April 28, 2005
In 1964 Clarence "Frogman" Henry opened for The Beatles at Tad Gormley Stadium.
"I doubt if anyone heard him," said audience member Charlene Mahner. "It was bedlam."
According to Mahner, anybody that would come close to the stage encited screaming "because that was the stage The Beatles were gonna be on...Most people probably don't remember there was an opening act."
Even though The Beatles' rock music brought the final commercial curtain down in front of the laid-back R&B Henry helped popularize, Henry is still here. The Beatles are not.
More than that, the universal themes in his enjoyable music have survived the test of time. His music actually sounded more valid than modern radio fare when the 68 year-old R&B legend performed at Jazzfest Thursday afternoon.
Approximately 100 people gathered close to the barricades at the Congo Square stage to hear Henry, who was backed by a pianist, bassist, drummer, guitarist, and a horn section. Henry didn't attempt to play piano. He balanced himself on a chair as he stood onstage.
Some people just have "it." Henry is one of those people. The good-natured, talkative performer wore a very broad smile, and he radiated community and joy.
His band played a funky instrumental to start the set, and then Henry walked onstage. Henry had the crowd in his hand the second he got out there. He had an undefinable charisma that made me want to take a ride with Papa Henry down memory lane. His likeability possibly came from the strange way he pronounced words. Like when he introduced "You Always Huht The One You Love."
Henry pointed said hi to people in the crowd he knew. This included children and grandchildren. When he got the crowd to sing-along during a song, he had no qualms about breaking his vocal stride to joke about the fact that a man in front who didn't know the words was mumblin instead.
Henry moved from one song to the next quickly. "This one is from (insert year here)." Since most of his songs were between two and three minutes long, he was able to fit many into his hour long set.
The highlight was his Cosimo Matssa-recorded 1956 national hit and piece of boogie, "Ain't Got No Home." "(I Don't Know Why) But I Do" and
"You Always Hurt the One You Love" were 1961 songs that were also enjoyable.
Henry did best with songs that contained witty observations about love. He was natural comedian up there.