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The Celebrated Hensleys 

Today, September 29 happens to be my birthday. The way I remember that is that the same date is also our wedding anniversary. Let me tell you about that.

58 years ago today, I married, I got hitched to, I plighted my troth with, entered into a lifetime contract with, joined up with, made myself one with, betrothed, became a marital partner with, and espoused, and hooked up in holy matrimony with a beautiful woman with red hair whom I was lucky to discover in the wilds of Indiana. 

She was busy. In college, she had appeared in operas at the Indiana University Opera Theater (including, notably. as a pregnant flower maiden in Wagner’s Parsifal). Then, the summer before our marriage, she appeared in musical theatre around the eastern US, appearing in Rosalinda with Kathryn Grayson, Steve Lawrence in Pal Joey, and Giselle MacKenzie in Gypsy. After we married, she recorded vocals on radio jingles for me. 

Then we moved to California, and she quickly found work singing with the Los Angeles Camerata, including doing a notable direct-to-disk recording of the choral movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. She sang with a chorus of New York session singers, joining us in our performance for Liberty Weekend, marking the grand reopening of the Statue of Liberty in 1986. 

She also found time to give birth to our two children and was the most important component of our wacky life together in Hollywood. 

We made a big fuss in 2012, when we celebrated our 50th aniversary, with a backyard full of friends being serenaded by a mariachi band, and have continued to celebrate in the eight years since then. 

In 1982, when we were still getting acquainted, and had only been married twenty years, a good friend named Joshua Freilich persuaded his good friend, Phil Hartman, to help us celebrate by putting together the attached video, which tells the story of our marriage more entertainingly, if less accurately, than we could tell it ourselves. It has not been seen in years, until now, so I’m sharing it with you to honor Phil Hartman. who really should be with us today, but is not. RIP, Phil.

No gifts are required. We've got too much stuff already.

Fight On, Fight Off  

We attended our cousin’s high school graduation in Texas the other night—virtually, of course. It was quite a sight as her class of 623, all masked and socially distant, paraded through a football stadium and were issued their diplomas in a ceremony that went on all evening. I suggested to her parents that it might have been quicker to just give a souvenir to everyone who wasn’t graduating, but that was just me being a troublemaker. 

Our cousin was the class’s salutatorian and gave an inspiring speech to her 622 classmates. We were home watching it all on TV, so she didn’t have to worry about me embarrassing her on her big night. It’s enough that she has to endure the dual burden of being both brilliant and beautiful. 

 My own graduating class had 90 members back in 1958. It was described as an “experimental school,” which helps explain how I somehow got a diploma despite never having passed algebra, geometry, chemistry or anything else else considered useful then or now. But that’s another story. 

Meanwhile, in Texas, hey closed the ceremony with a climactic playing of the school’s new fight song. For many years it had been “Dixie,” a song with a troubled portfolio, and the school’s students and faculty had the good sense to get rid of it and commission a new fight song without the baggage. The performance of the new song triggered a response in me, but not the one you might expect. 

I graduated from University High School in Bloomington, Indiana. Our fight song used the melody of the Ohio State song, a place that certainly knows something about fighting. For the Univees, the lyric became: 

Okay, cool, I still remember it, but… 

Following the class of 1972’s graduation, there was no more University High School. It was deleted, terminated, obliterated. It’s passed on! It is no more! 

It has ceased to be! It’s expired and gone to meet its maker! It’s a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace, pushing up the daisies! Its metabolic processes are cancelled. It's shuffled off its mortal coil It’s an EX-SCHOOL. It's moved to the other side of town, and its name changed to Bloomington High School North, which just further underscores the fact that it has legally ceased to exist. 

So obviously I had to rewrite the lyrics, beginning with the first line: “University, let’s win that old ball game tonight…” 

Of course there will be no ball game tonight, or any other night for that matter, since U-School had evolved to a plane of non-existence and joined the bleeding choir invisible. 

