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Born with a gift for music, Henderson became a multi-instrumentalist with a knack for the mandolin, resophonic guitar, and harmonica. But it was not just his musicianship that set him apart; it was also his talent for songwriting that made him a legend. He co-wrote most of The Steeldrivers' original songs, setting the tone for a new era of bluegrass that was as authentic as it was innovative.
Over the years, Henderson's songs have been recorded by an array of country music luminaries, including the Dixie Chicks, Trisha Yearwood, Gary Allan, and Patty Loveless. Beyond The Steeldrivers, Henderson found work in Nashville as a sought-after slide guitarist, adding his unique touch to albums by artists like Emmylou Harris, John Hiatt, Joy Lynn White, and Kelly Willis.
Tammy Rogers, a fellow band member, remembers Henderson as the "original architect" of The Steeldrivers. "What started as a casual jam changed the course of my life," Rogers says, recalling how Henderson's vision for a bluegrass group that played once a month at the Station Inn in Nashville came to be. His collaboration with Chris Stapleton and other band members created a unique blend of soul, roots, and bluegrass that captivated audiences and set the stage for a remarkable journey in music.
Henderson leaves behind his wife, Janet, and daughters Lauren and Shannon. The loss is felt deeply within the close-knit community of musicians and fans that he helped build. In the words of Tammy Rogers, "Hendo, we will see you again where rainbows never die."
As the world mourns the loss of this extraordinary talent, Mike Henderson's legacy lives on through the music he left behind and the countless lives he touched. His contributions to the genre, the musicians he inspired, and the community he fostered are his lasting gift to the world.
To his family, friends, and the entire music community, we extend our deepest condolences. In the words of The Steeldrivers, past and present, "it was all Hendo's fault" that they found a purpose and a family in the world of music. And for that, he will always be remembered, celebrated, and dearly missed.
Rest in peace, Mike Henderson. Your music and spirit will forever echo in the hearts of those who loved you.
Thursday, September 21, 2023
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Tuesday, September 19, 2023
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Sunday, September 17, 2023
A Fateful Journey to Joshua Tree
It was September 1973, and Parsons, seeking solace and inspiration, decided to head out to Joshua Tree, a place he had visited and loved multiple times before. The desert, with its vast landscapes and surreal beauty, had a spiritual pull on Parsons, much like it does on countless artists and wanderers.
The trip that was meant to be a peaceful retreat soon transformed into a private party. Parsons was accompanied by a small group of friends, and what followed was a two-day binge of alcohol and drugs. Less than 48 hours after his arrival, on September 19, 1973, Gram Parsons was found dead in Room 8 of the Joshua Tree Inn. The cause of death: a lethal combination of morphine and alcohol. He was only 26 years old.
Gram Parsons: The Maestro Before the Desert
Before that tragic day, Parsons had already made an indelible mark on the music scene. Starting off in folk music, he quickly evolved, weaving together rock and country to create a sound that was both fresh and familiar. His work with The International Submarine Band, The Byrds, and The Flying Burrito Brothers had effectively laid the foundation for what would become known as country rock.
His ability to blend genres was revolutionary. Albums like "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" with The Byrds and "The Gilded Palace of Sin" with The Flying Burrito Brothers showcased his gift for storytelling, rich harmonies, and an authentic embrace of country music traditions. Yet, it wasn't just the fusion of styles that made Parsons special; it was his raw emotion, his vulnerability, and the way he wore his heart on his sleeve.
The Aftermath of a Tragedy
Parsons' death sent shockwaves through the music community. However, the drama did not end there. Famously, in a move to fulfill what they believed to be Parsons’ wish, his friends Phil Kaufman and Michael Martin stole his body from the Los Angeles International Airport. They drove it back to Joshua Tree and, in a surreal and cinematic scene, set it alight in the desert night. While the authorities were eventually alerted, and the makeshift cremation was incomplete, the event added to the mythology and lore surrounding Parsons’ life and death.
