Blues guitarist Damon Fowler is original Florida, born and raised in Tampa. Currently Damon and his family live in Lakeland which is where his wife is from. Damon also lived for 5 years on Anna Maria Island and has played music around the Tampa Bay area most of his life. He is currently on tour supporting his latest record “Whiskey Bayou Session” on bluesman Tab Benoit’s label. Later this month he will be playing the Southern Rock & BBQ Festival at Masonic Park in Wimauma, FL. He talked to The Sarasota Post about his past, present and future.
SP: Who are your musical influences?
DF: Well I have a ton of musical influences! Willie Nelson is one of my favorite dudes, Albert Collins, B.B. King, Ray Charles, and George Jones.
SP: When you were growing up what kind of music were you listening to?
DF: When I was growing up I was listening to the same music all the kids were listening to, I would go in my room and I would listen to Guns & Roses, especially in like the 8th grade man, I was totally into GNR. You know there were cool and I still like them. I go back and listen to them, they are a pretty cool band and their music still holds up.
SP: But something pulled you to the blues though right?
DF: Before that I grew up in my grand-parents house and they had a septic tank business, my uncles and my mom worked in the business. My oldest uncle was in a country band, on Sunday we would have BBQ’s in the pool area and we had a little stage built, everybody would play and jam around. There was a lot of country music around. There was Elvis, Lynryd Sknyrd and country music in Florida for me. When I started playing guitar I was 10 and I would jam with my uncle and his music friends. The thing that drew me to the blues well, a couple of things drew me in. One was that I could understand the progression of the music because it was a 12 bar and it was a 1-4-5 progression, the thing I had originally adapted to and I enjoyed the stories. The first song I ever played that got my attention was a James Taylor song, “Steamroller Blues” and just the tongue-in-cheek in that song really sparked my interest a little bit and immediately thought if that’s what the blues is about I wonder what’s good in the blues and that same week I found B.B. King and really fell in love with B.B. King and John Lee Hooker.
SP: Did you pick the guitar up and play by ear?
DF: Well no, everybody had guitars so when I was 10, my grandma went to buy my uncles acoustic guitars and I went to the music store with her. She basically bought me a cheap guitar just to get me out of her hair! It was like, “Here kid, take this guitar and shut up”(laughing) but I took it very serious and when I got home, my oldest uncle Bobby Fowler started teaching me chords and the Pentatonic scale and turned his record collection over to me and played me a lot of good music.
SP: Let’s talk about you joining the Dickey Betts Band. How that came about and what your feelings are about that happening?
DM: Well my feelings are, well I feel really lucky and really happy that those gigs have happened. How it happened, I play a lot in Sarasota and when I was living on Anna Maria I met Berry Oakley, Jr and he lives down in Venice and his dad was the original bass player in the Allman Brothers Band. My son was due around the same time his baby was due, our wives were pregnant at the same time, so we laughed and had a gig we called, “Baby Daddy” just for fun on Thursday nights and one night his wife’s water broke at one of the “Baby Daddy” gigs. We were like wow what just happened?(laughing) So we played together and actually got me hooked up with Butch Trucks and the Freight Train and Butch was looking for a guitar player and Berry put my name in the hat. I got the gig with Butch and played with him until he passed away. So through playing with that group of guys, I met Duane Betts who is Dickey’s son. Even as a kid I was playing music around Sarasota, at fifteen, sixteen years old. Dickey had come out a couple of times and seen me play when I was younger. I had run in the same circles and hanging with Duane and did a couple of shows together and became friends. When it came time to put the Dickey Betts Band back together, they called me and I said “Heck yea”.
SP: I saw you open for Gregg Allman in Ft. Myers, how did you get that gig?
DF: I never had a chance to hang out with Gregg one-on-one but the Allman’s had a lot of connections on the west coast of Florida and Gregg used to live on Anna Maria a long time ago. I had met Gregg a handful of times over the years. He was always very kind and gentle to me. I did a festival and a few shows with him and after the show he would come by and say “great job” and that kind of thing.
SB: You played at Ace’s many times over the years and I was wondering how you felt about it closing?
DF: Well, I have mixed feelings about it. I had a lot of great times playing in the place and made a lot of friends. I really enjoyed the structure, I enjoyed the building, it was an old barn with cool old wood and I thought music sounded good in there. Some places have a marbley sound that doesn’t sound good but Ace’s had this warmth to it and the stuff on walls, nothing was obtrusive sounding and the acoustics in the room were very nice. I liked that about Ace’s. On the other side of it, Renee Bennett is a long-time friend and supporter and she is a cool lady. I know that owning and running a bar is a 24/7 job and she was to the point in her life and she has one business she owns and grandchildren. She wants to live her life and I want that for my friend.
SB: Where did you play around Sarasota when you were younger?
DF: I would play around the Sarasota scene at the 5-O Clock club, I would play on Siesta Key at the Speakeasy and a place called Churchills. I first started playing at the Zanzibar at In Extremis at the Quay. It was a little blues bar inside the dance club, that was once of the first places I played back then.
SB: Tab Benoit produced your album “Sounds of Home” and you recently played with him at Skippers Smokehouse and the Funky Bisquit with the “Whiskey Bayou Review”. It surprised me to see Tab on drums, what is up with that?
DF: Tab is a talented dude. He loves to play drums and he is a good drummer! That’s what happens when I do the “Whiskey Bayou Review”, it’s you and another “Whiskey Bayou” artist are paired up, I have been with Eric Johansen the last couple of times. You will each do like 30-40 minutes and Tab plays drums with you. After the gig, he will go out and play some more somewhere. He can play pedal steel and he can sing like George Jones more like anyone I have ever seen. I have known him for a good long time.
SB: Are you doing any new music in the near future?
DF: I am actually working on some songs right now and writing some tunes. My summer I am going out and supporting this Whiskey Bayou release. I am now on Tab Benoit’s label. The Whiskey Bayou Review is part of the “Whiskey Bayou Records” catalog. My record is called the “Whiskey Bayou Session”. I also have another band I am in called “Southern Hospitality” and we are doing some dates this summer. We are doing a benefit at Skipper’s Smokehouse on February 16th for my friend blues photographer Rick Lewis. He has been really gracious to the musicians and he has cancer so we want to give back to him. Selwyn Birchwood is steam heading it. He put it together because he is the most organized of our music crowd.(laughs)
SB: You are part of the very first Southern Rock & BBQ Festival (Synchronicity) lineup on February 23rd. What are you doing for that?
DF: I am bringing my trio. I have Chuck Riley playing bass and Justin Headley playing drums and we will do our set. But I am sure there will be some jammin’ too. I knew we will have a lot of friends there. I am looking forward to seeing “Rattlebone”. I think it will be a fun festival. I have played with Chris Anderson a few times, we jammed at Grant’s Lounge in Macon one night. He sat in with my band at the Stonecrab Festival in Cortez. When I was a kid I used to see Chris Anderson in Sarasota. I hope this festival goes well and that Greg and Gail (Gerdes) are successful and keep it rolling for years to come!
Photos by sarasotapost.com / Rock the Lens Photography