Shawna Ortega (Songfacts): I have some questions for you about some songs that you wrote, some recent, some older...
Henry Paul: Awesome. Well, we can start at the beginning and go to the end.
Songfacts: Okay, well my first question is about "Gunsmoke." I have wondered for a long time if this is a song that you wrote after seeing a western, or maybe visiting Tombstone, or is this a character that you created in light of yourself?
Henry: I think so. Sometimes you look back on those songs and you wonder where in the hell you came up with that. And you think you've gotten so much better in your old age, but then you go back and you look at that, and you just think to yourself, that wasn't so bad. I'm proud of that lyric.
Songfacts: Have you ever been to Tombstone – just out of curiosity?
Henry: Yes, I have. I've been so many places. I want to say everywhere, but I haven't. But I've been just about everywhere.
Songfacts: It kind of puts you right in the dust streets of Tombstone.
Henry: It does in a way. When you're in a band called The Outlaws to begin with, that point was my attempt to try and write in character for the group from the standpoint of subject matter. And so that song was immediately looked upon fondly from the label, from Clive Davis and all these people that scrutinized our work. That song, ironically enough on the same album as "Hurry Sundown," both were looked at very positively.
Songfacts: And they both kind of were in the same genre.
Henry: Exactly, because they stayed so much in character. And that song has been sort of imitated many times over later by groups like Molly Hatchet.
Songfacts: Molly Hatchet did "Gunsmoke"?
Henry: They didn't do it. They kind of wrote their version of it. I just saw songs later that popped up that were sort of written from the outlaw-place song. But that song has a lot of metaphors that were more parallel with – literally – with my life and my lifestyle at the time.
Songfacts: "There's a shadow on my life..."
Henry: "There's a shadow on my life, it's colder than the night," it's kind of like you get so caught up in the lifestyle and the myth that you create that you wind up becoming sort of this cartoon character, this rock and roll clown, for lack of a better description. I never knew what that meant until later. Because we were so committed to what we wore and how we acted, we never for a moment thought that we might be absolute idiots.
Songfacts: Yeah, you look back on that years later and you think, "Oh, my gosh, I dressed like that in the '70s?"
Henry: I mean, if you look at Elvis's loafers and his get-ups from '55, it's just a page in time, and all of the trappings that come with that territory become very real parts of your life.
Songfacts: It must have been a riot. It must have been so much fun.
Henry: Oh boy, I swear, I just hope it doesn't catch completely up to me.
Songfacts: If it hasn't yet, I think you're good.
Henry: Well, you'd be surprised. I remember writing "Gunsmoke" in the middle of the night lying in bed in a hotel on Central Park South. Believe it or not we'd played a show in New York. And I went back to my hotel room and I just was laying there, and I wasn't sleeping. And I had this idea, and I sort of started the song that night, I wrote the first verse, (singing) "Some will lose their nerve tonight, and others lose their lives. A flash of fire in the fight, a cold look in my eyes. We deal with darkness ruthlessly and we love the way it feels." "We deal with darkness" is sort of the type of life you live, and you love the way it feels. It's kind of like, you just immerse yourself into that lifestyle, and you just kind of love the gothic character of it. So that song is much more metaphoric than it is historically correct. But I did conscientiously try to write in character with regards to our image. And it's a challenge, to set out to do that and do it well. It's a challenge as a writer. I just continue to learn so much about songwriting. I have been deeply in it lately. I was away from it for 18 months to two years, while we recorded this most recent record and went on the road this summer and worked so hard. And this fall I got back into songwriting. And I've written some just outstanding songs. So I'm learning.
Songfacts: And this is the first record in four years, isn't it?
Henry: Since 2001. Five years.
Songfacts: And you obviously wrote some of the songs on this new album.
Henry: Well, of course, I wrote the record. But by the time I decided what was going on the record with the help from my friends, and we went and recorded it, that whole process, plus tagging on June, July, August, and September summer months of just non-stop touring, it turned into almost 18 months of down time as a songwriter. And I swear, if there's a reservoir in there, something builds up in you, and you want to get it out. Like a lot of things. You gotta use it. It's there, and it stores up and it starts to create pressure. But that's the "Gunsmoke" story, sort of. All those verses were sort of writing myself into the song from a second person singular.
Songfacts: And that's actually a good segue to the next song, "Grey Ghost." And I believe that you wrote that about Ronnie Van Zant, right?
