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A Fireside Chat with Michael Henderson

AAJ Staff By

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The minute Michael [Wolff] and I landed in San Francisco, our song was on the radio...They played the whole twenty-one minutes...
There’s a level of cool that all of us at one point or another attempt to achieve. Then there’s a level of cool that all of us know we’ll never achieve – Miles Davis cool, Frank Sinatra cool, Errol Flynn cool, James Dean cool. Dig the cover of Michael Henderson’s Wide Receiver and you’ll have an understanding of cool. Check out Henderson in those Oakleys. Then understand it was 1980 when he released the album and Oakley didn’t exist. But considering Henderson played with Miles, he should understand cool better than anyone. Folk, Michael Henderson, on Miles, cool, and why Oakley owes him some royalties, unedited and in his own words.

FRED JUNG: Let’s start from the beginning.

MICHAEL HENDERSON: The influences I had at an early age of wanting to be like Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, I enjoyed all of those artists and many more. The Motown sound, at twelve years old, I heard it on the radio and I said one day I would be with Stevie Wonder and about a year later, I was with Stevie Wonder because I started working with The Fantastic Four. From Stevie Wonder, I played with Aretha Franklin, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Martha & the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, you name it. That is how I started. We did all the theaters, all the concert halls, and traveled all over the world. It was just an incredible time.

FJ: What contributed to your seamless transition from rock to jazz?

MH: All the guys that I learned from were some of the greatest jazz musicians in the world. That was The Funk Brothers, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, those guys have a video out right now (Paul Justman’s documentary). James Jamerson was one of the greatest bass players on the planet, R&B, jazz, whatever. He and Paul Chambers used to hang out together in Detroit. Earl Van Dyke was one of the most incredible gentlemen on the organ and keyboards that you could find. Robert White, “Pistol” Allen on drums, Benny Benjamin, all those guys were the most incredible jazz musicians. Berry Gordy took the best jazz musicians and had them play R&B.

FJ: Give me some insight on your time with Miles Davis.

MH: It was from 1970-1976. That was a long time. Miles Davis was like a father to me. We always got along. We never had any arguments and never fell out about anything. He was a great teacher for me as far as developing my style. He saw me first with Stevie Wonder in New York and everybody was saying that it was Miles and I didn’t know who Miles Davis was at the time. I was playing with Stevie Wonder and into the Motown thing. He said to Stevie, “I’m taking your fucking bassist.” I don’t think Stevie heard him because he talked like that (Henderson’s best Miles impression). The next thing I knew, I got a call from Miles and I asked my friend, “What do you know about this Miles guy?” He said, “If Miles Davis is calling you, you better get your bass guitar and run.” I showed up at his house, he flew me in that day. Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, and John McLaughlin were in the house along with Herbie. They were getting ready to do a session the next day, which was Jack Johnson. That was my first record with Miles, Jack Johnson in 1970.

FJ: The deep end of the pool.

MH: (Laughing) I bet you I knew who Miles Davis was after that.

FJ: You were playing “quiet storm” before DJs had coined the term, but in my formidable years, I remember buying Wide Receiver because I was digging the shades.

MH: (Laughing) Oh, yeah. Miles turned me onto those glasses. Back in Italy, we went through a mall and there were some ski glasses there for skiing and we just ripped the plastic from around them and wore them like that. The next thing we knew, people were making glasses like that.

FJ: Oakley owes you and the Davis trust some royalties.

MH: Yeah, everybody came with those glasses.

FJ: Rebirth is not the typical Miles tribute. Most are straight ahead and Children On The Corner focuses on Miles’ electric period.


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