In Memoriam: Michael Henderson

Michael Henderson: J.P. Roche/Wikimedia Commons.

Bassist, songwriter, and soul-pop singer Michael Henderson passed away July 19 at his home in suburban Atlanta. He was 71 and being treated for cancer.

After he was born in Mississippi, Henderson’s family moved to Detroit in 1960. As a youngster, he started playing cello, then, influenced by Motown Records session bassist James Jamerson, started teaching himself to play electric bass at age 12. A prodigy, at age 13 he was backing local acts including The Fantastic Four and Billy Preston. At 14, he began touring with The Detroit Emeralds.

In the liner notes to his 2018 compilation CD Take Me I’m Yours: The Buddah Years Anthology, Henderson recalled an impromptu jam with Stevie Wonder, who’d sat to play a piano in the dressing room of the theater where the Emeralds were playing. That led to Henderson joining Wonder’s touring band. When off the road, Henderson did sessions at Motown; among the acts he backed were the Four Tops, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and Aretha Franklin.

At a 1970 Stevie Wonder gig in New York City, Henderson was recruited/sniped by jazz trumpeter Miles Davis and, two days after joining, started recording Jack Johnson with a band that included Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, and Billy Cobham. Henderson spent six years with Davis, also recording Live-Evil and On the Corner.

Whenever Davis would take a break, Henderson kept busy on the Detroit scene, including playing sessions for an R&B band called The Dramatics. Among the approximately 70 songs recorded with the band were several he had written.

In early 1975, Henderson began sessions for an album by drummer/producer Norman Connors. In the process, he pitched three original songs for the disc, including what would become his vocal debut, “Valentine Love,” a duet with Jean Carne that became a Top 10 R&B single. Two other Henderson songs also became R&B hits, “We Both Need Each Other” (#23) and “You Are My Starship”(#4).

In 1976, the success of those songs led to Henderson getting his own deal with Buddah Records as a singer/songwriter, and his debut album that year reached #10 on the Billboard R&B chart. He released five more albums over the next five years, the most successful being 1978’s In the Night Time, which charted two R&B singles – the title track (#15) and “Take Me I’m Yours” (#3). His other chart hits included “Wide Receiver” (#4, 1980) and “Can’t We Fall in Love Again,” (#9, 1981). His last solo album, Bedtime Stories, was released in ’86, after which he returned his focus to playing bass. He is survived by his mother, son, and two daughters.

This article originally appeared in VG’s October 2022 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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