Tab Benoit was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana November 17, 1967, and was raised in the town of Houma, whose primary industries were fishing and oil production. His father was a musician so he was exposed to music from the very beginning. The music of his youth was primarily “Cajun waltzes” and his hometown radio station which played “country music.” Drums were his first instrument while he attended Catholic school but switched to guitar out of necessity. His first gigs were in churches and church related events in rural Louisiana which eschewed drums as the devil’s music. He began playing guitar in Baton Rouge music venues where he formed a trio and eventually expanded into New Orleans and other parts of the South.
In 1992 he released his first album, Nice and Warm on the “Justice” record label and it became an AAA (Adult Album Alternative) radio hit. That drove his career into high gear and he began touring 250 dates a year which he still did until the pandemic and has now started up again. He’s released a dozen studio albums and another half dozen live and guest musician jams. In 2004, Benoit founded “Voice of the Wetlands” which voiced concerns about “the receding coastal wetlands of Louisiana before Hurricane Katrina.
The following is a selection of his Top 10 songs from the past three decades that features his phenomenal guitar playing and stellar vocals.
10. “I Put a Spell On You”
“I Put a Spell On You” was on Nice and Warm Tab Benoit’s first album that was released in 1992. It was originally written by “Screamin’ Jay Hawkins” in 1955. Hawkins recorded two different versions and the second one was recorded when he and the band were drunk. It was considered too outrageous for the radio at the time with its “voodoo-tinged” blues sung with a boisterous voice that included moans and screams. The most famous cover was by Nina Simone who used the title for her autobiography. The song was originally written as a lament over losing the love of a woman that he longed for. Benoit’s version is a straight blues interpretation with Tab picking it on his guitar while passionately singing in a voice reminiscent of Otis Redding.
9. “Muddy Bottom Blues”
“Muddy Bottom Blues” is from 2001’s Wetlands album on the “Telarc” record label. The song is a disturbing story about getting trapped in mud that sucks your feet into the swamp with a hungry gator eying you. The guitar playing is as frantic as the main character’s predicament is in the story of this original composition by Benoit.
“Darkness” is another original song by Benoit and appeared on Night Train to Nashville in 2008 with Louisiana’s “LeRoux” as his backing band. It’s a slow burning blues numbers with two guitar breaks. The lyrics tell the story of a broken relationship and a plea for forgiveness to turn the darkness into light.
“Lord, turn on the love lights
Before I go blind.”
7. “Little Girl Blues”
“Little Girl Blues” appeared on 2005’s Fever For the Bayou album that came out five months before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The same ensemble also played on Voice of the Wetlands to raise money for the non-profit organization of the same name. Ironically the album wasn’t ready to release until the end of September, a month after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina even though it was recorded to raise money for the wetlands months earlier. “Little Girl Blues” is performed with no frills, raw blues guitar playing that is straight out of the Bayou. The lyrics are a prayer beseeching God to assist him in connecting with a woman he’s in love with.
“You gotta help me Lord
Nobody can help me, Lord, but you.”
“Medicine” is the title song from the 2010 release of Medicine and it was co-written by Tab Benoit and Anders Osborne who was a guest artist on the album. It’s a killer lead track that has Benoit right off the bat growling his signature Southern drawl to a heavy blues beat. He and Osborne provide a searing guitar jam that is driven by Brady Blades driving percussion.
5. “Cherry Tree Blues”
“Cherry Tree Blues” was written by Tab Benoit and appeared on What I Live For in 1994. It’s a down and dirty blues tune with an articulate guitar that carries on a conversation with Benoit as he alternates between guitar licks and singing its insinuative lyrics.
“Did you pick all of my cherries
And just leave ‘em out to dry?”
4. “Nice and Warm”
“Nice and Warm” is the title song from Tab Benoit’s 1992 debut on “Vanguard Records.” The album is a mix of original tunes and covers with “Nice and Warm” an original composition. It’s a little over seven minutes long and after a brief organ introduction, Benoit dives right into his “Fender Tele Thinline” delicately wailing an introduction and accompanying his deep soulful voice with ethereal peals. He’s singing about getting back home from the road during the cold Northern winter.
“Can’t wait to get back home
Where the sun is always
Nice and warm.”
3. “Heart of Stone”
“Heart of Stone” appeared on Live Swampland Jam. “Heart of Stone” is a straight blues number with some intense raging guitar jamming accompanying lyrics that spell out another broken relationship. Members of the band along with Tab were Doug Therrian (bass) and Allyn Robinson (drums).
2. “Shelter Me”
“Shelter Me” appeared on 2007’s Power of the Pontchartrain and was written by Buddy and Julie Anne Miller. The song originally appeared on Miller’s 2004 album the Universal United House of Prayer. A reality TV show called “Sons of Guns” that was about a custom weapons manufacturer in Louisiana used Benoit’s cover of the song. It’s a gospel inspired composition that has multiple references to the book of Psalms in the Old Testament of the Bible and employs an indelible blues guitar riff for its hook.
1. “Night Train”
“Night Train” comes from the 2005 release Fever For the Bayou. From the opening riff, it pulls you in as the throbbing rhythm and repetitious riff ascend into the transcendent. The song uses a train as its subject matter just as the blues has since they were both born in the same post Civil War era.
“I’m a night train
Rolling nine-hundred mile.”