Guitarist Ally Venable
Photo by RB2 Photography
Ally Venable was more than thrilled to play the man’s guitar for a few minutes while he sat at his booth at the Dallas International Guitar Festival and sipped coffee.
The man was Gary Hoey, who’s labeled as one of the top 100 guitarists of all time and who’s had five top-20 Billboard hits. In addition to his solo work, Hoey performed with Foreigner, Joe Satriani, The Doobie Brothers, Kenny Wayne Shepard, Eric Johnson, Steve Vai, Peter Frampton, Jeff Beck, Lita Ford, and more.
Venable was also thrilled to, at the T-Bone Walker Blues Festival in Longview, jam with Grammy-winning Rick Derringer, a blues-rock guitarist who’s worked with Johnny and Edgar Winter and with Steely Dan among others.
On that same stage with Venable and Derringer were Jonathan “Boogie” Long and Kingfish; she called Kingfish “a monster” because “he’s so good.”
That sort of enthusiasm is refreshing, especially from a musician who already has two albums and is beginning to work on a third.
Venable gigs with her own band just about every weekend as far away as Houston. She doesn’t take many weeknight gigs because she’s got her junior-year classes at Kilgore High School.
Venable turned 16 years old in April and is a fairly rare — but becoming less rare — female blues-rock guitarist in a field that’s been dominated for years by men.
She doesn’t sound just like any of them, although her influences are clear.
“A lot of people say we have our own sound,” she said after school one day. “All of my influences are blues — Stevie Ray Vaughan and stuff like that. The guys (in the band) like rock, so our sound is like glam rock and blues put together. It’s a really good thing to have our own sound.”
Venable lists her major influences, in addition to Vaughan, as Gretchen Wilson, Buddy Guy, Orinthia, and a local band she sometimes performs with, The Darby Warren Project.
Country rebel Gretchen Wilson?
“I like all kinds, mainly rock and blues is what I lean toward.”
Venable said she started singing when she first started talking, and appreciates her parents support. Her mother teaches seventh-grade reading at Kilgore Middle School and her father is a sales manager at Fairway Auto Center in Tyler.
“I was always singing. I sang in the children’s choir at church and started playing guitar when I was about 12 and now with the band the past couple of years.
“God gave me a gift,” she said. “I want to use what he gave me. Hopefully I can get far with it. I can’t see myself not doing music. It’s something you can carry on throughout your whole life. Sports kinda fade away.”
Venable played basketball, tennis, and soccer until she got so busy with music. She’s still an editor on the high school newspaper and teaches guitar to a special-needs class.
“It’s been great,” she said. “The kids love it. It’s thrilling. They enjoy music and playing guitar, and they’re really learning how to play.”
Venable and her band — Zach Terry on bass, Elijah Owing on drums, and Bobby Wallace on guitar and keyboards — play a mix of originals and cover songs from the two albums — Wiseman and Trainwreck Blues — and from many other sources.
“We like to cover Joe Bonamassa and some Stevie Ray Vaughan. Anything really blues-rockish, we will do,” Venable said. “The shows are about half and half originals and covers, and we make the covers our own. We really don’t play exactly like the records.
“As long as I’m playing, any venue is fun and great,” she said. “Whether it’s 10 people or 200 or a thousand. We like to play anywhere we can, having a good time and making people happy.”
Among other gigs, the band has played at The House of Blues and Midway Icehouse in Dallas, at Rock 101 Grill in Frisco, Auntie Skinners in Jefferson, The Back Porch in Kilgore, Dick’s Cajun Bar and Grill in Mount Selman, Muddle in Waco, Big Easy in Houston, and at Miranda Lambert’s Ladysmith in Tishomingo, Oklahoma, as well as the T-Bone Walker Blues Fest and Alley Fest in Longview and at the Marshall Music Fest.
Venable won second place runner up in the “10 under 20” competition at the Dallas International Guitar Festival and in the East Texas Music Awards was named 2014 and 2015 female guitarist of the year and 2015 blues band of the year.
She’s not letting the music go to her head. Venable plans to get a college degree in “business or something like that.”
“I can’t really predict the future, but I know I’ll keep playing music. For sure.”
Maybe someday she’ll be the one sipping coffee at her own booth at the guitar festival while she lets somebody else play her guitar.