Remembering Tom Henderson died, February 25, 2014 and the state of Florida, and the Tampa area in particular, lost a great friend of bluegrass music when long time radio host Tom Henderson passed away on February 25. Henderson was 75 years old, and had been suffering from heart problems since November of 2013. He is reported to have died peacefully at the rehab facility where he was living.
His popular radio program, This Is Bluegrass, ran on Tampa’s WMNF from 1971 until his retirement last Fall, making his the voice of bluegrass throughout the station’s broadcast range. Tom also ran The Bluegrass Parlor from its opening in 1980 until he sold the business in 2005. The Parlor served as the central meeting place for the local bluegrass community, selling instruments, accessories and music, plus hosting jams, and offering lessons.
Perhaps Henderson’s most enduring legacy is his support for young grassers in the area through the formation of The Bluegrass Parlor Band. The idea occurred to him shortly after the opening of store, to grab up some of the teen aged pickers who were hanging out there, and getting them out in front of music fans in the area. Tom mentored the young players, showed them how to work together as a band, and found them opportunities to perform before live audiences.
The Bluegrass Parlor Band has been running now since 1983, and has kept going since Tom sold the business in ’05, and even the closing of the store in ’07. New young pickers have continuously moved in and out of the group, more recently under the direction of Jeff Jones, an alumnus of the band.
One of the young pickers who played with Tom is Cory Walker, who recently graduated from college, and is now playing banjo with Ricky Skaggs. He remembers Henderson with great fondness.
“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.”
A young Aubrey Haynie was among the future pros that Henderson mentored in Florida, helping prepare him for a career as a top session player and recording artist in Nashville.
“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.”
Another is David Crow, who was a young fiddle prodigy growing up in Florida in the late 1980s. David worked his way through college playing fiddle with The Osborne Brothers, and is now a respected music business attorney in Nashville.
“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.”
The International Bluegrass Music Association awarded Tom Henderson a Distinguished Achievement Award in 1988, then known as a Certificate of Merit, but nothing is likely to match the impact of his work with young musicians.
Information on funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.
R.I.P., Tom Henderson. Two more friends of Tom Henderson have chimed in to recall his tremendous contributions to bluegrass music in central Florida since we reported his passing last week.
His good friend and radio cohost, Cricket Larson, shared these details about funeral arrangements. The memorial service will be held on Sunday, March 9, at Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Temple Terrace, FL, the church where Tom attended. It will begin at 5:00 p.m.
Cricket also reminded us that in addition to his 1988 Certificate of Merit from the International Bluegrass Music Association, Henderson was also named Programmer of the Year in 1988 by WMNF in Tampa, who also gave him a Lifetime Achievement award in 2009. The Central Florida Bluegrass Association honored him with a Lifetime Achievement award in 2004.
She “remembers” Tom from before she was even born.
“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.”
Scott Anderson is a Florida banjo picker who has watched Henderson’s special treatment of young pickers twice over. Not only did he perform with Tom as a teen, his daughter Amanda has now done so as well.
“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.”
Scott also provided this list of young pickers who have been members of the Bluegrass Parlor Band over the years:
Amanda Anderson – fiddle
Scott Anderson – bass, banjo
Jason Barie – fiddle
Jim Belote – mandolin
Huck Blount – banjo
David Crow – fiddle
Carl Bailey – dobro
David Beaumont – bass
Joy Beaumont – vocals, guitar
Jerry Foley – bass
Heather Franks – fiddle
Aubrey Haynie – fiddle
Tom Henderson – mandolin, guitar
Angie Hines – bass
David Howell – bass
Michael Hyde – bass
Larry (Bunky) Jackson – guitar
Jana Jones – bass
Jason Jones – bass
Jeff Jones – banjo
Erin Prawoko – fiddle
Ted Locke – guitar
Angela Mason – vocals
David McMillan – banjo
Alice McKay – vocals
Gathel Runnels – fiddle
Greg Turner – mandolin
Austin Wilder – guitar
Cory Walker – banjo
Jarrod Walker – mandolin
Tyler Walker – guitar
Jimmie White – bass
Michael Wolfe – fiddle
Christian Ward – fiddle
Kalyn (Hall) Wilson – bass
Written By John Lawless, Bluegrass Today