COVENTRY – Country music fans may not know that Coventry was once home to its own country music star. A local music store, however, is looking to change that.
Singer-songwriter Hank Keene, who also played in a larger band called Hank Keene and the Connecticut Hillbillies, lived in South Coventry in the 1930s and 1940s.
Ruth O’Neil and Jim Hammitt, owners of the Song-A-Day Music Center in Coventry, are working to get local bands to re-record some of Keene’s hits to present to a new generation.
“It’s not just part of local Coventry music history, but it’s really part of Connecticut music history, as well as the overall history of roots music in our country,” he said. O’Neil recently said, adding that Keene’s band was “old times.” country group.
O’Neil said Keene and his band used to play shows across the state, setting up tents wherever they played. They were also performing live on radio on stations such as WTIC, she added.
“They were very vaudeville,” Hammitt said of the shows, adding that they were also slapstick in nature.
In order to complete the recording project, the Song-A-Day Music Center recently received a $5,000 grant from the city, one of several grants from federal pandemic relief funds that the city has granted to local arts and cultural organizations.
“These are all great projects, but this one is something that could be incredibly special for the whole state of Connecticut,” City Manager John Elsesser said last week.
O’Neil said she had the idea of having Keene’s music re-recorded by bands for nearly 15 years after a former town historian told her about the musician, but she didn’t. been unable to obtain funding for the project so far.
“I want to foster some awareness of what this person has done,” O’Neil said, adding, “We’ll see how far the money goes.”
The current plan is to have local Connecticut musicians professionally record covers of about half a dozen Keene songs over the summer and fall, O’Neil said, adding that they would be probably posted on YouTube for the public to enjoy.
O’Neil also said that she would eventually like to schedule a live performance to showcase the songs.
“I think the goal is to give a fresh take on some of the songs that are his hits,” O’Neil said, adding that artists are welcome to give them their own artistic twist as long as they’re “as authentic as possible”. .”
In addition to receiving city funding, O’Neil also had to obtain permission from Keene’s remaining family to undertake the project. Luckily, Keene’s grandchildren had no objections, as long as the project is non-profit and O’Neil and Hammitt don’t advertise it under their names.
“The goal is not to make money; the goal is to get it out there,” O’Neil said, adding that the recording project would be perfect for bands who “want to have a bit of fun and something new.”
Part of that fun and novelty is in the song titles Keene wrote, many of which were tongue-in-cheek, O’Neil said.
Some of these songs include “When Our Hillbilly Band Gets On the Air” and “Love Flew Out The Window When My Mother-in-Law Flew In”.
However, Keene also sang more serious gospel-type songs with religious meanings, O’Neil said.
“It’s a small part of Connecticut’s heritage,” O’Neil added.
O’Neil and Hammitt are musicians themselves and have owned the Song-A-Day Music Center for 20 years. The store, in addition to selling musical instruments and gear, also offers instrument lessons and currently serves more than 70 students, O’Neil said.
“We teach everything,” she added.