Henry: I wrote that about Ronnie, and my co-writer was quite good friends with Steve Gaines. So, I would say my character was probably a primary character, since Steve was just starting his career with that group, and Ronnie was the focal point. But that title was me trying to weave my Civil War knowledge into a "southern rock" sort of legend. As those verses go by, it's very historically correct. I find myself really good at writing songs from the standpoint of accuracy. And somehow I'm really good at taking poetic license and facts and weaving it together into a song. I thought that song was a good version of that. And very near the end, too, I sort of brought my own life into perspective. "The fast life and the music is just a grim disguise, for the fear of growing old." I mean, we kind of mask our own immortality with idiocy. And then you wind up at the end of the game empty-handed and you look like the goat because the party's over and you're still standing there with your pride in your hand thinking, Where the hell did everybody go? So there was a little of that. And I always like to tell the truth as I see it in these songs. First verse in that song I thought was really a great picture, "The autumn wind whispers through the tall and lonely pines." It was a great song, and I'm not one to pat myself on the back. I am amazed at how I've been able to satisfy my own creative inclination and make money at it.
Songfacts: Like Steve Martin, "I get paid for doing this."
Henry: I know, it's wrong. I was reading the Bob Dylan Chronicles, which is just a masterpiece from the standpoint of his writing skills. And for Bob Dylan to finally come clean, it was enormously interesting reading for me. I never heard Bob Dylan really shoot straight. He's always playing games. But he finally came out and said, "I don't know what those songs were. I don't really know where they came from. They sort of channeled their way through me, and they're on tape. What they are is what they are, and that's pretty much all I know. But I can't do it anymore like I did it." And I'm an older person, so I grew up sort of in his musical and lyrical prime, from "Times They Are A-Changin'" through "Blonde On Blonde," and those records were the cornerstones of his legacy, of his work. So you kind of look back on it, and I'm in no way comparing myself to him, obviously, but even with the smaller and less significant body of work, you still sometimes look back and go, "God, that was pretty damn good."
Songfacts: Okay. Let's talk about "Heavenly Blues." I read that you said that that was just kind of a test on chords or something, you were doing some kind of experiment.
Henry: It was a chord progression, and was kind of an idea I got from a Poco record. It was that C to F Major 7th chord change, and I just loved it. And it wasn't a direct lift from something they did, but it was very reminiscent of them musically. And I had this song title, "Heavenly Blues." Like "morning glory," and all these sort of familiar phrases I sometimes keep. And my wife at that time didn't have blue eyes, no one I was involved with on any level that I can recall had blue eyes. That was more or less a song from the standpoint of title. And I just kind of integrated my sort of romantic story line into the title, and I tried to make it make sense, because I thought "heavenly blues" sounds like a beautiful title for a song.
Songfacts: It is.
Henry: And a lot of times I like to come up with the song titles that look or sound like paintings. Like, there's a song I wrote much later called "Cold Harbor," which the title of that song just sounded awesome to me. And "Heavenly Blues" sounded awesome to me, and "Grey Ghost" sounded awesome, and "Gunsmoke." And you wind up writing these sorts of titles that sound like portrait titles.
Songfacts: Tell me about "Stay With Me."
Henry: Okay. That was like an exercise in songwriting. And it had a very commercial sort of feel to it melodically, and lyrically. "Just say you'll stay with me tonight…" And it plays into, I suppose, where I was at with regard to age groups. Like as young people try and interact on a physical level with one another, it's sort of like a fairly honest request.
Songfacts: Is that about a one-night stand?
Henry: I don't think so. I don't think it was like a one-night stand. I just thought it was like (singing) "will shine down upon the new love that we've found," when you're infatuated with somebody, and you really want to get further into who they are, more intimate or more... something in us is the critters that we are.
Songfacts: We're animals.
Henry: Yeah, you just want to go there. And I think that song was sort of a lyrical and musical bash up to that. Wanting to know more about somebody who you thought was just outlandishly attractive.
Songfacts: So that one didn't just hit you when you saw somebody across a crowded room or something?
Henry: No, it's weird. That wasn't one of those title songs. That was just a song that was convenient from the title. The title was sort of an afterthought to just the process in which it was written. It's sort of like a window into our lifestyle at the time. We were gone so much from home for so long, such enormous stretches of time, I mean, weeks and months, literally, and years away from home, out on the road, trying to build a career, playing every night. And it was like, (singing) "all my friends will want to know where the sadness and the heartache goes, everybody's gonna want to know what we've found." I don't know, I'm trying to recall the lyrics of that song verse-wise, but I know that back then we were writing all these songs about separation. Everything was about being away and wanting to get back.
Songfacts: A lot of them do reflect that, I've noticed that. And that was actually going to be a question I was going to ask you about.
