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an interview with
by Andrew Elias
DAMON FOWLER, JP SOARS AND VICTOR WAINWRIGHT have all grown up in Florida and have been playing blues clubs and festivals throughout the state and country for years and have been good friends for a long time. So when Damon had the idea of joining forces with JP and Victor to form a blues supergroup they jumped at the chance. The band was named Southern Hospitality.
They went into the studio with Grammy-nominated cajun bluesman Tab Benoit (and bassist Chuck Riley and drummer Chris Peet) and recorded a strong new album, Easy Livin, recently released on Blind Pig Records, one of the premier blues labels in the world. Each contributes several songs showcasing their distinct styles Damons southern soul reminiscent of Muscle Shoals and Little Feat, JPs driving Texan and Delta blues, and Victors funky, rockin boogie-woogie from New Orleans and Memphis. Theres even a reggae tune and a cover of Willie Bobos Fried Neck Bones and Home Fries, popularized by Santana.
Damon, JP and Victor play regularly in Southwest Florida, most often at Buckingham Blues Bar, and will be playing March 9 at the Bonita Blues Festival.
I emailed some questions to the band, who were in different locations gigging around the country.
How did the band Southern Hospitality form? Whose Idea was it and how did it evolve?
Damon, along with a phone call to JP, started this project. I was thankfully asked to join later by them and asked what I thought of the concept. It started as a showcase idea and it's turned into a real band, but a band that performs every night as a concert, as a show. Just as if it were a showcase.
What is the difference between playing live and playing in a recording studio?
For Southern Hospitality, there wasn't much difference between playing live and playing in the studio. We came in, and along with our producer Tab Benoit, decided that our best option was really just to recreate what we do live, and capture that moment in time. We're all close friends, so capturing that musical conversation was really important to us. In other words, we wanted to play for our own pleasure, and get on tape that living part of the song. the most important part.
There was something about watching Tab work that put it all into perspective. There are producers who holler, jump all over the place and rearrange everything, and play all the instruments and do all that stuff. That really isnt production in my mind. When its really happening, I don't think you should even be able to see it. What Tab does affects everyone in the room, but without really anyone noticing. He has a big presence. The more I think about it, Tab can walk into the room and change everything without saying a word.
In the words of Jim Dickinson, a hero of mine, "Our fears of extinction compel us to record to re-create the ritual ceremony. From the first hand-print cave painting to the most modern computer art, it is the human condition to seek immortality. Life is fleeting. Art is long. A record is a totem, a document of a unique, unrepeatable event worthy of preservation and able to sustain historic life.
What do you enjoy most about playing at Blues Festivals?
Blues music festivals, or any music festival we play, can be a very unique and exciting way to experience live music. One of the best things about these events is that they know no age barriers. Very often artists in our field tend to find themselves playing to an older audience, the minimum age being 21, and often the vast majority of those in a theater or large venue are well over that. At festivals this is different, both on and off the stage. Families come out together, to celebrate and enjoy music and have fun. Often, you can watch musicians as young as 12 or experienced blues artists nearing 100 years old. On and off stage, it's very diverse.
Also, to me, what makes blues festivals in particular more unique is that they tend to be a starting ground for life-long friendships.
Who influenced you as far as piano playing? Who are some of your favorites, past and present?
I was greatly influenced by my grandfather, who taught me how to play the piano, and my farther, who taught me to sing. My grandfather was playing honky tonk and genuine rock n' roll piano with my dad and uncle long before I was born. I was later mentored by Reverend Billy C. Wirtz, who I toured with for a few years. Besides my family and mentors, other influences include Otis Spann and Pinetop Perkins, two blues piano titans. I also look up to friend Eden Brent and David Maxwell, two incredible current day piano masters.
You, JP and Damon all have very different vocal styles.
When I listen to JP I know I'm listening to someone reaching in and pulling it out; It's from the gut and from the heart. Given his diverse background in singing, I love hearing the mix of genres and the experience that comes with that. It's controlled, but in its own good way totally out of control. That is truly inspiring to me. Besides his vocal ability he also sings with his guitar, sometimes much louder and even more clear than any of us can sing with our voices.
