Judy Henske
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Judy Henske


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The best kept secret in music



DAVE MARSH REVIEWS JUDY HENSKE's CD, "Loose In The World" (Playboy, May 2000)

Return of the Beatnik Queen

To hear the least known musical treasure of 1999, all you have to do is send $15 or your credit card info to Fair Star Music, P.O. Box 326 Plaza Station, Pasadena, Ca 91102, or fax it to 626 577 4257. In return you will receive a copy of Judy Henske's Loose in the World. This is the first album since 1972 by a woman sometimes known as Queen of the Beatniks and always as a talent so diverse in what she's good at that she's beyond all categories except "legendary" and "great."

What I mean is that Judy Henske is a great blues and folk singer with a wicked sense of humor, a grand sense of theatrics and that she renders hipster wit and wisdom with grace, brass and power.

You should be able to summarize a legendary performer in simpler terms than those, but not this Henske. Loose in the World opens with "Mad Dog Killer", with an arrangement that evokes New Orleans funeral bands and a lyric that is both an update or a sendup of the badman ballad tradition. "It seemed just like show business to me," she says of her gunsel's arrest. "First they interview you, then they take your picture free." Coming from anyone else that blend would be about as palatable as eating a mixture of paste and Tabsco. Coming from Henske, it sounds like the height of American art-song, and that's because in terms of our popular culture, that's pretty much what it is.

That's a lot to promise from an album by a singer who hasn't made a solo record in 34 years (The Death Defying Judy Henske) or any full-length album at all since Rosebud, her duo disc with Jerry Yester & Craig Doerge in 1972. But Henske hasn't lost a thing; her voice is still the rich, bluesy, embracing vehicle it was in 1972. And all that time off hasn't rusted her writing chops, either. "Dropped Like a Dime" has a joyous folk-rock groove and lyrics and melody that drift in somewhere out of cowboy surrealism: "Dropped like a dime on candy / I believe the big time's through with me." Well, I don't believe it. Not when she follows up with a darkly gorgeous ballad like "Dark Angel," rewrites "Motherless Child" and "I Believe to My Soul" into "Blue Fortune" ("love is just like smoke / you know you can't see clearly 'til it disappears"), confesses a past that would make anyone envious in "Wish I Had My Old Guitar," and wraps it up with a folk song ("Betty and Dupree") and a classic show-tune ("'Til theReal Thing Comes Along"), both rendered as versions of the blues.

Wedged between those last two is "Tin Star," another comic turn that's not really a joke. "Oh my child, you'd be better off dead / than to live all your stories in your head / and spend the rest of your life at home in bed," she sings, and it sounds like an account of how she decided to return to what she was born to do. But then she muses in the next line, "Although I hear that worked for Howard Hughes," and you realize that this is one artist who's never wasted a second. She sees clear through love and smoke, both. May she make a record a year for the next 34.

Dave Marsh - January 2000
- Playboy

"One Hot Mama"


Legend has it that when Marty Balin went looking for a singer to fill out the lineup of the Jefferson Airplane, he told people he wanted someone who could sing like Judy Henske.

It's easy to understand why, at 62, Henske is a larger-than-life personality with a booming voice that can rattle your bones. She's at home singing folk songs, belting the blues, crooning standards from the '40s or pouring her heart into a three-chord rocker. She was the most powerful female vocalist of the folk era, with charisma to spare and, at 6 feet tall, she dominated any stage she occupied.

"Physiognomy has been my fortune for good and bad," Henske says, laughing. She's calling from the Pasadena home she shares with her husband and musical collaborator, Craig Doerge. "I'm a big person, with a big, loud voice. In the folk music days the other girls were small, pretty and played dulcimer, so I stood out. There should be more than one kind of woman, and I was the other kind. Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said, 'If I am not better than others, at least I am different.' You have to believe that, if you're not a regular person. You try to fit into anybody's ideas of what you're supposed to be, you'll never get anywhere."

In the '60s, Henske was everywhere. She landed in San Diego after being expelled from a Catholic college and started singing folk songs at the Zen Coffee House and Motorcycle Repair Shop. She was the most impressive member of the Whiskeyhill Singers, Dave Guard's post-Kingston Trio folk group, and went on to become one of the top draws on the '60s folk circuit. She was the first folksinger to record and tour with drums and electric instruments, so she may even have been the first folk rocker.

