On her fourth album, Ally Venable serves up a heaping helping of poignant songs wrapped in Texas-style blues-rock. Ballsy wah work, gutsy bottleneck slide, and special guests make her new album, Heart Of Fire, her strongest to date. There’s a bit of country in her delivery, but it all comes from the heart as Venable performs with effortless mastery, heartfelt zeal, and great songs.
Your guitar is killin’ all over Heart Of Fire.
I put out Texas Honey in 2019 and had a whole year of touring right after; I did the Blues Caravan Tour and toured in the U.S. on that album. I feel like I grew as a guitar player because I was touring and playing every day. In Europe, I wasn’t only playing my songs, but playing guitar for other people on that tour. So I was onstage three hours every night. That showed on Heart Of Fire.
You also played bottleneck slide on the album.
Yeah, on a National Duolian. A friend of my dad’s grandpa was in a folk bluegrass band and they found that in his attic. It’s from the 1930s, and I used it for “Played the Game.” I doubled the solo with my acoustic and added background. It sounded very raw. I love Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder, and Derek Trucks. Those are the people I take my slide pointers from.
Devon Allman sings on “Road to Nowhere.”
I was showing Devon some of the songs, and “Road to Nowhere” was right in his realm. He said, “I love that song. Let me produce it.” I said, “Okay (laughs)!” We brought in some great players, like Cody Dickinson from the North Mississippi Allstars, on drums. Devon had so many great ideas that brought it to life. He played guitar, sang backup, and brought it to a whole other level. I was so grateful to have Kenny Wayne Shepherd on “Bring on the Pain.” It really showed off what he does with a Strat. He’s a big hero of mine. Lance Lopez helped me write that song.
What’s your #1 guitar right now?
I started working with Gibson last year. They sent me a double-cutaway reissue Les Paul Special with P-90s, and it has a real stratty sound. It’s also very light. I have a Les Paul Standard from the ’90s that’s awesome, and I have a 2006 Fender 50th Anniversary American Deluxe Strat with a rosewood neck. I use Fishman pickups in it.
What is your amp of choice?
I’m playing a Category 5 Amp. They’re very clean and project very well. They’re not super twangy, but have a nice sound to push pedals through. Devon gave me an Analog Man King Of Tone pedal. He used it on “Road to Nowhere” and gifted it to me. I’ve been using it, and really enjoy it. I also use a bunch of Keeley products including the Super Phat Mod and a wah. I used some Boss stuff, too, like their wireless system. For the album, I used my live setup. Jim Gaines was the producer and he told me to use whatever I was comfortable with. I’m sure he had some presets in Pro Tools, but he has worked with some great people, and knew what he was doing.
How did Jim get your best performances?
He said, “I want you to feel comfortable, have a good time, and not feel any pressure.” I really loved that. He was really cool and had so many great stories. We recorded in this little house in Tennessee, near an Amish community. The biggest thing is that he made me feel comfortable.
There’s a Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute on the album.
I used my Strat on [“Tribute to SRV”], and did it in one take with the band. It was cool to do that because Jim recorded In Step with Stevie Ray, which had “Riviera Paradise” on it. My song has a similar vibe. Stevie introduced me to blues music, so I wanted to put that on the record not only because I was working with Jim but because SRV is the reason I play guitar.
You’ve found the middle ground between being a sensitive singer/songwriter and a Texas blues-rock guitar slinger.
I think playing every night, getting older, growing up, experiencing more things, and just life, in general, helps with my songwriting. I try to write about what’s going on in my life, and hopefully, other people will relate to it.
This article originally appeared in VG’s July 2021 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.