Benoit strikes blues gold

Benoit strikes blues gold
January 29, 2009
By Tim Parsons
The Tahoe Daily Tribune

Success hasn’t slowed Tab Benoit. The Blues Music Association’s Contemporary Blues Artist of the Year for both 2007 and 2008 — and a tireless environmental advocate for his home state, Louisiana, Benoit continues to release an album a year and perform nearly every night. The guitarist plays his second Crystal Bay Crown Room show in 11 months on Friday, Jan. 30, in the Crown Room.

Since his last Tahoe stop, Benoit released “Night Train to Nashville,” picked up more hardware at the Blues Music Awards in Tunica, Miss., and took his other band, the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars, to both the Democratic and Republican national conventions.

Another Louisiana native, Dr. John, aka Mac Rebennack, who will perform at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe on Saturday, Jan. 31, might check out the show.

“I don’t know if I’m working Friday but I would love to see him,” Rebennack said. “He’s always been a great player. He plays anything. As a musician, he’s an original. He doesn’t do anything like anybody else and that means a lot to me.”

Benoit had immediate success after releasing his debut album, “Nice and Warm,” in 1992, but he said the recording differed from his live shows. By the time he released his third album in 1995, he had the creative control he desired. The recent years have been the most productive of Benoit’s career. He’s released four albums since 2005.

“If you choose to go at the popular music of the day, you choose to date yourself and you choose to accept the fact that it’s a hit or miss,” Benoit told Lake Tahoe Action in 2008. “And if you hit it, you’re not going to be around forever because that music is only going to be around for that period of time. I chose to say no to that and I chose to go the long route. I am glad God blessed me with the ability at an early age that I was able to see that.”

Guitarist always kept secret from his friend Albert Collins
Tab Benoit has a natural gift for gab, as did bluesman Albert Collins when he was alive, so it’s no surprise that the two became friends. What is surprising is that Collins never knew Benoit also was a guitar player.

Benoit, 2007’s Blues Music Awards’ Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year and B.B. King Entertainer of the Year, performs Friday, Jan. 30, at Crystal Bay Casino. He said Collins blew him away the first time he saw “The Master of the Telecaster.”

“I had a friend who was really into the guitar blues, and he turned me on to Albert King and Freddie King, and stuff like that,” Benoit said by telephone from his home in Louisiana. “I was in New Orleans doing something and I would always stop by Tipitina’s to see what was going on. I saw Albert Collins’ name on the sign and I called him up and said ‘Have you ever heard of this guy Albert Collins?’ He said, ‘Don’t leave. Stay and see that guy.’”

A couple of years later Benoit began to get his own shows at Tipitina’s, so when Collins came there to play, Benoit had access backstage, where he was able to meet him.

“He was just the nicest guy I’d ever met, but I never told him I played,” Benoit said.

“He liked talking to me. We’d talk about everything but music. It would be anything like fishing or cooking or mechanical stuff because he drove and worked on his own bus.”

Guitarists would often interrupt the backstage conversations, asking Collins if they could play with him.

“I thought it was pretty arrogant,” Benoit said. “I mean you show up to a legend’s gig with a guitar on your back? This is kind of crazy. I never even thought of doing that. I don’t think I would even have the balls to do that.”

Benoit dearly wanted to let Collins know that he was also a blues guitarist, but he didn’t want to ruin the relationship he had developed. He didn’t want Collins to think of him as one of those audacious guitarists who ended up paying a price.

“Every time these guys would get up there with him, he’d blow them away with one note,” Benoit said. “I thought ‘I ain’t going for that. I’ll sit and watch. I don’t want to get cut.’ ”

Benoit had regrets when he learned of Collins’ death in November 1993. “Man, I should have just told him,” Benoit remembered feeling. “I should have at least gone up there and played with him once.”

Benoit often pays homage by playing Collins’ songs and telling stories about him. That was the case during a Las Vegas show when he closed out a set with a story and three straight Collins songs.

Backstage, Benoit was startled by some news from his road manager.

“He says, ‘Man, Albert Collins’ wife is here, and she wants to talk to you.’ And he didn’t say it like it was a good thing. He said it urgently, like, oh God! And I wondered, did I offend her or what?”

Benoit’s trepidation increased when the widow stoically entered the room and gave him a stern look before beginning to speak.

“She said, ‘Man, all kinds of people try to play Albert’s stuff, and nobody does it like him.’ And she says, ‘But you — I like the way you do it.’ She said, ‘You keep on and don’t stop.’ I took that as a thumbs-up that I did the right thing, and I got my reward for handling it the way that I did. It was better to be accepted that way.”

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