“We’ll cheer you on to victory and make them fear the red and white…” 

Putting aside the moral dilemma of whether it is an entirely appropriate goal to seek to instill fear in the general public of two innocent ordinary colors, it was felt that in any case, there was little likelihood of achieving such a goal. 

“UHS, we know you can win…” 

Well, we know nothing of the sort anymore, do we? 

And we didn’t then, either. If the lyric had read “UHS, we know you might at least look good and perhaps surpass expectations,” it might have been a more accurate statement. 

“And we’ll back those Univee men…” 

Clearly, a relic from a different and clearly sexist era. 

So a decision was made to rewrite the lyrics in toto. However, Toto happened to be on tour in Japan at the time, and therefore unavailable, so the task was handed to a nameless, blameless and shameless alumnus from the class of 1958, commonly know as, well, me. 

The lyrics were problematic enough, but the music also had to be rethought. If not, I might expect receive a letter from a legal firm representing a nearby Big Ten school, albeit a mediocre one, asserting: 

“This musical material has been found to be substantially plagiarized from the well-known song generally known and associated with The Ohio State University. Any further attempts to denigrate and besmirch this composition by associating it with a secondary school, and a non-existent one at that, will result in swift and brutal litigation.” 

Eventually, after more work than I ever did while in high school, I was able to fashion a brand new, unassailable fight song for NOW—up-to-date, yet nostalgic; a song with a great sense of joie de merde, with an infectious ailment that all could share. 

Here are the words of my fight song: 


University, you no longer need to win that old ball game. 

We no longer fight for the red and white, 'cause tonight it’s not the same. 

There is no more Jordannus, the jazz club is defunct. 

The faculty can’t remember whom they passed and who they flunked. 

The building may be standing down where Jordan crosses Third, 

but there are no pants up the flagpole, 

and “eat a big one”’s never heard. 


The Univee is history, we’re stiffer than geology, 

but alma mater mortis, you will always be “U” to me. 

They have emptied out all our lockers now and cleaned up all our messes. 

The rec room’s lost its rectum, the Quad has stopped the presses. 

The study hall is finally silent, but no books are being read. 

There’s no interest in the principal and driver’s ed is dead. 

The cafeteria’s empty and the Chatterbox is gone, 

so a lot of salmonella must go somewhere else to spawn. 

The Univee is history, we’re flatter than geography, 

but alma mater mortis, you will always be “U” to me. 

The Univee is history, we’re guinea pig biology, 

but alma mater mortis, you will always be “U” to me, see? 

Alma mater mortis, you will always be “U” to me. 

I recorded a version of it, performed by the “All Univee Alumni Marching  Band,” so-called because I played all the parts, and I officially remain an alumnus. If you feel courageous, feel free to sing along with the track below…

But you can disregard those other options at the bottom. That's just junk my web provider insists on adding for its own reasons. I haven't figured out how to make them go away.

The Diamondville Chronicles: Prologue 

Here’s a photo of me, taken at the Broad Museum in downtown Los Angeles. I am shown exchanging greetings with  a sculpture by artist Jeff Koons, one based on a publicity still from a 1923 Buster Keaton film called “Our Hospitality.” 

The sculpture is part of what the artist called his “Banality Series,” which seems like a questionable call on his part, because Buster was far from banal. He was a comedy genius whose art is likely to endure far longer than that of Jeff Koons. But that’s for some other discussion. The reason I brought this up is because my the Diamondville Chronicles is about my most recent touring gig, but the truth is that my very first touring gig was one on which I accompanied Buster Keaton. (I usually disclose this fact in those very rare moments when I’m trying to make myself seem even older than I actually am. 

Buster was one several stars featured in a state fair grandstand show which toured midwestern states in the early 1960s.  Other stars included Rosemary Clooney, the Smothers Brothers, and a passel of vaudeville acts, including the flying Zacchini Family, who were shot out of a cannon to land on a trampoline; and Dockey’s Dogs, a team of dogs, specifically Boxers, who wore basketball uniforms and chased a meat-scented balloon on, around, and far beyond the stage. 

