Chicagoan Ernie Hendrickson comes to South Park Tavern
By Gary Spencer
It’s no secret that America’s rich musical traditions continue serve as fertile material from which countless artists continue to draw. For Chicagoan Ernie Hendrickson, most of his life has been spent mining American music and drawing inspiration for his own music. For fans of Ryan Adams, Ray LaMontagne and Old Crow Medicine Show, Hendrickson’s stop at South Park Tavern this Friday should be a good chance to catch a great young songwriter in an intimate setting. We spoke with Hendrickson about his roots, his new album and finding his place in a volatile music industry…
Tell me about how you got into playing music.
I didn’t really choose music, music chose me. My dad got me a guitar when I was around 10 years old and I gravitated towards it. I began making up my own little songs, even with as few as two strings left on it! I stuck with it — music kept growing more and more prominent. I began playing with other kids, started bands and just kept on going. It has always fueled me and been my compass in life. Early influences included Willie Nelson, the Beatles, Neil Young, CCR, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan and other greats. I discovered the Grateful Dead early on and I cannot under estimate the impact Jerry Garcia particularly has had on me. [Ernie Hendrickson]
How would you describe your music?
I guess my music falls into the “Americana” genre as it’s now called. Roots music means almost the same thing as far as I can tell. It’s getting back to the simplicity of things, no frills, no sparkles, no gimmicks, just good songs played from the heart. I split time on the acoustic and electric guitar, but a lot of times now I’m out playing solo gigs, so it’s all acoustic in that setting. [E.H.]
In what part of the Midwest were you born and raised? What was life like growing up?
I was born in Shullsburg, Wis. It’s a very small town. I lived there the first year of my life and then my dad got a job at the Chrysler plant in Belvidere, Ill. so we moved down there until I was about 10, [and] then [I moved] to Rockford, Ill. where I went to middle school and high school. I loved being out on the farm in Belvidere and spending time in the farming communities in Shullsburg. A lot of the music I love — bluegrass and country music — were born in these very rural settings. But, I also love the energy of the city. After college I moved to Chicago. Being in the city helped to round me out I guess. I now live in Palos Park near the south side of Chicago in a wooded setting. It’s the perfect compromise for me. [E.H.]
You have produced self-produced two solo albums. Would you ever be interested in having a label release your music or would you rather remain independent?
I am not signed to any label and have never been. I think there is so much change in the music industry right now that it doesn’t make much sense to go after that unless it’s totally the right situation. Sure, I’d love to have the support and help financing, promoting, etc. But labels are often looking to steer you in a direction that works for them and I’m really not up for that. Maybe it would be a good experience and I’m not closing any doors. This is what I do and I’m going to go on doing it, signed or unsigned, so it basically doesn’t matter. [E.H.]
Bo Ramsey produced your most recent album. What was it like to work with him?
I met Bo while playing in Iowa City, where he lives, and he came out to the show. I didn’t know much about him except that I’d heard some Greg Brown records that he produced and was familiar with his work with Lucinda Williams. Stylistically, it’s a good fit for me, because we are both on the same page with production — [we’re] minimalists. He encouraged me to play and sing live in the studio, which I had never done before. It captures the energy, which is what music is really all about. [E.H.]
Tell me what you think about the roots music scene in the modern era.
The folk music/Americana scene is vibrant these days. I don’t really buy too much stock into what they’re calling it, or how they’re organizing/categorizing it. But there are a lot of sincere songwriters out there. And some great bands too. I like what Ray Lamontagne is doing. I like Robert Earl Keen. Elizabeth Cook is great and is starting to get some good attention. Pieta Brown, Carrie Rodriguez, Bob Rea. There are some good musicians closer to home — Chicago Farmer, Ed Anderson, Miles Nielsen, Cory Chisel, Anne Harris and Joe Pug are all great. [E.H.]
What does the future hold?
Another album is not too far off. Aside from that, touring and meeting good folks, learning the lessons from the road. It’s a crazy lifestyle and you don’t do this work unless you are called to it. By now, I’m pretty much all in. You can’t really have it any other way. So whatever the road brings, I’ll be there to meet it head on. I don’t know where or how far it will take me — I am only partially in control of that. I just want to continue growing as a writer and performer. [E.H.]
Ernie Hendrickson will play Friday, August 26 at South Park Tavern, 1301 Wayne Ave. in Dayton. Doors open at 9 p.m. and tickets are $5 for all ages. For more information, visit www.southparktavern.com or www.erniehendrickson.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.