Tab Benoit Brings Delta Swamp Boogie to Cohoes Music Hall on October 28th
Tab Benoit is as N’awlins as Dr. John except he’s still alive and straight at least in terms of what he puts in his body because what’s already in there is what John Lee Hooker used to sing about: “Let that boy boogie woogie ’cause there’s something inside him that’s gotta come out.”
Two months before John Lee Hooker passed in 2001, he invited Tab to his home when Benoit played The Boogie Man’s club in San Francisco. “John Lee was one of the guys that showed me through what he was playing,” Tab told me in 2003. “You can play the drums on the guitar ’cause he was a rhythmic player. There was nothing technical about what he was doing. It was all rhythm and all feel, and I mean the boogie he invented was just pure rhythm.
“John Lee Hooker was the one who hooked me in on the guitar “I go, ‘Whoa! Check that out, you know? He’s playing drums on that thing. I can identify with that.’ So, he was really instrumental in me really diving into the guitar.
Benoit has gone from being a rock and roller who grafted blues onto music like a scab that wouldn’t heal on his albums in the early ’90s to fusing his Cajun heritage into a sound that blasts the real blues with authority tempered by taste. He never plays the same song the same way twice. But he’s far more than a jam band leader.
Tab was born in Houma, Louisiana, which has about as much in common with New Orleans as Fultonville has with New York City. He spent many years driving five hours a day, two days a week to jam three songs at Tabby Thomas’ Blues Box and Phil Brady’s, both in Baton Rouge. Then, on a third day, he’d drive three hours to New Orleans and back.’
Five hours for three songs? “Yeah, but man, I was hanging around with Raful Neal and Tabby Thomas and Henry Grey, and I was listening to great music. Man, I listened as much as I played, more than I played, really because I was hearing stuff I was never gonna be able to hear down here (in Houma).”
Long known for his environmental activism, Tab performed two nights in his hometown of Houma at the 16th Annual Voice of the Wetlands Festival. He also appears prominently in the IMax motion picture Hurricane on the Bayou, a documentary of Hurricane Katrina’s effects and a call to protect and restore the Wetlands, and produced a CD for Telarc in 2002 called Wetlands to help restore that state’s Coastal Wetlands.
I asked him in 2011, ten years before global warming threatened to turn pales around the world into wet land what had to be done to save the wetlands. “It started as a way to fix the coast of Louisiana and the wetlands which make up that coast, but as I got into the actual progression of going through the motions to get the thing fixed, I realized something even bigger than that.
“If we were doing everything the right way, this would be a nonissue. So, really, when it comes down to it, the bottom line is in the big picture of that, if you work on doing it all the time, even where you live, if you’re doing things to make sure the politicians in your area understand that you’re watchin’ ’em, then you’re gonna hold them responsible and accountable for what they do. The government is gonna realize you can’t just hide anymore, that this thing is open and it’s always been open and people are coming in.”
Keep in mind, these comments were from 10 years ago. Even then, many realized our planet is turning into a disaster because no one was watching the store. “Yeah, that’s the thing. One person goes and turns over the rock and all the termites are coming out. Now it’s up to everybody else to round up the termites and put ’em under that rock. It takes one guy to turn over that stone, but it takes the entire country to fix the problem, but, hey, if you never lifted the stone, you’d never know what the problem was in the first place.
“So, the bottom line is, look, democracy is not a lazy man’s government. If you want to be lazy, then go live in a dictatorship somewhere where somebody dictates to you what car you’re gonna drive, what house you’re gonna live in, what job you’re gonna take, what your kids are gonna be like.”
Tab Benoit has not recorded an album since our interview in 2011’s Medicine. “I’m not a recording artist. I play live all the time,” he told me. “I’m not looking for perfection. I’m looking for honesty and something that feels honest, and if it feels honest then I can live with it. It doesn’t mean that I like it ’cause I don’t like listening to myself. I don’t think anybody really does.
“You record yourself straight live and listen to it, and you don’t like what you hear, that’s why you add all those other things to make it sound better than you. But when it sounds better than me, that means I have bigger shoes to fill when I have to perform this stuff and I’m a live artist.”
Tab Benoit’s Cohoes Music Hall concert is one in a backbreaking tour that has him taking one day off in the next two weeks. Opening is Misty Blues, a tight Berkshire blues act that opened for Joe Louis Walker at Cohoes Music Hall recently and is getting airplay of Sirius XM Bluesville channel.