Sherman Allen remembers when the project was first discussed.
The Richardson native and Southern Methodist University alum was talking with Bugs Henderson two years ago, while Henderson, in town to perform at a blues club on Hollywood Boulevard, was staying at Allen’s home in L.A.
“He said, ‘I’ve been diagnosed with cancer,’” the 53-year-old Allen says. “He was gone within six months of that conversation. The disease took him out, just like that.”
What the two men talked about that night was a benefit album, designed to ameliorate the costs of Henderson’s upcoming liver cancer treatments.
“Bugs was absolutely on board to play on it, but the wheels move slowly,” Allen says. “We started lining up players and recording tunes two years ago … so it began with his involvement, his blessing and, certainly, his desire to play on it, but the disease moved too fast.”
The Palm Springs-born and Tyler-based Henderson died in March 2012, at the age of 68 and just days after a benefit concert also aimed at easing financial burdens, at the then-Palladium Ballroom.
A record originally intended to help with medical bills has turned into a celebration of a musician Allen calls “such a genius and such a giant.”
The King of Clubs: A Tribute to the Music of Bugs Henderson, overseen by Chuck Kavooras (in whose Southern California-based SlideAway Studio the bulk of recording transpired), Allen and his brother, Bill Allen, is a sprawling, double-disc affair featuring contributions from an impressive array of six-string talents: Chuck Lukather, W.G. “Snuffy” Walden, Jim Suhler, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Orianthi, Buddy Whittington and many more have performed covers of Henderson’s material.
“Rather than trying to persuade people to participate, it’s been more like, ‘What are we going to do with all these people who want to be on [the album]?’” Allen says, putting the number of contributors at around 65 total. “We’ve been deluged with people asking to be on it.”
Allen, a member of the Pipefitters, a rock band fronted by actor and University of Texas at Arlington alum Lou Diamond Phillips (who pops up on King of Clubs), says the core idea behind the record — to heighten awareness about Henderson’s music — has remained unchanged.
“He was such a blistering virtuoso, a musical machine, with just beautiful, beautiful notes flying out of his instrument,” Allen says. “That made it easy to overlook his absolutely first-rate songwriting.”
The project, which is being mastered, will hopefully be ready for public consumption in January, Allen says, with a big push planned at the annual National Association of Music Merchants convention, and separate release events in Los Angeles and Texas later.
“This began when my friend was ill,” Allen says. “This would be a chance to raise some funds and defray medical bills. … What I thought was going to be my gift to him, has been the 180-degree opposite: it’s been his gift to me.
“When I sit in the studio and we’re playing Bugs’s songs over and over, that energy is in the room with us — it’s very real. It’s extended his life.”