When guitarist Gino Matteo and vocalist Jade Bennett log into a Zoom meeting for a scheduled interview, it’s not the live visages of the duo that appears onscreen, but just a static shot of Matteo.
The reason, it is learned, might have to do something with a spotty internet connection, as the husband-and-wife duo are somewhere in the south inside the RV which they now call their permanent home. Something that will help them to focus more on the band which bears their names than say, sheet rock repair or lawnmowing.
“If we had a better signal, we’d do the video!” Matteo laughs.
As the names-in-the-title for The Bennett Matteo Band, they are excited about the release of their debut record, Shake The Roots (Gulf Coast Records). It features a combination of guests and more permanent players including Kid Andersen (who also co-produced with Matteo), Michael Burnham, Carson Ford, Nick Clark, Jim Pugh and Dmar.
Hell, they’re just happy to finally have the damn thing out and able to play live shows behind it. After it was recorded, it was shelved by a previous record company as being “not bluesy enough” before Gulf Coast (which takes a wider definition of the genre) snapped it up. Then they were going to go on the road to support it. And then the pandemic hit.
“It was pretty heartbreaking, and the pandemic crushed everything. I really enjoy complaining, but it was hard to do that because everyone else [in music] was going through the same shit,” Matteo says. “And it felt disingenuous to write a ‘blues’ album. We grew up how we grew up, and we sound like our environment.”
And indeed, while there are some more straight blues tracks on the record (“Moving On,” “Table for Two,” “Paid & Broke”), the reset skip across genres including funk (“Doesn’t Really Matter”), alt rock (“Shiny Creatures”), dance (“You’re Nothing”), soul (“When I Close My Eyes”), and even psychedelia (“Warm Inside”). Then there’s the gospel of “Oh Lord,” which features the work song backing vocals of The Sons of the Soul Revivers. The pair wrote all 10 tracks.
Throughout, Matteo showcases his stinging, wild guitar lines while Bennett’s power player voice brings to mind the forcefulness of Shemekia Copeland mingled with the earnestness of Susan Tedeschi.
“It was, I guess you could say a bummer at first. But in the end, it’s the right time now for this record to come out,” Bennett says. “I think where we’re at in our lives personally is great for this.”
Matteo and Bennett first met in 2010 at a blues jam, and “almost immediately” moved in together and began writing music. Matteo also had a day gig playing and touring in the band of blues/soul singer Sugaray Rayford, so it was more than a decade before The Bennett Matteo Band took shape.
“It didn’t start off romantically. I think he kind of used the music thing to get at me!” Bennett laughs.
“I got right in, man!” Matteo responds.
“I didn’t really want him to move in so soon, but he didn’t have anywhere else to go! And when I want to kill him, I just have to remember that he plays guitar, really, really well,” Bennett counters. “But he’s a wet blanket.”
“A wet furry blanket!” Matteo roars.
“See, we’re doing music that feels genuine to us,” he continues. “If a hear a song and I know where it’s going, I’m immediately disinterested. That’s why I don’t like a lot of blues, and I hate saying that. It’s my favorite genre, but with a lot of modern blues [performers], I’m thinking ‘Are you playing dress up? Or did you actually grow up like this?’ Just sound like yourself.”
For his own listening, Matteo says he listens to a lot of old school West Coast hip hop like Dr. Dre, along with Parliament Funkadelic and his favorite band, Fishbone. Matteo even sports a Fishbone T-shirt on the cover of Shake the Roots.
“They’re a real genre-bending band, and I’ve always gravitated toward those,” he says, rating front man Angelo Moore in the ranks of Axl Rose, Chris Cornell and James Brown in that role.
“When I first met Gino, I was interested in blues music, but I didn’t feel like myself if I was trying to do just that,” Bennett—who name checks St. Vincent, Queens of the Stone Age and Haitus Kaiyote as her favorites. “Genre is something that has always worried me. So, we don’t care what it’s categorized as. And I like classic country, bluegrass, and driving to zydeco too.”
The Bennett Matteo Band have most of their next record already written, and currently have handful of gigs booked (though none in Houston). And then eight shows in eight days in late October/early November on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise. And while Matteo has played the Cruise twice before, it will be Bennett’s first time singing on the high seas.
Jade Bennett and Gino Matteo: Logging both miles and love in confined quarters, with one of their 2-1/2 dogs.
Photo by Jade Bennett
“It’s genuinely my favorite gig,” Matteo says. “It’s a good time, people don’t have a care in the world, and in 2019 were probably giving each other COVID making out all the time!”
They’re still working out plans, but figure they’ll park the RV and then get a friend to take care of their “2 ½” dogs while they’re away. Uh…2 ½?
“Well, one is paralyzed, and her back legs are in a chair. She’s adorable and a total badass. And she’s faster than the other two!” Matteo says. “We call her Lieutenant Dan.”
Finally, Bennett calls herself a “desert rat girl” who can take the heat but is not a fan of the humidity. Which brings us back to the current climate in the couple’s RV, in which they’ve lived in full-time since last October.
“The air conditioning is really struggling!” she says. “Summers are bad!”
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.