You could say the blues are in Damon Fowler's blood. Probably be convinced of it once you hear his slide guitar sing. But just wait until he brings out the lap steel, then the Dobra, while offering up some good old roots music or something wonderfully original — something like Fruit Stand Lady, which has been getting play time on B.B. King's Bluesville on SiriusXM Radio.
"Playing local" typically means hitting stages south of here. When not on tour, the homegrown musician often performs at Skipper's Smokehouse in Tampa and the Ringside Café in St. Petersburg. But tonight he'll be doing it up at Cocktails in New Port Richey with his very tight group: longtime bass player Chuck Riley and drummer James McKnight.
Born and raised in Brandon, Fowler, 32, has been honing his licks since he was a kid. He was about 10 when he finally got a guitar to call his own — an Ibanez acoustic that his grandparents bought him, Fowler said, "just to keep me out of their hair."
"I fell in love with it," he said. "And started playing it every day."
Family jam sessions were the norm for Fowler, whose early influences include Johnny Lee Hooker, B.B. King, the Jeff Healey Band from the movie Roadhouse and his uncles. They ran a septic tank business during the week and played music during Sunday afternoon backyard barbecues.
"People would come over, hang out on the deck and go swimming and play the guitar," Fowler said. "I thought that was what everyone did — it was a tradition kind of thing."
His first paying gig came at age 14 with his uncle's country band at a short-lived Tampa club called Mustang Sally.
"The first night we played for our parents and this homeless guy," Fowler said. "The second night the owner told us that after we left the homeless guy went out back, drank some whiskey and smashed the bottle and slit his wrists. So we just played for our parents that night."
In his teens, Fowler was playing small clubs in Ybor City and Tampa. Soon he became a homegrown favorite in the local blues scene and beyond, playing festivals and venues throughout the United States and in Italy.
His "played with" pedigree includes Derek Trucks, Gregg Allman, Rick Derringer, Little Feat and Jeff Beck. Two CDs, Sugar Shack and Devil Got His Way on the independent label Blind Pig, feature many of Fowler's original tunes and have brought more radio play.
"We're building a bit of a national audience," Fowler said. "Each town is different. We're doing pretty well in Italy and we had our first West Coast tour last year and it went pretty darn good."
For the time being, he'll be keeping close to home and looking forward to taking a turn tonight, maybe on a guitar he fondly calls "The Blues Machine."
Cocktails owner Frank Golino pulls that guitar out of his collection for Fowler to pick on whenever he performs at the New Port Richey club.
It's a definite enticement, said Fowler, who, it turns out, doesn't need much, especially when it comes to playing the blues.
"I love what I do," he said. "I have to say there's not a day that I don't look forward to going to work."
Come out and watch him work tonight.