Henry: Yeah, because all we did was we lived these separate lives from the people that we were supposedly cared about. I remember in L.A. recording that first Outlaws record, wanting to get back home to, at that time, my wife. And I think we checked into a hotel on the way back from the airport, we couldn't wait to get to the house. It was that ridiculous. I mean it was like we would literally spend a year away from home with maybe 15 days sprinkled across 365. The separation issue was huge.
Songfacts: That explains why so many marriages don't make it in that industry.
Henry: Well, yeah, and that's not why mine didn't make it, really. It took 30 years for me to undo that. But I know that all those songs, "Knoxville Girl," I remember the intro to "Knoxville Girl," (singing) "the fog rolls in the morning, and I can hardly find my way home to where the heart is, the words can't begin to say enough about the gentle way you always take me in, that long and winding narrow road gonna take me home again." I remember coming through North Georgia through the fog on I-75 trying to get home, and when I wrote that segment of that song it was just a direct moment in time of being a long way from the house in some dangerous fast-moving vehicle trying to get there in the middle of the night after drinks. It was weird. It was a very dangerous life.
Songfacts: And you are very lucky that you survived it.
Henry: I not only survived, but my talent as a singer and as a songwriter and as a musician grew with time. I didn't peak early, I waited, and I got better later. And I'm very thankful for that. I mean, I learned how to sing later in my life, and I'm just really thankful for all of that. I've always been a ham, but I just learned how to handle it later.
Songfacts: Okay. On Lady In Waiting, "South Carolina."
Henry: That is one of the weirdest songs that I've written. And that's just total separation.
Songfacts: Another one, okay.
Henry: Just completely that and nothing more. And my wife was born, or grew up in South Carolina. And the name Carolina worked okay as a name, a proper noun. To me it really is probably one of the weaker songs I've written, but it's a very popular song. Bob Dylan always said this, "Never confuse popular with good." But that is a really good song. Not so much lyrically, but musically it really propels itself and it comes from a musical/spiritual place in me that is very real and very aggressive and upbeat. And so it was always a very popular song, but it didn't go too deep. It skimmed along the top, and when you get to that (singing) "South Carolina, stars in her eyes, Blue Ridge Mountain home in the sky," it's just a collection of words that doesn't really mean anything. In my mind I'm singing about my wife, but when I repeat that it almost sounds like a chamber of commerce ad for the state of South Carolina. It sounds like I want to get back to South Carolina, and maybe she represented that because she was there, I don't know. It's a loosely conceived subject that really didn't focus too good. But again, it had a really neat musical sort of backdrop and people just loved it live, so that was kind of part of that musical mosaic from that time period. Are you going to ask me about "Girl From Ohio"?
Songfacts: Should I?
Henry: You should. Because I really love that song.
Songfacts: Okay, talk to me about "Girl From Ohio."
Henry: Okay, I'll just be short. My girlfriend, you know that first big one that you get when you're in high school? Well, she moved to Ohio after she graduated from high school, and it was just like me trying to make it in the music business and wanting to ride back into town as a big star and sweep her off her feet and get her back. And I've had a lot of success with that song. It's a song that I'm going to re-record probably this year. And it's a song that got into some Keifer Sutherland movie and made me some money, and it's also a song that touches a lot of people from our old fan base, they really love that song. And I know how to sing that song better now, and I'm going to go out and re-record that and I think make that a priority of mine. Because unfortunately the young lady that I was so caught up in is not doing so well these days, and is on her way out, as we all will be. Her life exit happened a little bit sooner in the script.
Songfacts: What did she think about the song at the time?
Henry: Oh my God, it rekindled this incredible love affair. That woman and I would rekindle that love affair almost like clockwork every ten years. It was a reoccurring sort of theme right up 'til somewhat recently, at which point we figured out that it wasn't so much her and I, it was more the time in our life. Up until that point I thought that it was her. And it was her. But, God I loved that girl. I just loved her.
Songfacts: That's so sad to hear about that, I'm sorry about that.
Henry: Yeah, me, too. And she's happily… well, she's married. You know how they do, they kind of do that, they kind of talk themselves into it and compromise and they don't get out and are never really happy, and they're not really sad.
Songfacts: Oh, yes.
Henry: They're just in that sort of numb little purgatory.
Songfacts: You've been there.
Henry: I was in one of those for quite a while. She's in one and is going to die in one. I got out of mine. I struck out into the wild blue yonder.
Songfacts: That's because you're a smart man and you want to be happy in life.
