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Homer Henderson: Memories of a Weird Son of a Bitch

Homer Henderson, an eccentric Texas musician who collaborated with Nick Tosches and had his songs covered by the Old 97’s and Laura Cantrell, passed away in April of this year. He managed to take the most ridiculous concept in music, the one-man band, and reconstruct it into a way to play lean, inspired, spitfire rock ‘n’ roll. He could piss off more people in a single day than most of us could in a lifetime. As Hickoids drummer Lance Farley stated at a recent gig in Dallas, “Nobody could clear out a room as fast as that motherfucker!”

Homer Henderson entered this world as Phil Bennison and grew up in North Richland Hills, Texas. North Richland Hills is a suburb northeast of Fort Worth that I don’t believe I’ve ever spent a second in while living half an hour away for over a decade. The earliest mention I’ve seen of Homer was from Steve Fuque, who stated he was a college friend at ETSU in 1972 (ETSU was East Texas State University in Commerce, Texas; now known as Texas A&M University – Commerce). Fuque went on to note that Homer “went through life without any of the conventional concerns…money property statis (sic).” Joe Nick Patoski, who penned the most complete summary of Henderson’s life on his Facebook page, commented, “He was a skilled artist, trained at East Texas State with other visual artists including Georgeanne Deen and Gary Panter.”

During the mid-1980s, Homer released the faux country single “I Want to Date with a Cowboy Cheerleader” backed with “Picking Up Beer Cans on the Highway.” (The latter song was included as part of the encore by the Old 97’s when I saw them in 2020). He was backed on these efforts by “The Dalworthington Garden Boys,” a tongue in cheek reference to a very exclusive, wealthy community near Arlington, Texas. During this same timeframe, he released what was probably his most infamous number, “Lee Harvey Was a Friend of Mine.” The song is written from the perspective of a young boy who thought the future killer of JFK was the perfect neighbor. Decades later Homer remarked, “I think we wrote most of it while we were driving around drinking Slurpees and smoking weed.”

Homer, who picked up his name via the intersection of Homer Street and Henderson Avenue in Dallas, released an album titled “Live from the City of Hate” in 1997 (the “City of Hate” being an unwanted slogan for Dallas after the J.F.K. assassination). The following year he collaborated with famed New York based author Nick Tosches. Tosches, “I realized that Phil, beneath that surface, has a wellspring of genius waiting to come forth. He has not failed to completely surprise and captivate me.” I’ve sadly not heard the Tosches/Henderson collaboration “Sweet Thighs of Mother Mary.”

I first saw Henderson in 2013 and wrote the following:

“A Texas eccentric in the vein of Hasil Adkins, it takes you about one millisecond to determine that Homer isn’t a Chamber of Commerce representative. After one peek at the haunting dark circles around his eyes, you want to hand the guy a chainsaw and cast him in a low budget slasher flick.

At his Friday night gig in Fort Worth, he played for approximately forty minutes and displayed an uncanny ability to play country, 1950’s style rock ‘n’ roll, garage rock, and psychedelic music. He’s an excellent guitarist, adeptly working over his Telecaster while effortlessly hopping around different genres. He played fast and loud, mean and lean, often serving up a layer of tasty fuzz-tone icing over the barrage of chords.

Homer knows his rock ‘n’ roll history, covering the Kingsmen’s rarity ‘Death of an Angel,’ ‘Bo Diddley is a Gunslinger,’ and ended the evening with a short Elvis medley. Between those numbers, he reminisced about the Texas State Fair and asked a woman to take her pants down (to the cleaners). One of the fun things about rock ‘n’ roll has always been the dark alley element of shock and weirdness, which Henderson has in spades. He’s a junk shop/thrift store treasure.”

As much fun as his live act could be, Homer seemed like someone who delighted in sabotaging any success that he could have had. Texas punk historian/record label owner/Hickoids lead singer Jeff Smith colorfully summed up Henderson’s strengths and weaknesses after he passed away, “Homer was a great singer, picker, songwriter and entertainer and had absolutely one of the best and loudest one-man bands you might ever see – channeling Jimmy Reed and the origins of Texas Blues while punctuating the set with corny off-color jokes and sucking down at least half a mixed drink and two thirds of a cig between every song. He knew he was great but was also resigned that the loose cannon of a cake hole he was blessed and cursed with was probably gonna’ keep him out of the gold circle club. Still – he gave zero fucks and was a true hardhead to the very end. I’m sure if Saint Peter comes close to granting him admission he’ll come up with the right joke to cure that.” By the way, you can hear some of those Texas blues influences in Homer’s 2010 release “Mate Like a Cheetah.”

Joe Nick Patoski, “Phil would inevitably blow up these opportunities (author – such as being asked to open dates for Ry Cooder), because that’s who he was: unrepentant smoker and drinker and offender-at-all-opportunities. We hadn’t talked for five years because politics…He was a cynic’s cynic, a crab, a crank, and his own worst enemy. But those asshole tendencies never took away from his art, or from the fun you knew you were going to have hanging around him. He was my kind of music cat, and I’m sorry he had to go.”

The strange thing was the difference between Henderson in person and his social media personality. He could project great warmth when you met him. In my last encounter with Homer, he was talking to an attractive lady after playing a set at Fred’s Texas Café in Fort Worth. I tapped him on the shoulder and jokingly said, “You rock stars get ALL the women!” Homer was smiling ear to ear and replied, “We haven’t seen each other since high school!”

On social media, Homer played the role of a right-wing asshole to the hilt, past the point of acceptance for many people who admired his music. Kevin Curtin of the Austin Chronicle wrote, “Sadly, the Austinite’s brash demeanor involved – in recent years – using racist language to express right-wing beliefs.” I was briefly connected with Homer as a Facebook friend, but his political views involved an unsophisticated hatred that was impossible for me to stomach. He probably delighted in that reaction.

Somehow Henderson read a copy of my 2013 review of his Fort Worth gig and it made a lasting impression. Fort Worth music fanatic/booker Joseph Robertson stayed in close touch with Henderson until his passing. About a week before he died, Henderson stated, with somewhat a sense of awe, “Can you believe I got written up by a writer from New York City?” (Homer didn’t understand that all of Rock NYC’s contributors don’t live in Gotham). I’m glad that I had such a positive impact on him. Even if he was a crab’s crab, a cynic, a crank.

After he passed, Austin based music historian Michael Corcoran wrote that “there was no better musician in Austin” than Henderson. Still, I’m sure Homer would prefer this piece ended with one of his off-color jokes instead of words of praise.

Henderson, “The doctor told me I have to stop masturbating?”

Unsuspecting straight man, “Why?”

Homer, “Because he was trying to examine me.”

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