Q&A with NYC-based singer Halley DeVestern, an exhilarating combination of booty-shaking funk, blues, and rock

"The blues is living history; a kind of music that is felt deep in one’s soul, and in the collective soul of mankind."

Halley DeVestern: Big Apple's Soul Groove!

One of the best Blues bands in New York City, The Halley DeVestern Band sounds something like Janis Joplin backed by Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Mothers of Invention with just a hint of howitzer. They always put on a sweat-in-your-eyes, epiphanic, rump-shaking live show, guaranteed. Halley was born in Manhattan and moved around the US before settling back in New York City, where she and the band call home. Halley’s voice is huge - somewhere between Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin. She earned a BFA in acting at Boston University, and that pedigree shows in the her performances. In fact, Halley fronted Janis Joplin’s legendary band, Big Brother & The Holding Company, on a recent US tour and brought down the house every night. Killer band members have earned their chops with the likes of Roger Waters, Shawn Mullins, Muddy Waters, Taj Mahal, Gatemouth Brown, Zen Tricksters, and Mickey Dolenz. Halley and the band have shared the stage with Gov’t Mule, Bonnie Bramlett, Jimmie Vaughan, Son Seals, Johnny Winter, and John Hammond. Halley burst on the scene with the release of her debut, SUGAR FREE, and follows LIVE AT THE TOWPATH INN, a live acoustic set taken from club and radio performances.             (Photo: Halley DeVestern)

SUPERHERO KILLER was hailed as "an album with female vocals in the same lines of Janis Joplin's roughhewn blues, but with an even more raw and even more edgy quality." The Halley DeVestern Band's album, MUSCLE MEMORY, fulfills the promise of earlier works, taking the hellacious energy, intelligence and power of SUGAR FREE, LIVE AT THE TOWPATH INN and SUPERHERO KILLER to ever more dizzying heights. Their next album was the titled FABBO! BOFFO! SMASHO! (2014) an exhilarating combination of booty-shaking funk, blues, R&B and rock. One such miracle happened September 1st, 2019 at the Studio Winery in Lake Geneva Wisconsin when the touring New York City rockin’ funk and soul group The Halley DeVestern Band were in the house. The timing of new album, Money Ain’t Time - Live (2021), this release reminds us all of what we’ve been missing in the last year and what we should never take for granted great live performances from great performers. Recorded in front of a full house the 10-song set is a mix of five original tunes and five rearranged cover songs, running the gamut from hard driving soul to rocking blues and Americana, putting the listener in the front row of a one-of-a-kind experience.



Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

The blues is living history; a kind of music that is felt deep in one’s soul, and in the collective soul of mankind. When I sing the blues, I feel a connection to that collective soul and to the generations of those that came before me. I learn to put myself away for a little while and let the music take over, let those other people and other voices come out and be heard through me. Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m singing a song, I feel like the song is singing me!

How has the Blues/Soul and Rock music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Ever since I was a young child, I listened to my older siblings’ music. That consisted of Big Brother and the Holding Co., Bob Dylan, The Doors, Chuck Berry, Otis Redding The Beatles and others. Those influences have stayed with me till this day. My views of the world of music have been influenced by these early days. How the blues can get you through hard times. How the blues is the sine qua non of American popular music. The journeys we've taken as a band have been influenced by the other bands, we've encountered both on tour and on the charts. I realize I have so much more to learn. When we were in Memphis, we went to the Stax museum and that was like going to the Vatican. Stax is one of the places that created the music that shaped ours. It was an epiphany.

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started and what has remained the same?

I've grown as an artist by seeing that fame and fortune are not necessarily the goals one should strive for. The act of making music and feeling it in your bones and letting it run up and down your spine when it's right are the goals. The simple pleasure of performing for a live audience or creating something magical in the studio are the real goals. If fame and fortune come, it's all good. The thing that's remained the same is the thrill of entertaining an audience and knowing that they get you. I'm still just a kid in my heart.

"I want people to have a good time when they see us and to realize that we can be united as a people no matter what our political or economic labels are. I hope that people realize that music can heal and bring us all together." (Halley DeVestern Band, NYC / Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff)

How do you describe Halley DeVestern sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

Our sound is muscular, ballsy, sweaty, bouncy, funky, soaring – we’re not a traditional blues band in the purest sense, but very heavily blues-influenced and maybe helping to create an off-shoot of that mighty tree.

Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new live studio album "Money Ain't Time"?

This album was made during the pandemic, so it was all done "remotely". We had a live recording of one set from a gig from 2019 (the proprietor forgot to hit the play button for the second set) that we edited and mixed and mastered and just had enough tracks to make an album. It was missing the excitement of recording in a studio, but it was no less thrilling when, after the editing and the mixing, we realized that we had something we had to put out there.  

What touched you from 'Chain Of Fools', 'Try', 'Dancing In The Streets', and 'Stormy Monday' songs?

