Ally Venable Interview – September 2022

This interview has been edited for clarity and flow.

Blues artist Ally Venable is currently on tour opening for Colin James. On her day off,  the Texan made some time for a phone interview with me, where we talked about her influences, albums, guitars, and more. She plays the Queen Elizabeth Theatre tonight (September 30).

JD: How have your first two shows been?

AV: Yes, it’s been awesome. We played at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo, and the Royal Theatre in Victoria. It’s my first time ever in Canada. 

JD: How have you liked it so far?

AV: It’s been amazing.

JD: You are opening for Colin James, had you met him before this tour?

AV: No, I never met him before. This was my first time meeting him and his team.

JD: Did you know his (James) music before getting the call to open for him?

AV: Yeah. I knew he had his On The Road album; and that he’s an amazing guitar player. He’s played with so many great people, so I was excited to get the call to go on tour with him.

JD: It’s currently your day off. What do you like to do on your days off on tour?

AV: We just go see… like, if we’re in a really cool city like Vancouver, we just go look around the city. Go to the local restaurants. I’ll go work out if there’s a gym close by. Just explore, you know?

JD: What are some of your favourite cities you’ve been to?

AV: Well, I mean New York is awesome…Denver, Colorado. Anywhere in Colorado I love.

JD: Starting at the beginning. When did you first pick up a guitar?

AV: I started playing when I was about 12 years old. I’m 23 now.

JD: What was it that you first played when you started?

AV: When I first started playing, I was playing Country music. I’m from Texas, so i was playing country music. Then I learned who Stevie Ray Vaughn (SRV) was, and that’s what changed everything. Then I was like ‘I want to play guitar like that!”

JD: What was your first guitar?

AV: Um… I think I got a Strat. Like a Mexican Stratocaster.

JD: You started your career on a Fender. Now you’re playing Gibson’s. What was it that drew you to Gibson?

AV: Well, when I started writing my last album Heart Of Fire, it was big on riff based songs. So I needed a Les Paul, humbucker type of sound. I just sort of started gravitating towards a rockier type sound. So I’ve been playing Les Paul’s more, and I really like them (laughs).

JD: I love your pink guitar. Was that a choice of yours or did they send that to you?

AV: Thank you. My dad gave it to me as a gift when I graduated high school. But I have some others Gibson sent to me. I have a Les Paul Special Double Cut, as well as a flying V. I also just got a 1965 non-reverse Firebird, which is really cool.

JD: If Gibson were to come to you and say that they wanted to make and Ally Venable signature guitar. What would that look like? Would you base it off your pink one, or would you go for something different?

AV: I think yeah, I’d look at my magenta, pink Les Paul as inspiration. That would be really cool.

JD: Does each album you make become easier, or do you continue to push yourself out of your comfort zone?

AV: Well, I think everytime I make a record, the comfort part of it is that I have experience making records. I think I’ve made…four? albums so far.

JD: Yes, four.

AV: So now I know what’s going to happen, you know? As far as going into the studio and everything. But the experience itself is always going to be different. On this (Heart Of Fire) album I got to use the road band, which was really fun. We recorded in Tennessee, in Memphis, and it was awesome. I wrote pretty much all the songs on the album. I was really excited to work with Jim Gaines. Who made SRV’s In Step record…Carlos Santana, Journey, Steve Miller, and a bunch of other really great artists. With this next record, I’m really excited about it because we took a different approach with the musicians that played on the record. As well as the songwriting. I collaborated with two others who wrote on the songs. It’s a different sound, and a different mix, and all that. We recorded it in Nashville, it’s a bigger production. But I think with each album I just progressed from my last experience and added to it as I went. If that makes sense.

JD: You had some featured guitar players on Heart of Fire in the form of Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Devon Allman. Is there anyone you’d love to have play on your next record?

AV: Well actually I’m just finishing up my next record right now, and I do have some…guests…(laughs). But I don’t know if I can say right now or not, ’cause I’m still working on it. But I guess some of the people I do look up to, like Buddy Guy, Joe Bonamassa, and maybe…I mean I’m very grateful to have been able to work with Kenny Wayne Shepherd on the last one too. Those are just a few people I look up to and would love to have a song with.

