By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Those who wish Bugs greater fame also wonder if he's ever jealous of peers like Stevie Ray Vaughan. "What happened for Stevie happened for all of us," Henderson insists, noting that Vaughan complimented Bugs in interviews. "He drew attention to what we were doin'. God bless him."
Like other players in Dallas, Henderson was tight with Freddie King. "We actually played more poker than we did music." When Henderson joined the rock band Nitzinger in the early '70s, Freddie King shared many concert bills. "For God's sake, Freddie used to open for us," he recalls. "It was ridiculous, sickening. Because he was great. We were both managed by Showco. But it didn't matter to him; he killed us. He'd get two or three encores, just drain the audience. He never left the stage without being top dog daddy. And then we'd go out there and jump around playing a rock song."
The European market has embraced Bugs Henderson and the Shuffle Kings as American royalty. "Anytime you need an ego lift, man, it's magnificent," says Henderson, who racked up record sales there long before hooking up with a promoter. His last European tour was 27 dates in 28 days--playing concert halls, clubs, and festivals. "They always knew who we were," Henderson says of his European fans, "and had everything I'd ever done wrapped in plastic, even sessions I'd played on." Henderson was overwhelmed in Austria, where a chartered bus from Sweden awaited his arrival, its occupants waving flags emblazoned with the titles to Bugs' songs.
On the road, Henderson has a "no drinkin', no drugs policy," and it has occasionally complicated his life. A few years back, his then-bass wizard, Chris Brewer, would disappear from the tour entourage after hours, insisting that the time between shows was his business alone and maintaining that he was so good that he should be exempt from Henderson's rule. Since Henderson does not give urine tests, young Brewer went hog wild.
In Madrid, Brewer got rolled by hookers. When it was time to leave Madrid, Brewer, aroused from a near-coma in the tour bus, his clothes unchanged for days, couldn't produce his wallet, his passport, or his plane tickets. There were over 20 dates to go. "We couldn't get into the next country; the promoter freaked," recalls Henderson. That's when current bassist Keith Jones was summoned to Europe. He'd been working in a fast-food restaurant and left in two days to save the tour.
Brewer returned to Dallas, indignant that Henderson still owed him $300 for his last gig, raving to all who would listen: "Bugs didn't warn me Madrid was the European capital of thieves. How was I supposed to know to be careful?"
Several years ago, Les Paul heard Henderson at a show, then sent an invitation to appear at his 75th birthday celebration at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York. "Duchess and I went, and everyone in the world was there. I had a tape with me for a small independent label that had expressed interest [in his American Music album]. Seymor Duncan introduced me to Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, and [Atlantic Records founder and industry titan] Ahmet Ertegun. I told him I had a tape in my pocket. He gave me this look, rolling his eyes. But he handed it to a lady assistant.
"About a month later, I got a call from this secretary, raving about it. She goes, 'Who are you, did you write these songs, are you the one who handed this tape to us at that party? We're really interested, Mr. Ertegun loves it.' You know, I've heard this shit so many times. I always said I'd never believe it again. But they hooked me. She calls more times, I sent 'em more tapes. And then, finally, he calls me at my house. Tells me how much he loves my stuff. I'm just blown away."
Then came the proverbial "but." Ertegun explained. He ran it by his "people" at their Monday meeting, and they didn't buy it, didn't think it fit into the generic radio format. But Ertegun would keep trying. "He called back two weeks later, says, 'It's not happening--they weren't interested.' I said, 'Explain it to me. You're the guy, the boss, you love it, but you can't sell me to your own label?' He said, 'It's like Sammy Davis Jr.--an incredible entertainer, works all he wants, makes a lot of money, but can't get a record deal.' He asked that if I do studio work, stay in touch--but I could never get to him again." (If Ertegun had any balls, he could have thrown his flabby weight around and put Bugs on board. With such promotion, it is quite possible Henderson would now be as big as ZZ Top.)
But you won't hear Henderson insulting MTV or any fad of the industry. "What's bad music? Are the Spice Girls bad, or just not very good? Would I buy one of their records? Certainly not." But he is well aware that it's meaningful to adolescents. His teenage daughter's room is covered with Hanson pictures. His 16-year-old son Cody's room is tie-die, lava lamps, and Hendrix posters. "I am blessed because I love music. There is hardly anybody that I won't listen to." His sons got him A Portrait Of Sinatra for Christmas, something he wouldn't have listened to in the '60s but loves now.