Country music has a strong tradition of blood-born musical chemistry that dates all the way back to the Carter Family and continues up to and beyond the Band Perry.
Now the Perrys are helping birth another new family trio: the Henningsens, who comprise father Brian (bass, guitar, vocals), son Aaron (guitar, vocals) and daughter Clara (lead vocals, guitar).
The Henningsens hail from farm country in Illinois and were introduced to the Perrys by producer Paul Worley (Lady Antebellum, Martina McBride), when he was working on the Band Perry's debut. "Paul said, 'There's another family band in town and I think you'd really like them,'" Clara Henningsen recalls. The two families met during an acoustic performance at Band Perry manager Bob Doyle's office.
The Perrys immediately gravitated toward two of the Henningsens' songs, "All Your Life" and "You Lie," both of which went on to become Band Perry hits. ("All Your Life" spent two weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart and has sold 907,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan. "You Lie" hit No. 2 and has sold 992,000.)
"We wrote the songs in a day and they've spent the last few years making them hits," Clara says in explaining her family's admiration for the Band Perry. The feeling is mutual. "We immediately started writing, and we have been ever since," Kimberly Perry says. "The family thing is important. It takes away inhibition for someone to throw out an idea. We're brutally honest with each other."
The Henningsens and Perrys collaborated on a song for the latter's debut, with four other tracks bearing the Henningsen touch. The cross-pollination between the Perrys and the Henningsens has continued. The two families combined for six tracks on the Band Perry's new "Pioneer," including the title track. Meanwhile, the Perrys contributed a song to the Henningsens' forthcoming debut album. "We asked them to release it as the first single, but they didn't listen," Kimberly says with a laugh.
Instead the Henningsens went with their own "American Beautiful," which is No. 23 on Billboard's Country Airplay tally after 13 weeks. Their Arista Nashville album, also titled "American Beautiful" and produced by Worley, is due this summer.
The Henningsens' story is every bit as engaging as the Perrys'. Father Brian set out to be a Christian artist in the '90s, but quickly returned to the family's farm when his father became too ill to run it. He put his musical aspirations aside and helped raise 10 children, now ranging in age from 8 to 30, while tending to the family business.
The Henningsens are a musical family, and a big one at that, "but we're not the Von Trapps," Clara says, noting that most of their singing took place at home, away from any spotlight.
But an eventual performance at Nashville songwriter haunt the Bluebird Cafe marked the birth of the Henningsens family trio. It was open-mic night and Clara says the family didn't expect the reaction they received. "People came up afterward and said how cool it was that we sang together, that we were family and our dad was in a band with us. We were really shocked."
Gator Harrison, PD at Clear Channel's WUSY Chattanooga, Tenn., says "American Beautiful" is performing well for the station, and while it's still early in the game, he sees potential in the Henningsens. "They have the lyric and the family feel to connect," he says, calling the trio "incredibly talented."
"Family took my dad out of music, but family also brought him back in years later," Clara says. "It's kind of crazy how it all works."