Damon sings with a smoothness and control that I really admire and that definitely inspires me, too. In fact, sometimes when we're singing a song together, I catch myself mimicking what he's doing! I would consider Damon one of the best singers I've ever had the privilege to work with. It's from the heart and it's very moving.
I just try to sing as true and as soulfully as I can. It has to be honest. I want to move people and want to share my emotion with an audience, wether that's a fast funny boogie or a down low serious ballad.
You each seem to come from different blues traditions. Where do you find common ground? What is the common denominator?
Given all our diverse backgrounds, I think it's important to realize that we're actually coming from the same place when we're sharing a stage as Southern Hospitality. The common denominator is our passion and love for this music, our audience and each other.
Only time will tell, but I'd like to consider our roles within this music as significant; uniquely connected to its past, present and future. We all have a sense of humor and a willingness to step out on a limb for our art. With that being said, if you're not doing something different, then why do it at all?
What do you enjoy most about watching JP and Damon tangle on stage?
I love watching JP and Damon. I think what's so special about this band and what sets us apart from other similar groups is that we're all so close. We're genuine friends who talk to each other almost on a daily basis. Seeing that musical conversation between them two and feeling it myself, I can honestly say that it's something really special.
What is your definition of 'southern hospitality'?
Southern Hospitality, to me, is a friendship and love for each other and the music we play, an openness and willingness to invite others in and an awareness of the responsibilities we have to ensure that all our fans leave happy or never leave at all. We formed this band on these principles and also to leave no corner of this music unexplored and to continue to inspire ourselves and our friends and fans through our love and passion of this music.
Through all this musical diversity, our goal remains the same to remain friends and to share that friendship on stage with any fan that is willing to join us.
Can you describe the unique kind of guitar you play and how you came to play it?
The guitar that I am playing is an Epiphone Joe Pass emperor. It's totally hollow and has a wooden bridge, which has a lot to do with the way it sounds. Its actually a pretty cheap guitar. I started playing it about ten years ago. I was backing a harmonica player, Billy Burns, and he suggested that I play the hollow-body. I had the guitar for years before I really started playing it. It took a while to get used to, but now it's my favorite guitar to play. It's got its little quirks, but I know em. It's like driving the same car for years you don't have to look where the turn signal is or light switch is and you know you gotta hold the door a certain way to get it to close.
Who influenced you as far as guitar playing? Who are some of your favorites, past and present?
My dad plays guitar and is the one who got me started. I also have an uncle who plays guitar and bass. There was always music in our house. I associated the music with good times, happy times. They would have these parties and jam all night.
I've been influenced by a ton of stuff. I like a lot of different styles of music. I love Django Reinhardt, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, Wes Montgomery, Johnny Guitar Watson, Guitar Slim, Junior Watson, Duke Robillard, Charlie Baty, Rick Holmstrom, I could go on and on. I also get influenced a lot by the people I play with. I've been influenced lately by Damon and Victor. I bought myself a lap-steel guitar a few months back and have been messing with a lot of open tuning stuff.
As a performer, what do you strive to give the audience at each show?
I try to give the audience my heart and soul. I try to convey a feeling to them, an emotion, an atmosphere. I want to make them happy, make them smile and forget about their troubles for a while.
Who influenced you as far as guitar playing? Who are some of your favorites?
Red Volkaert. I also love Mark Knopfler.
What do you enjoy about playing the lap-top, dobro and slide guitar?
The reason I like playing slide is because there's a very human vocal quality to it.
You've covered songs by Leon Russell ('Tight Rope') and Merle Haggard ('Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down') and Chuck Prophet on your CDs not your usual blues suspects. What did you hear in their songs that made you want to record them?
I choose the songs that I play because growing up I heard a lot of different styles of music and that's what comes out through me when I play.
about music festivals
is that they know
no age barriers.
Very often artists tend
to find themselves
playing to an
At festivals this
is different, both on
and off the stage.
Families come out
together, to celebrate
and enjoy music
and have fun.
March 8 & 9
Old 41 Road & Childers Street
for information, visit