Vernon native Katie Henry ready to break out debut album

Katie Henry interview

COURTESY OF MIKE LAVIN

KATIE HENRY

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Katie Henry is putting the finishing touches on her debut album, which she will release on Nov. 16, and will put her considerable talents on display Oct. 5 at The Stanhope House.

“As a blues performer, it is especially awesome to prepare for a gig at a place like The Stanhope House because I know I’ll be playing in a place that truly caters to the blues,” says Henry, who grew up in Vernon and still resides in Sussex County. “I’ll be standing on the same stage as my heroes (did), and it just doesn’t get any cooler than that!”

The Katie Henry Band is opening for the John Ginty Band, which will be followed by Marcus Randolph and his My Peeples Peeple. Doors open at 6 p.m. and tickets are $13 in advance, $15 at the door. Visit stanhopehousenj.com.

She’ll be backed by Ginty and a top-shelf band that also is working with her on the 10-song album, which is titled High Road and will be self-released. Ginty is producing the project.

“She reminds me of Jewel when I played with her in the late ’90s,” says Ginty, keyboard player extraordinaire and a kingpin in the New Jersey roots, blues and jam scene. “Her voice is sweet, with a blues edge. Songs are excellent. She has a song called ‘High Road’ that’s just stunning. She has a great energy on stage and kills it on both electric guitar and keys.”

She grew up in in a family of music lovers who, she says, raised her on The Beatles and The Allman Brothers Band. She took piano lessons as a youngster and was encouraged to get involved with school band (she started high school in Vernon before transferring to and graduating from Pope John in Sparta).

“I wrote songs growing up, mostly as gifts for other people,” she says. “Not only was a song a more meaningful gift to give my family and friends, it also didn’t cost me anything! It was not until I was in college that I started getting serious about playing and performing.”

COURTESY OF PAUL HAMILTON

KATIE HENRY

By her junior year at Manhattan College, she was going to open mics and accompanying herself on piano. At that time, she began to find her place as a vocalist.

“After singing ‘Hurts Me Too’ at an open mic one night, I was asked to join a local blues band in the Bronx,” she says. “It was a great experience that planted the seed and taught me that I could take my music farther than the Bronx if I continued to work hard. So I just kept plugging away at it.”

That perseverance has led to gigs in the Northeast, including the Crawfish Fest in Sussex County and the Black Potatoe Music Festival in Hunterdon County, and a rite-of-passage appearance at The Bitter End, among other clubs in New York City.

Up-and-coming musicians often are compared to more established ones — sometimes unfairly — as a means of conveying to the uninitiated what they sound like. In Henry’s case, no convenient comparison jumps out. It’s better to say that her vocals sound more smooth than gritty, and more fluid than pained. Her singing can be in line with jazz stylings at times, and then more emotive blues belting at others. Regardless, she comes off as authentic and authoritative.

Also, it’s clear that the band on the recording is the Katie Henry Band — hers. The songs do not give the feel of a solo artist being backed by hired session players. Rather, they have the cohesive feel of a group playing in sync with its leader.

On the forthcoming album, she collaborates on the songwriting with bass ace Antar Goodwin.

“I connected with Antar at a jam session, and when we first got together to write, we were both pleasantly surprised by how natural the songwriting process was for the both of us,” she says. “It’s really fun to build upon each other’s ideas and create something new.”

They have come up with well-crafted songs that often move briskly along, and never plod. It is limiting to call this a blues album and Henry strictly a blue singer. The band rocks strongly on tracks and there is R&B and funk in the mix. And there is plenty of pop sheen on this production — in a good way — making the songs accessible to the listener and appealing across several genres. Henry’s Allman Brothers influence is clear, but not overdone.

Henry composes her songs on both piano and guitar.

“I honestly felt like I was cheating on the piano when I first picked up the guitar. I couldn’t look at the piano without feeling guilty for the time that I was spending with another instrument,” she says, adding: “Things have smoothed out since then. I love both instruments madly.”

In addition to Goodwin and Ginty, who also plays melodica on the album, Henry is joined by drummer Moe Watson (John Ginty Band) and guitarist Jonathan Fritz. Marcus Randolph, who along with Ginty was part of Robert Randolph’s groundbreaking Family Band, plays pedal steel on the song “Chapels.” Billy Harvey of Nashville contributes harmony vocals. The recordings took place at American Showplace Studios in Dover, with Ben Elliott engineering.

At the Stanhope House, Henry and her band will play a 60-minute set, with Randolph sitting in on “Chapels.” The Ginty band follows with 90 minutes, and Randolph and My Peeples Peeple also are scheduled to play an hour and a half. Ginty will be the night’s marathon man, as he is set to be onstage for all four hours. Guitarists Jimmy Bennett and Ray Ray Holloman (Marcus Randolph’s cousin) also will play as guests.

For information, visit katiehenrymusic.com.

Tom Skevin is an award-winning journalist and music publicist who resides in Sussex County. He can be emailed at tskevin@live.com.

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