The following is an excerpt from “Hoppin’ Henry: Rock ‘n Roll’s Original Bad Boy” by Steve Rollins That appeared in three successive issues of Rolling Stone magazine in the spring of 1987.

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Early Life

 

 

 

   Nathus Myron Henry was born at one-thirty a.m. on July fifth 1935 at a filling station on a stretch of road that ran through what was at that time an unincorporated  section of Lamont county Tennessee. This one pump garage was also the home of its proprietor, Myron Henry. The impending arrival of Nathus was at first misinterpreted as a reaction to some holiday barbeque potato salad that had sat too long in the summer heat, but the real cause of  Lori-Ann Henry’s stomach pains soon became apparent. His father named the baby for himself and for his own father who had died earlier that same year. The unusual moniker of Myron's father was supposedly derived from that of the only leper identified by name in the New Testament. Curiously, there is no such person so named in the New Testament or any other part of the Bible, Apocrypha or related texts and the name appears to have been simply made up, nonetheless, the grandfather believed it for his entire life and young Nathus likewise until he was well into adulthood when he told the story to a radio interviewer who happened to know the scripture chapter and verse.

   Nathus spent his early years playing in the enormous trash heap behind the station. At the age of six, he found an old and warped ukulele that was home to a family of mice. He evicted the rodents and the distressed uke became his first instrument. Myron was worried that he was going to be drafted and sent to fight the Japanese but when called up for his physical, it was discovered that he lacked the required intellectual acumen to be a soldier, a terminology that he liked so much that it became his preferred excuse under most circumstances and one which was generally accepted*. Thus Nathus was not deprived of his father’s presence in his life as he learned the art of music and his father played innumerable blues and hillbilly records for him. Nathus also acquired a large collection of various movie magazines. By the time he was ten, Nathus had taken to driving an old tractor that was capable of no more than ten miles per hour to get into the nearby town of Erving’s Corner where there was an actual movie theater that also hosted live shows both theatrical and musical. Here Nathus saw many nickel matinees featuring characters like Flash Gordon, Tarzan and Superman and also performances by blues and country singers. He became particularly fond of attending the live shows on “colored days” and became familiar with the work of many contemporary black performers. Young Nathus abandoned his original life’s ambition of growing up to be Captain Marvel. Now his only desire was to grow up to be a Negro.

 

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*In an interview for PLAYBOY magazine in 1972, Hoppin’ Henry related this story about his father.

 "Daddy was actually a great wit. Once he was trying to fix the brakes on a car that belonged to a man who was passing through the county and was having some trouble getting the adjustment quite right. Well the man came calling to ask what was taking him so long and Daddy said 'Th'army says I lacks the innelectual acumen' and he figured that the fancy language would put the feller off. So anyway, the man says 'Are you trying to tell me you're too stupid to fix my car, mister?' And Daddy said, heck this still makes me laugh down to this very day, Daddy said 'No, you're stupid!' and threw a crescent wrench at his forehead. Daddy was a pretty good shot and that feller went down like a sack of Navy Beans! I said 'I guess you told him, Daddy!' and Daddy said 'Well, I guess I did!'.   We all got a pretty good laugh out of that one."

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  Nathus got a job selling popcorn in the theater when he was eleven and soon after bought his first guitar for eight dollars mail order from Sears. The next four years were devoted to learning his new instrument. He studied at the feat of any of the hundreds musicians who drifted through Erving's Corner and by his sixteenth year, he was the finest guitarist in the county. His real heroes were Bob Wills and the emerging performers of the new form of blues called “rock ‘n’ roll”. He joined a local band called “The Highway Kings” and got himself an electric guitar at the price of almost four weeks wages but he knew it was worth it. Rock ‘n’ roll was calling him. For over a year, the band played dances, picnics and other events throughout Lamont county and he found himself making more money than he had selling popcorn and was able to buy himself a used car. They even aroused the interest of a local DJ who was interested in branching out into music promotion. He arranged for the band to record a single.

   It was at this point that Nathus Henry had the first of several career setbacks. He had started a relationship with Lynette May, the thirteen year old sister of Johnny May, the band’s singer and front man. Johnny found out that the seventeen year old Nathus had “sullied” his sister and flew into a rage and showed up at the gas station with a shotgun. Nathus felt that the most prudent course of action was to vacate Lamont County and head for Nashville. There he started appearing in clubs as “Hoppin’ Henry, The Master of Rock ‘N’ Roll”.

