Happy Hour with Henry

inUncategorizedon December 7, 2020

You can blame Henry Slyker’s two decades-plus loving relationship with Music Maker on Holiday Inn Express.

Cootie Stark on the cover of the final Navigator

Up through 2002, if you checked into a Holiday Inn Express, you would find in your room a magazine called Navigator with the snappy tagline, “Leave the towel. Take the magazine.” The final issue of Navigator carried the cover line “Getting Behind the Music Makers” and a photograph of longtime Music Maker partner artist, the late Cootie Stark.

That article is how Slyker, who has long been one of our most reliable supporters and is a current board member, discovered Music Maker.

“This article described all this great charitable work they were doing, and I thought it was just great,” Henry recalls. “And then it concluded by saying that it was the best music you’ll ever hear.”

But Henry was skeptical about that final claim. He had already schooled himself on the blues when he was a student at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, where blues greats would stop to play shows at Howard’s Club H as they traveled between gigs in Chicago and Cleveland.

“What it sounded like to me was they sent a human interest writer who wrote a music article, but they don’t know anything about music,” Henry says. “But at the end of the article, it said for 30 bucks, you could get a coffee-table book and a CD in the back — and 20 bucks of that was a write-off. And I thought, ‘Well, I could afford that.’ So, I ordered it.”

A few days later, Henry came home from his work as a financial advisor to find his copy of Music Makers: Portraits & Songs From the Roots of America in the mailbox. He sat the package on the kitchen table, opened it, and swears to this day he never sat down until he had finished reading the book.

“I couldn’t get over the beauty of the photography,” Henry remembers, “and the stories and the expressiveness of them. And I didn’t sit down. I read the book cover to cover with my jaw just, you know, on the floor. And I’m still standing there and I get to the back of the book and there’s the CD. And I thought, boy, I got a dilemma here, because if this CD is no good, it’s gonna ruin the book.”

Henry’s dilemma didn’t last for long: “About three notes into it, I said, this is the best music I ever heard.” Henry still had not changed out of his work clothes or even sat down before he picked up the phone and dialed Music Maker.

I answered the phone. Henry was living in Maryland, where he still abides today, but among his duties was managing an office in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Henry told me, “Listen, I get down to Raleigh often. Next time I’m there, I’d like to stop by.”

I asked him, “What do you want?” Henry replied, “I want to give you a donation. I want to book a band for my next party. I want to buy all your CDs. And I said, you know, I’m a financial advisor and I used to work in a business incubator. And if I can help you with advice, I’d be happy to do so, and I won’t charge you.”

Music Maker partner artists Albert White and Pat Wilder with Henry and Shelley Slyker, in Columbia, Missouri in 2010.

So, I told him to come on down.

Henry’s first visit with us cemented a relationship that has never ceased.

“It was just a wonderful day,” Henry recalls. “I understood what they were trying to do. The product they were producing was world-class, and it dawned on me that none of this music I would have ever heard, had these people not been doing what they were doing. I didn’t have the whole picture.”

Today, both Denise and I swear that Henry knows the entire Music Maker catalog as well or better than we do. That’s why we’re proud that Henry agreed to put together our latest Listener’s Circle release, “Drinkin’ Music” (or, as it’s known around the Music Maker office, “Happy Hour With Henry”). The release is a treasure of songs about drink from artists such as Cootie Stake, Drink Small, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. It even includes a 43-second story from Preston Fulp about moonshine that listeners will find priceless. If you are interested in becoming a member of the Listener’s Circle, you can find the link here: Listener’s Circle Subscription

Henry Slyker curated it all, and we’re grateful to him for the work. It’s a joy to listen to, start to finish.

And Henry says he’s grateful to Music Maker for the wisdom he gained through encounters with various artists, including the likes of the late great Captain Luke and Sister Lena Mae Perry. He remembers being at the Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance in Pittsboro, North Carolina, in 2015 less than a month before Captain Luke’s death at age 87. The Captain had been a regular at the biannual festival, but his health kept him away in 2015. Instead, he called into the festival and was patched into the PA system.

“When Captain Luke died, he died like he lived — like he was in charge,” Henry says. “He called, and they put him on the PA system at that concert and he apologized to the entire crowd for not coming. And they just went nuts. They loved the guy. I think he ended up singing a song over the PA system. It was like a lion died, and the whole village came to pay their respect. It was an amazing thing to experience.

“You know, there’s a way to live and there’s a way to die. I didn’t know that until I saw it. And that is a powerful piece of wisdom.”

Tim Duffy

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