Henry: Well, I don't know if I'm smart, but I'm bold. And I did take the plunge, and it did cost me quite a bit financially and emotionally. But I'm glad I did it and I think I'm able to level the field and right the ship, and get everybody emotionally balanced and move forward. I'm in one of the great places in my life for the moment, and I'm happy about that.
Songfacts: That's so good to hear. Sometimes it takes a few years to figure that out.
Henry: Well, you know, after you've done what I've done for so long, and sort of stood there like some kind of stupid Rock of Gibraltar with your version of a freak flag in your hand, being a singer/songwriter/rock and roll star, it's like people really love you for that, and admire you for that. It's kind of like being Willie Nelson Junior, or Charlie Daniels Lite. And maybe by the time I'm done I'll get to be one of those kind of iconic classic characters. I hope that I am.
Songfacts: I think that you're well on your way.
Henry: Well, I am getting close. If chronological order has anything to do with the possibilities, my chances are enhanced. (laughing)
Songfacts: There you go. Do you have a couple more minutes?
Henry: Yeah, I'm cool as can be, because I just got home after a long day, and I'm chilling out in my bed with my phone up to my ear, on my down comforter and my shoes are off. So I'm in euphoric position.
Songfacts: Okay, good. "Lonely Dreamer." Is this somebody that you knew? Was there a specific inspiration for this?
Henry: No, no. That's just almost everyone at some unfortunate time. Again, it's like a portrait title. I could just see like a Monet or a Manet or Cezanne with a girl holding her hat looking down and seeing a title called "Lonely Dreamer." And it's like, they dream of something better, but they don't have really all that much, and so it's kind of like they're caught between being unhappy and optimistic.
Songfacts: That almost sounds like your ex-girlfriend that you just described.
Henry: Sort of. And it's just exactly that. It's like being caught between optimism and pessimism, and never giving up on a dream, but never being a certain specific situation that satisfies that sort of quest. And women tend to be two things. They tend to be needy, and they tend to somewhat as a group, they try and hold a little bit of a higher standard. They have this lofty look at love, and they try and hold the line a lot of times, and when they don't get what they really want, they let you know about it. And love for a woman is about cards and movies, with romance and sh*t. You know what I mean. Women are very complex critters when it comes to love.
Songfacts: And you've got it figured out. That's good. That's good.
Henry: Well, I thought I had it figured out. I found out I did not have it figured out. But I do have a leg up on the competition, because most men are just completely clueless dolts. And they couldn't appreciate a woman's perspective if the heavens opened up and God hit them over the head with it. But the "Lonely Dreamer" person is just that. She's just a...
Songfacts: She's just an every-woman.
Henry: Yeah, she's between relationships, and she's lonely. But she wants to be touched.
Songfacts: She's a dreamer.
Henry: She's a dreamer, and she's got standards. And she's kind of paying the price for her high-falutin' idea of what love is, but it's okay, because when she gets to the other side it'll be there, and it'll be what she wants. And I've always kind of liked that theme as a song storyline. I've always liked to cast women especially in the role of unwilling-to-compromise roles. And I know that they do, I know that women are pathetic, and that they…
Songfacts: Oh, careful.
Henry: No, I mean, not all women. But women attach themselves to losers, and they're abused, and they can't get out and they don't know why, and they can be pathetic in what they allow themselves to be involved in. On the other hand, they can be – from an integrity standpoint – a really high-standard benchmark. And depending, I think, on how much self-esteem a girl has, that dictates what they'll take. If they really think a lot of themselves and have respect for themselves, they won't take a lot of sh*t. And if they don't think they really measure up in ways, then they're willing to take that beating. So it's a subjective situation. But I love to write that song from the standpoint of high expectation and unwillingness to settle. That's one of my favorite themes.
Songfacts: The tune, the rhythm of it is just so upbeat and…
Henry: That's that same musical characteristic of mine that I pull out. It's all about tempo and upbeat, and at night when you play that song… I like songs that I know are going to help me out on stage as a performer. I don't write just the morose sort of droning ballad of despair, because I know that they don't get me anywhere. I usually write almost from the end game. Oftentimes I do that. Now, there's times where you can't, where you have to give in to a musical moment that is not necessarily frantic. But I do like to arm myself with music that can help me in the live arena, because people didn't spend good money to come out and be depressed. They want to have fun. And even though "Lonely Dreamer" is sort of a sad subject matter, it's a really upbeat musical moment.
Songfacts: Yeah, it's bouncy. I could be out there in the crowd and just bouncing around. I can see that.
