According to founding member Damon Fowler, Southern Hospitality operates by one simple rule: "We play whatever we like."
For Fowler, arguably the Tampa Bay area's top blues guitar gun, playing alongside fellow bandmates J.P. Soars and Victor Wainwright is something of a vision fulfilled.
"The first few times we got together, we just sort of jammed a little bit," Fowler recalled. "But it was more than just knocking around some tunes. There was a musical kinship, a chemistry that I wasn't expecting."
Part of the magic behind the blues super combo, which headlines Saturday's fourth annual Bluesapalooza Music Festival at Linda Pedersen Park, comes from the collaborative effort to blend distinctive blues styles into something personal for each musician.
It all began with Fowler and Soars, who have been guitar chums for a long time. Whereas Fowler is pretty much a roots guitarist steeped in blues, country and rock, Soars, who hails from Boca Raton, plays a more funk-laced groove.
When Fowler suggested that he and Soars get together for a music project, both agreed that keyboards would be a nice addition to the mix. They immediately thought of Wainwright, a Memphis-based boogie-woogie piano player, whom both had met during their musical travels.
Although there were a few spot gigs to pull things together, the group's official debut as Southern Hospitality came a year ago, before an enthusiastic crowd at the Heritage Blues Festival in Wheeling, W.Va. The group, which also includes bassist Chuck Riley and drummer Chris Peet, performed right before legendary headliners Kenny Neal and Buddy Guy, Fowler recalled.
"By then, we had gotten confident enough to think we could handle that slot," Fowler said. "I think we held our own pretty well."
Fowler, who has fronted his own three-piece band since he was a teenager, said that not being the focal point on stage is fine with him.
"It allows me as a guitarist to be a little more creative," he said. "Plus, it's very satisfying musically to be part of what the other guys are doing as well."
As someone who has performed at all four Bluesapalooza festivals, Fowler said he is excited to be returning with something different for his fans.
"I love playing Bluesapalooza because it's so laid back," he said. "I'm looking forward to showing people what these guys can do."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.