Emon Hassan

Interview with Vance Henry of Iron Horse

Emon Hassan

Iron HorseI've devoted a few good posts on my love of Bluegrass music, most recently in this guest post. My love for Metallica, and heavy metal music, is old news. On pen and paper the two genres don't mix. But it did. And it rocked! I'd picked up Iron Horse's Fade to Bluegrass some years ago from the public library and listened to it all the time. It's one of my favorite albums. If you haven't already, please give it a listen. The song I posted at the end of today's interview is a good start.

The interview is divided into two parts: the first is a set of questions Vance Henry, the band's guitar player, lead and tenor vocals took on. The second part by both Vance and Ricky Rogers, the band's bassist, baritone and lead vocals. I'm extremely thankful to both for taking the time to answer these questions, which I had sent them in several emails. This is a great insight into how a band works when arranging songs not in the genre the interpretation is for. Not only that, you get a good make up what elements brought this band together and what each band member contributes.

I really wish to see them live. Us New Yorkers need to find a way to bring the band here.


Iron Horse: [About] [Tour] [Albums] [Song Samples] [Booking] [MySpace]


G: What's the first thing you remember about picking up the guitar? VH: I had this thought, "I will never be able to do much with this thing. It felt awkward.

G: How old were you and who were you listening to? VH: I think I was ten years old. Most of the music I was exposed to was from the 1950s & 60s and it was played on an old LP record player by mom and dad. Two of the first songs I learned were Country Roads by John Denver and an old folk song called Tom Dooley.

G:  Do you remember your first lesson? VH: “Yes, it was one of those situations where mom said, "Vance, I've set you up to take guitar lessons", I didn't know, at that point, if it was something I wanted to do or not. I just went and took the lessons.

G: How were the first few months of learning the instrument? VH: You know, I can't remember a lot about it, but I'm sure the hardest part was developing the calluses on the end of my fingers because the guitar I was using had high action. My teacher gave me chord diagrams that she had drawn out by hand. She would teach me a few chords each lesson and give me a song to learn that used those chords.

G: Did you have difficulties learning some aspect of it? VH: I think the most difficult part was not with the instrument, but me. It took me a while before I actually believed that I could learn to play at some level.

G: Did some things come to you easily? VH: I think the timing came natural.

G: Can you name 3 guitar players, and 3 non-guitar players who've inspired you? Why were they inspiring? VH: This question is unfair…there are many to chose from and my answer will vary from time to time depending on who I’m listening to at that time. I’ve played more mandolin than guitar over the years even though I started on guitar and a lot of my approach to guitar stems from the mandolin.

Guitar Players 1. Tony Rice - I like his rhythm style 2. Eric Clapton - I like his ability to play “fill licks” as he's singing. 3. Grady Martin – The classic fill work from the song El Paso by Marty Robbins

Non Guitar players 1. Fiddle players: a. Stuart Duncan – Everything he plays has musical value b. Aubrey Haynie – Great tone and improvisational skills

2.  Vocalist: a. Celine Deon – Vocal range and athleticism b. Brandi Carlile – The notes she chooses, her writing skills and the emotion that she puts into her music c.  Marty Robbins – An all time classic one-of-a-kind vocalist for me

3.  Mandolin Players: a. Butch Baldassrai – His “clear as a bell” tone and choice of notes b. Mike Compton – His ability to take an old time style and make it modern c. Bill Monroe – “Less is more” even though his approach is difficult for me to master

G: How would you define your playing style? VH: To borrow a quote from someone else, “My weakness, not my strengths, define my style” and I should be much better. I try to play what I feel and what I think will fit a song. It’s not something that I’ve studied, I just try to do what comes naturally. I use a more progressive rhythm most of the time, but this style doesn’t fit every song and it can easily become to busy.

G: What do you do on the guitar differently than someone who plays rock or jazz? VH: I try to do it all on an acoustic. My approach to playing has been and will probably always be on an acoustic guitar or mandolin with a flat pick. I also don't approach music with the attitude that I have to or must take a break on every song. If the song seems to be calling for a guitar break, I’ll try to put one in”.

G: What's your practice routine like, specifically when you're by yourself honing your craft? VH: I'm ashamed to say that I use performances and studio sessions as practice. I will work something out at home if I think it will add something to a project or a song that we are recording. There’s just not enough time in a day” ?

One from Fade to Bluegrass.   [Part 2: Interview with Vance and Ricky Rogers]