Echoes in the Sands: Parsons’ Posthumous Impact
While Parsons' life was cut short, his musical legacy only grew in stature. Artists from various genres, ranging from country to rock to indie, have cited him as a significant influence. Legends like Emmylou Harris, who was a close collaborator and friend of Parsons, continue to honor his memory and keep his songs alive.
In recent years, many contemporary country and rock artists have stepped forward to acknowledge the profound impact of Gram Parsons on their musical journey. Keith Urban, for one, has frequently cited Parsons as a foundational influence, highlighting the authenticity of his songwriting and his seamless blending of rock and country. Similarly, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy has often spoken of Parsons’ artistry, emphasizing the raw emotional depth of his music. Artists like Ryan Adams, Sturgill Simpson, and Kacey Musgraves have all, at various points, drawn parallels between their own works and the pioneering spirit of Parsons. Even beyond the realm of country, bands like The Black Crowes and My Morning Jacket have lauded his fearless genre-blending and soulful lyricism. It's evident that even decades after his passing, the ripples of Gram Parsons' musical genius continue to influence and inspire, bridging the gap between the old and the new, and proving that genuine artistry is indeed timeless.
In the decades that followed, the Gram Parsons Foundation was established, aiming to support artists battling addiction, further intertwining his legacy with the cause of aiding those facing the same demons he did.
Additionally, Joshua Tree has become a pilgrimage site for many of his fans. The Joshua Tree Inn, where he spent his last moments, has become iconic, with Room 8 often booked by fans wanting to pay homage.
Fifty years have passed since Gram Parsons drove to Joshua Tree, but his spirit, music, and legacy remain very much alive. His journey from Los Angeles to the desert is not just a tale of tragedy, but also a reminder of the profound impact one artist can have, both in life and in memory. As the sun sets over Joshua Tree, one can almost hear the echoes of Parsons' voice, singing tales of love, loss, and the timeless allure of the open road.
Saturday, September 16, 2023
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Thursday, September 14, 2023
In 1963, as the tidal wave of folk music's popularity was about to crest, ABC sought to capture its essence with "Hootenanny", the first of its kind, a weekly network series devoted to folk music. The idea was unique: a traveling folk jamboree that showcased the raw passion and talent of student performers from colleges across the nation.
However, the show's potential was quickly overshadowed by politics and controversy. ABC's decision to blacklist Pete Seeger, a titan of folk music and the very man who had popularized the term "hootenanny", became a flashpoint. His crime? Refusing to sign a loyalty oath to the U.S.
The resultant boycott, championed by iconic artists like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul & Mary, was more than a rejection of the show; it was a firm stand against censorship and a call for authenticity in a rapidly changing musical landscape. The show's "mild" rendition of folk became emblematic of a broader trend in the 1960s: the struggle between commercialization and authenticity.
Despite the controversy, the show did have its moments. Judy Collins' decision to refuse a lyric change on "Anathea", Johnny Cash's classic country vibes, and Woody Allen's early comedic stylings added flair and diversity to the program.
But as the 1960s continued, the musical landscape shifted. The arrival of the Beatles and the British Invasion signaled a decline in the mainstream popularity of folk music. ABC's attempt to counteract this shift with pop acts, as intriguing as it was, couldn't mask the underlying issue: the show had lost its authentic soul.
By September of 1964, "Hootenanny" faded into television history. However, it was later revived in spirit by Christopher Guest's comedy "A Mighty Wind", a satirical nod to the show and its era.
Watching "Hootenanny" today, available in parts on YouTube and for those still with a DVD player, a three-disc collection, is a nostalgic journey, filled with celebrity appearances and historical moments. However, its legacy is twofold: it serves as a reminder of folk music's rich history and the power of artists standing up for their beliefs.
In a world where commercial interests often take precedence, the Hootenanny boycott stands as a testament to the importance of authenticity, integrity, and the enduring spirit of folk music. It wasn't just about the songs or the singers; it was about a community coming together to say, "This is who we are, and this is what we stand for."