Henry Butler – An American Original
The celebrated pianist makes a singular sound.
JUL 3, 2018
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The world lost a musical maverick this week with the passing of the great Henry Butler. In tribute, we’re reposting our December 2017 interview with an artist who left us far too soon].
Once you’ve been baptized in Henry Butler’s New Orleans’ birthed musical genius, which blends boogie-woogie, jazz, spirituals and blues in the traditions of Professor Longhair, James Booker, and Allen Toussaint, second helpings will set your path straight. And if you dig deeper into his celebrated catalog, you’ll regard Butler as a true American treasure, a timeless, one-of-a-kind artist.
Coming to national consciousness with two brilliant records released on the Impulse! label in the mid 1980s, Fivin’ Around and The Village, Butler recalls the time as one of great discovery and recognition.
“It was really interesting working with Charlie Haden,” Butler recalls from his Brooklyn home. “When we’d travel to a new town, Charlie would get off the plane–and you know, he wasn’t totally clean then. He would start asking anybody, ‘Hey man (adopts high pitched voice), where I can find stuff, man?’ I’d say ‘Charlie, you can’t do that! Not in the south, especially, you can’t.’ Of course, when people realized what he was asking, they didn’t want to get involved with that.”
Butler taught at New Orleans’s Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) in the early 1980s where his young charges included Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison, and Herlin Riley. Relocating to Los Angeles to “get the lay of the land,” Butler played piano in restaurants and coached vocalists at Motown. A chance meeting at a local club altered Butler’s trajectory.