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Posted: July 29, 2009

Damon Fowler has blues, rock and country blasting in his Sugar Shack

Florida guitarist and singer hits Colorado for four shows

Mike Cote

The fun-loving vibe of “Sugar Shack,” the title track on Damon Fowler’s first national release, belies the hard work and heartache it took to get to that place. But the Florida-based singer and guitarist is having a great time now.

Fowler has been recording and performing since he was a teenager – no less a name than Rick Derringer produced his first album when Fowler was just 18 – but with an album out now on San Francisco’s Blind Pig Records that mixes up blues and rock with rough-edged country, he’s making a name for himself far beyond the Sunshine State.

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“This is a different record for (Blind Pig). It’s not like a straight blues record,” Fowler says from his home outside Tampa. “There are elements of blues, and there are elements of other stuff. I wouldn’t feel right if I just went out and played straight blues because that’s not who I am. I love the blues and I have great respect for the blues, but in this day and age, I’d like to try to keep the ball moving forward.”

Fowler visits Colorado for four shows beginning July 30, hitting the Boulder Outlook Hotel’s Blues & Greens on Thursday, Oskar Blues in Lyons on Friday, Crystola Roadhouse in Woodland Park on Saturday and Lincoln’s Roadhouse in Denver on Sunday. It’s the kind of schedule that make a lot more sense than what Fowler and his band used to endure when they first started touring five years ago.

“We had this one booking agent out of Colorado. He was based out of Evergreen,” Fowler says. “I’m not going to say his name, but I will say I think that guy drinks a six pack, hits the bong, put on a blindfold and throws darts at the map. That guy put us in all these weird rooms, some good rooms, some bad rooms. But he gave us a chance, and I appreciate that.”

Sugar Shack’s 12 songs feature nine Fowler originals, from carefree good-time songs like “Some Fun” and “Sugar Lee” to more hard-edged material like “James,” a heartfelt portrait of a misfit kid and the hard-luck life he suffers as a man.

“There was actually a kid named James when I growing up. They called this poor kid Dirty,” Fowler says. Years later, Fowler saw a young boy who reminded him of the outcast.

“I was driving around in my old neighborhood because I was looking for a place to live. I pulled into this alley, and I saw this little kid out in the yard, and he kind of looked like him,” he says. “And I definitely could see this kid was not with the big group with the other kids. This kid was the outcast. I started thinking of my friend, James, and I wondered, whatever happened to that kid?”

Fowler suffered his own run of tough luck, thanks to a car wreck in 2005 that put him out of action for a year after he was cut off on the interstate and flipped his van. He and his band had been touring nationally since the year before and had been building momentum.

“I lost part of my skull. I lost part of my deltoid in my left arm. They didn’t even know if I was going to be able to play again,” Fowler says.

His slide guitar work is a trademark of his sound, both in the blues style and on country tunes.

Sugar Shack features three country covers: Merle Haggard’s “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down,” the Amazing Rhythm Aces’ “Third Rate Romance” and Billy Joe Shaver’s gospel-laced “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal.”

Fowler doesn’t have much good to say about country radio, which he describes as “like Poison from the ‘80s … it’s awful.” When he’s talking about country, he means Willie Nelson, George Jones and aforementioned artists he’s covered. You know -- good country.

“All country music is, is blues with a fiddle,” says Fowler, whose uncle played in a country band and would let Fowler and his cousin sit in.

Fowler doesn’t tell blues audiences he’s going to perform a country song. He figures most of the audience won’t care, even if they think they don’t like country.

“If you said, ‘Are you ready to hear the blues?’ and still played George Jones, I’d say 70 percent of the people would be like, ‘Hell, yeah, we love the blues!’”

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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