Buster was doing slapstick, mostly wordless, including falls onstage, outdoors at night, despite the unavoidable fact that he seemed like the oldest person in the world to me at the time. Actually, he was younger than I am right now. 

On a day off during that summer of shows, a number of us went to the movies. I’m not sure who all attended, but the film we saw was one of those compilations of silent films that were marketed with a title something like “The Golden Age of Comedy. I made it a point to get a seat rather near Buster, because I wanted to see how he would react when one of his early films would inevitably be shown. 

Sure enough, I kept an eye on his when his work came on the screen. I wish I could remember which one it was, but it was a masterpiece, and watched closely to see if Buster would laugh at his own work. 

He didn’t, but at one payoff moment, I saw him smile, as if to say “That one didn’t go too badly.” 

I wish I had more Buster stories to share, but that was about it. 

I was playing in the Tommy Dorsey band, which was by then led by trombonist Warren Covington, who told me that I would never make it in the music business unless I learned to shine up my shoes properly. I didn’t, so I guess I won’t. 

I did a bit more touring after moving to Los Angeles in 1970, starting with Helen Reddy, at the very start of her career. An Australian film company made a biopic of Helen, and I could theoretically be a character in it, but won’t be. I toured with teen idol David Cassidy, and they’ll probably make a movie about him someday. I did some shows with Seals and Crofts, but I don’t think there will be a movie about them, but what do I know? The last miscellaneous gig I did before coming here was with Paul Anka. After going through four weeks in Las Vegas experiencing Mr. Anka, arriving in Diamondville seemed really sweet. I remember thinking, I may stick with this gig for a while. 

And sure enough, despite Warren Covington’s prediction, I was able to hold a steady music job for forty years, despite my funky shoes and my complete inability to connect with the musical taste of the masses. One good reason for this outcome was my having hooked up in 1976 with a performer who was very much in tune with the taste of the public. 

As further luck would have it, for the last 30 of those 40 years, I published a showday daily newsletter, slavishly if not seriously tracking the actions and behavior of our company during its travels. I wasn’t being paid for this effort, but I compulsively worked at it as if I was—plus I was being paid quite adequately for my musical responsibilities allthose years. 

This resulted in my compiling a copious archive of tales from the tour, which I now am calling the Diamondville Chronicles. 

This is the first excerpt from this journal, and there will be more to come, trust me. 

My newsletter was called the Arch Angel Post-Bugle Intelligencer, or the PBI for short. The archives of that cheerful little effort provide the raw material for my Chronicles, and the cooked material as well. So check in here and have a snack straight out of our lives.


Happy Birthday, David B. 

Today was David Baker’s birthday, and everyone who knew him is posting a picture of themselves in his company, so I’ll join the party. When he passed away, I posted this: 

You can find plenty online describing his greatness, his kindness, his generosity, and how much he was liked and loved; but I’d like to add a few cents from my experience. 

I met David when I was in high school, and was fortunate enough to hang around with a crop of other young would-be jazzers, many of whom were in the IU Music School. 

At the time, jazz was forbidden there. I mean literally. This was long before the jazz program became a beacon of the school. We bebop punks would get together in groups of 4 or 5 or maybe 6, and jam in the practice rooms at East Hall, an old postwar quonset hut complex located where the IU opera theater now stands. 

It was a big deal whenever one of the better players would be present, such as Larry Ridley or Joe Hunt or Al Kiger, but especially David Baker, whose trombone playing was already highly respected by many. These were important times, but the guy in charge of the practice rooms was unimpressed, and would regularly come around and shoo away any of us who were caught playing jazz, David included. He laughed, regarding it as sport. 

Whenever we were kicked out we would, like a cluster of ants, quickly reassemble in another room some distance away in the building, where we would resume jamming until we were discovered again. 

At some point, I decided to start my own group, and got a few like-minded horn players, bass and drums to sign on, although I was still in high school. But I didn’t have any charts for us to play. 

