An Interview with Rena Haus, an outstanding Blues recording artist
Rena Haus is an outstanding Blues recording artist who
carves a unique niche within the music industry. This
interview offers some detailed insight into her artistry.
[Kenny Love] Rena, where is your home?
[Rena Haus] I was born and raised in Saint Michael, Minnesota, a
very small German Catholic community and my mother,
aunts, and uncles played music. So, I kind of learned to play
by ear and was taught through the family.
[KL] What's the Blues scene like there?
[RH] Minneapolis and Saint Paul are just now starting to get
a little more popular Blues scene. There have always been
some really good players there such as John Kerner, Dave
Ray, and Tony Glover. They had a little trio together that was
really good. They did a lot of Traditional Blues and Country
Blues. There was also Willie and Murphy and the
Bumblebees. Willie's still playing the scene up there. He's a
great piano player. Now, they're starting to get more and
more Blues bands and there is a couple of Blues clubs opening
up there. It's encouraging to see the scene get a little more
popular and commercial acceptance.
[KL] Will you give some background information on how
you got started in the Blues?
[RH] I've always loved it. I feel that it's one of the most
honest expressions, something that everybody can related to.
I've always been drawn to it for its honesty and I grew up in
the kind of Country/Folk/Blues tradition. We'd hear some of
these Blues programs coming in from Chicago radio stations
on late-night broadcasts. So, I'd get a little taste of it here and
there and, finally, realized it was something I'd always
searched for. So, when I moved here (Phoenix) and really
tapped into it, and discovered the Blues scene here, it really
opened up doors for me. I entered the Amateur Blues contest
that the Phoenix Blues Society sponsors annually and was the
only woman and the only soloist. I was in the finals for the
first two years and then the third year, I took third place with a
little trio that I put together.
[KL] I heard a rumor to the effect that you were on
Garrison Keillor's show, which is aired on National Public
Radio. Was it called Prairie Home Companion at that time?
[RH] Yes. It was just before he became nationally syndicated.
I had a duo with my boyfriend at the time, and we were playing
all the little towns around the area where I grew up - little farm
communities and taverns.
[KL] What was it like being on his show?
[RH] It was really exciting. It was the largest audience
I'd ever played in front of at the time. I was about eighteen
[KL] What was the size of the audience?
[RH] I think about twelve hundred people at the Old World
Theatre in Saint Paul. It's a beautiful old theatre and the roof
was leaking, and there were buckets all over the stage and
buckets backstage. There were people in kayaks on the
freeway that night on the way to the show, it was raining so
hard. It was just like this huge torrential downpour the night
we were on the show. When we got to the show, we were
soaking wet and Garrison Keillor brought us into his dressing
room and gave us blow dryers and towels and asked, 'Can I
bring you some tea?' I mean, this is Garrison Keillor and he's
so humble and so sincere, and he sat us down and asked us
about ourselves and got background information. Shortly
afterwards, he came up with this beautiful introduction and
dedicated the show to my mother and her band. He just
touches your heart, he's so sincere, humble and kind.
[KL] Had he been introduced to your mom at some point?
[RH] No. I just sent him a tape of our music and told him
who I was and that I grew up on a farm in the area close to
where he grew up, and he called me in person and invited me
to be on the show.
[KL] Oh, man! That's great!
[RH] Yeah, that was a really good experience. We got a lot
of work after that from the exposure.
[KL] Who are some of your major Blues influences?
[RH] A lot of women like Betsy Smith, Ma Rainey, Sidney
Wallace, Ida Mae Cox. Bonnie Raitt was kind of the one who
really got me back into it at about fourteen years old. The
Blues has influenced so many people such as Bob Dylan and
Eric Clapton. When the Rolling Stones first came to the
United States, their promoter asked them who they wanted to
open for them and they said they wanted Muddy Waters. And
the promoter asked, 'Who's Muddy Waters?' Nobody here
knew who he was, but fans in England were totally hip to all
of his recordings.
[KL] Isn't that amazing how that happens?
[RH] Yeah. So, the British invasion brought a huge
resurgence of the Blues back in the sixties.
[KL] So, it's almost like, and I can say this from a Jazz
perspective, the same situation because a lot of Jazz artists
simply got fed up with the lack of American support back in
the 30s and 40s, and relocated to Paris and other European
cities, and boom! They were accepted by the Europeans, just
[KL] You know, and over here, nobody had ever heard of
them. Some even died and was never even heard of! So, it's
almost an unwritten rule: send your recording to Europe, get
immediately accepted, and by the time you're ready to
promote it here, you're in like Flint. You know what I'm
[RH] Exactly. The European radio market is so much more
powerful than here. In Europe, the stations are much larger,
they have a multi-format, and they don't just stick to one
genre of music. So, you get a much wider variety of artists
who are exposed. It just seems there's a lot more personal
contact in European radio, whereas here, it's all computerized
playlists that go out to all the affiliates. And there's no
connection between the interpreter and the music that's being
[KL] Also, the best thing is that European government
imposes and enforces what is known as "needle time." Here,
BMI and ASCAP simply 'sample' given areas. So, you never
really get a true picture, nor exacting royalties, a
'maybe/maybe not' situation. But in Europe, everything is
[RH] When you look at who are the powers that be, or who's
controlling what's being broadcast and what's being played,
and what kind of game you have to play, even as an artist
when you get a major label deal, they (major labels) own your
hiney. You're theirs and they tell you what to do. If you can
maintain any sense of artistic integrity through that process,
you better be strong and you better be focused.
[KL] What do you think of the new independent movement?
[RH] I think it's really nice. What I like about the whole
independent movement is that it puts the power back into the
hands of the artist while raising the potential profit margin for
the artist. I think that's what happened to a lot of artists over
the years is that they've been taken advantage of by the labels
and the business knowledge hasn't really been accessible, you
know, to the player. That's the part of the gig that you've just
got to learn in the 'school of hard knocks.' And, if you get
beat up enough times, then you get smart. Now, fortunately,
there are accredited schools and classes that you can attend
that will orientate you to the business side of the music
industry. It is two worlds - music and business.
[RH] Two sides to it that you've got to learn to integrate
successfully in order to get anywhere and make it pay off. So,
it's good because it puts the responsibility in the hands of the
artist to take care of business so when you do get to a point
where you're with a major label, you know how to delegate
that authority effectively.
[KL] Right, right, that's true.
[RH] And you know you're not going to get jerked around
by anyone because you know your business. A lot of artists
may have the talent and they may have everything else it
takes, but if you don't have the willingness to take
responsibility for the business end of thing and a team that
can help you effectively accomplish these goals, it's a really
[KL] What more advice can you give to up-and-coming
artists in regards to the music business?
[RH] Maintain your integrity, above all things. Don't sell
yourself or your talent short to anyone for sake of what you
may think is momentary glory or fame. Choose your friends
carefully. Those people who have earned your trust, that's
who you should go with. Learn to be as discerning as you can
about people's motives. Never talk business on the gig. Wait
until the next morning, after a cup of coffee, and when you're
thinking clearly and can establish a business relationship.
There are certain rules of etiquette that really apply to a
gigging musician, especially, if you are a self-managed act.
You need to really carry yourself with grace and dignity, and
you need to be a diplomat because you don't know who knows
whom. It's actually a very small world.