Janesville's Armory has the blues

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Ann Fiore
Wednesday, August 13, 2014

JANESVILLE—If you don't think the blues are alive and well in Florida, Damon Fowler is happy to correct you.

Fowler grew up in Brandon, Florida, with the music of B.B. King. He picked up a guitar at age 10, cut his first album at 18 and is a rising national blues star praised for his nimble fingerplay on electric guitar, lap steel and dobro.

He'll bring his trio and his latest solo album, “Sounds of Home,” to Janesville's Armory on Thursday, Aug. 21. Also in the lineup that night is the blues/roots band Nighthawks.

The combo ticket is part of “Hot Summer Nights at the Armory,” a series of Thursday night jazz/blues concerts at the downtown restaurant and banquet facility, 10 S. High St.

The aim is to bring one national blues act to Janesville each month and book regional groups on the other Thursdays, said Dan Fredricks, who has been scheduling the musicians.

Recent shows have featured the local Jazzguise, Madison's Tony Castaneda Latin Jazz Band and renowned electric harmonica player Westside Andy.

“So far, we have been pretty lucky and have had some outstanding Madison/Rockford/Milwaukee acts performing,” Fredricks said in an email. 

Fowler is one of the bigger names on the schedule.

Although he's only 35, Fowler has worked with several masters of rock and blues—Johnny Winter, Buddy Guy and Rick Derringer among them. Swamp-blues guitarist Tab Benoit helped produce Fowler's latest album on the Blind Pig label.

Roots music magazine No Depression has described Fowler's music as “a blend of sacred steel, backwater blues and howling, greasy swamp rock.”

Blues can take root anywhere, from the Deep South to St. Louis to Chicago. Fowler said the genre also thrives in his home state of Florida, where a lot of musicians wind up retiring and playing solo gigs.

“It seems to be a good scene to be in these days,” he said.

Fowler said he likes cutting albums as much as he likes performing live.

“I really enjoy making records,” he said. “Playing live music is really fun … but being a musician, there's another side to it. Recording and writing is a fun thing to do for me.”

Along with his solo career, Fowler also tours with the Southern roots-rock band Southern Hospitality, which in 2013 released its debut album, “Easy Livin'.”

Fowler and his trio have been on several short tours this year, including one to Jamaica, another to California and one to the East Coast. All told, they've put about 40,000 miles on the van they bought in December.

Fowler will visit New Jersey, Wisconsin and Virginia before heading back to Florida. He tries not to stay away for too long because his wife is expecting their second child this fall.

“She's cool with summertime (touring),” he said, “but I gotta get back by October-November.”

For their part, the Nighthawks also have a new album, “444,” on Ellersoul Records. The band consists of Mark Wenner, Johnny Castle, Paul Bell and Mark Stutso.

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