1937 - 2014
Sometime in 1981 is when Tom Henderson became a part of my world – this was before I’d even been born into the world. My grandparents had a dear friendship with Tom and his wife that lead to my Mom taking banjo lessons at his store, The Bluegrass Parlor, when she was 9 months pregnant with me. He was so terrified that my Mom might go into labor right there in his store, luckily I held out for the hospital.Many Thursday night jam sessions at the Bluegrass Parlor passed, many bluegrass festivals flew by, and years passed and one day he convinced me that I should get into the radio end of bluegrass and I did right alongside him at WMNF. Here it is almost 12 years later and I’ve had to announce his retirement from his This Is Bluegrass Show and now I had to announce on Saturday’s hour long tribute to Tom that he has crossed over to the other side.My heart and the hearts of so many at WMNF, the Tampa Bay community and the bluegrass community worldwide are broken today. We have lost a true living legend and champion for our beloved bluegrass music. There are empty shoes that no one else will ever be able to fill.
Tom was a great friend and mentor to me and many, many others. With the loving support of his wife Chris, he devoted his life to the music he loved. Tom was the originator of The Bluegrass Parlor in Tampa, followed shortly by The Bluegrass Parlor Band. From 1971 until this past fall he also deejayed the longest-running radio show on WMNF in Tampa. His local radio show led to him producing This Is Bluegrass, a syndicated radio show which was for many years the most widely-distributed bluegrass radio program. He was a music photographer and his great photos of bluegrass and country artists both famous and obscure are still being used and circulated today. He was a longtime promoter and friend to the music in Florida and worldwide.Tom gave me my first job in a professional touring band by having the confidence in me to learn quickly enough to fill the bass slot in the band (I was a banjo player.) We played together for several years, traveled and played a lot of shows, and had a great time doing it. Tom was a great guy with great stories, and we shared a similar sense of humor. He always could make me laugh, and I think I made him laugh too. We played festivals, fairs, parties, conventions, and clothing optional resorts. Those latter gigs on that list certainly gave us no shortage of material to laugh about. And as soon as I graduated from pharmacy school Tom was often heard to say, “We finally got what every band has always wanted. Our own pharmacist!” Such was Tom’s humor, and it never failed to get a laugh.I credit Tom with teaching me just about everything I know about how to be a part a successful band, and I owe him a debt I cannot repay. Sometimes he taught by example and sometimes by explanation, but he knew the music and its history as well as the business. I listened and learned as much as I could.I hope that Tom is right now playing a tune a breakneck speed with our fellow bandmate Greg Turner, our amazing mandolin player for many years, who passed away this past November. They are both missed greatly.He was instrumental in giving many, many musicians including myself a start or a boost in the music through The Bluegrass Parlor Band.
Buckaroos, it is with heavy heart we pass the news that our very good friend Tom Henderson has gone on to “God’s Golden Shore” this week. You may know of Tom’s many accomplishes in life;in army intelligence, he was stationed in Germany in the late 50’s where he started playing bluegrass music and met his wife and partner for life, Chris, came back to his home in Virginia where he carried on his passion forming several bluegrass bands, then moved to Florida, becoming a dj on WHBO, WUSF, and finally WMNF (community radio 88.5 where he coined the phrase “the station to the extreme left...(long pause)...on your radio dial”),his show THIS IS BLUEGRASS was on the air for over 40yrs. He owned the little music store in Tampa called the Bluegrass Parlor where pickers from all around the world would come to jam and carried on with his band The Bluegrass Parlor Band spawning youngsters who learned their trade and grew to be some of Nashville’s top bluegrass sidemen. Tom Henderson was one of our best friends and the best friend bluegrass music could have...we’ll miss you pardner, see you down the trail...
