Joel Henry Band an example of what is meant to be
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Ask any of the countless musicians who never quite made it big and you will hear just as many reasons why it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe Bryan Adams said it best, when he wrote “Jimmy quit, Jody got married, shoulda known we’d never get far.”
The band Joel Henry Kiser was in, or is still in depending on what the circumstances are, made it real far. All the way to a record deal and playing in Los Angeles far, which by any dreamer’s measure is a damn fine accomplishment.
Kiser, who often goes by the name Joel Henry, spent most of the last decade playing with the popular Greensborobased band, House of Fools, alongside his childhood friend, Josh King. When the realities of the music industry gummed up what looked like a sure thing, Kiser and his band mates were left wondering what to do next.
Never the front man, Kiser struggled to find his grove as King moved on to form Roseland and more recently join The Ends. Kiser fell into a funk.
“I knew the whole point was to keep playing,” Kiser said. “It’s all about the songs, writing good songs and to keep going, not to stop. I just didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Kiser had written many songs over the years. He and King met in church when they were about 10 and growing up in High Point. The two would jam out in King’s garage or his upstairs music room. Their first song was a palm-muted punk rock song about a bomb threat at school.
By age 20, Kiser had moved to Greensboro and played in a band called The Necessary with King.
“We were doing pretty well for our age in this area,” Kiser said. “We were doing really good to be young and put out a record. Then Josh had this side project where he was doing different styles. That was House of Fools and it got a deal and we went with that.”
It’s obviously painful for Kiser to talk about House of Fools. He comes across as a man of few words, focused and shy, like so many guitar players who prefer to let the crunch and melodic phrases speak for them. He’s also struggling, like many of us with artistic passions, to reconcile rock star dreams with the Malthusian reality of quiet desperation in a late-capitalist paradigm.
But get him talking about his friends from the band, or his love for songwriting, or the debt he owes to his wife and parents for sticking by him over the years, and this kid can wail.
That’s mostly the point behind his new solo record, Who Never Let You Down. The album grew from a spark that helped him take that first step after realizing House of Fools was likely not ever going to sell out Madison Square Garden.
When House of Fools went on hiatus after a couple of years struggling to move past barriers erected by the music industry, Kiser watched as band mates began forming other projects. He admittedly felt a little left out. Though he’d written songs over the years, he never saw himself as a singer, content to work with King and other band mates to polish riffs and lyrical sketches into completed works.
His brother suggested he take his family nickname, Joel Henry, and start his own band. After spinning his wheels in self-doubt, it was his wife, Crystal Kiser, who told him to make it happen and book a show. He put together Joel Kiser and Friends and opened a free Monday night show at the Blind Tiger. Friends immediately responded to his songs, Kiser said, and his band mates expressed interest in his project.
“I felt pretty good about it,” Kiser said about that show in 2013. “I felt gratification, satisfied that I over came being so nervous about singing in front of people. I did it. I didn’t know what was going to happen after that, but the guys really helped me out.”
House of Fools bass player Jordan Powers really encouraged him, Kiser said, and was one of the guys behind him 100 percent.
It was the completion of a circle that began when Kiser was 13 and begged his parents for a guitar for Christmas. Kiser said he drove his parents crazy wanting that guitar after his older brother gave him a Led Zeppelin tape collection and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. “That was kind of the beginning of the end for me,” Kiser said.
His father was a preacher and also worked at High Point University as a security guard. Kiser’s mother often had two or three jobs in addition to teaching piano at home. His parents worked so hard in order to give their children a chance to go to college. Kiser laughs a bit at himself when he notes that he dropped out of HPU to play music.
His mother helped him buy the sunburst Fender Stratocaster he still plays today. She split the cost with him as a gift for his 19th birthday. It was that guitar he rocked across America with House of Fools. It was that guitar he used when he stepped on stage at the Blind Tiger two years ago with Joel Kiser and Friends. It was that guitar he carted to Wilmington for the last year and a half to record the first Joel Henry Band record.
Who Never Let You Down is a collection of original songs Kiser compiled over the years mixed with several tunes he’s written recently. From the bluesy opener, “What is Meant to Be”, to the easygoing acoustics of “Not Tonight”, Kiser’s artistry takes center stage.
Most fitting to this story, however, is just who it is that’s harmonizing with Kiser and playing the instruments that give the record such a well-rounded sound. Kiser didn’t have to hit the streets begging somebody to play on his record. He didn’t need a Craigslist ad to form a band. He didn’t have to search far for backup singers. The band he needed was standing right with him all along. Only this time, it was Kiser who took center stage.
King adds silky smooth harmonies throughout the album, as does Powers, who also holds down the bass duties. Drummer Jack Foster rounds out the House of Fools contingent, while popular Greensboro musician J. Timber adds vocals and percussion notes. Greg Herndon, a keyboardist from Winston-Salem now living in Nashville, adds layers of organ and piano remnants to the record.
The title track to the album was inspired by his mother, Kiser said, but the record goes out not only to his parents, but to his wife, and to his band mates.
“I guess over the last few years, so much has happened. I think sometimes when life takes its curves, you really need people,” Kiser said. “That’s what life’s about. Those people you can count on. I think the themes to this record are faith, devotion, perseverance … appreciation for having those things. People that you can really count on, that’s hard to come by.” !
The Joel Henry Band record release party is set for 9.p.m. on Friday, Nov. 27 at The Blind Tiger, 1819 Spring Garden St. in Greensboro. The Ends open the show. Tickets are $10 the day of the show.