Henry: Exactly. I can stand up on stage and see you do just that. And that's why we do what we do.
Songfacts: Oh, you guys can't see anything two feet from the stage, the lights are too bright.
Henry: Now, that's not true. We keep our eye on everybody.
Songfacts: Okay. "Foolin'." "High above the others she's the one that shines, her heart belongs to no one, she never will be mine."
Henry: I just love that song. I love that song. And that, what you just said, just makes me happy to hear that. Because, "High above the others..." it's just like putting people on pedestals.
Songfacts: From where I'm hearing it, it almost sounds like this is somebody that you, as the writer, are admiring from afar, but she's thinking that you're not good enough for her.
Henry: Right. She's manipulative. And (singing) "all of the angels in hell couldn't stop her running, and looking back I could see she was foolin' me, foolin' me." It's like she was somewhat manipulative and somewhat deceitful, but she stepped right off the pages of some high fashion magazine, she's a real beautiful girl and she got away with it.
Songfacts: Polar opposite of "Lonely Dreamer."
Henry: Exactly. Exactly. And I saw that girl in my mind when we wrote that. She was sort of somewhat of a fortunate child with low marks in character.
Songfacts: I'm thinking Paris Hilton right now.
Henry: Well, yeah, exactly. Where she looks like everybody's dream girl, but acts like the biggest self-absorbed, capital c*** on the planet. It's just one of those things where you see the girl in her uptown getup, but she's just looking out for herself. And unfortunately I've met a lot of women that are high on looks and low on character.
Songfacts: We call it high maintenance.
Henry: High maintenance pains-in-the-a**. I love pretty girls as much as the next man. As a matter of fact, I buy completely into Don Henley's assertion that women are the only work of art.
Songfacts: I have not heard that before, I like that.
Henry: Oh boy. I live by that one. Don Henley sang, "Don't you know that women are the only work of art, driving with their eyes closed." Oh my, when I heard that, it hit me right square between the eyes. I love that line.
Songfacts: That is a good line.
Henry: Well, women are. I mean, God, look at you. The female form is... listen, if you're chewed up with it like me, it's everything. You know what I'm saying?
Songfacts: You do have a definitely unique way of putting things.
Henry: Oh yeah, I'm a writer.
Songfacts: Yes, you are.
Henry: I would have loved to have spent some time with that guy. Because he sings and speaks in sort of poetic terms, and he's a rogue of sorts, and a rascal, and I would have loved to have known him. He's one of the guys that I would have really enjoyed meeting.
Songfacts: On your wish list.
Henry: Yes, ma'am.
Songfacts: Okay, couple more that I'm going to hit you with. "Between Ragged And Wrong."
Henry: I didn't write that. A friend of mine that I went to high school with wrote that. But I related to that lyric just because I'm such a left-footed guy. Just left-of-center character. And as a singer, when you find a song that sort of fits your character, you go with it. That one was on the money.
Songfacts: Okay. "Leavin' The Land Of The Broken Hearted"?
Henry: One of my favorite all-time lyrics.
Songfacts: The opening line on that, about your parents and how they've been married forever but they never smile...
Henry: Yeah, oh yeah.
Songfacts: ...that hit home so hard for me.
Henry: Well, and we've all been through plenty, I'm sure. And it doesn't take a genius to see it for what it is. That title, "Leavin' The Land Of The Broken Hearted," was just like, wow, it sounded like a motion picture. And I'm very proud of that song. In the area of songwriting that I'm in now where you go from "stay with me tonight" to "leavin' the land of the broken hearted," that's a big step.
Songfacts: And it also follows where you've been talking to me about where you're going in life, how you're determined to be happy.
Henry: Oh, absolutely.
Songfacts: That's gotta shape you…
Henry: Kind of me walking away from a 30-year marriage, I'm leavin' the land of the broken hearted. I'm not going to live in this wish-list place. I've been lost in the fun house long enough, I want out, and I want to get real. The real part of it is important to me, like, do you love your wife, or do you really like her a lot and you want to hop in the bed with your next-door neighbor. You know what I'm saying? And if you are still an attractive character from the standpoint of outward appearance, and you enjoy a degree of celebrity, and people sort of make a fuss over you anyhow, so you've kind of got the world on a string anyhow, what do you do with that? Do you just sort of sink into this Marquis du Sade place with it? Or do you kind of try and gather yourself up and take the moral high road and make good on the dream of real love? And "Leavin' The Land of The Broken Hearted" was me walking away from everything that wasn't working, and everything that I knew wasn't real. And trying to embark on a new place where you could be honest and genuine and not just pretend.
