By Jim Morrison

Tab Benoit may be best known as one of Louisiana’s finest blues guitarists and vocalists with a three-decade career releasing solo records and working with legends like Anders Osborne, George Porter, Jr., and Cyril Neville.

But Benoit has also been a restaurant owner, painter, ardent conservationist championing his state’s wetlands, and most recently a record label founder. 

That last vocation led him to a collaboration with local blues phenom Anthony Rosano and the Conqueroos. Benoit produced the band’s latest, “Cheat the Devil” for his label, Whiskey Bayou Records. Rosano and crew are joining him for a string of a dozen shows, including one that brings them to Elevation 27 in Virginia Beach on July 18.

“We had a great time making this record,” Rosano said in a press release. “Tab is a great guy to hang with and we share similar musical influences and sensibilities. Before going into the studio, we talked about our favorite records and how most of them were recorded live. This record is strictly three guys, all together in the same room playing live in the studio. We had talked about bringing in other musicians on certain songs, but Tab convinced us to maintain the power trio format that reflects our true live sound. There were no overdubs and no edits, and it was mixed directly to tape. Ultimately, we captured the perfect vibe and ended up with a perfectly imperfect organic record.”

The two met about a decade ago, but Benoit’s entry into the record business is more recent, a chance to do things his way. 

“For many years I’ve heard artists talk about how they don’t get to make the kind of records they want to make for whatever reason” he told an interviewer. “Much of the time it was due to constraints or situations involving their label. I just finally decided I wanted to kind of specialize in making records that came as close to capturing my live sound as possible. I’ve never been much of a studio guy anyhow. I’ve always been more like, “OK, let’s line up and play it like there’s an audience, only the audience is the mics and engineers.” So that’s how I approached that part of it.

As far as the production part goes, it’s really more about me making sure that the musicians on the label are comfortable, and again, that we’re coming as close as we can to replicating a live performance. The acts that are on the label are all people I really admire, and people whose music I greatly respect. My goal is to make certain that whatever we release is true to the spirit of the artist and their music. That’s way more important than any concern over things like sales, radio airplay, whatever.

Not that I’m opposed to that. Who wouldn’t want to sell a lot of records? But I’m not putting that ahead of doing the kind of records I’m proud of and the people on the label are proud of as well.”

The acts on his label have done fine. They include Eric McFadden, Damon Fowler, Eric Johanson, Jeff McCarty, and Dash Rip Rock. He sometimes works with his artists writing songs although Rosano penned the tunes on “Cheat the Devil.” 

Benoit’s studio is in his hometown of Houma, Louisiana. At the beginning, he would drive five hours a day twice a week to jam at joints in Baton Rouge. On another day, he’d cruise for three hours to New Orleans and back. It was the best of an apprenticeship. ” I was hanging around with Raful Neal and Tabby Thomas and Henry Grey, and I was listening to great music,” he told an interviewer two years ago. “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).”

His take on songwriting is the more spontaneous, the better. His advice is to start with the bare-bones outline of a song and finish it during recording. “I tell them not to write everything out. They should record it as they experiment with their feelings and let it happen. If you write out the songs ahead of time you might overthink things. It’s important not to let your head get in the way of your art,” he explained. 

“Sometimes, the way we write, we will be thinking about how to finish writing a song, but then we move on to something else. A lot of time is spent just talking and hanging out and telling stories, and then something for the song gets sparked off from that. It happens naturally. It always seems as if the best songs on the album are the ones that were written right there,” he added.

Benoit’s preference for recording live comes from experience after releasing nearly 20 albums. “I had to learn how to listen to myself more objectively once I started producing my own records, and usually the first time you play is the best,” Benoit explained. “Maybe it wasn’t exactly as you would want to play it, but it was honest. We play as we feel it and let the honest take be the one that goes on the record. It’s a conversation with the audience, so let it be that. The industry doesn’t always want to hear that. They want to put out some polished, finished piece to make people want to buy it. 

But I think the music we put out can be listened to by the average music fan and they can tell it is honest music for honest real people.”



Tab Benoit

W/Anthony Rosano & The Conqueroos

July 18

Elevation 27