Steele Olmstead dubbed him “The Big Buddha of Bluegrass” Tom Henderson got a kick out of that.. The music was a passion for him and he did a lot to promote it in Florida He was on a first name basis will all the pioneers of the genre. But he also liked old traditional country music and classical music as well. He also put a lot of time and effort encouraging young talented musicians. He started the Bluegrass Parlor Band with a lot of them and took it on tour. Some band alumni –Aubrey Haynie, David Crow, and Jason Barie hit the big time doing studio work or playing with top level bluegrass bands.I met Tom back in the 80’s at the old Society for Preservation of Early Country and Western Music. But I had heard him on the radio—WQYK at the time—before that. I wasn’t a big bluegrass fan at the time but the spirit, drive, and freshness of the music were enjoyable. Then Tom brought the Bluegrass parlor Band to one of the meetings and they blew me away. Some time later I started going to the Thursday night jam sessions at his store, the Bluegrass Parlor and to this day I have never seen a jam circle that was better run.Over the years I became a regular at Tom’s “Big Bluegrass Breakfast” on Sundays in Tampa until his health problems put an end to it. Tom used to plug it on his radio show and invite everyone to join him. He just never told most people where it was held.Tom also acted as producer of almost everything we recorded and a CD of funny songs before Barbara and Judd Taylor joined me. In fact adding Judd—who was 14 years old at the time— was at his suggestion. He also was primary rhythm guitar as well he was a stickler for keeping perfect tempo. He also knew exactly what he wanted to hear from Judd’s fiddle and mandolin and wouldn’t accept anything less. I remember one recording session where Barbara and I had done our vocal tracks and Judd was to do the fiddle break. The tape rolled, Judd played, then waited for the inevitable cajoling and criticism of how he should have played it. It never came.. Over the intercom Tom said, “What are you waiting for? You’re done” The shock was almost too much for the kid.Tom used to play a lot of our stuff on his radio show—with sometimes unforeseen consequences. After 9/11 one Sunday at breakfast we were talking about how the line from the “Banana Boat Song” fit the country’s desire to extradite Bin Ladin. “Come Mr. Taliban, give us that bin Ladin..” I went home and wrote it down, then Barb and I went up to Tom’s house and recorded it and he played it on his show the next night. All hell broke loose.Some woman was going to have his program canceled because of this racist song. A couple of station staffers had something to say about it too. Then Gloria Holloway weighed in and asked if anyone had actually read or listened to the lyrics. That was the game changer. After doing do they had to admit that there wasn’t anything like that in the song. And that was that.But things change. Tome sold the store. The jam went on for a time then moved after the store closed. Eventually I stopped going because the cost of driving from Sarasot to Tampa got to be too much. Some time later, Tome put an end to the Big Bluegras Breakfast and I only saw him on rare occasions .I treasure the time I spent with him and the things I learned.He is missed.
Tom was a man of his word and integrity! He surely taught me and many others how to conduct ourselves as professionals! His knowledge of the history of Bluegrass music was in-equaled. Tom afforded me many opportunities and experiences that I will always cherish!the last time I talked to Tom he shared with me that he had joined the church! I believe he is in Heaven rejoicing with our Lord! Tom was a class act. RIP Brother! Love you always.
I am saddened to hear the news of Tom’s passing today. I was just a 10 year old kid the first time that I met Tom at his music store, The Bluegrass Parlor. It was there that Tom taught me about this great music that we all love. I was just starting to learn to play the fiddle when my Dad signed me up there for lessons. As I got older and more interested in the music and making it a profession, my Dad and I would visit with Tom at his store for hours. We would talk about the music and it’s history. He would offer advice when needed but not over step his boundaries. There were always a lesson or two to be gleaned from each story that he told. I believe that was his life’s work and ambition, to pass that passion and love of bluegrass to all those that he met. I know that he passed it on to me.Tom was always willing to help us and teach us kids how to better play our respective instruments. It’s where I learned about timing and playing with tone. Any time we needed help all we had to do was ask. Tom always encouraged us and pushed us to be better but always in a kind way. He taught us how to play in a group setting and what it meant to pull your own weight in a band. I am proud to be on the list of people that got to play in his band and those that he helped shape musically.Through Tom and those that I came to know at his store, I not only learned about music but also about life. I was able to make friendships. It’s where I met kids my age and formed my first band. I was able to learn some of the greatest lessons of life from from those who experienced way more than I had. I can honestly say that Tom and all those that I met at the Thursday night jam session at his store have shaped me into the person and musician that I am today.Rest in peace Tom and thanks for all of the memories!
From the first Time I walked into The Bluegrass Parlor and joined in the jam, Tom Henderson welcomed me and often said, come sit by me so I can hear your harmony. He made us all feel like we had something meaningful to contribute. Getting to play the festival in Georgia, at Lowry Park Zoo and the private parties with Tom and his wonderful group of young musicians was a gift. He was a fine musician, mentor and a true gentleman. RIP Tom and we are praying for your family, friends and loved ones.