"Maybe yes, maybe no," Henske says cautiously about that last assertion. "One of the things I didn't like about folk music was that it wasn't bouncy or rhythmic. I've always loved percussion, and my voice can support drums onstage, but if I was the first folk person to use drums, I don't know."

In 1969 Henske recorded "Farewell Aldebaran" with then-husband Jerry Yester, a record that developed a devoted hippie following -- it's now considered one of the great lost psychedelic masterpieces. In 1971, she was a member of Rosebud, a band that cut a single eponymous album before breaking up.

Then she vanished, although she remained a successful songwriter, writing tunes that were covered by Andy Williams; Crosby, Stills & Nash; Three Dog Night; Bette Midler; and French superstar Johnny Hallyday, who had a No. 1 hit with her "Salvation."

In 1999 Henske reappeared with "Loose in the World," an eclectic collection of ominous pop, weary blues and German cabaret songs written and produced with husband Doerge. This year's offering, "She Sings California," follows the same erratic path. It's just as dark, but spiked by Henske's mordant wit.

"The two obvious questions people ask are 'Why did you go?' and 'Why did you come back?' " Henske says. "I stopped because the first time I put my kid in nursery school, she came out with red hands and told me the teachers had hit her. I decided in that moment to become a full-time mother. When your kid falls down, she doesn't say, 'Help me, girl singer,' she says, 'Help me, Mommy. ' I kept writing songs with Craig and got a job working for a newspaper."

Henske was gone but not forgotten, and credits film critic Pauline Kael, crime writer Andrew Vachss and her husband for getting her back onstage.

"I heckled Pauline at a lecture, and afterward she took me to dinner and we became friends," Henske says. "She told me it was ridiculous that I wasn't singing. Vachss made me the favorite singer of his character Burke and mentioned me in about a dozen books. (Vachss) got fan mail from all over the world asking if Henske was a real person, and if so, where could they find my music?"

"Judy should be making a new album every two months," says Doerge, who has played with the GTOs, Jackson Browne, James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt. "The more she sings, the better she gets. It took a while to coax her back onto the stage, but she has such range in her vocals and the material she writes that people need to hear her. That's why I dig 'She Sang California.' You get the full palette of what she can do."

"I like 'California' because it's funny and deep," Henske says. "It's hard for me to deal with life's dark side without laughing. The closer to the bone it gets, the harder I laugh. 'Maurice, Maurice' (a faux French art song with lyrics full of Henske's surrealistic humor) is the most fun to do. 'Cocktail World' is about a gal drinking herself to death, and it upsets some folks. People actually get up and leave. It's always gratifying to get a big reaction, even if it's a negative one, because you've moved someone, even if you've moved them out of the club.

"I'm really glad I'll be singing in San Francisco again," Henske says, wrapping up the chat. "Something m - San Francisco Chronicle- j. poet

"NPR "Fresh Air""

By Milo Miles
Judy Henske's 'She Sang California'

Fresh Air from WHYY, July 13, 2005 · Rock critic Milo Miles reviews She Sang California, a new CD from singer songwriter Judy Henske. She was popular in the 1960s, but it's been 28 years since she released an album.

- Milo Miles


She Sang California (Fair Star Music-2005 )
Loose In The World (Fair Star Music-2000)
Rosebud (Reprise-1971)
Farewell Aldebaran( Straight/Reprise-1969)
The Death Defying Judy Henske (Reprise-1966)
Little Bit of
Sunshine… Little Bit of Rain (Mercury-1965)
High Flyin’ Bird (Elektra-1964)
Judy Henske (Elektra-1963)

All of Judy's early albums have been re-issued as of this year. Full discography, including singles, compilations and soundtracks: www.judyhenskefan.com


Feeling a bit camera shy


"Judy is a force of nature,..a great singer/songwriter/performer. She's hilarious, poignant, witty and totally unique. She and her husband Craig are an experience you don't want to miss." --Bonnie Raitt (2005)

"Alternating between a wickedly droll and whimsical wit, and the ability to express
soul-searing pathos, Judy was utterly captivating and had EVERYONE entranced. She can tickle your funny bone one minute and rip your heart out the next. I sat in the audience with my mouth open, but I was taking notes the WHOLE evening."
-- Maria Muldaur (2005)

"She is still my hero."
-Tracy Nelson (2005)

Los Angeles, CA - The way gone chick of humor and humanity, singer Judy Henske has released SHE SANG CALIFORNIA (Fair Star Music). This is her first album since 2000's critically received LOOSE IN THE WORLD.