Songfacts: Yeah, and if you've lived in that atmosphere when you were growing up then you don't want to be subjected to that in your adult life.
Henry: Right. You see people doing it, and I just got back from Kroger, which is the big grocery store down the street. And you walk around you see these people, and you've got this really happy, optimistic, thankful place in your head and heart where you're at, walking through this stupid store pushing a metal basket. I kept seeing, "all the lonely people, where do they all belong?" Nobody's having a good time, nobody's laughing at themselves, or holding up the sausage, thinking, "what the f*ck is this?" I don't know, I just find it all to be pretty entertaining. And everybody was stuck in that mundane, numb place where they were just walking by, "Well, what do you want to buy?" "Well, let's get the meat," you know? Whatever.
Songfacts: And you just say to yourself, why am I so happy and these people are so miserable?
Henry: Well, and you start to think in those terms, "all the lonely people." "Eleanor Rigby" is probably the top five on my all-time list of songs.
Songfacts: I like "the face that she keeps in a jar..." That's a perfect line.
Henry: I'm telling you, John gets all the ink, and he deserves all he gets. But, man, McCartney writes great songs. Every now and then he would really, really knock it out of the park, and I think that was just one of them.
Songfacts: Off your debut CD, "There Goes Another Love Song" and "Green Grass and High Tides."
Henry: "There Goes Another Love Song," that chorus, that specific line, (singing) "someone's singing about me again, now I need more than a friend," was written by Monte. He was a man of very few words, our drummer. He was a very smart and sharp, witty guy. But he wasn't the most poetic character. And I'm not just trying to say that he was a dumb stinky guy. Just his sense of poetry was… it was on the target but it wasn't close to the center. But he wrote that. And then Hughie sort of rounded out the song with the verses. And if you listen to it, there again, "lonesome and lonely and far from my home…"
Songfacts: Yeah, there it is.
Henry: "Trying to get back to where I know I belong," there we are again, sitting in some stupid Days Inn in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1974...
Songfacts: But you've got to be on a high, because you guys are taking off.
Henry: Yeah, we're getting ready to. But even as much as you love your job, there's things about that lifestyle that'll make you do sh*t you don't want to admit that you did. That's why they throw TVs out of windows, you know what I'm saying? That's why the rock and roll thing is so violent and self-destructive. It's kind of being a lab rat stuck in some treadmill hell, that in order to keep your sanity you've got to lash out at what's right immediately there, whether it's your hotel room or shooting a TV or being Keith Moon over and over again. But that's where that song came from, and it had a very commercial appeal, and it was a single for us. And although it didn't chart particularly high, it was obviously and definitely a cornerstone in our musical career.
"Green Grass and High Tides..."
Songfacts: Talk me through that one.
Henry: Yeah, this is a very bad subject. Because I don't know this, so I can't go on record and say this, but I think that lyric came from somewhere else that did not get credit. So I can tell you who it was and what he meant and how it got there, but I can't do that authoritatively. I don't want to subject myself to controversy. And if I knew I could keep it between you and me, I'd tell you. But I don't know you from Adam, and I know there's a tape deck running back there. But I will say that, from what I gather, there was an album out, the best of the Rolling Stones, called High Tides and Green Grass. That was the name of the Rolling Stones' greatest hits. This is like 1966. And I think it was a manifestation of that title turned in reverse, "Green Grass and High Tides." I know that much. And I know that it was a song written for rock and roll illuminaries, from Janis Joplin to Jimi Hendrix, and it had nothing to do with marijuana. But it had to do with, I think, a specific person's lyrical look at... "as kings and queens bow and play for you." It's about Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. "Castles of stone, soul and glory." A lot of it is just sort of a collage of words that really don't have all that much to do with anything, they just fit and sounded right. But I have to say it's one of my favorite lyrics. My songwriting is more Steinbeck, really rooted in accuracy and reality; that is definitely Alice In Wonderland.
Songfacts: Yeah, and that's what it makes me think of, too.
Henry: It's the whole "White Rabbit," it's sort of like one of those magic lyrical moments that will forever be mysteriously unclearly conceived. It's just weird. That, when it comes to our line of work, is one of those sad little areas of integrity lapses. I'm not going to be judgmental, but I can say that fair is fair, and for the love of God…
Songfacts: That's very interesting.
Henry: Yeah, well, that's an interesting subject. It's one that all those close to it – not just in the band, but from our friends and the people that were close to us back then – everybody seems to know what that was and it doesn't read exactly like it does on the credits.
Songfacts: Does it make you grit your teeth – or did it – when you performed it?
