Rory may be the only Henriksen player who nearly (and unwittingly) recycled his working Henriksen amp, but he’s also the guy to go to in Nashville for about 20 different western and world instrument session tracks, and is also adept at events from multi-generational Polka jams to beloved pet funerals. Aside from all that, he has a singular style and incredible capabilities as a player. Get to know more about him.
How have you spent your downtime this past year, and what’s on the horizon that’s exciting for you?
Well, I actually spent my downtime doing a number of different things. I rebuilt my home studio recording system. I got a couple new microphones, I had a new computer built, and taught myself how to learn a bunch of new software and installed a bunch of stuff. Since I’m a completely blind person, that added a few extra challenges in and of itself, just learning which software was going to be accessible, and how to use them.
I also spent time digitizing all my old cassettes, because I had a bunch of them from when I was a kid, and things don’t last forever so I wanted to get them archived and preserved before they would no longer play. That was a project that I could hardly find time for, but this last year provided ample time for that.
And the third major project is that I met a wonderful lady online back in in May, and we struck up a friendship. She used to live in Orlando, Florida, so I went there a couple times to see her and she came here a few times to see me, and as of about a week ago, moved to Nashville. So I’m starting down that whole path of a wonderful new relationship. I actually had a good 2020 into 2021!
What do you feel the greatest benefits of a non-standard approach to playing are? Do you teach your approach?
I have not really tried to teach my approach. I do teach lessons on a very minimal basis, but I’m more for teaching ideas and concepts, and not so much technique. I’ve had a few people ask me if I have done an online course or something, teaching my exact method of playing, but I have not embarked on that because I just figure the niche for that is going to be so tiny that the the amount of work it would take to produce, relative to the amount of money I would make selling it, would probably not be a good investment of my time.
But in terms of advantages, it does provide some. I have reach that other people don’t have; because I’m playing over-handed, my hand space is not wasted wrapped around the neck. So many people that play traditionally wrap their hand around the neck, so all that mass is just wasted wrapped around a piece of wood, whereas I can use it to get these big stretch-chords, and I can get all five fingers on the neck. I have a few chord voicings that other guitar players simply cannot get – it’s just not possible. That would be one of the advantages. Another advantage would be, since I’m not squeezing the neck, I tend not to develop really hard calluses, which is good because, you know, having a sense of touch as a blind person is pretty paramount. So I’m glad that I don’t have big ol’ crusty calluses on my fingers and still maintain the sensitivity in my fingertips.
Experiencing the amplified sound of your instrument in perhaps a more focused way than sighted musicians, what’s most important to you in terms of features and performance?
I like things that are not overly complicated; I like knobs that, when you turn them, you can tell what they do immediately. This goes for not only amplifiers but keyboards, anything really, as well. So many digital units now have so many menus and things that you have to go into, and multiple button pushes to find your way around all the parameters, and that can be cumbersome for me. So ease of use is something that is very important to me. In terms of the Henriksen amps specifically, I just love how portable they are. I’ve got the Bud Six and the Bud Ten and it’s just astonishing to me how much sound you can get from the little Bud Six. And it astonishes sound guys and people in clubs to no end when they see that little thing sitting there! I also like an amp that gives me a lot of EQ possibilities, because I am a multi instrumentalist. I like having the Bud because it has two channels with two discrete EQs, so I can put my accordion in one channel and my guitar in the other channel, and having the 5 band EQ rather than just 3, like many amplifiers have, is just much more helpful to me. I actually like having 5 bands – some people find that more confusing, but I find it great because if I’m plugging in a mandolin or a banjo, I need vastly different EQ than for an electric guitar.
Tell me about a particularly unusual gig you’ve had since relocating to Nashville in 2008.
A lady hired me specifically to play ukulele for her pet funeral. She had a dog and she had apparently plenty of money, because she had this big to-do for her pet that had died, and one of the events that I was asked to play ukulele for was that she wanted me to play What a Wonderful World and Somewhere Over the Rainbow while they were doing a butterfly release; each person that attended this funeral had a little box with a live butterfly in it, and I played while she released those butterflies, and I guess that was her method of sending her animal’s spirit onto its next place as all these butterflies flew out of their boxes and flew away. I was paid handsomely to play ukulele during the butterfly release of a pet funeral!
What kinds of music would fans of you and your music be surprised to learn you listen to?
