In Conversation with Ally Venable on new music, inspirations, Buddy Guy, touring and more

Photo by Tino Sieland

Ally Venable is a larger-than-life force that can shred for days but is as sweet as summertime honey. Venable is making a big name for herself as a female guitarist and vocalist. Her confidence in singing and playing simultaneously makes her guitar playing and brand instantly compelling — Venable is a true triple threat — she can sing, write, and play the hell out of the guitar. She is truly an old soul who can spin influences like Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan and create music that brings their spirits to today’s listeners where they live. Her live band consists of Isaac Pulido (drums) and EJ Bedford (bass).

The Texas blues/rock guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter released Real Gone!, her latest solo effort, on March 24th via Ruf Records.

We chatted with Venable to discuss her new record, Real Gone!, produced by Grammy winner Tom Hambridge (Buddy Guy, Susan Tedeschi), touring, being a female guitarist, and more.

Photo by Tino Sieland

I want to start by talking about the album, ‘Real Gone!’ It’s a huge collection of influences for you. Who are some of the influences you pulled as a guitarist for this album?

Thank you. Yeah. I have evolved as a musician over the course of time that I’ve been doing this. I am still very young, but I’ve been doing it forever. And what first got me started into playing guitar as I do now was discovering who Stevie Ray Vaughan was. That was a gateway into blues music and guitar. I didn’t really know a whole lot about guitar before I discovered him. And then my influences opened to discover who Albert King was; that was Stevie [Ray Vaughan]’s big influence. Then I soon discovered who Buddy Guy was, right? And then it was just like a rabbit hole into all these different guitar players. The two biggest influences of my playing I have on my album…which is insane to me. And, you know, they’ve become my friends and mentors. I was just talking to him last night. So those are the influences I pull, or the people that I meet through my music. It’s just crazy to me sometimes!

Oh, I’m sure, I’m sure. But you know, that’s so incredible to start with those influences and end up sharing so much of your life and art with them. It’s amazing! So I do want to talk about the second single off the album that you did with Buddy. Can you tell us about that experience? What the writing and recording process was like for your collaboration?

Yes. So Buddy and I have a song called “Texas Louisiana.” It was actually his idea to do this album, and he wanted to be a part of it, which is insane. We’re both from the South… I’m from East Texas, a little town called Kilgore, and Buddy’s from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Tom Hambridge plays drums for Buddy and is also his producer. I was on the road with Buddy opening some shows for him, when he suggested that we do this together. He was like, “Tom, we need to do this.” Tom was in Nashville, so I flew to Nashville and wrote the album with him and another man named Rich Fleming in two days.

Sometimes it just pours out like that. 

It did. And that was my favorite part of the entire process; aside from being with Buddy and doing that with him, writing the songs is very therapeutic. And I know it sounds rushed, but it did not feel that way at all, right? It was just very organic. It happened all how it was supposed to. And the recording process was cool; I did my parts. We had the band in the studio, and they’re very seasoned musicians. They played on a lot of Top 40 Country records, and they’re constantly in the studio in Nashville on Music Row. We recorded at the soundstage in the Blackbird Studio.

Oh, yeah. Great, great space. 

Oh, my gosh, it’s great. We recorded all the band’s stuff there, and then I came back and did my vocals and guitar parts that we didn’t get while we were there for another two days. So, we wrote in two days, recorded in two days, and then I did my parts in two days. Then we did Buddy’s part separately in Chicago, JoyRide Studio. We all flew in to do that, and we’ll have a music video for it. The song is basically, I believe, Tom and Rich — or maybe just Tom wrote this song — but it’s a “passing of the torch” type of feeling [for Buddy]. You know, he’s been doing it for so long. He’s 86 now, and he’s just still a firecracker. You know, he’s still very much in his realm when he’s on stage and performing and when you’re talking to him. And so, it’s a very relatable song, especially if you’re from the South… it’s a very uplifting, fun song.

So awesome. Well, I do want to talk about “Real Gone!” A little bit about the music video. Were there any fun behind-the-scenes moments or memories from filming that video?

Yeah, so we recorded that on my European tour; the very last show we did was in Germany at this place called Buddy’s Club. I wanted it to be a real intimate setting where everybody’s just kind of like, all together, the crowd was super close to us. I just wanted it to be like a really fun, energetic “in your face” type of video because that’s what our show is. That’s what the song is; it’s fast-paced. “Real Gone!” I didn’t know this, but “real gone” is an older term, and apparently, it means badass. “She’s ‘real gone’” or ‘super cool.’ It’s also a double meaning because I’m a touring musician; I’m on the road. I wanted to kind of capture that within a live performance-type feel. And so, after our show was done, we told the crowd, “We’re gonna be doing a music video!” Everybody was super excited about that. Everybody was jammed around having a good time. We just did like a playback for everybody to jam out to. Yeah, it was fun.

It does have that, like, purely organic feeling. And your energy really shines through; that’s why I brought it up. You’re probably like, “Why is she bringing up this performance video?” but I loved it. So, my next question is about guitar. So we are Guitar Girl, obviously. I always ask, what is your favorite guitar to play right now? And it’s kind of a double-edged question because I always ask on stage and in the studio.

Well, my favorite guitar to play is also, like, it’s on both — onstage and in the studio. I used to say one, especially on this new record. Most of the guitar work that I played was with my Les Paul; it’s either magenta or it’s like pink. It’s a Limited Colors edition. Gibson did a series called Limited Colors in the nineties… it’s a 1990 Les Paul. I call that one the Wounded Warrior because I’ve dropped it so many times.

