One of the sad realities of R&B music is that it has a legacy as being disposable when its appeal never transcends the black community. Part of the reason was based on the presumptive fact that it’s fans (urban negros) collect singles and don’t buy albums. This thinking persisted well into the ‘90s and made a return thanks in part to the singles mix culture made possible by iTunes and other downloading services.
The single mentality was always about the next hit, often quickly forgetting other tracks on an album in the process. In time this system has rob many talented artists of recognition as they would be forgotten. Only a few R&B artist have risen above this process and would be noticed for albums, often because they were conceptual and were designed to be listened to as a whole.
One of the artist who should never have been overlooked is Michael Henderson. While not a conceptual artist, Henderson was known throughout the 70s for his sensual Quiet Storm themed songs. On occasion he like many R&B artist during the ‘70s would dabble in funk for the occasional fast track. These songs however were never singles, so when the releases from his 5th album Wide Receiver got funky, Henderson was being compared to George Clinton and Bootsy Collins early pioneers of conceptualized funk albums.
It was an obvious comparison, considering that today when we think of 70s funk music, those are usually the two names that pop up first. Songs like “Wide Receiver, Pt 1” and 2 were like Clinton or Collins songs not only because of their funky bass lines, but also the zany androgynous sexual connotations.
I remember hearing Wide Receiver on the radio years ago in the pre-internet/mobile age and just assumed that it was a George Clinton related song, yet I could never find anything listed as such in his catalog when thumbing through stacks of albums in stores. Fast forward about twenty years later and thanks to a funk station created on Pandora, I encountered the song again.
A few other funk songs like “Prove It” would easily lead the casual listener to believing Henderson was a Funkadelic clone, but the smooth ballads were really what Wide Receiver was about.
The songs, mostly written or co-written by Henderson don’t standout for any particular reason beyond their high production values. Like many transitional albums produced during this time, Wide Receiver featured real session musicians playing real instruments. Future stars like Ray Parker, Jr could be heard on rhythm guitar and drummer Ollie E. Brown who would later get 15 minutes of fame as a member of Ollie & Jerry.
Henderson himself an accomplished jazz musician who worked with Miles Davis played bass. The attention to detail that comes with earning your stripes with Miles Davis comes out in the self- production of Wide Receiver.
Its amazing that so few people know of Henderson’s work outside of R&B music connoisseurs and various musicians. As the 80’s revival goes deeper beyond the usual hit singles, at some point new fans will be discovering that funk went beyond Clinton-Prince-James-Cameo quartet of the era.