I’d have two answers to that. One would be Polka music. I grew up playing Polka with my grandpa and great uncle, and his friend. I’ve always had friends who were generations older than I was, more so than my friends have been peers of mine. A lot of the people that I considered close friends when I was much younger were senior citizens, partly because I have always enjoyed the sounds of old music. So I listened to and played a lot of Polka music as a child.
And the other answer I would have is World and ethnic music. I love listening to how other people and other cultures create music. And I guess Polka would be part of that! But I like to listen to music from India, Asia, Africa and more. I’m just fascinated by the different time signatures and the different instrumentation and scales, and actually have a fairly nice collection of world and ethnic musical instruments. So that’s something about me that probably a lot of people don’t know. I’m actually getting to be known around town as the guy to go to if you need kind of a unique instrument sound!
How did your relationship with Henriksen Amplifiers begin?
It began with a friend of mine who used to live in Nashville; a Gypsy jazz guitar player. I was the main guitarist in a local Gypsy jazz group called the Gypsy Hombres, and this guy was one of the subs and a player that would just come play with us once in a while, and he had a Henriksen. So he brought his little original Bud, and even at that time, I was like, “man, that thing is killer for being such a small amp!” So I went and bought a used one that I really fell in love with, and eventually Peter Henriksen and I connected over email and I became an endorsing artist with him. I use the Bud Six and Bud Ten. My Bud goes with me to pretty much every gig I play now. I’m representing here in Nashville, that’s for sure!
If you could sit down for a meal with any other 3 people, living or deceased, who might be at that table with you?
One of them would be Oscar Peterson, who’s sadly not alive anymore. But he is definitely my favorite jazz pianist of all time, and just such a wonderfully creative player, and he had a sound like no other. Whenever you hear him, you know it’s Oscar. There aren’t many musicians that you can tell immediately who’s playing when you hear them, and Oscar is one of those guys that you can always tell. I really wish I could have met him.
Another one is a guy who’s living right now; an author named Yuval Harari, who wrote the books Sapiens and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. I think he’s just a very thoughtful person, and I like his method of thinking and reasoning, even if I don’t agree with all his conclusions. I just like how he thinks and how he comes to his realizations and opinions. I have gotten a lot out of his books. I think they should be almost required reading.
And for my third person, let’s go back to my Polka heritage – let’s say Frank Yankovic. I think it would have been fun to have known Frank, and I’ve known some people who did. Frank was the Polka King! I actually know a guy who worked with Frank’s band for a long time, so I kind of have a second level connection to him. But I think he would have been another fun person to have met in person, for an evening sit down meal. I have no idea how these guys would have gotten along together, no idea what kind of dinner conversation that would be – but it would be fun for me, that’s for sure!
I have to tell you a quick story about how I averted disaster last week! I’ve been going through my old CD cases and media here in my house and digitizing everything that wasn’t, and I figured after I had it all I could safely get rid of the physical media that was taking up so much space. Well, I’d put all these CD cases into these large, cubical, zippered bags. I had a bunch of these that I’d put all in a pile to have a friend of mine take to the electronics recycling to be rid of them. So she came by and picked up all of these, and that was that! She was gone, the stuff was gone.
Then a couple days later, I had a gig and I was looking for my Bud Six – in its cubical, zippered bag. And I was like, “where is my amp?!?” I found the Bud Ten, but couldn’t figure out where the Six was. I wondered, did I leave it at a gig? The last place I remembered playing with it was the Nashville Palace. So I called them and asked if they had seen it, and of course they hadn’t. So I was laying in bed and thinking, where could that thing have gone? And then I thought – oh no!! Did it get picked up with the rest of my CD cases and giveaway stuff because it was a square package and pretty light – about the same weight of those CD cases?? Did my perfectly good Bud Six just go to recycling?!
So I called up the lady that had picked up all my stuff and asked if there was any chance she hadn’t taken all that stuff to the actual recycling place yet – and it had been 3 days already. I knew the chances were slim! But she said, “nope, I still happen to have it all” because she was getting some of her own electronic stuff together to dump. I asked her, “could you please go check to see if one of those bags I gave you has Henriksen written on the front?” And sure enough, it was there in the pile with all those CD cases. So I saved my amp from disaster! I was sure it had gone to amplifier heaven, and for no good reason. But that’s what it gets for being so light and so easy to carry! My Henriksen is safe with me now.
Learn more about Rory: www.roryhoffman.com