I told David about my situation, and he said “I’ve got a seven-piece book. Why don’t you copy the charts in it and use that?” 

Mind you, this was long before copy machines, digital cameras, or the other tools of today’s trade. I had to copy each part by hand, not an easy task, but eventually I got it done. 

We played our charts for dances and parties, and sometimes in small concerts at my high school. University High School was a quite progressive institution (to prove it, consider this: I got a diploma!) Only once did we run afoul of a teacher, a gentleman who asked that we not announce the title of David’s composition, “Dog Fashion.” from the stage. I didn’t know why he objected to that title back then. 

A couple of decades later, I was in LA and starting to get paid for writing charts, affording me the luxury of using a copyist. My copyist pointed out a few little peculiarities in my manuscript, which I realized were artifacts of having learned arranging mostly by painstakingly copying David Baker’s charts. 

After David’s passing, when I read people who praised David’s generosity, the four horn library popped into my mind. 

Another random memory: When I had the house band at the Embers in Indianapolis, musicians who came to town with the acts would inevitably ask about David. I remember driving Bassist Herb Mickman, who was working with pianist Peter Nero at the time, over to David’s house, so he could take a lesson while he was in town. 

A few years ago, my wife and I were in Bloomington to visit relatives, and we made a nostalgia visit to the IU campus. We walked around the music school (Sarah was a graduate in Voice there) and we passed a room with David’s name on the door. I shyly knocked, and David opened the door wide. The room was quite large, and he was teaching a class at the time. 

I started to apologize for disturbing him, but he pulled us inside, and introduced me to the class, as if I was a big deal. I think that moment was probably my coolest moment ever. 

No matter how well you knew David, or how casually you knew him, he made you feel like a close friend, and that brand of genius is rare and blessed.

Intensive Labor Day 

Labor Day 2007, only 12 years ago, we were back home again in Indiana for my brother’s funeral. (Joe was the talented one, who was a legislator and a prosecutor and a judge and an author of dozens of books, whereas I am a wandering minstrel.) 

After the funeral, on our way from Madison (where Joe lived and died), we were Indianapolis to meet up with an old friend, drummer Jack Gilfoy. 

Jack and his first wife Peg were the first married couple we knew, and their happiness encouraged us try out the marital state. 

Jack had a gig that day, playing on the patio at the Jazz Kitchen with a big band, part of a Labor Day jazz marathon. So we met for lunch across the street an hour before he was to play. 

During lunch, I told Jack that if the band’s piano player was late I’d be happy to play a few tunes with them. 

Not only was he late, he didn’t show up at all, so I ended up playing their whole set. 

Not only did he not show up, he had the piano book with him, so I had to twist myself around enough to be able to try to read from the bass book. 

I won’t claim it was the best I’ve ever played, but we got through it. I was worth every penny I wasn’t paid. 

That Labor Day, following my brother’s funeral, was the last time I saw Jack Gilfoy alive. He died a month or so later. 

The great Indianapolis pianist Claude Sifferlen was playing with a group that preceded the big band. As we made our way to the table we were given, near the bandstand, there was a bass solo going on, and Claude was looking down, as one sometimes does when a bass solo is taking place nearby. 

As we walked by the bandstand, Claude looked up and caught my eye. I said to him, not loudly at all, “You’re too fucking good!” He cracked up laughing, knowing it was the truth. 

It was the last time I saw Claude—he died a couple of years later. 

You never know when a day is going to be memorable.

Bluegrass memories 

An old college friend named Neil Rosenberg just sent me a copy of his new book, Bluegrass Generation, and I settled into it happily. Along the way, it presents some moments in my life that I don't get to recall often, specifically a period in the early sixties when I was playing bass in a band called The Pigeon Hill Boys. If you don't know much about bluegrass, it's like country music, except way better. Maybe you could consider it a cross between country music and bebop. Unless you're Irish, in which case it sounds like Irish music.

