Rant ‘N’ Roll: Last Of The Red Hot Mommas

The Sena Ehrhardt Band’s Leave The Light On debut (Blind Pig) shows a tough, sexy take-no-prisoners blues belter who you’d think upon hearing might look something like Big Mama Thornton (1926-1984), the big bad bitch who wrote “Ball And Chain” that Janis done stole and did “Hound Dog” before Elvis. But no. She’s sweet, demure, intelligent and daddy’s girl.

Ed Ehrhardt is her lead guitar man who has had bands ever since Sena was a kid in Minnesota. She used to beg him to let her get onstage and sing and he told her not until she graduates college. He’s a big guy, the kind of dad who probably had a nail-studded baseball bat in the basement for when high schoolers came a’callin’, wantin’ to take his daughter out.

So Sena graduates college, comes home and within a week is fronting what used to be Ed’s band. It’s her band now. Leave The Light On is perfect. Charming. Soulful. Upbeat. A party. It’s jump-blues, soul work-outs, sultry torch songs, Chicago electric blues and even a hint of back porch, rural folk-blues makes it one of the best blues albums of the year. Sena’s a ballsy free-swinger who hits a home run on every track. And dig this: No covers. She wrote all 10 songs with her lead guitarist daddy. That’s what happens when you grow up in a house of blues.

“T-Bone Walker,” she says, “I loved him the most growing up but I had a big crush on Robert Cray for years when I was a little girl.” T-Bone (1910-1975), the guitarist who gave the world “Stormy Monday,” is a pivotal figure in the progress of the blues. The girl knows her stuff. Today she admires Susan Tedeschi who, with her husband Derek Trucks of The Allman Brothers Band, made one of this year’s best rock-blues albums, Revelator. She also cites the badass Shemekia Copeland, a traditional blues mama in the mold of Bessie Smith or Ma Rainey. “Those women are out there really doing it,” she exclaims.

“My dad and I sat down with Andy Crowley, a really great local producer,” she answers when asked about her debut’s game plan, “and before we played one note in the studio, we told him we wanted it organic, no auto-tune, no overdubs, we wanted to insure our onstage energy came through. It was also important to us that the album be all-original.”

“Minneapolis/St. Paul has some great clubs with national acts and there’s some really credible local bands out here who people should know about,” she continues. “You’d be surprised at the talent in this area.”

Sena just finished her Masters Degree in health-care administration and works full-time at the Mayo Clinic in cardio-vascular surgery. She describes herself as a “school nerd… yeah, I know, my job is the furthest one could get from what I do onstage.”

Call it the twin poles of her existence.

But being in a band with your dad? Isn’t that like going on the road with your parents? What about after the set when you might want to let loose a little bit? “People don’t realize we’re father/daughter when we perform. After the show, I haven’t really encountered anything where he would need to step in. He’s a pretty tough guy. You could ask some of my boyfriends about his tactics. I prefer not to comment on that. People get a sense he’s a no-nonsense individual and they stay respectful. That’s the thing about blues people. They’re pretty down-to-earth and cool. No one in the blues scene is out to mess with you.”