   It was in Nashville that Henry finally put out his first record with the help of a local club owner. The song was a local hit and it was an original Nathus Henry composition.

 

Run Around

(1953)

 

Hey little girl, you’re so innocent,

Hey little girl, you’re so sweet

Hey little girl, don’t go home to your mama,

Jump in my car and run around with me.

 

We gotta run, we gotta run, we gotta run around

We gotta run, we gotta run, we gotta run around

We gotta run, we gotta run, we gotta run around

We gotta run, we gotta run, we gotta run around

Hey little girl, ya gotta run around with me!

 

Hey little girl, you’re so pretty,

Hey little girl, you’re such a treat

Hey little girl, your daddy won’t miss you

Open up the door and take a seat!

 

We gotta run, we gotta run, we gotta run around

We gotta run, we gotta run, we gotta run around

We gotta run, we gotta run, we gotta run around

We gotta run, we gotta run, we gotta run around

Hey little girl, ya gotta run around with me!

 

 

Compared with other songs that were getting play on w radio stations with white audiences, Run Around seemed bold and sexy. At this time there were a number of white artists who were making music inspired by Negro artists, but there was still some resistance to the trend to say the least. Some older people were more than willing to identify Hoppin’ Henry as yet another source of the growing immorality of society. The younger people thought differently.  Shorly after the release of Run Around , Henry played a high school dance that was soon disrupted when a hundred girls started screaming and rushed the stage. No one had seen anything like it since Sinatra first came on the scene. After a few more incidents like that, Hoppin’ Henry decided that he needed first class representation and got an interview with Mark Schneiderman, who was well on his way to becoming the hottest talent agent in the South. Schneiderman went to work on distributing Run Around nationally and quickly got a deal to produce two more records. The first of these. It’s O.K., became a number one national hit and Hoppin’ Henry, the legend was truly born!

 

 

 

It's O.K.

(1955)

 

 Oh, oh oh baby please don't make me blue

 You know I'm in love with you.

Yes I know you're still in school,

but that's no cause for you to be cruel.

I don't care what your mama say,

it's O.K. to love me!

 

Li'l girl you know that I want you bad

And I ain't afraid of your dad,

even though he's got a gun,

That won't put me on the run.

And I don't care what the Police say,

It's O.K. to love me!

 

This couldn’t have happened at a better time as Nathus needed some money pretty badly. It seems that he had gotten a local school girl named Wanda Peterson in a bit of trouble that would result in the birth of his first daughter Jayney-Anne.  He managed to avoid getting either married or shot by giving two thousand dollars to the girl’s father and pledging to support the child, a promise he kept.

  Hoppin’ Henry hit New York like a hurricane. He was featured on the touring Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Rally that included acts like Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and Carl Perkins. On this tour he introduced Baby-doll Darlin which would be a monster hit within days.

 

 

Baby-doll Darlin'

(1956)

 

Baby-doll darlin, you're so sweet,

 When I see you skipping down the street,

Oh, Baby-doll darlin' come with me,

I wanna be your daddy, can't you see?

 

Baby-doll darlin’ won’t you come my way,

Time to get that baby-doll put away.

Don’t you know that you’re a big girl now?

Come on up to my place and I’ll show you how.

 

Baby-doll Darlin’ your time has come,

You gotta go with me and have some fun.

Baby-doll darlin’ you’re so fine,

Put the baby-doll down and come be mine.

 

Baby-doll darlin

I said baby-doll darlin

C’mon baby-doll darlin’,

I want you to be mine!

 

  Hoppin’ Henry suddenly had legions of fans, mostly teen girls, who showed up at the concerts with baby-dolls in hand. In the audience of one show, a girl named Emma Saxton, 14, of Scarsdale, New York caught his eye. He met with her after the show and they announced their plan to marry less than a week later.

  A judge willing to perform the ceremony couldn’t be found in the New York area, so Henry booked a private flight to Birmingham, Alabama where they were wed on June 2nd, 1956. When Hoppin’ Henry rejoined the tour in Philadelphia, he was promptly arrested for co-habiting with Emma and violations of the Mann act. Both his and Emma’s protestations of true love were ignored and his extradition to New York was expedited.  Henry was able to cut a deal with the DA that included a quick annulment and his agreement to avoid young girls in the State of New York without a proper chaperone.

