Gary James' Interview With
Larry Henley Of
In 1964, The Newbeats had a big hit with a song called "Bread And Butter". It went to number 2 on the Billboard charts and sold over a million copies in just the U.S.! The lead singer of that song was a guy by the name of Larry Henley. While Larry didn't write "Bread And Butter", he was the co-writer of "Wind Beneath My Wings".
Larry talked with us about The Newbeats and what he's doing these days.
Q - Larry, I was surprised to read that you approach songwriting as a job. You go to an office and you can turn it on and off at will. You're not one of those songwriters that keeps a pen and paper by the night stand in case you wake up in the middle of the night with a song idea.
A - I've been writing long enough that I don't do that much anymore. If I have an idea, I just write it. I don't really go into the office to write songs. I don't really have an office anymore. I got rid of it. I write songs when I have a real good idea and that's about it really.
Q - You're here in Nashville. Why is Nashville this haven for songwriters? It seems if you're a songwriter, that's the place to be.
A - Oh, yeah. It's Music City U.S.A. It's mostly songwriters. It's a town of songwriters.
Q - How different is it these days to write a song and have it pitched to a major recording artist?
A - It's very hard these days. Everything has changed. Country music has kind of taken over. We're not all Country music writers you know. I can write a little Country, but for the most part, I don't like it well enough to write it.
Q - You said that "Wind Beneath My Wings" was about a woman you loved. Shouldn't you have let people guess what that song was about?
A - Well, you won't know about it because there's no one in particular it's about, no one I feel like discussing it about with anybody.
Q - You were a great admirer of James Dean and you said he changed your life. How so?
A - I was a big fan. I thought I really was James Dean in the beginning. (laughs) I wore the same kind of clothes. I went to see all of his movies and read all of the articles about him. I was just a kid, a fan really.
Q - You auditioned for The Mathis Brothers (Dean and Mark) for a spot in The Newbeats? Is that how it happened?
A - No. I came into a nightclub where they were playing and I sat in with the band. They were mad at the singer. So they hired me. That's how it all began.
Q - Did you play an instrument or were you the singer?
A - I'm just a singer.
Q - How did you get that idea to sing "Bread And Butter" in that falsetto voice?
A - I had a record deal because of my falsetto voice. We sent in a demo, and I can't remember what the song was called. In those days they wanted to do four songs on a record. We looked all over town and we already had three songs. And we came across "Bread And Butter". We thought it was funny. We didn't think it was anything anyone would really buy. The other guys in The Newbeats wanted to make it into a record, so we did.
Q - How did that song make its way to The Newbeats?
A - We got it in the mail. Oddly enough, it was written by two guys from my hometown and none of us knew each other. It was just a coincidence. That was back in the day of The Beatles. Mostly everything you heard was English. "Bread And Butter" was the only thing out there that was just the opposite and so it hit for that reason I think.
Q - On the demo tape, was the singer singing that song in a falsetto voice?
A - No, they didn't. More like Jimmy... I can't think of his name, an old R&B singer.
Q - Frankie Valli used falsetto voice.
A - He and I started singing about the same time.
Q - Tiny Tim was using that falsetto voice.
A - That's an entirely different thing. He was more of a comedian.
Q - So, for awhile it was you, Frankie Valli and Tiny Tim using that falsetto voice.
A - OK. I guess we can include Tiny Tim.
Q - I don't know anyone else who was doing it, do you?
A - I think that was about it. But Tiny Tim wasn't really singing songs. He was just doing his little act.
Q - No one sings like that today, do they?
A - Not that I know of. I don't keep up, so there may be. But I don't listen to radio hardly every. I'm a songwriter. I don't want to be confused by a song I hear on the radio and think I wrote it. I'd just like to write it and then figure out where I got it.
Q - How did life change for The Newbeats when "Bread And Butter" became such a hit? Did you guys tour?
A - We were on tour at the time the record came out. We expected it to be a hit because all the musicians in the studio that played on it stood up and applauded after we did it. So, we figured it must be a hit. I expected it to be a hit when it came out. I would've been surprised if it wasn't. It was just one of those moments.
