Within a few minutes of listening to J-Henry – particularly on songs like "Come On" and "Another Long Day" – you quickly realize he hails from Springsteen's and Mellancamp's small town America where blue collar values matter and people still dream of getting out while they're young. However, the obvious influence of these rock icons does not prevent him from forging his own musical identity.
J-Henry's working class roots made it a little surreal to sit down with him in a suite at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City a couple weeks ago when he opened up for Sheryl Crow. But, the gilded surroundings didn't seem to faze J-Henry. Despite his success, he came across as a genuinely nice guy and humble musician who holds a deep respect for the art form and those that came before him. Simply put, you can take the man out of the small town, but in J-Henry's case you can't take the small town out of the man.
Growing up in North Plainfield, New Jersey, in a tight nit family of five brothers, J-Henry was exposed to music at an early age. His grandfather was a musician who owned a music store and J-Henry had his first guitar by age 16, a 1962 SG. From there, the songs flowed. Although he and his brothers didn't form their own band, they did manage to wrangle a small recording board for their basement to allow for experimenting with recording songs at a young age. One of his brothers still serves as a songwriting partner.
Despite coming of age in the 80s and 90s, J-Henry was drawn to Americana rock like Skynryd and Bob Seger as well as various country artists. Country music remains an interest and he cites Shooter Jennings and The Wreckers as contemporary artists he's listening to now. His interest in Nashville is more than just that of fan and he's currently writing some songs for country artists. But, he's true to his first love and his sound fits right in with the resurgence of roots rock taking place the past year or so.
In those early days, J-Henry decided not to focus on learning other people's songs and focused in on his own. But, the road to bigger gigs and fancy hotel rooms was not a short one. He played more than his fair share of local bars over the years and really just started playing out regularly the last few. He worked in the family business while building up his live performance resume. He joked he has it to go back to if need be, but somehow I don't think he's going to have worry about that.
In 2003, he met and teamed with ex-Spin Doctors guitarist Anthony Krizan. After seeing him perform in a local club, Krizan – also a producer and fellow Jersey boy – invited J-Hnery to his Sonic Boom studios to work on some tracks, which eventually led to his first major album project "The Billy Sessions." The hard work paid off and he eventually hooked up with legendary lawyer Owen Sloane and manager Tom Callahan.
Krizan remains with J-Henry and anchors a world class backing band that provides punch to his rich vocal sound on Another Long Day. The band includes "A-1" on keys, John Cornell on bass and John Hummell on drums. But, the icing on the cake for these solid rockers is the backing vocal singing of Carolyn Coletti-Jablonski (aka "CC"), Vivian Sessoms and Jenny Douglass McRae. Sessoms and McRae also regularly tour with Rob Thomas and CC has also been singing with Meatloaf for the last 3 years. The ladies simply take the music to another level.
Another Long Day was recorded for indie label Rockview Records, but distributed via major label channels by Fontana/Universal. The songs on the disc, including the two mentioned above, cover themes ranging from young love to explorations of the 9-5 working man's world. J-Henry's songs also taste life beyond the small town horizon as evidenced by tunes like "Back to LA" and "City Girl." He tells me that each song contains parts of real stories from his life or someone close to him. The gospel tinged "On the Horizon" evokes imagery of two young lovers cruising along thunder road with its soulful hook: "All I have is this pickup truck, all my dreams and a whole lot of love – Believe with me – I have enough faith for the both of us, take my hand baby take my trust – Believe in Me." While "Just a Woman" explores the darker side of relationships with the fairer sex.
The songs have been well received with J-Henry receiving a large feature in the New York Times and "Come On" climbing into the top 20 on the Hot AC FMQB charts. He and the band have recorded 15-20 songs for a new record and are in the process of mastering and finalizing what songs will make the final cut for a projected fall release.
J-Henry's somewhat slow, but steady climb, which fits his small town roots, typifies the struggling artist who pays their dues by playing small bars around the country and gradually working their way up to larger venues. But, he doesn't completely begrudge the kids who seemingly make it overnight by recording other people's songs without having to traverse the often grueling club scene. In fact, he says he enjoyed a recent House of Blues gig with American Idol finalist Constatine Maroulis. And, it's obvious he values the time spent in the small clubs and still plays the Stone Pony in Asbury Park a few times a year.
A great credit to a musician is when they don't need fancy production to make them sound good and can reproduce the recorded sounds live on stage. J-Henry and crew pass that test with flying colors. Opening for a major act like Sheryl Crow is never easy, but the 5000+ Trump Taj Mahal crowd instantly warmed to the Jersey boy-made-good and he held the crowds attention during all of his originals on through to a closing cover of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" that J-Henry reworked with a funky vibe to fit his style.
In addition to putting out likeable, "regular guy" rock and roll, J-Henry has been building his heartland cred by playing several NASCAR races around the country and will be at the in Indianapolis on August 6th playing in front of about 150,000 people on the infield at the Allstate Brickyard 400. Based on my talk with him and the performance I saw in Atlantic City, I have no doubt more than a few new fans will be won over that afternoon.