On Thursday, September 9, 2022 Tab Benoit headlined in Salem, Oregon at the historic Elsinore theater in the heart of downtown. At 7:30 PM the opening act, guitarist JD Simo, a Chicago native who currently resides in Nashville began his set. His style of playing falls in the category of raw blues rock similar to Robert Fripp or the “North Mississippi Allstars.” He’s worked with Luther Dickinson and a number of other artists like Jack White and “Blackberry Smoke” to name some as a songwriter, guitarist, and producer, and he’s toured with “Grateful Dead” co-founder Phil Lesh’s band. Simo played a slide guitar shredding 40 minute set that consisted of over half a dozen selections. Some of them were “Mortgage On My Soul,” from his upcoming album, “Higher Plane” from his 2020 eponymous album and “Know It All” from 2021’s Mind Control. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_wJeipYQGw He was backed by Todd Bolden on bass guitar and Adam Abrashoff on drums to round out the power trio.
At 8:30 PM, Tab Benoit took the stage and kicked his set off with “Muddy Bottom Blues” from 2002’s Wetlands album. It’s a guitar driven song that expresses the terror of someone stuck in a mudhole in the swamp as the sun goes down. The song is about a subject close to Tab’s heart as the founder of the organization “Voice of the Wetlands,” which he founded before Hurricane Katrina hit. He is an environmentalist that was presented with the Governor’s Award for Conservationist in 2010 from the “Louisiana Wildlife Federation.”
Over his thirty-year plus career, Benoit has recorded eighteen albums and shared the stage with some of the biggest names in music, including Willie Nelson, Cyril Neville, Charlie Musslewhite, and Junior Wells to name some. His soulful Delta Swamp blues has earned him a Grammy nomination for “Best Traditional Blues Album.” He’s won five Blues Music Awards including the “BB King Entertainer of the Year Award” twice and he’s been inducted into the “Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.”
After a couple more guitar-driven rocking out numbers, Tab introduced the band comprised of Jeffery Alexander on drums and Corey Dupelin rounding out the rhythm section on bass. The next song was “We Make A Good Gumbo,” a kick-ass rollicking Cajun tune that appeared on Voice of the Wetlands which was recorded in 2005 before Katrina hit and was released after the fact. The band played at a breakneck intensity with Benoit frantically playing his axe to the explosive drumming of Alexander and Dupelin slapping the beat on his bass guitar as he danced around the stage.
Benoit intermittently talked to the audience with his Louisiana drawl and explained that he didn’t use need to use pedals for effects on his guitar because his playing comes from his heart, as he pointed to his chest. The next song was “For What It’s Worth” a cover of “Buffalo Springfield’s” 1966 hit. The tune is a timeless political protest number that is still relevant in 2022.
“There’s battle lines being drawn
And nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong”
The band jammed for as long as ten minutes on every song and every member played with an intensity that was the equivalent of running a four minute mile. Benoit’s distinct driving guitar style was matched by Alexander’s explosive drumming and Dupelin contributed harmony vocals while slap dancing his instrument.
Tab talked about the importance of facing up to your fears like his hero Evel Knievel did before every amazing stunt that he would do. “Medicine” is the title song from his 2010 album that he co-wrote with Anders Osborne. Benoit’s heavy guitar sound reverberates as he sings with plaintiff intensity. Every time that I hear him sing it immediately brings to mind Otis Redding’s rich sounding voice. The sound is totally inspired by Hendrix and the drums beat out a slow time while Tab tortures his strings and soars stratospherically with his Telecaster.
The set concluded around 10:10 PM and the enthusiastic audience clapped, whistled, and stomped for a couple of minutes before Benoit and band reappeared for an encore. JD Simo also came on stage and plugged his Fender Telecaster in for a total guitar assault as he and Benoit played off each other to a Country sounding “Bartender’s Blues.” The final song of the night was “Night Train” from 2005’s Fever On the Bayou which Benoit and Simo jammed on for over ten minutes with explosive guitar licks. It was a bring down the house conclusion after which all four band members waved to the audience as they exited the stage.