspaper - The Town Talk in Alexandria, where I was an arts and entertainment writer and wrote about a lot of the Cajun and zydeco and swamp-pop artists from Acadiana.

Tab Benoit plays the blues at VZD's as Jeffrey "Jellybean" Alexander keeps the beat. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

Benoit admitted that the full moon was affecting him, making him, perhaps, act a little sillier than usual as he joked about his first name being the same name as a diet soft drink that was said to be toxic to laboratory rats. Benoit suggested that Tab double as a way to slim your figure and to kill rodents by putting it in a dish behind the fridge. Kills rats dead.

Or as Benoit put it: “Some comedy bits for y’all, free of charge.” He added: “This is my job, y’all. Can you believe that?”

And it’s true. Now 50 years old and having recorded tons of songs since the early 1990’s, Tab Benoit is having a blast! And he’s staying true to the blues, an American song form that has strong roots in Louisiana.

In fact, the late B.B. King was said to greatly admired Tab Benoit, saying: “If you really want to know how to play the blues? Watch Tab Benoit.”

And Benoit was able to return the favor, in a sense. One of his best songs – “The Blues Is Here to Stay” – name drops the man with the guitar named Lucille. And Benoit, struck by full moon fever, performed it this particular night. Here’s a sample of those lyrics:

what would this world be without BB King
without Bobby Blue Bland doin his thing
without T Bone Walker and Howl'in Wolf
without Bessie and Big Mama strutt'in thier stuff
there'd be no Elvis no Jerry Lee
a young Eric Clapton would have never crossed the sea
without old Light'in, Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters to grow up on
hey the Beatles and the Stones they'd of never left home, no no
the blues is the gospel of the common man
the story of a people in a hostile land
built on a foundation that will never fall
thanks to Robert Cray, Stevie Ray, and Taj Mahal
and nobody can give it away
nobody can take it away

Ain’t it the truth! Y'all better have some, if not all, of those artists in your record collection. If not, this is your homework for the remainder of 2018.

And with countless awards to his name, Benoit is the real deal, both in the studi and on a stage. He connects with the audience and is a consummate musician. Not only on guitar, but his drumming skills, playing with Eric Johanson, was spot on.

In fact, as he talked about pop music in general, he got a lot of applause when he stated, “There’s a  lot of music out there that’s not real.”

Benoit, between songs, said that when he and his band (accompanying him on bass was Corey Duplechin and on drums was a true Louisiana funk master, Jeffrey “Jellybean” Alexander), they just go to town, playing real instruments and not getting anywhere near an Auto-Tune machine. Benoit is about what's real. The yellowy fat you get on your fingers after eating crawfish? That stuff is getting on his guitar strings. You are hearing the real Louisiana on a Tab Benoit record. He is passionate about his homestate, having started the organization Voice of the Wetlands, where he is president. 

As BlueRailroad magazine noted of Benoit's commitment to his Southern Louisiana homeland in 2017: "(Benoit's) commitment and stewardship are evident in his constant work as an avid environmental conservationist. His mission is to save and ultimately restore this region, which is in constant danger of being washed away, within a generation, due to cataclysmic coastal erosion. This includes New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz."

And in RootsWorld magazine, the writer notes this Louisiana roots musician is a deep thinker as well, noting that his unique region of America is under assault: "That's what it feels like. The oil companies came in here with machinery and messed with Mother Nature, and that is why we are losing our property and our musical culture."

Continuing, Benoit told RootsWorld writer Georgianne Nienaber: “The artists of the world are the voices of the future and the recorders of the past. We are still learning about ancient civilizations from cave drawings. Nobody knows what King Tut was about, but they know what he looked like because of the artist who designed the mask that was on him. You think about how important artists were and still are, and you understand music is an art form that speaks straight to the heart through sounds. You know, the way to communicate with people is to go past the head, past the rhetoric, and straight to the heart. Music has a way to cut to the bone.”

Benoit, we should note, began playing at Tabby's Blues Box at 1314 N. Boulevard in Baton Rouge. Tabby was Tabby Thomas, father of blues singer and actor Chris Thomas King, who played the role of Tommy Johnson in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the bluesman who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the ability to play blues guitar.

And speaking of Chris Thomas King, who has roots in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Living Blues magazine noted that King has a new book out, Sacré Bleu: The Authentic Narrative of My Music and Its Culture Therewith. The article explains that King goes into his own story and exposure to the blues and argues that New Orleans is where the blues ("bleu" being the French word for "blue") really began, with King saying his story is "the authentic narrative of the blues."

As for Eric Johanson, I was struck by his professionalism on stage. He understands the blues and soul and rock. He moved from Alexandria to New Orleans in the late 1990's and worked hard to get where he is today, recording for Tab Benoit's Whiskey Bayou record label in Houma.

In fact, Benoit, as noted above, plays drums, with Corey Duplechin on bass. The recording is Johanson's 11-song, debut record - Burn It Down. Johanson ran through songs featured on the record, from the title track to "Till We Bleed" to "Live Oak," where he joked that he writes songs about plants. Johanson's slide-guitar playing abilities are remarkable. I picked up his CD at the show and will have a review in short order.

That said, the Tab Benoit/Eric Johanson show was terrific.VZD's Eric Smith provided a swell venue for the guys to do their thing and put a smile on every face in that room. I know I left, under that full moon, feeling a lot better than I did before walking in the door.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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