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FEATURES -- Tab Benoit Interview

Cajun bluesman Tab Benoit gives voice to the Louisiana wetlands


Tab Benoit B&W
photo: Michael Kurgansky


By Eric Schelkopf

Fans of Louisiana bluesman Tab Benoit obviously were waiting to get their hands on a new album by the Cajun artist after a four year wait.


Medicine, Benoit's first studio album in four years, debuted at #1 on iTunes and #2 on Amazon when it was released in April.


The 11-track album features seven new songs co-written with New Orleans musician Anders Osborne, whose song "Watch the Wind Blow By" was recorded by Tim McGraw in 2002 and hit #1 on the country charts for two weeks.


Osborne, who also co-produced Medicine, played B.B. King's famous guitar "Lucille" on the album.


Benoit will perform on August 3, 2011 at S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston, IL.


I had the chance to talk to the Grammy nominee about the album and his continuing work with Voice of the Wetlands,, an organization striving to save Louisiana's fragile ecosystem.


Tab Benoit
photo: Jennifer Wheeler

Q - What should people expect at your show? I suppose you are going to play a lot off the new album.

I will play what people ask for. I pick what they want to hear, and that way, everybody's happy.


People have been requesting the new stuff too, so it will be a little of both.


Q - Over the years, you've received a lot of critical acclaim and a lot of acclaim from your peers. Is that always surprising when somebody decides to give you an award or nominate you for an award?


I guess so. I don't go out there and try to win awards. It is nice to be recognized when you work hard at something.


It also gives me a chance to have a bigger voice.


Q - You teamed up with Anders Osborne on this album. What was your idea in getting together with him?


It was just kind of a mutual thing. It wasn't planned out way in advance or anything like that.


We just said, "Let's go do this, it feels right, let's go have some fun.”



Q - I watched the video of you guys making the album and it did look like you were having fun. How did making this album compare with the process on your other albums?


They're all the same as far as the way it's done. I just try to keep it organic, you know, instead of trying to make something out of nothing.


Q - I understand also that Anders played B.B. King's guitar for the sessions. Did you try to pry it out of his hands at all?


No, I didn't want to touch it. I didn't want to mess it up. 


When it comes to recording and performing for the public, I'd rather have my own guitar in my hands. That way, I can close my eyes and just play, and not have to worry about it. I'd rather have that one in my hands.

Tab Benoit's guitar
photo: Jennifer Wheeler


Q - Did it surprise you at all that "Medicine" debuted at the top of the charts?


I play a lot of gigs across the country all year long, and I'm pretty in tune with the people who listen to me.


I talk to them. They are my friends. I kind of figured they were ready for something.


But being #1 or #2? I don't know. I'm just trying to document my life in musical terms, and hopefully the audience I have out there appreciates it and understands it. And I think they do.


Q - You have several Voice of the Wetlands shows coming up. How do you think Louisiana's wetlands are doing these days?


Well, we're still losing an acre an hour. That's a lot of land. New Orleans is vulnerable and getting more vulnerable by the day.


We haven't really changed the Delta and the Mississippi back into what it needs to be. 


Q - How did you first find about the problems with the wetlands, just from living there?


From flying there. I'm a pilot, and had a job flying pipeline patrol. I would watch things happening from the air. You can see from a birds' eye perspective what the problems were.


It wasn't talked about until recent times. So I wanted to make sure I was bringing it up as much as I could so we could talk about it and make good decisions.


I would like to see one good long term decision made by our government in my lifetime. That's pretty much what is has come down to, because that's the problem.


All of the decisions that have been made for the coast of Louisiana have been short term decisions, and none of them have been good. A short term decision is good for a short term.


I'm just trying to get the people off their butts, because it is supposed to be our government, and that means we're supposed to be involved.

With democracy and freedom comes responsibility and involvement.

Q - How did you get the other musicians together for the first "Voice of the Wetlands" CD?

The plan for keeping New Orleans from flooding from Hurricane Katrina had nothing to do with the people.

I just felt backed into a corner, and that's when I really started pushing to get Dr. John and The Neville Brothers and the Meters and everybody and said, "Look, New Orleans is in trouble. We've got to let people know first of all what kind of trouble we're in, and secondly, how it's going to be handled."

We recorded the first "Voice of the Wetlands" album six months before Katrina. Katrina was in August, but we couldn't get it out until October because of the storm. It delayed everything.

On the first song, we sing, "Don't Let The Water Wash Us Away," and that's pre-Katrina. 

Q - Do you think your voice is being heard?


Yeah, but it's just me. We need more than just me. You've got to have lots of voices.

If a lot of voices are doing the talking, things get moved.




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