Q&A with intelligent blues artist Katie Henry, part of a new generation of talented and passionate young musicians

"It’s as if the Blues is at the roots and Music, is the tree. We need to preserve the roots and keep them watered so that more and more music can grow from them!"

Katie Henry: Goin' to the Heart and Soul

Katie Henry is part of a new generation of talented and passionate young artists currently reshaping the blues landscape. The New Jersey-born singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist broke out with On My Way, the critically acclaimed release that earned her a spot-on Blues Rock Review’s list of the Top 20 Albums of 2022. But that record, in retrospect, merely scratched the surface. Henry’s exciting new project "Get Goin" (2024/Ruf Records) produced by Ruf label-mate Bernard Allison, shows off a whole lot much more of what this intelligent and charismatic blues singer has to offer. It drops her square into an unfamiliar musical setting and sees her rise to the occasion. Backed by the crack band of celebrated bluesrocker Bernard Allison (who produced the album and contributed a pair of songs), Henry raises her game and delivers her finest performances to date. Henry sees this album as the next big step of a journey that began when she learned her first piano chords around the age of six.

(Katie Henry / Photo © by Tina Sieland)

She later added guitar to her arsenal and set her sights on nearby New York City as soon as she was old enough to hit the clubs. While attending college in Manhattan she became a favorite on the local live music scene, winning over audiences with a blend of influences that included blues, rock, R&B, funk, pop, soul and country – a stylistic mix still reflected in the music she is making today. Her self-released debut High Road (2018) was universally well-received. The follow-up On My Way saw Henry sign with Germany’s Ruf Records and hit the road on the label’s annual Blues Caravan tour. The subsequent live CD Blues Caravan 2022 featured her jamming with tourmates Ghalia Volt and Will Jacobs. Though she’s surrounded by experienced players on Get Goin’, her growing abilities as a singer, guitarist and keyboard player, not to mention her adept songwriting and magnetic personality, are the heart and soul of the album.

Interview by Michael Limnios            Special Thanks: Doug Deutsch & Ruf Records

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

In my view, Blues and Rock music is an expression of freedom. It rebels against oppressive forces in society and brings us together to embrace how we truly feel and what we truly think. The music makes me feel hope in the world and it has greatly influenced my journeys because I want to create and share it with as many people as possible!

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

I think of my sound as a bluesy modern classic rock sound. It fuses together the different styles of music I grew up listening to and adds my own flavor. When I hear my music described as “New Blues” or “Hippie Rock’ (that’s a new one!) I think that is accurate. But to be honest, I struggle with naming my sound because I find that it can be limiting. To simplify it for myself, I just create music that I feel and that resonates as true for me. And while technique is critical, I think that audiences feel the music more than they are thinking about it, so in that sense the soul and feel of the song is what it’s all about. When I was recording Get Goin’, my team and I reminded ourselves that “simplicity reaches the heart” and ultimately, that is my aim in the music I create- to reach the heart.

"Well, I recently finished the 30 years of Ruf Records tour with Bernard Allison and Ally Venable and it was a blast! I never wanted the show to end because it was like a party on stage where we all got to enjoy each other's playing. My favorite memories were the audience's cheers for an encore. It’s amazing to feel that shared energy and rush of excitement before walking back out on stage for one more." (Katie Henry, New Jersey-born singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist / Photo © by Aigars Lapsa)

What moment changed your music life the most? You’ve one release with Ruf Records. How did that relationship come about?

That’s a big question because my music journey has had so many important moments and people that have impacted it! But yes, a big step was meeting Thomas Ruf in March of 2020, right before the pandemic hit. He took the last flight to the US, as the pandemic was starting, to see a few artists perform, myself included. It was the last show I played before everything shut down, so I thought that was significant timing. When we connected and decided to work together, I saw my path forward and knew that a new level of my music journey was unfolding.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Well, I recently finished the 30 years of Ruf Records tour with Bernard Allison and Ally Venable and it was a blast! I never wanted the show to end because it was like a party on stage where we all got to enjoy each other's playing. My favorite memories were the audience's cheers for an encore. It’s amazing to feel that shared energy and rush of excitement before walking back out on stage for one more.

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

I miss the musical risks that artists and bands were taking in music from the past. It feels like they were really innovating. They were reaching for something and pushing the boundary of what is possible. Some music nowadays plays it too “safe” in my opinion. We think we want “perfection” in it, but we really don’t because that is not natural or real.

My fear is that the emphasis that is placed on the outcome of the music will sabotage the actual process that it takes to create something original and new. My hope is that society and the music industry can recognize this and better support artists and bands in the creative process. This can mean bigger budgets for more musicians to collaborate with or for more studio time, for example.

"In my view, Blues and Rock music is an expression of freedom. It rebels against oppressive forces in society and brings us together to embrace how we truly feel and what we truly think. The music makes me feel hope in the world and it has greatly influenced my journeys because I want to create and share it with as many people as possible!" (Katie Henry / Photo © by G-M Rock 'n Blues)

What does to be a female artist in a Man’s World as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

It’s not easy to navigate at times, but I’m glad to be a part of a wave of music where I feel there are more and more women making their voices heard. My hope for the future is to see more women being represented in all facets of the music industry, which means more women owning venues, festivals, producing and engineering albums, radio DJ's, etc.

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

There are so many, but a big one that I learned is that you need to surround yourself with people you can trust. Having a team around you that wants to see you shine, and vice versa, is everything!

Another important lesson I learned and advice I want to give to anyone reading this that is pursuing a music path: yes this path requires a lot of sacrifice and compromise, but never compromise your own voice!

Why is it important to we preserve and spread the blues? What is the role of music in today’s society?

It’s as if the Blues is at the roots and Music, is the tree. We need to preserve the roots and keep them watered so that more and more music can grow from them!

Music is what makes sense of our experiences and connects us. It expresses what words cannot. When we listen to it, we realize our individual experiences and feelings are shared and that we aren’t so different from each other. I think it’s our hope for creating peace in the world! I could go on and on because I think the role it plays is so incredibly important. So let the music play on!

Katie Henry - Home

(Katie Henry / Photo © by Tina Sieland)

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