Clubland: Multi-instrumentalist Jim Henry has some new irons in the fire

  • Jim Henry, a go-to accompianist for many a Valley singer-songwriter and acoustic group, will play a solo show at The Parlor Room in Northampton Oct. 7. Singer Ruby Henry, Henry’s daughter, at right, will open the show. Says dad: “She is as rock-solid a performer as I've ever played with (this is not a proud poppa opinion, this is a grizzled music veteran observation).” Left: Julian Parker-Burns photo/Right: Jim Henry photo

  • His daughter, singer Ruby Henry, at right, will open the show. Says dad: “She is as rock-solid a performer as I've ever played with (this is not a proud poppa opinion, this is a grizzled music veteran observation).” Photo by Jim Henry

Published: 9/26/2018 3:56:10 PM

If you’re a singer/songwriter in need of a top multi-instrumentalist to add just the right color and emotion to your music, you try to get Jim Henry. 

He’s played with Mary Chapin Carpenter, Tracy Grammer, Paula Cole, Eliza Gilkyson, Susan Werner, local groups like The Boxcar Lilies, and nearly a hundred other artists, both in the studio and on stage.

Henry, of Shutesbury, is also a singer/songwriter himself — he has some excellent acoustic guitar instrumentals to boot — and he’ll play a rare solo show at The Parlor Room in Northampton on Sunday, October 7 at 7 p.m.

His 21-year-old daughter, Ruby — he named his RubyTone recording studio after her — will start off the night, and they’ll guest during each other’s sets.

Henry’s decades of gigging and recording experience have also fueled a book called “50 Pro Tips For Musicians: Practical Advice for an Impractical Business,” due out next month, and a companion podcast, “Pro Tips for Musicians,” now available on iTunes and Soundcloud, in which Henry discusses the tips with musical friends like Tracy Grammer, Mark Erelli, Brooks Williams, and ace producer/singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Don Dixon (R.E.M.! The Smithereens! X-Teens!).

Some tip examples: “Talent does not excuse bad behavior.” “If it’s not your name on the marquee, you are replaceable.” “The importance of dietary fiber, especially while traveling, cannot be overstated.” “If you have a partner who’s glad you have work on New Year’s Eve, then you’ve found a keeper.” “The next gig you play (or attend) could be the absolute best show ever. You never know ahead of time. That’s why you always gotta show up.” “Every musical moment should be in service to the song. Always be telling the story.”

Clubland spoke to Henry last week.

Clubland: You’ve been a trusted and professional accompanist for decades, but how did you start on that path? Was there a particular early collaboration or experience that made you realize, “Yeah, I love being able to help tell the story this way?“

Henry: My first real sideman gig was playing acoustic guitar with the Burns Sisters from Ithaca, NY. I quickly realized that being a multi-instrumentalist would expand my sideman horizons greatly, so I picked up the dobro, mandolin and electric guitar. That led me to Deb Talan and then The Weepies. I played and recorded with her, and them, for a couple years before they moved to the West Coast. Playing with her and her incredible songs was a revelation. To have even a small part in helping her tell those stories was life-changing for me.

Clubland: You said that playing a whole night alone is a real treat. What made you want to do a show of your own this month?

Henry: Playing solo is something I like to do once in a very blue moon. It’s a musical muscle that needs flexing on occasion to keep it from atrophying. It also helps me better appreciate the artists who I accompany. Knowing what it feels like to stand center stage makes me a better sideman. But mainly I wanted to do this because I’m looking for more opportunities to play with my daughter, Ruby.

Clubland: Did you know (or were you hoping) from the beginning that Ruby would be into music?

Henry: Ruby was always into music. It was clear from an early age that she could sing. Her pitch has always been fantastic, and her musical tastes have always leaned toward melodic, phrase-oriented artists — Ella Fitzgerald, Lake Street Dive, Gillian Welch, Amy Winehouse. Ruby focuses on tone and phrasing more than vocal pyrotechnics, which makes her unique for someone so young. She and I have played a handful of shows over the years, maybe four at most. This will definitely be a special treat for folks. And for me!

Clubland: What was the initial inspiration for writing the “50 Pro Tips” book?

Henry: The whole idea sprang from a random rant on Facebook. I posted a gripe, borne of frustration, about the wrong way to hire a musician, along with a suggestion about the right way to go about it. The post received hundreds and hundreds of likes and comments overnight. I posted another thought the next day and called it a “Pro Tip.” Same thing: people loved it and wanted to comment on it — songwriters, sound people, sideguys, producers, fans, old, young.

I had touched a nerve, so I decided I would post a Pro Tip every day for 50 days. Over the course of the 50 tips, it was suggested several times that I compile them all into a book. After almost a year [in the works], the book should be out before Thanksgiving.

The podcast seemed like a natural extension of the book: interviews with professionals from the music industry, discussing whichever tip strikes their fancy. It’s been a lot of work and a lot of fun.

Clubland: You’ve been a professional for a long time, but do you have a story about learning one of these tips/lessons the hard way?

Henry: The hardest lesson for me to learn (because I seem to keep making the same mistake) is: “Never set a drink on your amp during the set.” There is nothing worse than having a full pint of IPA smashing to the ground and covering your pants, cables, and pedals with sticky beer. Some day I will learn.


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