Henry: Really sad. It makes me really sad. Greed and hypocrisy, how it can sort of chew from the inside out. And to be honest with you, of all the things I've done wrong, I'm glad you can't hang that one on me, because that's a tough one. And I think what's really sad about it is our old buddy that used to hang around the band that passed away from alcoholism or whatever it was, kind of just went away without so much as a pat on the back.
Songfacts: For one of the landmark songs.
Henry: I would say it's a pretty damn big deal. But I don't know anything specifically about it, honestly. I'm not just taking the Fifth here. I do know it was a beautiful song, and if you want to stick to the text I know that it was written about rock and roll illuminaries that are no longer with us.
Songfacts: That makes so much sense to me.
Henry: Yeah. It's almost like the poor guy's epitaph. But a lot of people never quite got that, because it was kind of wrapped up in pretty, lacy paper. That's all I know.
Songfacts: Okay. "So Long" is the other one that I have written here, but I wanted to ask you if you have any that you wanted to tell me about that I haven't asked you about.
Henry: Well, there might be a couple. "So Long" is just a great song. I was a big Gordon Lightfoot fan, and the intro to that song sort of mirrors his musical style, that folk music thing that I love.
Songfacts: That's kind of a rollicking song. I like that one a lot, too.
Henry: "So Long"? Yeah, it's a very popular song of mine. You get it right now and then, and when you do people really reward you for it. And I was rewarded, and still am to this day, rewarded by that song. There again, it's a song written about my old flame.
Songfacts: About the same one?
Henry: Same ole girl, every time I went to that well. "Girl From Ohio," "So Long," just same old emotional sort of vacuum where you go and kind of mull over the unfinished business.
Songfacts: It's weird how you go back to that time in your life.
Henry: (singing) "Storm is overcome with rage, I slowly turn another page, deeper into love I seem to go. Love stories filled with scattered lies, and broken hearts and paradise, and for the ending no one seems to know. 'Cause it's been so long since I've held you close enough to me that I feel I've finally come to lose my heart."
Songfacts: That's beautiful.
Henry: That's sad.
Songfacts: But it's beautiful.
Henry: It is beautiful.
Songfacts: That's one of those songs that every girl, I think, wants written about her.
Henry: And I know that this girl will go to her grave knowing that songs like "Every Once In A While," which I wrote, off the Blackhawks' first record, was written about her. Every time I wanted to go to that well I had a wealth. There was a song I wrote later on, on kind of an obscure Outlaws record in the mid '80s, called "Cold Harbor." It was a sort of documentary of the Civil War battle outside of Richmond, and it's very well written, and I'm very proud of it.
Songfacts: You mentioned that before.
Henry: Yeah, "Cold Harbor" is a great song, and if you ever can get a listen to it, you should, because it's really well-written. And it's interesting the way it was written. There's a co-writer on it, Chuck Glass, he had a very small contribution to the song, but a significant one. Just a line here and there that I was stuck on and he helped me with. But I wrote the song as an outsider looking in, and then the second verse it became first person. I would set the stage, (singing) "It wasn't far from Richmond, the second day of June, the year was 1864, the end was coming soon on a long and bitter struggle for the boys in blue and gray, and the battle of Cold Harbor was only hours away." Then the second verse I enter into the song as myself as a singer and I go, "Well, I woke up long before the sun cut through the morning sky, and I wondered as I lay there, was this my time to die. Somewhere in the distance the Union fires glowed, the distant bugle's reveille was playing soft and low." And it sets this really clear picture of where it was.
Songfacts: Yeah. Are you a Civil War buff?
Henry: I have been. I've been very interested in it, I've kind of moved on to Native American culture/religion. The Civil War still interests me, but I kind of caught up to it and figured it all out and put it in perspective historically. And I don't find it as interesting. I kind of went for the back, and a little bit more into the spiritual unknown with my interests.
Songfacts: That would explain Spirit Dancer.
Henry: Spirit Dancer, right. I love to read and I'm fairly well-read.
Songfacts: You sound like it.
Henry: I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I'm probably one of the more enthusiastic people. What I lack in intellect I make up for with enthusiasm. I may not understand what I'm doing, but I really like it, I'll be the first to let you know.
Songfacts: If you're lacking in intellectual capacity, then I would love to be as "gifted" as you.
Henry: You sound like a spirited soul. Are you from my generation, or are you younger?
Songfacts: I don't know, because honestly I've no idea how old you are. But I know that The Outlaws came out when I was in high school. The debut...
