Henry & June
Detroit – Magic Stick Lounge
February 11, 2011
Rock ‘n roll has now officially entered its seventh decade of existence. And in such a vast time frame, well, pretty much everything there is to do in the genre has been done. It’s a hard truth for aspiring rock 'n' rollers.
So what’s a band to do in such times? Search in vain for some “new sound?” Or, less daringly but more realistically, play their favorite kind of music and hope they’ll be good enough to make people forget what came before?
Henry & June do the latter, and darn it all if they don’t run with it a pretty freaking long way. It may be hard to believe that there remains fertile ground to be sown in the vineyards of garagey guitar jamming on ancient Delta blues songs, but this band, nearly anonymous in name recognition but highly significant in its legacy, don’t do it quite like anybody else, and they put on a pummeling show on Friday.
Formed in Toledo, Ohio in the early '90s, Henry & June never got very far under their own name. Comprised of Dooley Wilson on guitar, Johnny Walker on bass, Ben Swank on drums, and Jim Forshey assuming frontman duties, the band issued only one release a single featuring “Goin’ Back To Memphis” b/w “Lowdown Streamline” – in 1996 and then broke up. But their memory lived on – Walker went on to front the Soledad Brothers, while Henry & June’s sound became a significant influence on bands such as the White Stripes, who were known to bust out their own cover of “Goin’ Back To Memphis” from time to time (one such version was captured on the Under Blackpool Lights DVD). Swank has also remained a noted Jack White social cohort.
Fifteen years later, the call for reunion shows beckoned, and the band succumbed. One mounted last year in Toledo was the first, followed by this one at the Magic Stick Lounge, a patently bizarre venue if there ever was one (the Magic Stick, for some unknown reason, recently decided to siphon off about half of the pool table area, build a stage and throw in a couple of couches and call it a “lounge.” Weird.)
After opening sets by John Wesley Myers of the Black Diamond Heavies, who interpreted strains of gospel and the blues with an ultra-distorted Fender Rhodes and a Tom Waits-via-Cookie Monster growl, and a solo performance by Danny Kroha, who offered affable takes on uber-old timey blues numbers, Henry & June took to the stage looking downright spiffy. Wilson sported a stylish fedora, the quick-to-smile Swank rocked what appeared to be a V-neck sweater, while Walker wore kakis and a tie, which is probably the same thing he wore to work that day (he’s a licensed doctor).
But make no mistake – the music they played was decidedly at odds with their attire. They are an absolutely filthy garage-blues band, propelled primarily by Dooley’s wicked slide work – few white boys play like he does. Takes on tunes like “That’s All Right,” the desert blues “Drunk,” the Stones chestnut “Turd On The Run” and their “greatest hit,” “Goin’ Back To Memphis,” which boasts all of about 10 words to its lyric but nonetheless manages to kick ass, impressed mightily. Sure, their sound is technically downright amateurish. Wilson pretty much stands there and peels off searing riffs like he’s back in his mom’s basement, and when Forshey sets down his guitar its usually just to shout lyrics incomprehensibly into his harmonica mic. It’s a sound that that has no business being fresh or interesting at all, but Henry & June somehow manage to turn it into something totally mesmerizing and undeniably awesome.