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Judy Henske

+ {Judy Henske and Jerry Yester} + {Rosebud}

A career that embraced folk-pop, Dixieland jazz, Broadway blues and stand-up comedy, the husky HENSKE had certainly more than one feather to her boa. With a voice like MAMA CASS on a day out with JANIS JOPLIN (well, nearly), the multi-faceted Judy was certainly a precursor to the likes of the initially bawdy and brash BETTE MIDLER.
Born December 20, 1936, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, Judy’s inaugural introduction into the world of folk music came by way of a brief (one album) stint in the early 60s with DAVE GUARD & THE WHISKEYHILL SINGERS, the leader having spent his early days with The KINGSTON TRIO. Taken under the wing of folk-orientated imprint Elektra, JD the entertainer kicked off her solo career proper (there was a rare 45 as Judy Hart) with the release of her eclectic eponymous LP, JUDY HENSKE (1963) {*8}. A natural in every sense of the word and complete with thigh-slapping intros, the live set (very unusual for a debut) was, as previously mentioned, a potpourri of various genres with traditional blues and folk probably coming out on top. The self-explanatory `Empty Bed Blues’, murder-ballad `Love Henry’, C&W rocker `I Know You Rider’, folk-dirge `Ballad Of Little Romy’ and children’s song `Hooka Tooka’, were balanced alongside classy staples like `Lilac Wine’ and `Wade In The Water’.
Studio follow-up HIGH FLYING BIRD (1964) {*7} was another ground-breaking HENSKE recording, showcasing the earliest recital of BILLY EDD WHEELER’s title track before it was hijacked by JEFFERSON AIRPLANE. Notwithstanding the sheer excellence of her versions of nostalgic nuggets `God Bless The Child’, `Till The Real Thing Comes Along’, `You Are Not My First Love’ and `Baltimore Oriole’, her finest folky moments came through trad cues `Buckeye Jim’ and `Blues Chase Up A Rabbit’, plus her own brooding compositions `Columbus Stockade’, `Duncan & Brady’ and a combination of both, `Charlotte Town’.
Switching labels (and not for the last time) to Mercury, the versatile HENSKE once again combined her distinctive show-tunes (example `I Loves You, Porgy’ and NINA SIMONE’s `Feeling Good’) on third set, LITTLE BIT OF SUNSHINE… LITTLE BIT OF RAIN (1965) {*5}. However, this was a record with sparse folk fodder in tow, as only a few FRED NEIL covers (the title track and `The Other Side Of This Life’) proved worthy of inclusion.
With Reprise Records taking up the option to deliver album number four, the live but studio-tampered THE DEATH-DEFYING JUDY HENSKE: THE FIRST CONCERT ALBUM (1966) {*6}, interestingly enough produced by JACK NITZSCHE, who maintained her need for stand-up routines (`Betty And Dupree’ was another comic masterclass). From the post-BYRDS folk-rock of opener `Hey Baby’, to the emotive Celt-tune `Danny Boy’, to the soul work-out of `I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’, the album passed with high flying colours.
Sadly, the enigmatic Judy took retirement a bit too early, although there were two further efforts, one co-crediting her husband Jerry Yester (ex-LOVIN’ SPOONFUL) on the psychedelic cult classic, FAREWELL ALDEBARAN (1969) {*7}, and their ill-conceived, but still worthwhile ROSEBUD (1971) {*5} country-rock project. Subsequently falling off the radar for nearly three decades, the solo HENSKE made her comeback via the Craig Doerge-produced LOOSE IN THE WORLD (2000) {*6}, a record that harked back to her halcyon days of the mid-60s, a blend of jazzy folk and blues (check out `Mad Dog Killer’); 2004’s SHE SANG CALIFORNIA {*5} was a reunion of sorts for the cream of L.A. session people: hubby Doerge, Russ Kunkel, Lee Sklar, Norton Buffalo and GRAHAM NASH! (check out `Tell Old Bill’ and `Easy Rider’).
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Aug2015

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  1. Steve Hoffmann

    Author Andrew Vachss had his antihero Burke say “If Linda Ronstadt’s a torch singer, Judy Henske is a flamethrower.” Nobody ever sang with more CONVICTION than Henske – “Love Henry” is probably the best-ACTED murder ballad I’ve ever heard anyone sing. The lady in question is all sweetness and seduction at the beginning, but once she feels betrayed the mask drops off and Medusa is revealed, with flames behind her eyes. For Henske’s later work, just check out the smoky ballad “Blue Fortune” and never look back.

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