Henry Henderson was one of the kindest, gentlest people I have ever known. He was also one hell of a Soul singer… one who just couldn’t seem to catch a break. When I visited Billy Lawson at Wishbone earlier this month, he asked me if I knew of any ‘old school’ singers he could work with, as he had just done with Willie Hightower. When I showed him a video of Henry performing at our annual Soul Bash, he freaked. “Oh man, he sounds like Jimmy Hughes!,” he said, and was ready to cut a deal with him right then and there. This was gonna be the chance at the big time he had been looking for for years… I called him from the studio, but there was no answer. I tried him again, and again on our way back to New York, but couldn’t get through.
We made it a point to drive by his apartment on the way home, and I left a note in his mailbox asking him to please give me a call, leaving my number in case he had lost it. Within the hour, my phone rang. It was the property manager from Henry’s building… “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but Mr. Henderson has passed away.”
My heart was broken. I mean, here I was, after all these years, finally able to offer him the chance to cut a record in Muscle Shoals… but he was gone. I spoke to his good friend Mary Forehand, who told me, “He passed on January 18th… he was having chest pains and drove himself to the Hospital. He was found sitting in his car the next day.”
Just so very sad, that this wonderful human being died like that, alone and un-noticed. He was an amazing friend, and I am a better person for having known him… May God Rest Your Soul, My Brother!
Here is the appreciation I wrote about Henry back in 2015:
I know we talk a lot around here about places like Memphis and Muscle Shoals, New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and Nashville, but somehow it seems I haven’t paid enough attention to my own hometown. As the site of the premier Black entertainment venue in the world, New York truly had it going on throughout ‘The Soul Era’.
The Big Town knew few rivals as a recording center in those days as, in addition to Bobby Robinson’s Harlem empire, it was home to ‘major independents’ like Atlantic, Scepter, Big Top, Roulette, Sue, Jubilee and Bell, (to name a few), all of which cut at various ‘hole in the wall’ studios in and around Manhattan.
Home to such luminaries as James Brown, Don Covay, Gary U.S. Bonds, Roy C and Freddie Scott, Long Island enjoyed a thriving Soul scene all its own, with night clubs and lounges that featured live music springing up wherever there was a sizable Black community.
Calling themselves ‘The Showcase of Talent’, the Celebrity Club on Sunrise Highway in Freeport was one of the most celebrated of those clubs, and when they brought in Leo Price to put together their ‘house band’ in the early sixties, he decided to stick around. As he told Seamus McGarvey in Now Dig This, “I stayed up there… playing around those clubs, and backing up groups. In those days [most] recording artists didn’t have their own bands, and the Jimmy Evans Booking Agency – I was his band – he had the acts… we played behind.”
It was his connection with Evans that made Leo a favorite with Long Island club owners, as he was able to bring in national level acts like Wilson Pickett and The Shirelles to keep the cash registers ringing. Price soon had more work than he could handle, and helped install a young singer named Henry Henderson as the leader of the house band at another popular club named Mister C’s in Roosevelt.
Henderson had grown up in Jackson, Mississippi, and by the time he was a teenager he was fronting his own group that was represented by Tommy Couch’s Malaco Attractions. After cutting a few sides for them that were never released, Henry took off for the bright lights, and wound up here on Long island in 1964.
This was right around the time that Little Buster‘s phenomenal Lookin’ For A Home was garnering some airplay on local radio. Henry met Buster shortly after that when he was performing at Brownie’s Lounge in Lakeview and the two transplanted Southerners hit it off, following each other around the Long Island club circuit from The Freeport Yacht Club and The Steer Inn to Club 91 and The Bluebird Cafe way out in the sticks.
In a scenario truly reminiscent of Animal House, in the late sixties notorious bar owner Robert Matherson hired Little Buster to play for his all-white clientele every Sunday at The Oak Beach Inn. When Buster wasn’t available, Henry took his place and, between the two of them, they introduced an entire generation of essentially clueless caucasians to the Real Soul music that was happening all around them.
As the sixties gave way to the seventies, The Highway Inn in Uniondale eclipsed the Celebrity Club as ground zero for Long Island Soul, with Leo Price’s band once again providing the back-up. When Leo decided to move on, he called on Henry to take his place as leader of the house band, backing up everyone from Big Mama Thornton to The Ohio Players.
In the early seventies, Henry got together with producer Clyde Wilson and cut a single for a Long Island label named Interstate 95. As Henry recalls it, the studio was located in the Chrysler Building in Manhattan, and they were all set to release the 45 when the label owner, Daniel Yudow, died suddenly, and that was the end of that. Sir Shambling calls the L.L. Milton release that Clyde Wilson produced for the label “a real throwback to the 60s,” and that’s just what Long Island Soul has remained all these years.
As disco began to take hold in the mid-seventies, Henderson had the good sense to lay low for a while, and returned home to Jackson for a few years. By the early eighties he was back on Long Island, starting up a new band, ‘The Honey Holders’ that would help him carry on in that soulful tradition…
As you may know, I was a huge fan of Little Buster and, as I’ve said before, I’d seen him perform “more times than anyone else, ever.”
When Buster passed on in May 0f 2006, I was devastated. It was at a tribute to Buster held that June that I first met Henry Henderson. Once I heard him sing, I knew he was the real deal. We would become good friends, and his stories about the scene in those days have never failed to fascinate and enlighten me.
When Sir Lattimore Brown was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, we flew him up here to New York for treatment, and began arranging what we thought might be his final performance. I asked Henry if he would be willing to get The Honey Holders back together to back him up, and he jumped at the chance.
Once the two Mississippi natives got together, they were thick as thieves, and I knew that Real Soul was in the house. As anybody who was there that night can tell you, it was a performance we won’t soon forget. After Lattimore tragically passed in 2011, both Henry and I decided to keep his memory alive by bringing back his Honey Holders every year to what has come to be known as the CLUB 91 SIR LATTIMORE BROWN MEMORIAL NOFO SOUL BASH.
Although the personnel may vary from year to year, Henry has never failed to deliver the genuine article. Featuring veterans like Saxy Ric, guitarist Sam MacArthur (who was a member of Leo Price’s Celebrity Club band), bass player Fred Thomas (of The JB’s), sax man Bobby Gaither (who played on Joe Haywood’s Warm and Tender Love), drummer Joe Mannino, bass player Douglas Jackson, and many more, The Honey Holders are the place where Long Island Soul lives!
Embedded below is a short video of Henry & the Holders at this Summer’s Soul Bash shot by The New York Times’ own Corey Kilgannon:
Like I said, Henry Henderson is the real deal… I love this man.
– red kelly, September 2015