Rock ‘n’ Roll High School 14: Joe Henry on Loving Minnie Ripperton

Joe Henry likes to tell people he was in the army with my husband, Steve. It makes me smile to think about it, although I know the true meaning behind the inside joke and it isn’t entirely funny. Joe is impossible to capture with words, although I’m sure he could figure it out, damn him. Being charming and the kindest soul you could ever meet just isn’t good enough. He must also beguile us with his luminous, indelible, and (wait for it) toothsome way with words and music. Watch out when he puts the two together. It’s trouble. In the best possible way.

Joe was on both of the record labels I ever worked for–first on Coyote, which was a subsidiary of Twin/Tone.  Steve and I went to see Joe play with The Jayhawks at Under the Street in Durham in 1990.  For anyone who ever saw a show at Under the Street, you can close your mouth now.  Through several odd twists of fate (although, aren’t all twists of fate odd?), Joe ended up on Mammoth Records soon after and that was where I landed as well.  I’d like to take some credit, but I was just one of the many people on the sidelines yelling, “Yay!”.  Over the years, Joe has written and performed some of my favorite music in the whole world.  He even graciously performed some of it at Amity United Methodist Church on October 7, 1995, the day Steve and I were married.  In a day filled with highlights, that was near the top, and I’d like to think better than being in the army.

Joe Henry

Rochester Adams High School, Rochester, MI, Class of 1978, Currently: I am a singer and songwriter; a recording artist and -when the moon is full- a producer. I am also a poet and essayist (is that a word?) when ideas present themselves in ways that don’t suggest I might send them into the air somehow. I am currently co-writing a book with my brother on Richard Pryor and the way he changed the cultural landscape. We have also written a screeplay based on RP’s life which (touch wood) harry belafonte is going to produce for the screen. And though it has been decades since I have done so, I would some days still cut grass for money.

Band and/or song that reminds you the most of high school: Well, there is much music that I loved in high school that will immediately take me back to that era, if I am to hear it in the right moment: Loudon Wainwright’s first album, Jackson’s Browne’s “late for the sky,” are two examples; but the most potent would be music that hung in the ether of that particular time, and to which i have had precious little reason to ever return. See: Boz Scagg’s “Lido.”

Favorite piece of music memorabilia (poster, t-shirt, etc.) in high school: I had the near-psychadelic poster of Bob Dylan by Milton Glaser that came inside the first greatest hits album. I flew that flag for years the way some people do posters of Che Guevara -and for many of the same reasons.

Band that you hated that everyone else at school seemed to love: Bear in mind that i considered myself (foolishly, i now see) some sort of purist in my high school years: i obsessed over Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, Rev. gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt –as well as songwriters whom i believed to be touched and singular, like Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, Tom Waits, and John Prine. I had also discovered jazz, and was deeply devoted to Thelonious Monk. I wanted music with the blood barely contained in its veins; thus I had a hair-trigger where smooth, popular bands were concerned. I seem to recall everyone digging the Bee Gees (circa “saturday night fever”), and to me they sounded like a 7-up commercial…”The Un-cola”. And I didn’t want anything “Un.”

Best show or concert you saw in high school: I saw my first live shows -and several in quick succession- at the Old Royal Oak Music Theatre, in that suburb of Detroit, the fall of 1976. (I couldn’t even drive yet.) After having spent years in my bedroom with my head under the lid of an old mono record player –like i was a mechanic and it was ’49 mercury- the spector of seeing people i admired walk out as flesh and blood beings and deliver songs into the air…well, it was almost too heady to bear. That october I saw Tom Waits and Randy Newman back-to-back on a Friday and Saturday night, respectively –the former wildly theatric in full beatnik mode; the latter, alone at a piano– and i was so electrified it left me twitching for days after. I am not sure it is possible, all things considered, to ever again see live music that could hit me with the same velocity. Given my tender age (15) and my aspirations for the future, seeing Tom and Randy the same weekend was like happening upon the burning bush in the wilderness. And it was singing.

Optional bonus question: Best high school make-out song: Without hesitation: “Loving You” by Minnie Ripperton.

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