One recent day I was writing in my home office when a song came on the Internet radio that grabbed my attention.
Bugs Henderson wrote it. He was singing about a disc jockey that made a huge impression on his life. My curiosity got the best of me and I set out to learn more about a guy who holds a very important spot in Tulsa radio history.
Henderson’s song is about Rockin’ John Henry: “John Henry’s gone where the good ones go. He’s playin’ nothin’ but the finest on Heaven’s radio.”
For 25 years, Henry was a Tulsa fixture on several stations, playing old rock and the blues. His knowledge of artist trivia was legend. Listeners would hear a familiar song by a current artist and then one or two other, earlier versions of the same song, giving them a perspective of where the music originated.
As one reads the history of Rockin’ John Henry, it becomes obvious the guy would not be able to get a job in radio today. He was too independent and too creative.
“I need Rocking John Henry, man, I need some more. I need the Smokehouse Blues floating thru my bedroom door.”
Henry hosted different programs through his 25-year radio career, The Hadacol Hillbilly Hoedown, Smokehouse Blues and Saturday Bandstand. Each gave him a chance to spotlight the artists, often live in the studio with him. The kids who listened felt like Rockin’ John was their friend. Today those kids are adults, and they still look back with the fondest of memories at Henry’s contribution to their earlier lives.
“He watched us fall in love beneath the Tulsa sky, holding hands and holding hearts, digging Buddy Guy.”
How great would it be for today’s kids to have someone like this who could make such a strong, positive impression on them? How different would our society be if young people felt like a radio announcer cared about them, spoke to them, kept them entertained and interested in new things? How different would the music business be if live disc jockeys commanded a loyal young audience each night?
There have been many tributes to Rockin’ John Henry since he passed in 2008. His many fans know there will never be another like him, in part because the medium has deteriorated. Near the end, he was becoming even more disillusioned with the corporatization of the business of radio, He knew it would soon become the sterile entity we have today.
Texas blues man Bugs Henderson has now immortalized his favorite radio announcer in song, a jock in Tulsa who made quite an impression on a youngster growing up down in Texas. How many of today’s announcers’ work will be so impressive that someone will look back fondly at the great radio shows of 2010?
“What the world needs now is the Smokehouse Blues from the master himself ‘cause he could light your fuse.”