Chain of Fools was a song I sang with Big Brother and the Holding Company during one of the tours I did with them. It speaks to me because, of course it's a great song, but it also speaks to me as someone who has been a part of that chain. "Try" is just one of those balls out songs that makes you want to jump up and down. It's so much fun to sing and hit those high notes. I think it gets audiences revved up too. "Dancing In The Streets", well who doesn't love that song. It's a bit of Motown that we gave a classic blues beat to and I think it also gets the audience revved up. It's just plain fun. "Stormy Monday" is a song I used to sing with a cover band and I just love the traditional blues feel to it. It lets me catch my breath and get in tune with the blues groove.  The lyrics are classic.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would make it easier for bands to play those high-profile gigs without representation.  We've not ever had proper representation and I feel like we lose out to other bands who are "hooked up" for those fun and, sometimes, lucrative gigs. I just want to play to a crowd that digs us. A crowd. Not a handful of people. I will always give 100% even if we're playing to just the bartender but I wish we had more opportunity to play to big crowds.

"Our sound is muscular, ballsy, sweaty, bouncy, funky, soaring – we’re not a traditional blues band in the purest sense, but very heavily blues-influenced and maybe helping to create an off-shoot of that mighty tree." (Halley DeVestern Band, NYC / Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff)

Why did you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Because it’s authentic – it speaks directly to one’s heart. It’s like coming home. 

Do you remember anything funny from your tour with Big Brother and the Holding Company?

I remember how surreal it was at first, singing with these guys whom I had listened to since I was a child; then being accepted by them and feeling their love and kindness, they were very sweet and very professional. My parents came to a couple of shows – that was great. It was like, “hey, mom and dad, I’ve made it!”. My older sister, the one who first brought their album “Cheap Thrills” into our home when we were growing up, came to a show in Boston and that was cool too. A coming-full-circle thing.

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

Well, Big Brother could jam like crazy, they were awesome. My own band, we have some amazing jams, just trading ideas and phrases back and forth, and suddenly the music is just coming of its own accord, you’re not really playing or singing with any effort. It’s like you find the jet stream and it carries you along. They’re incredible.  Opening for some of the greatest Blues and roots artists were certainly memorable gigs: Bonnie Bramlett, Johnny Winter, John Hammond, Gov’t Mule, Jimmy Vaughan, Son Seals. Even if it’s not a “high-profile” gig, we always have a good time together.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

Meeting the famous music promoter Ron Delsener was another surreal experience. He had been given a copy of one of my early records and loved it. I sat down with him in his office and he basically said “you’re great, but I don’t know what to do with you”. But, because my voice is reminiscent of Janis Joplin, he decided to introduce me to Big Brother and the Holding Company. I’d have to say that the best advice I ever received is to have a good time onstage and to play to the people there, even if there are only two people in the audience. Give ‘em the best show you can. Don’t “half-ass” it…ever! And don’t complain. Be thankful that someone is listening to you and you get to do your thing on stage.

"I've grown as an artist by seeing that fame and fortune are not necessarily the goals one should strive for. The act of making music and feeling it in your bones and letting it run up and down your spine when it's right are the goals. The simple pleasure of performing for a live audience or creating something magical in the studio are the real goals. If fame and fortune come, it's all good. The thing that's remained the same is the thrill of entertaining an audience and knowing that they get you. I'm still just a kid in my heart." (Photo: Halley DeVestern)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Authenticity – people really singing and really playing instruments and writing meaningful songs, that’s what I miss. I fear that the lack of respect for musicianship and intellectual property will eventually render “musician” and “songwriter” occupations of the past because no one will be able to make a living from them. 

Which memory from Jimmy Vaughan, Son Seals, Johnny Winter, and Bonnie Bramlett makes you smile?

Just being asked to open for them makes me smile! What an honor each of those experiences were…and when Bonnie Bramlett said I had the biggest pipes she heard on a babe in a long time…wow!

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Funk, R&B and Rock music?

Well, I guess historically (and my knowledge of history is not great) – The Blues traveled with the African Americans who migrated from the South and from it was born Soul, Funk, R&B and Rock N Roll – even rap music can be thought of as a distant relative. Emotionally and artistically, Blues and its children will always be about telling truths, taking a stand, getting through life in the face of adversity and finding happiness where you can.

What does to be a blueswoman in a “Man Man World” as James Brown says?

About the same as what it takes to be a regular woman, I’d say. Be as smart as you can, learn as much as you can, have a thick skin, don’t take “no” for an answer, be yourself, don’t worry if you’re not “pretty”, think like a man when you have to, stand up for yourself but know when to keep quiet.

"When I sing the blues, I feel a connection to that collective soul and to the generations of those that came before me. I learn to put myself away for a little while and let the music take over, let those other people and other voices come out and be heard through me. Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m singing a song, I feel like the song is singing me!" (Photo: Halley DeVestern)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music paths?

Be patient. Respect everyone you meet. Be professional. Be grateful. Make sure your band is well fed. Love your audiences.  

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want to affect people?

I want people to have a good time when they see us and to realize that we can be united as a people no matter what our political or economic labels are. I hope that people realize that music can heal and bring us all together.

Which incident of Muscle Shoals music history you‘d like to be captured and illustrated in a painting with you?

Hmmm… how about Aretha Franklin’s first recordings for Atlantic Records? I’m sitting in the booth with my jaw hanging open.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

I’d want to go back to Manhattan before it was “discovered”.

What would you say to Bessie Smith? What would you like to ask Janis Joplin?

To: Bessie Smith – thank you for your gift of music and for your courage and I’m so sorry your death was so unnecessarily tragic and unfair. To Janis Joplin – what would you be doing if you were still alive today?

The Halley DeVestern Band - Home

(Halley DeVestern Band, NYC / Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff)

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