*There are not many musicians in the world – if any – that can honestly say and prove that by the time they were 16 years old, they had either recorded, performed and/or toured with music legends such as Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, “Martha Reeves and the Vandellas,” “The Four Tops,” “The Temptations,” “The Supremes” and Marvin Gaye, just to name a few. Yet, bass guitar player Michael Henderson can honestly claim such remarkable feats … and many more!
Henderson, a native Detroiter and self-taught musician, was considered a “music prodigy and phenom,” when he learned to play bass guitar in 1963 at 12 years old. Months later, he was playing with the famed “Detroit Emeralds,” and soon was doing Motown recording sessions. That’s right, doing Motown recording sessions at 14!
When the label pulled up stakes in Detroit to move to Los Angeles in the late 1960s, early ‘70s, Henderson didn’t follow. It wasn’t because Motown didn’t want Henderson to come; it was more because jazz trumpet great Miles Davis wanted the 19 year old bass player more.
“I was playing a gig in New York with Stevie Wonder,” recalled Henderson. “Miles was in the audience. After the show Miles walked back stage and told Stevie in a raspy voice, ‘I’m taking your f –ing bass player.’ ”
True to his word, Davis sent for Henderson. Thus, the teenager debuted on the great Miles Davis’ jazz classic album, “Jack Johnson” in 1970. Henderson played and recorded with Davis for seven years.
Speaking of Los Angeles, one of the reasons we spoke with Henderson is because of his upcoming return gig with songbird Rena Scott at the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood. We’ll have more about that below and next week in part 2 of our interview with Michael Henderson.
Deciding to concentrate more on his own music, coupled with a period of inactivity by Davis, Henderson reverted back to his r&b roots by presenting numerous tunes he had written to the Detroit-based r&b group, “The Dramatics.” Such songs included, “Just Shopping, Not Buying,” “Treat Me Like a Man,” “Be My Girl,” “What You See is What You Get,” “In the Rain” and lots more.
“I did at least 70 songs for ‘The Dramatics,’ recalled Henderson. “We recorded at United Sound Studio in Detroit, and the music was recorded before ‘The Dramatics’ ever heard the music. Sometimes, we recorded the music from 6:00 a.m. to 3 or 4 in the morning.”
While Henderson was well known for his bass playing acumen, few in the music business knew of his unique vocal styling. Drummer and music producer, Norman Connors knew and showcased Henderson on lead vocals on various projects for him (Connors) on Buddah Records.
“The song ‘Valentine Love’ with Jean Carne was the first time I ever sang on a record,” said Henderson about the 1975 release on Connor’s album, ‘Saturday Night Special.’ “On ‘You Are My Starship’ I wrote, played bass and sang lead vocals on the song. After Norman introduced me to Phyllis Hyman, she and I sang a duet on “We Both Need Each Other.”
Soon Henderson, who wants the world to know that he, not Norman Connors, recorded lead vocals on “You Are My Starship,” signed with Buddah. His first solo album for the company was “Solid.” Subsequent albums included “In the Night Time,” (certified gold), “Do it All,” “Wide Receiver,” “Sling Shot” and “Fickle.” The album “Bedtime Stories” was recorded for EMI/Capitol Records.
Asked by EUR’s Lee Bailey to explain the inspiration for writing and recording the song “Wide Receiver” in 1980, Henderson referenced the 1979 AFC Championship Game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Oilers.
“To make a long story short, I knew many of the players for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Oilers,” said Henderson. “So I was watching the game, and there was this play where the Oilers’ wide receiver caught the ball, got both feet down in the end zone, but didn’t get the points. The referees said he didn’t get both feet down. The player got robbed. The whole song was about the Houston Oilers, Pittsburgh Steelers and the play that day.”
When told the song “Wide Receiver” seemed to have a double entendre, meaning some people heard the football references in the lyrics, but others heard inferred lyrics that maybe some football players were gay, Henderson responded.
“When some people heard the song, they thought I had gone over to the other side,” Henderson said. “But I’m not gay. I’m a straight up dude, and have always been. It was just a fun song…It was a football song.”
Henderson’s music career continued to expand through his contributions of songs for the soundtracks of such films as, “About Last Night,” starring Demi Moore and “Armed and Dangerous,” starring John Candy. When the 1990’s rolled in, Henderson played bass on numerous hip hop and rap artists’ projects, including vocalist Adena Howard (Freak Like Me Album), Snoop Doggy Dogg (Murder was the Case), and Death Row Records’ Greatest Hits.
Henderson has also played and/or recorded with L.L. Cool J, MC 8, Tamia, among others. His music/bass line, according to Henderson, has been sampled at least 400 times by hip hop/rap recording artists around the globe.
Asked by Bailey to explain his key to longevity of about 54 years in professional music, Henderson pondered and said,
“I learned from the very best musicians on the planet,” he said. “The musicians that I played with, like the Funk Brothers at Motown, could play jazz, r&b and pop. They taught me to bring the spirit of excellence to the music, each and every time, because we were creating classics.”
These days, Henderson resides on his farm in Georgia. His phone still rings constantly with requests from record labels, recording artists, arrangers and producers asking him to attach his golden bass to various recording projects or live performances. Henderson, however, for the most part spends quality time with his family.
Yet, Henderson is excited about the July 30th airing of TV One’s “Unsung” on “The Dramatics.” He is interviewed about producing, writing, and his bass playing connected to dozens and dozens of songs by “The Dramatics.” Henderson is also excited about his song, “You Are My Starship” making its July 22 television debut on BET/CENTRIC’s new TV sitcom, “Beauty and The Baller.”
Henderson is currently working on new songs for a forthcoming solo album, and he’s preparing for several performances in California in August.
“God is good,” said Henderson. “I’m really looking forward to coming back to L.A. to perform at the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood on August 9th and 10th, with special guest, Rena Scott, who is an awesome singer.”
For more news, information and updates on Michael Henderson, including upcoming August performances at the Catalina Jazz Club in Los Angeles, the Southern Café in Antioch, California, and other engagements around the country, visit his Facebook page.