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FIRST THINGS FIRST: DAMON FOWLER OF
SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY

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Following the impromptu post-festival jam in July 2011 that gave birth to the blues-rock side project Southern Hospitality, core members Damon Fowler, JP Soars and Victor Wainwright quickly hit the ground running gig-wise, making their official band debut about a month later at another festival.

Southern Hospitality’s first album, however, took a little longer to see the light of day: Easy Livin’ (Blind Pig Records), produced by acclaimed blues singer/guitarist Tab Benoit, dropped in March. Since then, when they’re not involved with their main projects, Fowler (guitar), Soars (guitar) and Wainwright (keyboards) have been gigging as Southern Hospitality. During an April 12 show in Tallahassee, Fla., SH filmed a video for “Kind Lies & Whiskey,” one of the dozen songs on Easy Livin’.

Fowler recently checked in from Florida to discuss some significant musical firsts in his life and career.

* First album purchased with his own money: “[As a kid] I had three tapes: I had [Michael Jackson’s] Thriller, I had the Top Gun soundtrack, and I also had the Ghostbusters soundtrack. I don’t remember which one came first, but the Top Gun one always got me pumped. Kenny Loggins ruled.”

* His first concert: “Growing up, I lived with my grandparents, and my mom helped with their business. … I had been to a bunch of concerts when I was a kid that my grandparents dragged me to. I saw Bill Monroe, The Judds and Sawyer Brown. But the first concert I ever wanted to go to, I was 14 and saw Lenny Kravitz. Blind Melon opened up. My cousin and I sat way in the back of the USF Sun Dome [in Tampa, Fla.]. We got there late, and I only caught half of Blind Melon’s set. It was a great experience.”

* His most vivid memory from Southern Hospitality’s first official show, opening for Buddy Guy in August 2011: “Just the overall response that we got. … Honeyboy Edwards had gotten sick, [and we were called about filling in]. We said, ‘Sure.’ So in the middle of all our respective tours, we went to Wheeling, West Virginia, and did it. We never rehearsed; we didn’t really have a set list. It was like, ‘You sing one, he’ll sing one, then I’ll sing one.’ So my first major memory of that was just the overall response and feeling comfortable with it.”

* First words that come to his mind when describing the Southern Hospitality sound: “Organic. There are all kinds of words, but I’ll stick with that.”

* First song recorded for Easy Livin’: “When we got the deal with Blind Pig, we were on a tour, and we had a few days off. We went to Ohio; there’s a studio there that’s really giving to the blues world. … We made a demo there, and the first song that we recorded on the demo, I’m pretty sure was ‘Kind Lies & Whiskey,’ and I wrote that song.
“Fast forward six months later: Tab Benoit is going to produce the record for us, and we bring the demo in for him. He takes it and says, ‘Never listen to this again. Don’t bring me this crap. I don’t want to hear a demo. I just want ya’ll to make music.’ So we stuck to the ideas of the songs on the demo, but we didn’t play them verbatim, and that’s basically what he was telling us to do — play from the heart.”

* His first impression of Tab Benoit: “I’ve known Tab since I was about 20 years old, so I knew what we were getting into. I think Tab is really smart, and he’s got a charisma to him.”

— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior

Southern Hospitality on tour (schedule subject to change):

* Nov. 15: Bamboo Room — Lake Worth, Fla.
* Nov. 16: St. John’s Blues Festival — Palatka, Fla.
* Nov. 17: Earl’s Hideaway — Sebastian, Fla.
* Nov. 20: Paradise Grill — Pensacola Beach, Fla.
* Nov. 22: The Alley — Sanford, Fla.
* Nov. 23: Skipper’s — Tampa, Fla.
* Dec. 7: Iron City — Birmingham, Ala.
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