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An Interview with Rena Haus, an outstanding Blues recording artist
By Kenny Love
(more articles from this author)
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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 years old.

[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 like that.

[RH] Yep.

[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 saying?

[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 played.

[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 documented.

[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.

[KL] Right.

[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 hard struggle.

[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.

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