IN THE BLUES WORLD—OR ANY OTHER
genre, for that matter—the complete package
is hard to come by. Plenty of players can engage
a fat-sounding neck pickup and wail some mean
licks. Some may even sing quite well. But to
combine facile fervor on a Tele, a lap-steel, and
a flattop with a truly compelling vocal style and
soulful songwriting—that’s something rare in
an artist of any age. It’s even more impressive
when such maturity and authenticity come
from a 25-year-old like Damon Fowler.
Your playing is very traditional for someone your
age. Do you primarily listen to old-school blues
and roots music, or are you open to all sorts of
Born and raised in Brandon, Florida, Fowler
takes a different route than many blues wunderkinds.
His style is informed by Bakersfield
country and Hawaiian lap-steel as much as
it is by the pantheon of blues greats, and it
puts songs, vibe, and nuance above Texas-sized
riffs and tones. Doubters need only
take one listen to the heavenly tones, smoldering
Les Paul groans, and molasses-sweet
vocals on “I Hope It’s Gonna Rain,” off his
Blind Pig debut, Sugar Shack.
I’m open to all sorts of music. There are
really only two kinds of music—good and
bad. But, especially with the blues, I’m drawn
to more of the older stuff because there’s a
certain organic-ness to it. It’s not perfect. It
was made a different way than a lot of music
is made today.
Are you talking about the whole Pro Tools
Yeah, it’s that and what people had in
their hearts. They were doing it for a different
reason sometimes, I think. But there
are some modern guys that I really love,
too, like Jeff Lang, this Australian slide
guitarist who’s just awesome. As far as
songwriting, I really like Martin Sexton.
He’s not really flashy—he just accompanies
himself on his songs—but his tunes really
draw you in.
The tones on “I Hope It’s Gonna Rain” are
incredible. What gear did you use?
The guitar was a Gibson 1960 Les Paul
Classic reissue from 1990 or 1991, which I
think is the first year they made them. I also
used a ’65 or ’66 Fender Princeton Reverb
loaned to me by a friend. I had a bunch of
different amps, and I normally use a Super
Reverb live, but Scott Cable, the producer
of Sugar Shack, told me to try it. Once we
heard it I was like, “Oh man, that’s the one
right there.” I used that for the entire album,
with the volume typically set at 5, 6, or
maybe even 7.
What other guitars did you use?
I was a Strat guy for years, and then I
switched to the Les Paul for a while. But I’ve
always been a fan of Tele players, and I’ve
started getting into them more and more. A
guy named Jeffrey Clements in Florida has
aWeb site called playerbuiltguitars.com, and
he hooked me up with that Tele that’s on
the cover of Sugar Shack, which I just love.
It’s got a Japanese-made, V-shaped neck up
to about the fifth fret, then it kind of turns
into a C shape. I don’t even think it’s really
a Fender body. He put a Rio Grande bridge
pickup in there, and the neck pickup is a Gibson
mini ‘bucker from the ’70s. It has
compensated brass saddles, and I just had
big frets put on it because it originally had
little bitty frets that I went through pretty
quick. I used a ’64 Epiphone Cortez for all
the acoustic parts.
What about strings, slides, and picks?
I use Ernie Ball strings. On the Tele I use
.010s, and on the Les Paul I use a .010-.052
hybrid set for a meatier low end. On the lapsteel
and any slide guitar, I use .013-.056
sets. On the acoustics, I just use any nice set
of nickel .012s. For slides, sometimes I use
a Stevens bar, but they’re so heavy, and I like
a lighter one that I can roll. I had a perfect,
hand-blown glass one that a friend of mine
had custom made for me, but it got lifted at
a gig recently. My picks are the orange Dunlop
.60mm Tortex ones.
Many players have never experimented with
lap-steel. What are they missing?
Lap-steel is cool as it can give your songs
such a great texture It can sound like a screeching
cat, too, but it’s a really cool texture. On
“Sugar Shack” and “James,” I used my old Gibson
BR9. I used it on “Third Rate Romance,”
too, tuned up a sixth to give it more of a country
or Hawaiian steel-guitar sound.
Do you use the BR9 for all your slide playing?
No, I use it a good bit, but I also use a
Harmony H44 Stratotone, which I usually
tune to open G or open A.
Did you use any stompboxes on Sugar Shack?
None. I don’t use them live, either. The
overdrive and tremolo from my Super
Reverb are enough for me. When I was
younger and playing more of the bluesrock
stuff, I had a Fulltone Full-Drive, a
wah-wah pedal, and all sorts of wacky stuff.
But for the last three or four years, I’ve
just concentrated on getting tone out of
my amp and my guitar. I have nothing
against pedals. Some guys use them great,
but I feel like I get a more organic tone
Who’s your biggest influence as a guitarist?
I’ve had a bunch of them. When I was 12
or 13, and I first really got into the bluesrock
thing, Jeff Healey was a big one. I really
like Warren Haynes’ guitar playing. Being
from Florida, I was fortunate enough to do
a handful of shows with Derek Trucks when
he was 14, 15. I really like Roy Nichols from
Merle Haggard’s band, and I’ve been listening
to Ry Cooder quite a bit recently. But the
guy who really turned me on when I was
young was Johnny Winter and his record,
Nothin’ But the Blues, with Muddy Waters,
James Cotton, and Bob Margolin. It’s just a
great blues record—and Johnny mainly plays
Dobro on it.
A lot of blues cats today put all their energy
into nailing great licks, but your nuanced vocals
prove you’ve put as much into them as your guitar
You know, I really have in the last few
years, and I wanted to make this a record
with songs on it. I didn’t want it to be an
excuse to play guitar.
Which artists inspired you in your quest to be
a better singer and songwriter?
I love Willie Nelson—he kills me. He
knocks me out. I love his songs, but he’s also
a very underestimated guitar player. He’s
very much a stylist in the same sense as
Albert Collins, B.B. King, Stevie Ray
Vaughan, and Mark Knopfler. There are very
few guitar players that, after a couple of
notes, you know it’s them. You’re like, “Holy
crap, man, Willie Nelson’s on this record?”
He’s not just a guy playing guitar—he’s an
artist. He really has his own voice on the
What is it about his singing and playing that
you find so captivating?
Vocally, he never goes past a point that
he can’t physically go. He always sings what’s
right for him. Guitar-wise, he’s sparse and
very barebones, and he just cuts straight to
the point. I don’t know—something about
it just really tickles me.