JD: Is there anyone that you’d love to play for on one of their songs?

AV: Oh wow. Um. I haven’t thought about that. Maybe Beth Hart, I love Beth Hart. Maybe sing a song with her or play something with her. That would be amazing.

JD: On Heart of Fire, you have a song called “Tribute to SRV.” Do you approach a fully instrumental song differently than a lyric based song?

AV: I guess on that song, I’d been playing it a while and it’s always evolving. I mean when I first write songs, they start as babies, then you take them out on the road and they evolve. That one I’ve been playing with my band and over time it’s just become it’s own thing. I think the approach with an instrumental versus songs with words is relatively the same with me, with the way I play guitar. But I’m also looking for the little nuances and things I can add to the song to let it evolve.

JD: Does the live version of the song differ from the album version? When you play live do you just go out there and riff your heart out?

AV: (laughing) Oh yes, I definitely riff my heart out when I play that song. But like I said, it evolves. So it’s going to be different every time.

JD: Do you get nervous before you go on stage?

AV: No. I know being on stage for me is where I feel the most comfortable. I never get nervous.

JD: So SRV is obviously one of your biggest influences, what were some of you other influences growing up?

AV: Well after learning about Stevie, I learned about Albert King, Freddy King, and Buddy Guy. Buddy I was able to tour with, as well. Which has been amazing. Just to name a few of my influences.

JD: How about some of you current favourite musicians?

AV: I really love Kenny Wayne Shepherd. I’ve been able to tour with him, and he’s become one of my really great friends. Shemekia Copeland, Joe Bonamassa. Those are just some that I love.

JD: You head to Europe in November, where you play a show five straight nights. Do you like that, or do you prefer a day or so in between?

AV: It depends. I usually like a day or so between shows so I can rest my voice. But there will be occasions where it is back to back like that.

  • JD: Favourite song?
  • AV: That’s so hard. I don’t know, maybe, “Changes” by SRV.
  • JD: Favourite song is hard. Album is a little easier, what’s yours?
  • AV: Keb’ Mo’s BLUESAmericana. That’s a great one.
  • JD: Favourite venue to play?
  • AV: Oh wow. I really loved to be able to play at the Beacon Theater.
  • JD: Movie?
  • AV: Napoleon Dynamite.

JD: Last few questions. What was the first concert you went to?

AV: Miranda Lambert in Bossier City, Louisiana. I was like, 10.

JD: Were you a fan of her’s already?

AV: Yes. I was a die hard Miranda Lambert fan. She was awesome.

JD: When you’re not touring, do you have any hobbies?

AV: When I’m home, I have a Siberian Husky, and I love to go to the park with him. Hang out with my friends. I guess that’s my hobbies.

JD: Are Texas Honey Sunday’s going to come back?

AV: Right now at the moment, because I’m so heavy touring right now, probably not. Maybe when my touring slows down in a couple of months, I might do it. But right now, it’s on a…hiatus while I’m on the road.

JD: You had offered lessons on your website. How did that start?

AV: It was really during COVID. A lot of people, my fans, asked if I gave lessons. I said ‘no’. They said they’d really love if I did. So i just started doing lessons to my fans.

JD: Was it fun?

AV: Oh yeah, it was cool. I actually came across a lot of young girls that wanted to lear to play guitar, which was really cool.

JD: Last question. If you met a civilization that had never heard music before, what song of yours would you play for them?

AV: Tribute to SRV. Something instrumental.

JD: Well I’ll let you go. Not before recommending some Canadian snacks. Ruffles All-Dressed and Lays Ketchup chips. And Coffee Crisp.

AV: Well, I’ll have to check those out.

JD: Have a good rest of your tour, and thank you.

AV: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

If you’re in Canada, you can catch Ally on tour with Colin James.

September 30 – Queen Elizabeth Theatre – Vancouver, BC

October 4 – Burton Cummings Theatre – Winnipeg, MB

October 8 – FirstOntario Concert Hall – Hamilton, ON 

October 11 – Massey Hall – Toronto, ON

October 12 – The Grand Theatre – Kingston, ON

Check out her other shows here.

Press photo: Lindsay Steele

Video credit: Natasha

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