Jump to Content

Welcome! You’re browsing the No Depression Archives

No Depression has been the foremost journalistic authority on roots music for well over a decade, publishing 75 issues from 1995 to 2008. No Depression ceased publishing magazines in 2008 and took to the web. We have made the contents of those issues accessible online via this extensive archive and also feature a robust community website with blogs, photos, videos, music, news, discussion and more.

Close This

Column from web archive October 23, 2008

Judy Henske

Judy Henske: Queen of the Beatniks

I’m gay. I knew it before I hit puberty. It’s no big deal: I’m just wired to dig guys. But my lizard brain, the part that handles truly vital decisions – like “fight or flight” – responds powerfully to women. Especially oddball female musicians who exude confidence. “Tough broads,” they called them in pre-PC days.

I credit Julie London. Not her music, per se. Her 1955 signature hit “Cry Me A River” delivers a knife twist at the end, but her singing was always whisper soft. No, it was her acting role as Nurse Dixie McCall on the ’70s TV drama Emergency! that branded my psyche as a small child. In a world of male paramedics, firefighters and doctors, where other damsels were always in distress, no-nonsense Dixie held her own. She was my first “tough broad.”

As I grew older, my musical tastes continued the trend. From cult nightclub entertainer Frances Faye, to punk-turned-dub-poet-turned-chanteuse Little Annie, to Beth Ditto of the Gossip, when my ears heard a strong, idiosyncratic lady, the lizard brain kicked into high gear. It cheered. It bought records. It offered to let bands sleep on my floor. And if the artist in question seemed a bit of an underdog, so much the better; we downtrodden types must band together.

So it was last week, when I was flipping through used LPs in the folk “new arrivals” bin at Vinyl Resting Place in Portland, Oregon, when I saw it: A jacket emblazoned with the name Judy Henske in Kool-Aid colors, and a photo of a cool brunette with bobbed hair, casting a sideways glance that dared me not to pick up her album. I knew nothing about this woman. But the lizard brain was sounding alarms.

The black-and-white picture on the back was even more compelling: Miss Henske posed before a microphone with eyes closed, mouth agape in mid-wail. I scanned the selections and recognized some old friends: “Wade In The Water”, “Lilac Wine”, “Empty Bed Blues”. Though my partner and I had been talking just moments before about how to cut expenses as the recession looms, I yanked out my wallet before rational thought could stop me.

Back home, I quickly learned this was eight dollars well spent. Although it was released on Elektra in 1963 (it was reissued in 2002 by Collector’s Choice), Henske’s debut, which was recorded live, is far from standard folk fare. Our heroine goes at her selections like an earth-mover, with a gutsy yet (barely) controlled delivery that foreshadows better-known singers such as Mama Cass and Grace Slick. This isn’t exactly rock or blues, and it certainly isn’t folk, although Henske proves perfectly adept at scaling back when accompanied by small ensemble, or leading an audience sing-along.

And what really grabbed me was her kooky introductions. She prefaces a murder ballad (“Ballad Of Little Romy”) with a monologue that includes a surreal description of picnic lunches by the riverside where Romy is about to perish. Before launching into “Salvation Army Song”, Henske asserts that it only qualifies as an authentic folk song because she learned it from someone who went to prison. Suddenly the stage patter of the pre-Disney, pre-Vegas Bette Midler doesn’t seem so original.

After research, I realized Henske has been hovering around the periphery of my musical universe for ages. At the recommendation of a colleague, I had solicited a review copy of the recent CD reissue of Farewell Aldebaran, Henske’s 1969 psychedelic foray with Jerry Yester (of the Lovin’ Spoonful). For reasons I’ve forgotten, my frontal lobe dismissed the disc. I even had a Judy Henske song (“Road To Nowhere”, 1966) on my iPod for a while, after I imported The Jack Nitzsche Story: Hearing Is Believing . The legendary arranger and producer dubbed Henske “Queen of the Beatniks,” but somehow, I’d remained oblivious to her charms. My lizard brain, with its instincts for self-preservation and the promotion of “tough broads,” refused to let this folly continue any longer.

Henske’s connections to everyone from the aforementioned Slick and Midler to crime novelist Andrew Vachss abound on the internet. As then there’s the Rhino Handmade career-spanning anthology Big Judy: How Far This Music Goes (1962-2004). For now, I’m content with investigating her career online…and spinning my second-hand copy of her self-titled album.

Enjoy the ND archives? Consider making a donation with PayPal or send a check to:
No Depression, 460 Bush St., San Francisco, CA 94108


Did you enjoy this article? Start a discussion about it, or find out what others are saying in the No Depression Community forum.

Join the Discussion »

Find out what's going on in roots music. Share concert photos and videos, learn about new artists, blog about the music you love.

Join the No Depression Community »

Buy our history before it’s gone!

Each issue is artfully designed and packed full of great photos that you don‘t get online. Visit the No Depression store to own a piece of history.

Visit the No Depression Store »

From the Blogs

  • No Depression Is Getting a Facelift: A Note About What's Around the Bend
    Ever since we announced that No Depression had been acquired by FreshGrass back in March, we’ve heard from many of you with questions, concerns, and ideas about the future of this website and the community that gathers here. We created a forum topic at that time so we could organize these comments and refer to them frequently, which we have done as we’ve dev […]
  • Eric Clapton - Unplugged, 2CD+DVD (Album Review)
    Here’s a slightly unusual candidate for reissue: Eric Clapton‘s 1992 Unplugged album. To my knowledge, this massively commercially successful album has never gone out of print, which begs the question: why reissue it? To be fair, this 2014 reissue does include some bonus material. But first, let’s take a look at the original… […]
  • Getting to Know Ashley Sofia -- Falcon Ridge Emerging Artist
    Have you ever had the feeling that a musician may have traveled through space and time during a recording project?  Music critics and fans are hailing Ashley Sofia as a 21st century reincarnation of the Laurel Canyon folk-rock sound  on the early 1970s. Ashley’s songwriting and captivating voice make for a great combination; she’s definitely worth a… […]
  • Learning Songwriting at the Feet of Steve Earle
    Steve Earle has his eye on the history books. Not for himself, necessarily - though I doubt he’d object - but for his art form, “songwriting as literature.” With Camp Copperhead, Steve seemed to be trying to secure this form a place in history. “Four days of singing and songwriting,” the marketing materials promised. “Hard core.” I’m a non-professional songw […]
  • Jack Clement – For Once And For All (Album Review)
    Allen, Reynolds, and a laid-back, masterful collection of familiar Clement-penned country classics. A decade of Clement-penned originals plus a pair of co-writes grace this late music legend’s third solo collection, released just short of a year after his passing aged 82. Memphis-raised Jack Henderson Clement launched his career with the renowned imprint Sun […]
  • Wise Old Moon - The Patterns (Album Review)
    Wise Old Moon. Sounds like a tall tale from an old children’s story book. Perhaps the namesake of a tavern or bookstore in a New England town that hasn’t quite caught up with time yet? But in this case it’s the name of a young and truly gifted roots music outfit from the Connecticut area. Every so often a record comes along that makes you happy this kind of […]

Shop Amazon by clicking through this logo to support NoDepression.com. We get a percentage of every purchase you make!

Subscribe To the No Depression Newsletter

Subscribe to the No Depression Newsletter