mike henderson

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Mike Henderson was born in Independence, Missouri, just outside Kansas City.  He grew up in a household humming with music and he’s grateful to his mother for spinning the records of everyone from bluesman John Lee Hooker to big band leader Tommy Dorsey as she did her housework.  Listening to Top 40 radio in the 60’s opened Mike’s ears, too.  “That was the old Top 40,” says Mike, “there was Slim Harpo, Ray Price, Ray Charles, and The Beatles and everybody was on one station.  That’s what you heard. So, I grew up hearing a really wide variety.” 

Beginning with the harmonica at the age of five and graduating to guitar at around the age of twelve or thirteen, Henderson dove head first into music.  During his years in high school he played rock & roll in garage bands but rock music soon wore thin for the teenage musician and that’s when he discovered country music.  Mike put away his electric guitar and got hold of a flat top acoustic while listening more and more to folk and bluegrass.  Upon moving to Columbia, Missouri, to attend the University of Missouri, he quickly fell in with the local bluegrass and old-time country music crowd and found himself playing fiddle and mandolin for seven years in a succession of bluegrass bands.  He also soaked-up old-time fiddle music wherever he could. “I’d play in fiddle contests,” recalls Mike, “ and back up the old guys, too.  I learned a lot from them. 

After his bluegrass gigs ran their course, for a change of pace, Henderson joined a blues band, the Bel Airs, touring the Midwest for five years.  The experience helped him develop his distinctive guitar style he aptly describes as “half Bill Monroe and half Muddy Waters.”  Mike’s left hand had become pretty strong after playing mandolin for so many years, he had the string action set quite high because as he says, “You’ve gotta crank the action up on a mandolin to get it to be loud, to sound out.”  So, anytime he picked up an ordinary electric guitar Mike found himself pushing the strings right across the fret-board, if they didn’t break first!  At the time Mike had an old Silvertone guitar and he began to use very heavy gauge strings and kept the action high, just like on his mandolin.  It was this that made Mike’s guitar playing sound different to everyone else.   

Though the gigs in and around Missouri were good, Mike eventually felt a need to reach a wider audience and take his love of country music to another level.   His wife agreed: Nashville was the place.  When the Hendersons arrived in Nashville in 1985 they didn’t know anyone.  He and his wife drove down one weekend, rented a house, turned around and drove back.  The next time they drove into in Nashville Mike was behind the wheel of a U-Haul truck with all their possessions stacked in the back.  It took Mike around a year to break in to the local music scene, but when he did he found the right people, joining a band called The Roosters along with Wally Wilson, Kevin Welch, Gary Nicholson, Harry Stinson and bassist Glenn Worf.  This was the first time Mike had mixed with writers and from The Roosters, and a spin-off band called The Snakes – still fondly remembered in Nashville for their blistering Monday night roots rock shows at the Bluebird Café and a 1989 album on Curb Records - Henderson built a solid reputation as a distinctive singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist capable of holding forth on electric guitar, harmonica, National/Dobro, mandolin or fiddle. 

It wasn’t long before offers came pouring in for studio work.  Emmylou Harris called Mike in for her Bluebird album and that was followed by John Hiatt’s Stolen Moments, Joy Lynn White’s Between Midnight and Hindsight, and Kelly Willis’ self-titled album.  Mike has also worked with other major artists such as Johnny Lang, Bob Seger, Guy Clark, Mark Knopfler, Hank Williams Jr, Dixie Chicks, Sting, Lucinda Williams, Tracy Nelson, Patty Loveless, Delbert McClinton, Albert King, Travis Tritt and others.  Mike’s songs have been recorded by a number of acts including Randy Travis, Trisha Yearwood, Dixie Chicks, Neal McCoy, Highway 101, Johnny Lang, and Patty Loveless.  Mike’s Powerful Stuff was covered by the Fabulous Thunderbirds for the 1988 multi-million selling soundtrack of the film Cocktail.  With these successes came a deal from RCA which led to the 1994 release of Mike’s Country Music Made Me Do It.  Sadly, critical acclaim did not produce the kind of country radio airplay the album deserved leaving Mike and RCA to part.  Mike’s first Dead Reckoning effort, Edge of Night, went to number one on the Americana chart.  Subsequent blues releases, First Blood and Thicker Than Water earned several Nashville Music Awards, a W. C. Handy nomination and Best Slide Guitarist of 1998.  Mike spent 2001 recording and touring with Mark Knopfler, from Mexico City to Moscow, and everywhere in between.

After six years in the SteelDrivers, Mike is working on his next project for 2012. 

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