Some great musicians have come from Iowa, from jazz innovators Bix Beiderbecke and Charlie Haden to the Everly Brothers and current Americana artist William Elliott Whitmore. But electric, female-fronted blues-rock may not be the first thing people imagine when they think of the Corn State. That could be changing.
The Billboard-charting Avey Grouws Band is one of the Midwest’s hottest acts, delivering a fiery live sound that’s been selling out in at least half a dozen Midwestern states. This five-piece band, based in the Iowa-Illinois Quad-Cities, is fronted by singer/guitarist Jeni Grouws with Chris Avey supplying the lead guitar fireworks. They just cut their second album, Tell Tale Heart, in Berry Hill and Leiper’s Fork with Grammy winning engineer/producer Casey Wasner (Keb’ Mo’, Taj Mahal, Robben Ford).
“We were writing these songs, and we just had this vision for what we wanted the album to be,” Grouws said by phone from her home in Northeast Iowa. “And we had a connection with Nashville in that our hometown bass player friend, David Abdo, is now in Nashville, and he played at Cara Lippman’s blues jam there, and we had gone down to Nashville to be part of that. And we had other connections there. So we wanted to go to a place that would treat the album the way we envisioned. Studios everywhere have the potential to do what you want, but we’d been trapped in Iowa for an entire year because of Covid. So we started thinking about where to go, about getting out of the place that keeps you thinking about the things you have to do at home. We wanted a location where our specific job for three weeks was to do this album.”
“We listened to some albums during the pandemic that really impressed us,” she continued, “including albums by Robben Ford and Keb’ Mo’, and we realized there was a connection there, and it was this guy Casey Wasner, and it turned out he owns the Purple House recording studio in Leiper’s Fork. And I was even more excited when I found out he was from Minnesota, and my parents are from Minnesota and we play there. Also, being a Midwesterner, for him to kind of be able to ‘get it’ without [the band] having to explain a lot, that’s a good thing. There were so many reasons, those connections. And then Casey gave us the idea to record at East Iris studio in Berry Hill and mix at the Purple House.”
Since she’s in a band that opens for acts like blues legend Walter Trout, and Chicago slide wizard Joanna Connor, and whose following provides top money jobs in the Midwest, Grouws sees no reason to change her location. “We love Nashville,” she said. “We’ve played at Kimbro’s in Franklin, I’ve played the Bluebird. And we have friends there who keep saying, ‘Why don’t you move to Nashville?’ But I’m thinking, ‘Why would we ever do that?’ We get paid so well to do what we do in the Midwest, and we live in homes that we can afford – and we get to play our own music up here!”
“When we were down there recording,” she said, “Nashville was just starting to open up from Covid, and our friends were, like, ‘Come on out,’ but we were there to work. But you can bet that the next time we’re in town, we’ll be going out. The people at the Sunday night pro blues jam in Nashville have been so supportive of this band from Iowa. Nashville feels like a second home to us. The people there have made us feel welcome and comfortable, and that’s a pretty big deal to me.”
You can hear “Love Raining Down,” the new album’s first single, on Spotify etc. Tell Tale Heart drops this Friday, September 24. Follow the group at aveygrouwsband.com.