The “Wounded Warrior.” Nice. Love that. I want to talk about all the accolades you’ve received recently. Guitar World Magazine named you one of the Top 15 Young Guns, the Road Warrior Award from Independent Blues. What does that feel like for you?

Well, I think it is cool to be recognized for your efforts within your career. It is cool to see that. I don’t really do it for the rewards, but it is nice whenever the community sees that.

Definitely! I want to talk a little bit about the Experience Hendrix show. What a dream for a guitarist in general to play on that, but man, I see names like Dweezil Zappa, and you worked with Kenny Wayne Shepherd — you have tour-opened for him. What was that like? That show?

Yeah, like you said, that was a dream to be able to get to do that, and in Texas! I’m from Texas, right? So being able to be a part of that show, I met Janie and his family. I was so nervous. I never get nervous ever to play a show, but I was so nervous to play that show because Jimi Hendrix is another big influence of mine, as well as many other guitar players. Like he’s probably the most legendary, iconic guitar player, you know, and he inspired so many others. So just to do that show was a very monumental moment for me. I got to meet so many cool guitar players that also got to be a part of that. Also, Kenny [Wayne Shepherd], again, he’s another one of my really good friends. He just blew everybody out of the water. On that show, I was just sitting there like, oh my god, he definitely embodied Hendrix when he played. His show’s amazing — probably my favorite show to watch, so I didn’t think it could get any better than that. And when we played, he did three songs, like a medley of different songs, and it just got crazier and crazier. I was just like, “Oh, my, god.” He set the bar even higher. So yeah, it was a great time.

My next question is a little less guitar-centered, but I always like to touch on this. As women in the music industry, especially as an instrumentalist, things don’t always come easy for us. Any advice to young women out there pursuing this industry and this kind of career?

Well, yeah, I guess touching on the first comment you made about it not being as easy for women, especially in a male-dominated type of genre, or especially being a guitar player, yeah. But I love seeing more and more women. I sometimes see more women play guitar, which is awesome, right? I think it’s kind of a double-edged sword being a woman because everyone kind of, it’s expected more of women to look a certain way and be a certain way. I don’t know if this makes sense, but if you’re this pretty woman on stage, it sometimes distracts from how good of a musician you can be or you are. I want to present myself in the best way that I feel comfortable. I want to shine a lot of good light and this confident person on stage. It’s not expected with a man if I’m making sense.

Photo by Tino Sieland

Oh, yes, you’re definitely making sense.

People aren’t looking at a male player and picking apart what he’s wearing, right? “They’re only watching her because she’s wearing this,” or “She looks like this.” Yes. And sometimes that takes away from the artistry or the ability or what have you to play… to actually play the guitar, how you’re good at what you do, right? But I think it’s all part of the artistry. It’s all… it’s not just one thing. It’s everything all together. I think the advice that I would give to a young girl coming up is just be yourself, play the music you want to play, write the music you want to write —you’re never going to please everyone. There’s no way. It’s inevitable that someone’s not gonna like what you do, but there’s gonna be way more people that do like what you do, and will follow you, and will love your music. So I think my advice would be to do what you want to do, and don’t care what other people have to say about it, because it’s your life and your career. You have to be who you want to be.

You want to look good. And you want to look confident, right?

We are beautiful beings. You know, we’re beautiful human beings. And so I feel like I want to look the best that I can. I don’t know about how it is for you, but usually everybody’s pretty supportive.

So my next question. You’re opening for Buddy [Guy] on his farewell tour, rocking Europe again on the Blues Caravan Tour, and you’re doing your own show domestically and abroad? I mean, you have a hell of a lineup here. How does this feel for you as someone that has gone from just shining at a super young age and now taking this and making it your every day?

Well, it definitely feels great to be able to get to do this and tour and live out my dream of being an entertainer, songwriter, guitar player, and be a part of all these great tours. It is a lot of work. It is a lot of blood, sweat and tears every day. Getting everything together and going, but it feels great to be able to do all these tours.

My last question: What would you most like your listeners to take away from the new album, and what themes and stories can we expect?

I think from the new album, when I write the songs, I try to write about what goes on in my life or something that I feel like can relate to others because we’re all growing and we’re all going through things and all healing in a different place. I would want someone to take away that it’s okay to feel a certain way. And we’re all human. This record is a lot more mature record than my other albums that I’ve put out. This is the growth in my music as well as in me as a person. We’re all going through things, and it’s okay.

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Gabbi Calvert is a writer, publicist, and artist from Findlay, Ohio who now resides in Nashville, TN. Gabbi is incredibly passionate about all things pop culture, but her forever love is music. Following her passion for entertainment and music, she graduated from Belmont University in April of 2021 with a B.S. in Creative and Entertainment Industries with a minor in music business. Her academic endeavors led her to find a home working in music public relations and she is now a senior publicist at Publicity Nation PR. Not only does Gabbi work and thrive in the music industry, she is also a musical artist herself. She began singing and playing gigs at the age of 12 in her hometown and has an extensive background in performance. Under her stage name Gabrielle Vaughn, she has released two singles. Gabbi is also a member of the all-female cross-genre supergroup The Highway Women. In her free time, Gabbi loves spending time with friends and family, attending drag shows, and bonding with her two guinea pigs Queenie and Peach, and her cat Mitzi.