As Vernon Hughes mentioned. I was a member of the Heights Of Grass in 1977 and if my memory serves me correct Tom Henderson brought the band to Tampa, FL and many other festivals such as Lawtey and Stark and other festivals in Florida which was the first festivals in the state back in those days. He opened that market in Florida and now there’s many festivals and it started with him.Tom lived in Richmond, VA, back in the mid-60’s and was very supportive early on in Bluegrass music and there’s No doubt speaking from someone who personally experienced it was a person who contributed to the growth as we know Bluegrass Today. In my opinion he should be in the IBMA Hall Of Honor. He was a great photographer and captured awesome moments of the first generation artists such as Bill Monroe, Mac Wiseman, Stanley Brother’s, Flatt and Scruggs, Clyde Moody, Chubby Wise and the list goes on back stage at the festivals or at his house which a lot of artists stay with him. He also fed us well to help save on expenses. The photo’s are one of a kind and should be in the IBMA museum in Owensboro, KY. Scott touched on his music store “The Bluegrass Parlor” and all the artists that came through the store and The Bluegrass Parlor Band. He was a dear friend and supporter of mine and one great guy who had a passion to bring Bluegrass front and center to the world. RIP Tom. Will see you on the other side.
“Tom was a dear friend of mine. He knew a great deal about bluegrass music, the history, how it should be played, etc. Tom was passionate about helping kids and he did so by teaching kids how to teach themselves.Its hard to explain, really. Tom was awesome at what he did. I loved and still love him like family.”
“Very sad to hear of Tom’s passing. I have a lot of great childhood memories getting to play music with Tom.He was the first one to really stress timing, and how to play in a band situation. He was a positive role model for me, and I know for many others as well.He will be missed.”
“I am saddened to hear of the passing of Tom Henderson. He was one of the biggest early influences on my musical career. From the time I was about 10 until I moved to Nashville (after my high school graduation), you could find me at the Bluegrass Parlor every Thursday night at 8:00 p.m. for the weekly jam session. I bought every new bluegrass album that was released from the Bluegrass Parlor and heard some of my first great shows at the Bluegrass Parlor. I remember hearing Larry Sparks, Eddie Adcock and the Lost and Found at the Bluegrass Parlor. I can still remember that great tone that Dempsey Young got from his mandolin—I was in the front row and it was amazing. I also remember listening to Tom’s weekly radio show This Is Bluegrass on 88.5 FM every Monday night.Later in my teens, I had the good fortune to become a member of the Bluegrass Parlor Band. At that time, the band consisted of Tom Henderson, Greg Turner, David McMillon and David ‘Bubba’ Howell. We played many regional festivals, flea markets, state fairs, private parties and also did some recording together.Tom was a great rhythm guitar player. His timing was solid as a rock and he always played in the sweet spot of his old Martin guitar.Tom was always encouraging of young musicians. I appreciated that he always treated me as a ‘musician,’ not as a kid or a novelty act. I think that is why so many young musicians were attracted to Tom. He was an encyclopedia of bluegrass history and he knew everyone in the business going back to his days in Virginia.Tom did so many amazing things for generations of young players in central Florida. Without us realizing it, he taught us the history of bluegrass. He made sure everyone knew that One Tear is an Osborne Brothers song and not a Bluegrass Album Band song. He taught us all who initially recorded all of the classics as well as the key and tempo of those recordings.By the sheer force of his guitar rhythm, he taught everyone how to feel the pocket and to play in good time with the ensemble. Tom encouraged young musicians to get a good instrument and to play with other people. I am not sure I would have followed the musical path that has been my career without the influence of two great men—Tom Henderson and my fiddle teacher, Ted Locke. I am grateful for the opportunity to have known Tom and his family and to call him a friend.”
R.I.P. Tom HendersonI owe just about everything in my musical career to that man. Not only opportunity, but everything down to taste as well. We had our moments, but nobody was able to get the best out of my talents like Tom. As I got older I learned to just shut up and do whatever he suggested- because he was always right, and would never suggest anything that wasn’t THE ONE THING that you needed to get to the next level or get the right sound or feel. I doubt I’ll ever again work with anyone in the music business half as good as Tom. But more than anything, Tom was a great and dedicated friend. I’d always get a big boost when Tom and Kris would show up to some little gig I was playing somewhere. I will forever be missing Tom.