I became obsessed with music and after a year of harassing my parents, finally got my first guitar on my 8th birthday. It was a red electric, a Strat knock-off. I immediately wrote a song called “You Light Me Up Like Spray Paint on a Strike-Anywhere Match, Baby.”
I stepped onstage for the first time shortly after moving to Ypsilanti, Michigan. It was a speakeasy-type bar with hot lights, and the audience wanted blues. The first song I played was with a slide on an acoustic guitar tuned in open G; a Robert Johnson cover. I’d been taught by Shari Kane. They applauded. I was hooked.
Music took me from Kentucky to Michigan to Los Angeles to Austin, Texas. I got to meet and collaborate with many of my heroes along the way including Philip Sayce of The Jeff Healey Band and Melissa Ethridge. Constantly challenged and inspired by Philip’s beautifully intense guitar style, we became jam buddies and co-performers. “Hank is a naturally gifted musician and a wonderful human being, whose talents shine brightly when he takes the stage. When he sings and plays his guitar, he lights up a room and leaves audiences charged up and wanting more.” – Philip Sayce. I also studied guitar with Stuart Ziff, lead guitarist of WAR!
I drove around the country so much that I wore a hole in my steering wheel, right where my palm rests. While visiting Arizona, I became involved in a songwriting contest hosted by producer Mike Latanzi (Wyclef Jean, Steve Vai, Jewel, and many more). I made it to the last round of a two-week selection process and Latanzi requested that I stay in the area to record with him. During one visit to my grandparent’s cabin, while strolling the rocky shores, skipping stones, and looking out at the water, my curiosity got the better of me and I applied for my Merchant Marine Document.
I spent a short jaunt on a line barge on the Ohio River, running between Paducah and Pittsburg. By 2008 I landed a job on a Great Lakes freighter, a 678-foot ore carrier built in Lorain, Ohio in 1949. I’ve worked as a deckhand and relief wheelsman ever since. As of writing this I’ve documented over 500 days at sea and was on board in 2011 to see the largest Lake Michigan wave ever recorded by the National Weather Service. Last year we hauled just shy of 3 million tons of cargo over more than 57,000 miles. The schedule gives me large chunks of time off for touring.
I’ve played all over the states of Kentucky, Michigan and Arizona, as well as in Denver, Colorado Springs, Los Angeles, Asheville, and Gainesville, to name a few towns, and over a hundred gigs in Austin, Texas.
In 2009 I wrote a song called “Snakes in the Shed.” It won me the girl I wrote it about. The following year she took me to the Kerrville Folk Festival, where the music and the audience’s approach to listening blew me away. Upon walking up to my first late night campsite showcase, I made a comment out loud to my friend as we took a seat and was immediately shushed by several audience members. Though embarrassed, I thought it was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. We all shut up and listened….to the Love Leighs.
In deciding to take a stage name, I used my my father and grandfather’s first and middle: Henry Erwin, Jr. and Sr. Dad went by Hank, grandpa went by Erwin or “Er,” by those who knew him best.
I consider myself engaged in two careers: sailing and music. I love both and I pursue both passionately. I’m not trying to quit one for the other. I like the balance it brings: the sailing helps my music, my music helps my sailing.