The glory of Bugs

Texas guitar hero Bugs Henderson wouldn't swap family for fame

Henderson's own father, an oil business geophysicist, forbade his son to play guitar for money. Local dances were OK, but clubs with alcohol were off limits. In high school, Henderson snuck out to catch gigs. Ronnie Weiss, frontman of Bugs' 1960s folk-rock band, Mouse & the Traps, got him started. Mouse & the Traps charted with "Public Execution"--recognized by no less an authority than Lenny Kaye as an essential garage-rock classic, which he included on his Nuggets compilation--and opened for acts like Sonny & Cher and the Byrds. "I saw Mouse in assembly at high school, when I was into Elvis. He played 'Money Honey' and 'I'm Walkin',' and girls were screaming," Bugs says.

Guitar-playing came naturally; Henderson never had to hole up for hours practicing. Instead, he bought any record that had a picture of a guitar on it: Chet Atkins, Link Wray, the Ventures, Ricky Nelson. He idolized Nelson's guitar player, James Burton. "I've now got videotapes of him and me doing 'Hello, Mary Lou' in two-part harmony. That fact is amazing to me."

Henderson worked in a Tyler record store in the early '60s. By the late '60s, Henderson was the house guitarist at Tyler's Robin Hood studio. He can scarcely remember most of the sessions, other than one with Ike & Tina Turner. Though he was paid only $7.50 per side, "I was happy to do it, got to play all the time."

At present, Henderson is on a roll. He releases an album per year. The most commercially successful--and perhaps his personal favorite--was 1994's Daredevils of the Red Guitar. Each album displays his deepening sense of lyrics and seasoned improvement on vocals. He contemplates the audacity of laying down his guitar someday, like George Benson did, and walking on stage with just a vocal mike. But it'll never happen. "I know people wanna hear my guitar. Too many notes and tricks? That's what I do," he says, and what of it? "I still want to be the best ever."

Bugs Henderson plays Poor David's Pub on Saturday, February 21, which will be Henderson & Jones album release party. He returns to the Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth on Saturday, March 14.

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