Henry: Then you're a little bit behind me, because I was in my mid-20s then. Old enough to know better.
Songfacts: Yeah. What is it, old enough to know better, but young enough to not care?
Henry: Right, but to not give a sh*t.
Songfacts: Back to "Cold Harbor" for just a second. Now, that's a specific battle that was fought in the war?
Henry: It was. I wrote it around the title, and I love the title.
Songfacts: Does it have a specific importance to you, that particular battle?
Henry: Oh, it was just horrific. It was the final phases of Lee and Grant in the Eastern Theatre, and Grant was going to win the Civil War by massacring his army if that's what it took to overwhelm his foe, and it didn't matter – human life had value, but he wasn't going to sit around and evaluate what that was. He sent these people in, and it was kind of like that conflict of trench warfare versus frontal attack where the technology had far surpassed the old school business of waging war. You'd line up in a field and you'd just charge one another, but they had all these rapid-fire weapons now, and it wasn't like the battle of Hastings where you were swinging axes. This was where they had rapid-fire rifles and accurate rifle barrels, and God, by the time they got to the earthworks where these people were dug in, there'd be tens of thousands of people killed. So it was sort of like that first modern war, and the last of the old-style wars, and they collided in the Civil War, and that's why the loss of life was so astronomical. It was just hideous.
Songfacts: Sounds like it might have been one of the first experiences without actually having to look into your enemy's eyes.
Henry: That, too. You could lob a little grapeshot right into the works, and blow a hole the size of a Mack truck. "Cold Harbor" for me was part of my infatuation with the Civil War, and kind of my romantic relationship with the South. It's all in my head.
Songfacts: Do you know if it's still available, if I might get a copy of it someplace?
Henry: It was on the Outlaws album called Soldiers of Fortune.
Songfacts: I know that album.
Henry: Not very good. Not the best, to a large degree. But that one song was really good, and I'm very proud of that.
Songfacts: I'm actually thinking my brother still has a copy of that, but it'd be on vinyl.
Henry: It'd be on vinyl. It's got this really sort of southwestern cover that cleverly disguised an acoustic guitar in the rocks. But that one song is just really quite good.
Songfacts: I'm going to try and hunt that one down.
Henry: The rest of the record, if you listen to it, you just have to forget that you ever spoke to me. It's pretty bad. We were in the middle of the '80s and we're a '70s sort of stand-up playing rock group, we just got caught in that sort of ugly place bands get caught when they're trying to stay up.
Songfacts: Well, you're very forthcoming with this.
Henry: Well, my God, there's so few secrets. Our whole lives have been played out on this vinyl, and you can't talk your way out of it, you can't make it sound better by building it up. You've just got to take your whooping and just know that you tried.
Songfacts: "Thank you, sir, may I have another?"
Henry: Exactly (laughing), God that hurt, please hit me again. Some records are better than others. Although some records really have significant impact on people's lives, and did. The first Henry Paul record did, the first Outlaws record did, the first Blackhawk did, the new Blackhawk record is absolutely sensational.
Songfacts: Well, I'm already sold.
Henry: It's just really well written and played, and there's not an embarrassing moment on it. I'm telling you, it took me a lifetime to get to that point. Those first Blackhawk records there's some embarrassing moments on because they were so manipulated by the label.
Songfacts: I've heard of that happening.
Henry: That happens, especially in this town where you have the ongoing battle. It's not so bad in rock and roll where whatever you give them they have to take it.
By the way, you're in Phoenix, right? ...Camelback Mountain with an extreme hangover.
Songfacts: Did you climb it?
Henry: I went up that mountain, was out there in 1995 I think it was. The Florida Gators were playing for the national championship with Nebraska for the third Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, and I was playing New Year's Eve, some private gig, and stayed over to stay with my bass player, who's a big Florida Gators fan. He and I stayed over and stayed with his sister, and we just got cranked. She and I and he, we stayed up all night drinking margaritas. And next day – this is the day before the game – we went out to climb Camelback Mountain. Now, what in God's name were we thinking? Because, undoubtedly you've been up that stupid hill.
Songfacts: Actually, I've been up Squaw Peak, but not Camelback.
Henry: Oh my God. Well, Camelback, if you're really hung over and not really sure of what you're doing, it's a really dangerous proposition. So, going to Phoenix over the years and playing all these different venues has been quite a treat. And that town has just exploded. It has nothing to do with the old town I used to know.
Songfacts: Are there any other things that you want to add that I haven't asked?
Henry: No, I gotta tell you, this was fun, and I appreciate your time.
June 6, 2007
More Songwriter Interviews