Q - You did a New Zealand tour with Roy Orbison and The Rolling Stones?
A - Yeah. Well, that was in Australia and New Zealand. Some in the United States. I was with 'em when they did "Satisfaction". I was back in their dressing room when they played it. We were on the Shindig! television show.
Q - Were you impressed with that song?
A - Oh, I was very impressed. We all became friends and we were all hanging together in those days. It was like the best thing they had done at that point.
Q - Did you get to know Brian Jones?
A - Oh, yeah. Brian and I and a guy in New Zealand made ourselves blood brothers. We cut out arms one night and put our arms all together. Blood brothers. And Brian died later.
Q - To me, Brian Jones was The Rolling Stones.
A - Oh, really? I would've thought Mick was.
Q - Mick's the frontman, so he gets all the attention. Brian came up with the group's name. He was the best dressed and had a different look from the others.
A - Yeah. Well, he was a little separated from the rest of the band. They didn't agree on personality very well. He kind of just stepped away from the rest of the band. They all kind of hung out together. He hung out with me and a guy called Ray Columbus. That's the other guy who was in our blood brother (group). He was just a big star in New Zealand. We're still friends. He's still around. We talk on the phone. We send each other e-mails.
Q - How did you get that tour? Who was your agent?
A - Acuff - Rose. They managed us and they managed Roy Orbison. And they managed The Everly Brothers before that. So, we all were managed by the same people and we traveled together. We worked a lot with Roy Orbison. We were his opening act.
Q - You were also good friends with Roger Miller.
A - Oh, yeah. I was a big fan of Roger's and he was my favorite songwriter. We became friends for that reason. When we first came to Nashville, we were the only Pop people here. Everybody else was Country. We didn't understand them and they didn't understand us. (laughs) We kind of had to learn each other. Roger Miller was one of the greatest of all.
Q - He was what we would call a crossover artist today.
A - Well, yeah. He was a guy who wrote songs that would go on any chart. He wasn't trying to be Country. He wasn't trying to be Pop. He just wrote it the way he felt and the public took it the way they wanted to.
Q - That was the great freedom recording artists had back then.
A - Oh, yeah. I was a big fan of Roger's and it was a good thing to know him. I learned a lot from him.
Q - Who else was on Hickory Records, the label you recorded on?
A - Sue Thompson. That was about it. (laughs) We were the ones who had hit records.
Q - In October, 2012 you're going to be inducted into a Songwriters Hall Of Fame.
A - Yeah. It's about a month away.
Q - That's something that's been a long time coming.
A - It certainly has. About ten years.
Q - Is there anything in Cleveland's Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame about The Newbeats?
A - Not that I know of. I'm not sure about that, but I'm reasonably sure. Somebody would have told me.
Q - As we talk, are you still writing?
A - I write all the time. I don't have the ideas I once did and I don't really feel like writing like I once did, but I do it. It's a job for me and I try to write every time I can. I write a lot with Bruce Chanel. Do you know him?
Q - I interviewed his manager,
Major Bill. Do you know him?
A - He died several years ago.
Q - He told me he was the manager of Elvis.
A - Well, I've heard that too. I don't think it was manager. He was connected somehow.
Q - He was telling me in the early 1990s that Elvis was still alive.
A - This is when he was an old man and he wasn't exactly himself, you know? He might have said that not knowing whether he was or not.
Q - Did he talk to you about Elvis?
A - Oh, he told me things about him and Elvis. But I never heard that he was a manager. Of course, just because I hadn't heard it don't mean he wasn't. Maybe he was.
Q - Did you believe him when he was telling you Elvis was alive?
A - Well, I don't remember exactly. I believe that he thought he was anyway. He thought Elvis was coming back after he died. He thought Bruce Chanel should record one of Elvis' songs. He said a lot of things that really didn't ring true to me, but I'm sure he had a reason. He was an older man, so I'm sure he thought all that was true.