Eric Clapton had Brownie and Blackie. Willie Nelson still plays Trigger. And of course, B.B. King spent the majority of his career accompanied by Lucille.
Add Berkeley, California-based country singer Laura Benitez to the long list of guitarists who have given a name to a favorite instrument.
Benitez’s trusty guitar is dubbed Eppy, a 1996 Epiphone Excellente, which was a gift from her ex-husband.
“It has a bright sound but it’s full, all the way up and down the scale. And it’s also a really pretty guitar — gotta have a little stage presence,” she says.
With few exceptions, Eppy has been Benitez’s go-to guitar for songwriting, recording and performing.
“I’m honestly superstitious to get another guitar,” she admits. “Probably what it comes from is being a musician is emotionally hard because you’re putting yourself out there. You’re basically reading your diary onstage. The terror of being rejected every time you step out there is real. So every little thing that supports you along the way is important, and somehow the guitar became one of those things.”
Benitez used Eppy to write most of For Duty or For Love (her solo debut, released in 2010), everything on Heartless Woman (the 2014 follow-up, featuring her band, The Heartache) and all but one of the 11 songs on With All Its Thorns (due Jan. 26 on her own Copperhead Records label).
Among the standouts on With All Its Thorns is “Ghostship.” The song was inspired by the artistic-collective warehouse in Oakland, California, known as Ghost Ship, which caught fire in December 2016 during an electronic-music event, killing 36 people. As someone who has played her share of underground shows in makeshift Bay Area venues, Benitez — who knew about Ghost Ship before the fire via a friend who once resided there — says she “chooses more carefully” when it comes to performing at storefronts or other unconventional performance locations.
For the tracking of With All Its Thorns, Benitez chose two established facilities: Decibelle Recording Studio in San Francisco and 25th Street Recording in Oakland.
“I didn’t claim producing credit on my other two albums just because I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing,” she says. “But with this album, I realized I was the one saying yes or no to all of these tracks, and so I owned that a little more.”
Her confidence extends to maintaining her classic-country sound, which Benitez has no intention of making more current or commercial with hip-hop beats or elements from other genres.
“When you come at it a little bit later in life — when I started writing songs, I was 30 — and you’re coming at it as an independent artist, the whole point of doing it is doing exactly what you want to do,” Benitez says. “If you’re going to struggle to get paid, you might as well like what you’re doing.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Laura Benitez concert dates (schedule subject to change):
• Jan. 20: Arlene Francis Center — Santa Rosa, California
• Jan. 21: Down Home Music — El Cerrito, California
• Jan. 25: Brick & Mortar Music Hall — San Francisco