Produced by her longtime collaborator/arranger, Grammy-winning piano man/ songwriter and husband, Craig Doerge, SHE SANG CALIFORNIA is the quintessential magnificent-voiced Judy. Part saloon singer, part bawdy blues woman, part folkie, and part absurdist/acerbic raconteur, she is an evocative singer-storyteller of substantial emotional range. "I love the rockingness of this record-- it's really a celebration of being alive--damaged, but alive," Henske deadpans. On this album she and Doerge team with friends: Graham Nash, "freaky genius" harmonica player Norton Buffalo, guitarist Fred Tackett and drummer Richie Hayward(Little Feat), plus L.A. music icons Leland Sklar, Russ Kunkel and Rick Marotta.

As featured on NPR's "FRESH AIR," there are many high points to SHE SANG CALIFORNIA: the dark, bluesy ache of “Easy Rider“, the rollicking stride-piano of “Big Fat Man,” the jaunty Hollywood-skewering title track and Henske’s favorite murder ballad--the funky-tough “Duncan and Brady.” Two standout tracks are her poignant family reflection “Western Wisconsin" and the saloon recitative noir masterpiece, “Cocktail World.” A dramatic live rendering of “Maurice, Maurice,” the tune she cheekily notes as her minor key French art song, has her audiences agog with laughter. And can the end song with a title like “Low Life” swagger? You bet it can.

Celebrity and media raves for the elegant, six-foot tall Henske, one of the first singer Jac Holzman signed to his fledgling Elektra Records in 1963, have never diminished. Film critic Pauline Kael was a huge fan; so was Judy Garland (on whose TV show young Henske appeared) and also a then-totally unknown singer, Better Midler,
who learned quite a lot from watching Judy. Interviewed about “The Rose,” Midler acknowledged that her character “was part Janis Joplin, part Jimi Hendrix and part Judy Henske.” Clearly, Henske influenced the entire genre of folk-rock with her bold arrangements, and many renowned women singers-- from Grace Slick, Mama Cass, Cher, Janis Joplin and Tracy Nelson all the way to young Nellie McKay-- reflect her definitive style.

Woody Allen, with whom Henske toured nationally in classic night-clubs like Chicago's Mr. Kelly's, San Francisco's hungry i and New York's Village Gate, fashioned part of his Annie Hall character after her. Since the 1990s, best-selling crime fiction writer Andrew Vachss has made her a recurring iconic character in all of his books.

As one of L.A.’s top studio players, bandleader and songwriter Craig Doerge’s keyboard skills have graced countless albums for such diverse artists as Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson, The Temptations, Carly Simon, Frank Zappa & the GTO's and Barbra Streisand. But most music fans know him from his work on twenty-one gold and platinum albums with Jackson Browne, Crosby, Stills & Nash and James Taylor. That’s classic Doerge on “The Pretender,” “Running on Empty,” "Just A Song Before I Go,” “Dark Star” and "Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight.”

Since the release of the much-praised LOOSE IN THE WORLD in 2000, five of Judy Henske’s highly sought after early Elektra and Reprise albums have now been re-issued on Collectors Choice and Warner Brothers. These re-releases have been a cause celeb’ to her cult of worldwide fans, who lobbied labels hard for decades. Her treasured vinyl albums were all fans had to go on for over thirty years. After the acclaimed FAREWELL ALDEBARAN, the prescient folk-rock psychedelia gem (with then husband Jerry Yester) in 1969, she fronted the band ROSEBUD (which included Yester and Craig Doerge) on Reprise in 1971. Judy stopped recording and retired to raise her baby daughter, Kate. Judy says, "I wanted to lead a more austere, bookish life...to explore mycology, fly-tying and song-writing." Those songs have been recorded by Crosby, Stills & Nash, Bette Midler, French superstar Johnny Hallyday, and Libby Titus, to name a few. Now, as they did in 2000, the intrepid pair of Henske and Doerge are on the road again, torching every room they play.

SHE SANG CALIFORNIA might be called Henske’s second album in what she slyly calls “the Judy I am now” i