   Even with this little bump along the way, Hoppin’ Henry grew from strength to strength as a performer and his records sold like the proverbial hotcakes. From late 1956 and into the summer of 1957, Henry had some of his most enduring hits, The Christmas season hit I’ll take you to see Santa, the rocking Li’l Darling and Playin’ House, and the sad ballad, She said She was Eighteen. Hoppin’ Henry secured his status as one of the greats of early rock ‘n’ roll during this fertile period.

  In September of 1957, Myron Henry was killed in an automobile accident, apparently a drunken game of “chicken” gone wrong. He had just turned 40 three days before. Nathus went home for the funeral and to comfort his grieving mother and also had a chance to mend fences with his old band, The Highway Kings. Johnny May was eager to make up with Nathus now that he had made it big and since he showed little renewed interest in Lynette, now 18, it seemed that the source of their discord had passed.  The Highway Kings became the new back up band for Hoppin’ Henry.

   Around this same time, unknown to Hoppin’ Henry, his second child, a son, was born to Emma Saxton. She named him Nathus Henry Saxton.  Today he performs as a rock act under the name of Hoppin’ Henry Junior and is the only of Hoppin’ Henry’s twelve (all save one, illegitimate) children to go into show business.

   When he played the Ed Sullivan Show in early 1958, Hoppin’ Henry had the number 1,2 and 4 songs on the charts. The studio audience that night was jammed with screaming girls clutching baby dolls. Even “The Pelvis” himself would have been hard pressed to match the reaction. That month he released Pretty Little Thing, which was destined to be the biggest hit of his career.

 

Pretty Little Thing

(1958)

 

How’d the good Lord make a pretty little thing like you?

How’d the good Lord make a pretty little thing like you?

If you talk to me I never will be blue.

 

When I see you walkin’ my heart skips a beat or two,

When I hear you talkin’ it’s like music, yes it’s true

Go with me and I’ll always be true.

 

In all my life,

 through all my strife

I never knew someone as sweet

Those ruby lips

How she swings those hips

As she walks down the street (oh, yeah!)

 

How’d the good Lord make a pretty little thing like you?

When I see you there’s just nothin’ I can do

If you come with me I always will love you.

 

Pretty little thing, come and keep me warm

Hoppin’ Henry will never do you any harm

Just want to have you in my ever-lovin’ arms.

 

 

 

 

   Henry was approached in 1960 by Hollywood producers to star in a musical film similar to those that had been done by Elvis Presley. The deal almost fell through because he wanted to write the script himself and title it John F. Kennedy is a Communist Loving Bastard. Cooler heads prevailed and the movie that was eventually titled Rock 'n' Roll Fever had a much less topical theme. Rock 'n' Roll Fever was a sanitized version of Hoppin Henry’s own life story although actresses over twenty-one years old played all the women in his life. The movie was an enormous hit and Hoppin Henry proved to be as magnetic on the screen as he was on stage.

  Needing money, 16 year old Emma Saxton went to the National Enquirer with her son in tow to sell her story. The scandal was a national sensation that became even more sensational when Wanda Peterson made herself known. Throughout the nation, church and civic organizations as well as hundreds of ad-hoc decency leagues sponsored Hoppin' Henry record burning events. His movie was boycotted and picketed everywhere it was exhibited. In light of these events, Hoppin' Henry felt the time was ripe for a European Tour.

   Hoppin' Henry and the Highway Kings played to record crowds in London, Paris, Amsterdam and Hamburg. There were screaming hordes of girls with baby-dolls everywhere he went. The European girls were very welcoming and Henry left a trail of broken hearts and fatherless children across the continent as the tour went on. Encouraged, he continued on to Japan and Australia and didn't return to the USA for two years. By the time he returned, times had changed. Schneiderman wouldn’t return his calls. Pop music now belonged to mop-topped boys with British accents.

   Henry still was able to work clubs here and there which he had to do to make a living. The paternity suits were still there waiting for him and he finally had to face the music. In the end, all he had to show for the money he had made was a custom 1960 El Dorado, a cherry red Fender guitar and twenty-one pairs of alligator shoes. After the lawyers were done with him, Hoppin' Henry faded into obscurity…until 1968, that is.