Neil Rosenberg, the book's author, was a scholar who came to Bloomington from back east, and was the instigator who drew a number os us into it. I came, of course, from a jazz background, like many in Bloomington, as the book explains. t inexplicably gravitated into the picking world. We played for our meager following at coffee houses and folk festivals around Indiana and  beyond, and I enjoyed all of it. 

I especially enjoyed a festival concert in Ann Arbor, Michigan, an all-day event which concluded with a gala set featuring all the featured acts. We followed a folksinger whose name was misspelled on the poster as "Bob Dillon." Yes, it was that guy. It didn't destroy his career, apparently.

My only memory from that day is that during a lengthy break, I walked down the street in Ann Arbor and found a jazz club where an afternoon jam session was going on. I went in to check out the scene. After a bit, I stopped by the bandstand, and uncharacteristically asked if I could sit in.

I was dressed in my full bluegrass mufti, including cowboy hat, checked shirt and jeans, and I enjoyed the predictable look of horror on the musicians' faces at the thought of an apparent hillbilly buffoon sharing their hip space, but they were good sports about it, and didn't bar me from the premises. I felt their palpable relief when they determined that I could play somewhat credibly in their genre. This was many years before Charlie Haden made it perfectly okay for jazz players to diversify into bluegrass. I told Mr. Haden that story a few years ago, and thanked him for blazing the trail.

In his book, Neil recounts tales of his work with Bill Monroe, who is regarded as the father of bluegrass. Neil is also the author of a book called The Music of Bill Monroe (Music in American Life). The Pigeon Hill Boys played at Monroe's Jamboree venue in Bean Blossom, Indiana a few times. It's in the book. It's all in the book.

This photo (below) of the Pigeon Hill Boys rehearsing amid blue grass and green leaves in Bloomington a very long time ago is also in the book. Left to right, the troublemakers were Neil Rosenberg, Charlie Leinenweber, an unidentified Touroid, Bob Patterson and Jim Neawedde.

Indianapolis, Labor Day, 2007 

That's the EXIF summary of these three photos. Here's the story behind them.

We had made a sad trip to Indiana after the death of my brother. A few years earlier, I had put together of CD of Joe singing some older standard tunes ("Songs We Almost Know," left, by Honest Joe Hensley and Bumbling Brother Tom), a task he did very well. At one time he had been a professional singer. That was before he became a professional lawyer, a professional prosecutor, a professional state legislator, a professional judge, and a professional author. 

We drove to Madison for his memorial service, where they played the CD we had recorded. I was proud that Joe had achieved something done by a very select few: he sang at his own funeral.

The next day, we drove to Indianapolis, where we were to meet drummer Jack Gilfoy for lunch. He had an afternoon gig across the street from the restaurant where we ate, so we strolled over to catch the show, which was part of a Labor Day marathon jazz event at the Jazz Kitchen, a well-known club in the town where I used to live and work.

We were early enough that the group which preceded Jack's was still playing. On the way to our table, we walked by the bandstand, where I recognized the wonderful pianist Claude Sifferlen playing. A bass solo was happening and Claude was typically looking down, but as we passed by, I caught his attention, He looked up and recognized me and I said to him: "You're too fucking good!" We shared a laugh. That was the last time I saw Claude, who died a couple of years later.

A few minutes later, the bandstand was changed for the Buselli–Wallarab Jazz Orchestra, a fine big band with lively, traditional charts. I had told Jack that if their pianist was late, I'd be happy to play a couple of tunes. Jack got up from the table and headed over to his drum set, but came right back to tell me that the pianist had, in fact, not shown up at all. Also, the book of piano charts was not there. So I ended up playing their whole big band set trying to read from the bass player's chart. Let's just say that I didn't sound my best, as usual. Afterwards, Jack said to me, "Be careful what you ask for."

That was also the last time I saw Jack Gilfoy. He died a year later, while we were touring Europe, and I didn't even get to attend his memorial.