Damon talks about his latest CD, "Sounds Of Home" produced by Tab Benoit, recording and touring with Southern Hospitality. A real southern Gentleman and a genuine "roots" musician.
Interview with Damon Fowler
February 15, 2014
We’re here at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis with Damon Fowler. Thanks for sitting down with us Damon.
Thanks for having me.
So you’re third Blind Pig release has just come out, “Sounds of Home”, and it was produced by Tab Benoit, correct?
Yes it was.
At his Whiskey Bayou Studio in Houma, Louisiana?
So how did that come about, Tab doing the producing?
Well, I’ve known Tab for a long time. I grew up in Florida, and he would play festivals there quite a lot, and he’d come out and jam with us after the festival cause I was playing a lot of bars and stuff, and basically we’ve been friends for a long time. I’ve been touring a lot more the last few years and our paths have crossed. And I have another project called Southern Hospitality with Victor Wainwright and JP Soars, and he produced their first record - it’s called “Easy Living” and I enjoyed the experience. I really like the way he works, I like his taste in music and his approach, so when it came time to do this record I was like man, I think it would be a comfortable experience for my band to go in and do it, so we did.
So listening to the CD it has that sparse, yet deep, clean and clear sound that Tab is known for, so how much influence did he have on you getting that sound, and did he play on the recording?
Yeah, he played. He sang some, he played some pedal steel. He played some acoustic guitar stuff, you know, … when I took the songs to him, what I learned with Southern Hospitality, working with Tab, is that it’s better to just bring the skeleton to him, as far as working with him, like if you’re going to work with a producer you want to have a connection with him somehow and I found out thru Southern Hospitality, as far as working with him, the stuff that I enjoyed the most were songs we all kind of collaborated on with Tab as producer. So when we came to him with this idea of mine for the record, the material I brought, you know, it wasn’t finished. They had a skeleton, we had ideas for songs but we weren’t sold on one way of doing it. We were willing to try other ways, so that’s what we did.
All right. You’ve been described by different media sources as a Gulf Coast guitarist and lap steel maestro, playing a swampy mix of blues, bayou r&b, country, rockabilly, sacred steel, and swing. That’s saying a lot. But I was curious, what is sacred steel? What do they mean?
You know, I was going to address that because I don’t play sacred steel. I love sacred steel and I’m a big fan of a lot of the guys that actually play sacred steel, but I can’t say that what I do is sacred steel. It’s very much , … you’re kinda raised in the church and you’re part of this musical thing in the church that goes on your whole life. I have some influence from that, but I play lap steel. Sometimes people confuse that.
What’s the difference between lap steel and slide guitar, in terms of how you play it and how it sounds?
Well you know, slide guitar is played of course with a slide and I play lap steel with a slide. Lap steel you play on your lap and you can’t really fret the instrument. (I guess you could if you had a fretted lap steel). It’s all just straight steel. Where with guitar, when you play slide guitar you can fret and you have your slide and you can fret behind there to make other chord tones.
But the basic feel is very similar?
Yeah, I would say it is. You know for me when I was learning how to play slide I would watch somebody who was really good at slide and then I would go home, and like … it kind of looks like something they were doing but it just wouldn’t work., … I don’t understand, and I stumbled into open tuning. And I tuned to an open E and that’s where I was, wow, it seems a whole lot easier this way. And you know, now there’s a lot of people that just play in regular tuning which is amazing. I can’t do that.
You mentioned Southern Hospitality. You spent much of this past year touring with Southern Hospitality to some pretty good reviews…
Sure did, we had a great year. It was awesome.
And once again that band is Victor Wainwright on keyboards and vocals, JP Soars, guitar and vocals...
And Chuck Riley and Chris Peet on bass and drums?
Sort of a rock and blues super group of sorts, but I was curious, most of these guys, all of you are pretty blues based, but the CD doesn’t sound anything like a blues recording. So, you know, and people refer to it as a Southern roots rock kind of record, but, I don’t know, how do you describe what came out of those sessions?
Well, when we did the record, you know, we weren’t really trying to make a blues record. And the umbrella of the blues stretches so far now that it does get a little mixed up. Everything we all play has influences of blues in it, you know, and I think a lot of the things grow from there, but Victor’s like very honky-tonk piano you know, like Jerry Lee Lewis and boogie-woogie style piano and Memphis style. JP is a great jump swing guitar player, blues player, he plays some cigar box, and I play some lap steel, some guitar, and write songs and stuff. And so,when we all did that together, you know, all the influences that came out, it wasn’t all blues, there’s many other influences - we were just trying to make a good record.
So being involved in that project, that gave you a lot more national exposure for your self?
It sure did. Yeah. I think it’s helped all of us. We talk about it all the time. It’s something. The way the band came together it was an organic way to come together. We didn’t sit down with a plan or anything. We kinda stumbled into a couple of gigs together. And it was like, wow this is really cool, and the gigs just started happening and it was, wow, really neat. It was fun. Still is.
Going back to your new CD “Sounds of Home”, you do Johnny Winter’s “TV Mama”, a song you’ve been performing for many years I think, right?
Not to be confused with the Elmore James song of the same name.
And tonight you’re opening for Johnny Winter, have you played with Johnny before?
I have. Many times.
You’ve played together?
I never actually got to play with Johnny, but we’ve opened for him many times and got to hang out with him. Johnny’s great.
What were some other people you actually got a chance to perform with?
I read somewhere where you had done something with Buddy Guy, Robin Trower, Gregg Allman. When did all that happen?
Well you know, I live in Florida, and I grew up in Florida. So you know, we’ve played with Buddy Guy a handful of times …. doing little tours in Florida. We’ve played with Gregg Allman a couple of times in South Carolina and Jacksonville and Tampa and Sarasota and,… Robin Trower, yeah, we did a tour with Robin Trower, we did a Southeast tour. You know one of the coolest stories - we got a chance to go on tour with Johnny Winter - we did Dallas and Houston - and the last night we got to go to New Orleans and we played the House of Blues in N’Orleans with Johnny. We got to hang out with Johnny Winter at the end, and this, it was like a private VIP tent, and it was really awesome. It was like, really cool.
Sounds very cool. Tell me about the band that you’re playing with tonight.
Well, Chuck Riley, the bass player in Southern Hospitality, is playing bass in this band. Chuck and I have been playing music together for many years. Probably 12 years.James McKnight is our drummer. We call him “Big Country”. He’s been on two of our records. He was on my last Blind Pig release which was “Devil Got His Way”, and he’s on “Sounds of Home”. He’s been touring with us for a long time. He’s a good friend of ours.
That’s great. Well, we’re really looking forward to tonight’s show and thanks for sitting down and talking to us.
Thanks for having me. Glad to do it.
Allright, thank you. Cool.