When blues guitarist Bugs Henderson died from liver cancer in 2012 at the age of 68, Texas music lost one of its storied veterans. The native of Tyler spent much of his life performing and based in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
And while he briefly flirted with larger stardom in the '60s as a member of the garage/psychedelic band Mouse and the Traps -- whose songs included the dead-on Dylan pastiche "A Public Execution" "Made of Sugar, Made of Spice" and "Sometimes You Just Can't Win" -- his heart was largely in the blues.
Several champions of Henderson - including performers Bill and Sherman Allen and producer/studio owner Chuck Kavooras - set out to pay spotlight the performer and make sure his music was kept alive. The end result is The King of Clubs, a 2-CD tribute record.
Players who contributed to the project -- recorded over several years at Kavooras's SlideAway Music Studio in California and various places in Texas make up a large list.
They include Steve Lukather (Toto), Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp), Vivian Campbell (Def Leppard), Steve Ferrone (Tom Petty), Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jimmy Vivino, Paul Reed Smith, old bandmate Ronnie "Mouse" Weiss, Anson Funderburgh and a host of others including actor/singers Lou Diamond Phillips and Billy Mumy.
"The Allen brothers had told me about Bugs for years and finally met him. I wanted to record with him, but he had been diagnosed with cancer and died too soon," Kavooras says. "We then wanted to help contribute on to help establish his legacy and let the world know about him more. And I had no idea he was so diverse and prolific."
Kavooras and the Allens next brainstormed over a possible song list from Bugs and a wish list of players. And while Billy Gibbons and Coco Montoya from that list did not make it into the studio, Kavooras was highly pleased with all who did, including Texas troubadour Hubbard, who takes lead vocal on "The Road."
"Ray was incredible and totally original," Kavooras says. "So many people played selflessly and committed to the songs intensely, and that's why this record is so strong."
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Indeed, the material runs the gamut from blues of deep loss to fiery commitment. Party-rockers to tears-in-your-beer tunes alike populate the 23 tracks, of which Henderson wrote 19. The CD also includes two covers from his playing mentor and poker buddy Freddy King ("Big Legged Woman," "Palace of the King").
Henderson's other idol was another blues king, B.B. And he recalls meeting the giant at a club in Kilgore, Tex. in the '60s. As Mario Tarradell of The Dallas Morning News wrote in his obituary of Henderson:
"I went up to B.B. and I just slobbered all over him," Tarradell wrote that Henderson recalled in 2010. "I was a groupie. I was a guitar player. I told him if I could ever play with him that would be the biggest deal of my life. That very night he let me play. The place went absolutely bananas. That audience, and everything else I was going through emotionally, just overwhelmed me."
Kavooras says that the project took nearly three years to complete, partially due to the musicians' availability, but also because it kept expanding as more and more players wanted to contribute.
"His songwriting was wonderful and he was not just guitar player-oriented. He had a deep, wide base of influences," Kavooras sums up. "What I really want to do is enlighten the huge audience that never knew the man about his talent as a songwriter, guitarist, and great human being."
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