My parents met at a dance on the 8th and were married a year and a half later on the 8th. I was born at home on the 8th, in what became my bedroom a few years later. We lived in northern Kentucky, directly across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. My dad was a mechanic, but by my first birthday started driving an 18 wheeler over the road. His routes were mainly in the Midwest, and I spent a considerable portion of my childhood on the road, cramped in his old cabover International, listening to the CB crackle, roadhouse jukeboxes, and occasional street jams. I mainly lived at my parent’s home in Kentucky, where I skipped school as often as humanly possible and skateboarded. I also lived with my grandparents in a small cabin on Lake Huron. It stood on an island with no roads, bridges, ferries, or general store. Mainland was a fifteen minute boat ride, weather permitting. I fished for salmon and explored as much of the Great Lakes as I could reach in my dad’s 14-foot sailboat.
My grandmother, grandfather and father were all dead before I turned 20, all having died on the 8th. My parents knew each other 30 years to the day. My grandfather died on 8-8-88. He was 88 years old.
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 worked as a deckhand and relief wheelsman. I spent five years on the boats, documented over 600 days at sea, and was on board in 2011 to see the largest Lake Michigan wave ever recorded by the National Weather Service. My first year we hauled just shy of 3 million tons of cargo over more than 57,000 miles.
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.
February 2014 saw the release of my first full length album, Million Miles. The first release show was in my hometown of Newport, KY. The night of the show a wicked snow storm dumped several inches in the hours leading up to showtime. The roads were barely navigable and I thought no one would come. The place was packed. It felt amazing.
I’m always learning how to take things to the next level, be it the songwriting, the show, the business. I love it all.
Don’t be a stranger. Drop me a line, ask me a question. I may ask one back.