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Saxophonist Harvey Henderson joined the Bar-Kays in 1968, after the first edition of the band perished in the plane crash, which also took the life of Otis Redding.
When did you start playing?
All through high-school I played clarinet and I've been playing in bands since I was fourteen. One little band we had was called the Wild Cats. In fact I majored in music, so that's how I learned to play the saxophone.
What instruments do you play?
I play sax, clarinet and flute. Plus a little bit of keyboards.
Did you ever write down notes when you composed?
Yeah, I can read music. I guess the reason why horn players often can read music is because they traditionally play in bands in school, where you do read music.
Which is your favorite Bar-Kays album and song and why?
My favorite album is "Nightcruising" and my favorite song "Today is The Day". It's a song that to me that explains one of the many phases of love and I think love is something that everybody experiences from beginning to end. At one point in your life you get from A to Z in love and I think "Today Is The Day" is the perfect example of that experience. "Nightcruising" was a total album. Everything about that album related to something else. Every song had a relationship with every other song and it, at the time, kind of defined where the group was mentally. It deals with all kinds of situations, happy situations, love situations, party situations. It just ran the spectrum of the group. I think that was one of the total albums that the group had.
What happened in your life after the contract with PolyGram expired in 1990?
Well, we never signed with another label. Not until James Alexander, who had left the group, came back. He and Larry recorded an album, "48 Hours" for an independent label down here in Memphis. James had been working with A & R on some independent label and gotten tired of it. I had left in 1993, because I felt like it wasn't going backwards or forwards. So I said to myself "I'll try something else for a while". I now work as plausible court clerk, that's the person who assists the judge and keeps records on what's happening and sets up the schedule. In fact, haven't done any playing for money in two years now. To me, music is a creative thing and if it's not something that you really believe in and it's not a true art-form, then you just can't do it. When something's not fun anymore, then it's just not fun. I have to believe in what I'm doing. Even if you're just trying to do something for money, it's not even enough money for that. I did what I did for the love of it and the money was a bi-product. So I'll be doing this for a while and hope that things change and I'll get a chance to re-charge my batteries.
How do you look at today's contemporary r & b?
I think the kids are growing up not knowing anything about music, because all theydo is sample something that's from the past. That's what's happening in the industry today, but I guess that's something that's gonna have to play out. Right now, the kids control most of the record buying market and what the kids buy, that's what the record companies are trying to push. Nobody is creating anything, they're just re-arranging stuff. I think it's even worse now than it was when we recorded "Animal" in 1989. The new technology that came at that time, enabled one or two people to do what it used to take ten or eleven to do.When the engineers became the producers, then technology sort of wiped everything out. It's was a bad period and it's still here. It's even gone from the studio to the stages. I guess if you never saw a real band it's OK, but if you did, it leaves you missing something.
I thought the climate would have improved for bands like the Bar-Kays since 1990, especially considering how many of the old bands (Lakeside, Ohio Players, War, George Clinton) are currently gigging.
They are just getting back together and if you check their rosters, not all of the people that originally were there are with them today. It's like with the Bar-Kays, it's just one or two people from the original line-up. That's happening with Cameo, Lakeside, Ohio Players, Con Funk Shun, War... There are not a lot of places to work, so everybody's kinda scrambling for the same one or two clubs. If you got somebody more than yourself to feed it's kinda hard to make ends meet with the amount of work that's left out there.
To me, a logical way to promote and bring forward an old band (who naturally has experience and a lot of know-how) would be to team them up with one of today's hot producers. In theory, both parties would gain from the experience. I believe that's what George Clinton's been attempting to do. Why is combining the old and new such a difficult task to perform in reality?
Well, the kids are still the major record buyers, especially in black music. And until the people who are really in tune with what the kids are doing.. until they've exhausted all that they can use off of what you have, then you really don't have a common ground. Now with George Clinton, they've sampled all of his stuff , so they're through with him (laughs). And George has gone to the point where he's willing to surrender his music to those people. So when he records with them, he just comes in and does what he does. The producers are really doing the music and all of that stuff, which is OK I guess, if you're just looking at it as you being the singer. George is doing OK. They were here at the "Memphis in May Festival". It was good, even if it wasn't the original band. They didn't have any of the things that Parliament was famous for; the props and the spaceship and that stuff, but they still had a lot of people on stage. I know what that was like (laughs) because we toured with Bootsy and the whole P-funk mob for about three years.
The key to the Bar-Kays success was your ability to constantly be up do date, making some of the changes the music industry demanded, yet always maintaining a distinct and unique sound of your own. Did you lose that ability in the late eighties? Why wasn't your albums happening after, say, 1985?
I think our record buying market just grew older with us. Grew out of buying records and going to shows.
How come so many of the musicians from legendary bands, such as the Bar-Kays, have left music altogether and work regular jobs?
Well, I can say that in music, especially in black music, even if you make a whole lot of money so that you don't have do to anything else when you get older, most people start working a regular job or open a company or something. Whatever people do when they grow up. Music is still the kids' field.
© Maria Granditsky