Bugs Henderson, local blues guitar legend, dies at 68

Posted 10:19pm on Saturday, Mar. 10, 2012

FORT WORTH -- Bugs Henderson was about as linked into the Dallas-Fort Worth music scene as you could get.

The guitarist, who grew up in Tyler and formed his first band when he was 16, was a fixture at Fort Worth clubs such as The Cellar and J&J's Blues Bar and Arlington's Fatso's.

But Mr. Henderson, who died Thursday of cancer at age 68, played with big names as well -- B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Ted Nugent. His guitar prowess made him a star in Europe, but he was happy to live the modest life in Texas, where he could spend time with his family and have control over his music.

"A lot of my fans think I don't want to make it or I'm perfectly content and don't want any more," Mr. Henderson told the Star-Telegram in 1994. "It's partially true -- I'm not waiting for the phone to ring or worrying if I'm going to be on MTV. I'm not obsessed with it. If you have a job you love, you're way ahead of the game."

After Mr. Henderson received a cancer diagnosis last year, area musicians banded together in support. He was supposed to play a Dec. 9 gig at Fort Worth's McDavid Studio, but when news of his cancer came out, the show became a benefit for him featuring Dave Millsap, the Stratoblasters, Bill Hamm, Jay Boy Adams, Junior & the Journeymen, Danny Sanchez and Buddy Whittington. Another benefit was just this past Sunday at Dallas' Palladium Ballroom.

Millsap, a Fort Worth-based singer-guitarist, said he first encountered Mr. Henderson in the 1970s when he and a friend went to see Delbert McClinton in Dallas. Mr. Henderson was sitting in, and Millsap and his friend were astounded.

"A couple of years ago, he asked me to play on one of his records," Millsap said. "At the end of the session, he was paying me, and he was saying ... 'I wish I could pay you more, this isn't much.' I said, 'Are you kidding me? If you told me 30 years ago that I'd be standing here receiving money for playing on your record, I would've told you you were dreaming, man.'"

Mr. Henderson was born in Palm Springs, Calif., on Oct. 20, 1943, and grew up in Tyler. According to his website, when he was a teenager, he would sneak out of the house to watch bands play in Tyler joints. He formed his own band, the Sensores, when he was 16. He later joined a friend, Ronnie Weiss, in Mouse and the Traps.

Mr. Henderson's real name was Buddy, but he earned the nickname Bugs while playing in the band, and it stuck. Mr. Henderson moved to Dallas-Fort Worth in the 1970s, eventually forming his own band, the Shuffle Kings.

Mr. Henderson had a reputation for helping out younger musicians. Danny Ross, owner of the southwest Fort Worth club Keys Lounge and a blues musician himself, remembers seeing Mr. Henderson with one of his bands, Fancy Space & the Rockin' Rhythm Daddies, when Ross was in college at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches.

"I was just learning to play," Ross said. "I went up and asked him, 'Do you care if I sit in?' 'No, come on!' And people don't do that. Even if you're good, a lot of bands don't want you doing that. But he let me set up my piano by him and just jam."

Ross said that when Mr. Henderson played the Keys Lounge last year, Ross reminded him of the incident, and Mr. Henderson said he remembered it.

Millsap remembered that at a benefit a few years ago, he and James Pennebaker were playing guitar, and Mr. Henderson came onstage, stretched out his arms and played both their guitars -- while they were playing them.

"He was a bluesman to the core," Millsap said. "That's why Freddie King and Eric Clapton loved him so much. But Bugs took it a little further out of the box. Bugs was a showman. He was a hell of a guitar player, but he could put on a show, too"

Several videos of Mr. Henderson playing live, as well as recordings of Mouse and the Traps, are available on YouTube. Videos are also available on Mr. Henderson's website, www.bugshenderson.com

Funeral arrangements were incomplete Friday.

Robert Philpot,

(817) 390-7872

Twitter: @rphilpot

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