Tab's sound check at the Cabooze had gone so well that he was on his way back to the hotel before I caught up with him for our interview. He and his manager were ahead of me at the hotel desk. I couldn't see his face, only the Buddy Guy's Legends leather jacket. After talking to his manager, he parked his truck and came back carrying his shirt for the night's performance on a hanger, just like a regular guy. As handsome as he is in
photographs and on stage, Tab Benoit is breathtaking close up. There hasn't been alot of variation in the last few performances I've seen and not a lot of new material until recently, so I was worried about whether the interview would turn up anything new. In conversation, his sense of himself and his music is strong and focused, almost like he's on a mission. And yet it's very clear he's not yet where he wants to be. In daily life, we seldom meet people whose true path in life seems to shine right through them and guide them. More often we meet people whose real gifts can't be expressed in their daily work. At the end of a day of driving, sandwiched between going onstage, a tired musician offered unintentional and thoughtful inspiration. Talking to Tab was a simple and intense reminder to know what your true path is and to follow it. Thank goodness Tab Benoit followed his gift.
Rebecca: People here love your music but know very little about you as a
person. How did you start?
Tab: I was born! My father was a musician, but when he became a parent he
stopped playing. I was the oldest, and there were instruments all over the house, so I started to play, but then they didn't want me to play. After awhile, my friends knew I could play and they told my teachers. I went to Catholic school, so we were going to play in church. My friends said I was really great and they asked, what do you play, and I said, drums, because then I could play drums loud again but they wouldn't let me play drums in
church so a friend said, he plays guitar, and I thought, man, why did you say that? But it was a chance to play.
Rebecca: So you sort of SETTLED for playing the guitar?
Tab: Yeah, what I really loved was drums, but it doesn't matter what I play:
it's music. So I played through school and my parents wanted me to go to college. My dad didn't have anything but when he became a parent he gave up music and worked hard and made something out of himself. He worked out on the oil rigs and I used to fly out there with him so when I went to college I took all the courses first to get my certified flying license. And I was playing on weekends to pick up money. I did stand up comedy.
Rebecca: Do you remember any jokes from that time?
Tab: No, it was mostly stories, but it was all getting me ready. It all came together.
Rebecca: So having started playing in church, did music become part of your spirituality?
Tab: Spirituality? Yes, but I just wanted a chance to make music.
Rebecca: I notice you don't fly a plane to gigs.
Tab: No. I do all the driving. Flying was something I did for myself.
Otherwise, if you fly commercially, it's just a job. There's alot of days where you have to go to work and fly even though nature is telling you you shouldn't fly. I've had alot of ways I could make money, working on oil rigs, flying.
Rebecca: Tell me about your new contract with a new label. I understand it's
for several albums.
Tab: It's great. They just let me make my music. It's great to just be in
the studio and do what I want. What's really nice is that they also picked up all of my other CD's so they'll all be re-released on the same label.
Rebecca: I see you still have the same drummer, Allyn Robinson, with you.
Tab: Yeah, I've had the same band with me for awhile. My bass player just
broke his leg so he's been gone for about a month, but I've known this guy for a long time and he fit right in.
Rebecca: What is writing like for you? Before the question was asked, I heard:
Tab: FAST AND HARD. It wakes me up in the middle of the night and comes all at once. Most of it I write when I'm home, not on the road. Sometimes I have to make sure it isn't already a song because it's so real I think I must have heard it somewhere before. Where I grew up was in the country, not like a neighborhood, so I'd go off by myself in the woods or the bayous to play. I still do that.
Rebecca: If you could have anyone sit in with you, who would it be?
Tab: Buddy Guy, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker. I've met B.B. King. I'd love to
sit in with Buddy Guy and we're playing there tomorrow, but it's never happened.
Rebecca: I hear Buddy Guy is a good mentor, like Albert Collins was for you.
Tab: Yes, but I never played with him. I never told him I was a musician.
We just sat and talked like friends, like you and I are talking now. We
talked about fishing and stuff. But I didn't want anyone to play with me
because I said I was a musician.
Rebecca: You seem to be on the road alot. How do you stay fresh?
Tab: Music changes all the time. It changes every time I play it. I'm just
there. It's coming through me. Alot of it has to do with the room, with
the sound of the room and the people in it. We're on the road about six
weeks at a time and then go home for a couple of weeks, but even then we'll
be doing weekends in Texas.
Rebecca: Have you played much in Europe?
Tab: Some, but I don't really care about playing there. This is where I'm
from, and I love to play here. There are so many beautiful places in this
country that I love. To be able to see all of this beautiful country and
play here. Everyone there wants to make it here, so I don't really need to
go there. I want my music to be heard here. I just want to keep making my
music, to reach as many people as I can.
Rebecca: Your gigs sell out here every time. Tonight I know I'm going to be
in a room that's just packed.
Tab: For some reason people love us here. But it's not like that everywhere.
Rebecca: So now when you play, it's more like you're in the zone right away?
Tab: I've always felt older than I was. It's like everything I did was
getting me ready for this. Alot of times I was pushed to do something else
with my life, but it wasn't me. This is what I had to do.
Rebecca: What does your father say now?
Tab: Well now he says he taught me everything I know. Once I got a contract
it was all different. Of course no one where I came from had ever made it
as a musician before. He was trying to keep me from having to give up
something I loved.
Rebecca: Is it odd to play in front of people you know back home, or
comfortable because they've always heard you play?
Tab: They asked me to be Grand Marshall in the Mardi Gras parade, but they
just know me as Tab.
Tab's performance that night was completely different than when I reviewed
him a year ago. Often you may find yourself wondering how a musician can play so quickly. To watch Tab now, it's not like he's making music, but like it's flowing through his fingers. He plays with such intensity that the strings last for maybe one song. At the end of every song he hands the guitar to his manager who sits on the side of the stage in the dark restringing a guitar which he trades back to Tab. These re-strung guitars
are just handed back and forth throughout the evening. He included his trademark duet/solo drumwork, which we now know is his original love. No doubt Tab Benoit is picky about drumwork, and Ally Robinson remains the best drummer I've seen. In the middle of "Dirty Dishes" someone handed up a sheaf of Xeroxed $100 bills with Tab's face in the middle. "Are you sayin' I'm worth a hundred dollars?" he laughed as he passed them out to the crowd. "That's more than I spent today."
This review is copyright © 2000 by Rebecca West, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.