Looking back, the title of Donna Herula’s 2021 release, Bang at the Door, turned out to be quite prophetic. Here we are in 2022, and the doors of opportunity have been swinging open for this Chicago-based musician.
It’s not like Herula just started knocking around the Chicago music scene. She has been a regular at Buddy Guy’s for over a decade and teaches guitar at the Old Town School of Folk Music. She has honed her slide guitar skills over the years and her song-writing efforts on Bang at the Door have been winning raves from a variety of blues societies and publications.
Her latest accolades are by way the Independent Blues Scene where she received nominations in four categories for Bang at the Door including “Best Female Blues Artist,” “Best Traditional Acoustic Blues CD,” “Best Traditional Blues Band” and “Best Traditional Blues Song” for the title track. https://www.makingascene.org/independent-blues-awards-2022-vote
While Herula released two CDs prior to Bang at the Door, this third release certainly seems to be the charm for her. Once you give Bang at the Door a spin, it’s easy to see why the raves and accolades have been pouring in. Bang at the Door offers real ‘reverb” appeal with a melodious mix of music ranging from acoustic blues through gospel, jazz, and ragtime with a heavy dash of electric Chicago blues as well as New Orleans, folk, and country influences.
Bang at the Door also showcases Herula’s songwriting skills for the first time. Her previous two releases consisted of all cover versions but on Bang at the Door, Herula has penned eleven original tunes that run the gamut from a touching tribune for the late King Biscuit host, Sonny Payne to a humorous take on moving back home.
Herula said, “I had written songs before, but never released them. My first two CDs were covers of classic blues songs. When I spoke to Jon Shain about producing my album, he really encouraged me to do something different and focus on original material. That’s what prompted me to write additional blues songs. He has been a great support.”
Herula has found support and friendship throughout her career and has stories about hanging out at Honeyboy Edwards’ house to how she won Sonny Payne’s approval after an extended audition at the famed King Biscuit Radio Hour. She said, “Sonny was like no other person I have ever met. His support and encouragement made a huge impact on me. He was a special person that I will always be thankful for having met. “
As for Honeyboy, she recounted, “it was an honor and a lot of fun” to play at his house. This came about when friend and fellow musician Lori Lewis invited Herula to join her on visits with the esteemed bluesman. Herula said, “Honey told me that I “sounded good, I was happy to hear that as I was just starting out at the time.”
Herula hails from Chicago’s Northwest side and met her husband Tony Nardiello while they were both tutors at Triton College. He taught math and Herula was a psychology tutor. Despite their different educational disciplines, they clicked musically, and Nardiello has helped Herula expand her horizons with his love of Lyle Lovett. John Prine, Warren Zevon and others. He collaborated with her on Bang at the Door, which includes a racy romp to a long-overdue romantic reunion called “I Can’t Wait to See My Baby.”
In addition to these folk and roots influences, Herula also has musical ties to the Mississippi Delta. She had her first taste of Hill Country blues after she competed in the International Blues Challenge (IBC) in Memphis back in 2009. She said, “before the IBC, my only context for the blues was in Chicago. She added, “the IBC opened my ears and eyes and exposed me to blues music form all around the world.”
Herula recently performed down in Clarksdale, Mississippi at their annual Juke Joint Festival and said, “playing in Clarksdale and the south really helps me connect to blues history and all the great blues players that started off in these places.”
During her shows at the Juke Joint Festival, it was obvious that Herula has a natural rapport with the audience. She credits her ability to connect with the crowds to her extended run at Buddy Guy’s Legends. She said, “playing at Buddy Guy’s Legends for the past 10 years has really helped me hone my performance skills and create my style of acoustic blues. At Legends, I’ve played for many kinds of blues audiences, including tourists. This has really helped me understand what audiences from all over the world want to hear when listening to blues music.”
Herula’s ability to connect with people from all walks of life extends to her 9 to 5 job as well. She works full-time as an Employee Assistance Program (Mental Health) Counselor. She also teaches blues fingerstyle and slide guitar at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Herula said, “I have a very understanding husband who is supportive of my passions. Due to the success of Bang at the Door and because of a very busy touring and music performance schedule, I unfortunately, had to take a hiatus from teaching this summer. As a therapist, self-care if really important. So I strike to strike a balance.”
With summer festival season coming into full swing, Herula will be busy balancing a full schedule of gigs starting with the Chicago Blues Festival. She said, “I’m excited about opening the Women of the Blues segment of the Chicago Blues Festival on Sunday, June 12th at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. I’ll be performing traditional blues songs with Anne Harris and Peaches Staten (with rhythm section support from Sheryl Youngblood and Sherri Weathersby). It’s going to be so much fun, and I am honored to be performing with these extremely talented women.” The show will be a tribute to Mary Lane with many other blues performers including Shirley Johnson, Sheryl Youngblood, Demetria Taylor, Nora Jean Wallace, Laretha Weathersby, and Sharon Lewis. It will be hosted by Lynne Jordan.
While her July calendar is packed with gigs including playing at the FitzGerald’s American Music Festival in Berwyn, Illinois, Herula said that “August is going to be insane.” She is booked everywhere from folk festivals in Dodgeville, Wisconsin to the Bayfront Blues Festival in Duluth, Minnesota, and Chicago’s annual Rib Fest. She also will be playing at the Southern Indiana Blues Festival on August 26th and then the 2022 Crossroads Blues Festival in Rockford. Illinois. News and Upcoming Shows – Donna Herula, Blues Musician
At both the Southern Indiana and Crossroads Blues Festival, Herula and her band will be on the bill during the day. She said, “I’m good doing early and going to bed early” and added that “Basically that’s why I went into acoustic blues” since being a late-night headliner is “difficult with a day job."