Damon Fowler: hooked on the blues
Folwer played with Southern Hospitality at the Bradenton
MAGGIE FIELD | SUN
BRADENTON BEACH – Nationally renowned guitarist and singer Damon Fowler will be traveling worldwide in 2013, but he didn’t have to travel far to play the inaugural Bradenton Blues Festival with his new band, Southern Hospitality.
The 33-year-old Brandon native has called Bradenton Beach home for the past four years making the Bradenton Blues Festival a local gig. Commenting on the first year festival, Fowler said, “Everybody did a great job. The gig was great and it was an amazing crowd.”
Dubbed a “supergroup” by some, Southern Hospitality consists of Fowler on guitar, vocals, dobro and lap steel guitar, Memphis-area vocalist and piano player extraordinaire Victor Wainwright, South Florida guitarist J.P. Soars and his drummer Chris Peet and Fowler’s longtime bassist Chuck Riley.
Southern Hospitality made its debut in August, opening for blues legend Buddy Guy at the Heritage Music Blues Festival in West Virginia.
Folks will be hearing a lot more from Southern Hospitality in the coming year. The group is among the many acts playing the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise that sails out of Ft. Lauderdale and through the Caribbean the third week of January.
Before setting sail, the new band will kick off the year with a pair of shows at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg on Jan. 11 and 12. In May, Southern Hospitality will travel to the Netherlands to perform at the Moulin Blues Festival.
“Southern Hospitality was a project that really just happened by accident, we didn’t really sit down and focus and plan it,” Fowler explained. “It just so happens we got these gigs, did a tour, created a buzz and that’s when we got booked on the Blues Cruise.”
Southern Hospitality’s debut record will be released by Blind Pig Records in early 2013, with well-known blues guitarist Tab Benoit serving as producer. Fowler will share a bill with Benoit at Skipper’s Smokehouse, in Tampa, on Friday Jan. 18 and again on the Blues Cruise.
Fowler has been part of the Blind Pig Records roster since the 2009 release of "Sugar Shack." The title cut, “Sugar Shack,” was inspired by a bottle club in Tampa that Fowler used to drive past late at night when dropping off his uncle. The club wasn’t in the best of neighborhoods, so Fowler never ventured inside, relying instead on his imagination to help craft the tune.
“I bet that’s a crazy place on the inside,” he said to himself, and from those roots, a song was born.
In 2011, Fowler followed up the popular "Sugar Shack" with "Devil Got His Way." Comparing the two recordings, Fowler said, “It’s a different record, a darker record than Sugar Shack. People seem to dig it and it’s been a successful record for us.”
Looking ahead to 2013, Fowler says the year will be divided between Southern Hospitality and the time-tested Damon Fowler trio that features Riley on bass and James McKnight on drums.
The trio will close out 2012 with two shows at the Ringside Café in St. Pete on Dec. 28 and 29. They get back to work on Saturday, Jan. 5, when they perform in downtown Sarasota at the annual Thunder By The Bay motorcycle festival.
In February, Fowler will take the trio on a three-week tour of the Midwest, and he hopes to have them back in the recording studio in June.
As for how the two projects differ, Fowler said, “I’ve been doing the trio for a long time. I enjoy the freedom of that, and I’m very comfortable with it. With Southern Hospitality having more members in the band, it’s really nice to not to have to play as much and cover as much ground. Playing with another guitar player is inspiring, and Victor is such a great piano player.”
When asked if he considers himself a blues artist, Fowler said, “I would consider my art to be influenced by the blues.”
As for what it is about the blues that appeals to him, Fowler said, “The vibe of it, the innuendo…It’s sophisticated, but it’s not profound. It can be very simple, but it carries a lot of weight.”
Summing up the evolution and maturation of a musical style that incorporates elements of rock, blues, Americana and Sacred Steel-style lap steel guitar, Fowler describes his current sound as “swampy.”
Between the two bands, Fowler estimates he will play between 225 and 250 shows in 2013, but he plans to ring in the new year by spending a quiet New Year’s Eve somewhere far from the craziness with his wife, Lacy, and their newborn son, Maxwell Reid, born Sept. 16.
The couple owns a home in Bradenton Beach, and Lacy works as a cosmetologist at a salon in Holmes Beach.
When not on stage, Fowler’s hobbies include fishing, but his fishing pole has been neglected lately. “I haven’t been fishing since Maxwell was born,” he said, with the adoration and pride of a new father evident in his voice.
Looking back on the year that was and ahead to the year to come, Fowler said, “Things have been really positive the last year, and we’ve been really fortunate. We’re just doing things that allow us to keep making records. I’m not trying to get into an intellectual debate with someone musically, I just want to play music that makes people happy.”