Looking back on my time with John McHenry and Blursday
I have been circling this task for some time. It has been hard for me to get used to being without my partner on a Blursday.
In some respects, we were already losing John before we lost him. The essence of John McHenry was slipping away from us, in increments. On one of my visits John and I went outside by ourselves and he, to the best of his ability, let me know that he knew what he was dealing with. I imagine that the experience of having watched his father deal with this awful loss of memory, (and his mom, at a more advanced age,) affected how he interacted with Gayle, his family, and friends. When we visited them, the change in him was evident but he always seemed to be open, happy and to a certain degree, accepting of the fact that he wasn’t able to remember things. During conversations he would say, “you’ll have to ask Gayle.” In fairness to Gayle,.......I only saw extremely short glimpses of their lives over the last couple years before he passed. She did say that, thankfully, the happy times and great memories are constantly foremost in her thoughts. Enough said about the end, I will try to look back on the joy that John and I had doing our shows at KDHX, starting at the beginning.
It all started in the late 80’s with Art Dwyer calling John and then me, to see if we would be interested in taking over his Monday drive time show. He had the Monday-Friday gig and he found it hard to make it to his jam session at the Broadway Oyster Bar with The Soulard Blues Band (still going on every Monday from 9pm till…….). Individually, John had told Art “no,” and I said “no” as well. After talking to Art, I decided to give John a call. Our “no’s” were based on not knowing whether we could get to the station(the Lower Arnold tower location) on time. We decided that between the two of us we could try to make it work. Neither one of us had ever wanted to be DJ’s, but we loved music and had similar tastes.
By the time we had agreed to do the show, (and had successfully managed to show up for a couple months), the programming committee had given our temporary show to another programmer. Honestly, we were not that upset. Dave Taylor and Larry Weir were appreciative of what we had done and said that if something else opened up that they would keep us in mind. A short time later a drive time show opened up on Tuesday. We took the offer and held that slot until Gabriel asked to move from his Thursday show to his favorite time, midnight on Sunday. Tunes on a Bluesday became Blursday. My wife swears that she said we should call it Blursday. My memory on how this came about is “Blurry”, but I am smart enough to know that, if someone (a spouse in particular) feels strongly about how something evolved,......what the hell,...........IT’S A BLURSDAY.
Initially, one of us ran the board for half of the show while the other would answer the phones and do the clerical work. Then we would switch. After a while, John ran the board and I did the data entry and answered the phones. The good news is that no matter how we did the show, …….we had loads of fun. We were close enough in age that our cultural knowledge jived. We got each other’s plays on words and double entendres. We often told the punch line of border line jokes, safely, because the listeners filled in the rest of the jokes on their own.
A big difference between us was that John had been playing drums in bands all the way back into his High School days. He had a huge collection of albums and CD’s and carted six or so boxes back and forth to do the show each week. I did not have as large a collection, but I did carry quite a few boxes back and forth each week. Many of the more polished DJ’s would shake their heads at what we thought was “normal”. As technology changed they would come in with their show already on a CD or a Tape. Later on the computer made it even easier and, in retrospect, made us look like “Dinosaur-a-deejayus’s”. It gave us the ability to play some of our favorite songs and also tap into the big library that KDHX had at our disposal.
Earlier I mentioned the Programming Committee. Two things had a huge effect on our show. One was being told to record our shows so that we could learn how to regulate the volume and learn how to make the shows easy to listen to. John, being a school teacher, resented being told to do this, but quickly did it religiously and, lucky for us, it transformed our Thursday night. We would sit in the car, drink beer and listen to the show that we did not hear earlier. On many occasions, friends and other KDHX’ers would join us. Laughter always ensued. The second thing that came from the Programming Committee was a “critique”. We were informed that, “we sounded like two guys sitting at the bar........aimlessly talking”. We looked at each other and declared ourselves a “SUCCESS”.
While writing this the St. Louis area has lost another musical treasure, guitarist and singer Tom Hall. Tom was a great talent and he will be remembered for his work as a solo and in the many groups he played with. Tom was a DJ at KDHX in the early years. The thread from Tom to Blursday came in the form of Chuck Shepard’s News Of The Weird. Tom used to pick out stories and read them over the air. Years later, after Tom had left the station I started to read from NOTW as well. I wrote my own headlines and read them in front of the story and then repeated them after the story. John would add his own thoughts and oneliners along the way. He would provide the musical bed, and soon he had an intro that he would fire off from memory:
“Here he is ladies and gentleman, Dennis Michael Patrick Clancy, the man whose tongue moves too fast for his own mouth and he spins out on gravel of his own voice, the Hiplipster, the Blood Brother of the Blues, the Foster Father of Funk, the Grandpa of Groove, the Stepson of Soul, the Magnificent Moolah of Musick, the Dictator of Dance, the Sheik of the Shuffle, the Rajah of Rhythm and Blues, with no further ado, the Soul that’s been abused, with all the News that you can use, The News Of The Weird for you”.
He quite often added other names to this intro and I cannot remember them all. One of the things that happened to us, and I am sure other DJ’s, is that we would be out in public and someone would hear us talking and recognize us from KDHX. Thanks to John I would be called out by the listener,...... “hey, you’re the Hiplipster” or one of the other ones I listed above. John, lovingly, made sure that the listening audience knew my full name and also gave me the above mentioned list of nicknames.
John’s comments about my headlines were “edgey” and occasionally someone would call in to complain about the headline or John’s “tongue in cheek” remark. One time the story was about a man who had been turned over to Child’s Service’s for putting his 3 kids in separate 55 gallon drums. I do not remember my headline other than it was a reference to Time Out. John said, “yeah, that’ll work”. I had to calmly explain to this poor woman that we were making fun of the man, not endorsing his methods. She then said that she did not think it was funny. I referred to Mel Brooks and his making fun of Nazi’s so that the world will find them unacceptable. Upon further review, Brooks may have needed to have been a little harder on the Nazi’s. You know, like Ward was on the Beaver according to June. I then asked the lady who she thought was funny and she said Red Skelton. I pointed out that Red had been dead for quite a while. Off air I mentioned to John that our tongues were in our cheek. Then, for the rest of the show, we did the show with our tongues in our cheeks. The PSA’s, everything. Why? Because we could. We let freedom ring. Occasionally Elmer Fudd showed up as well. When that happened, “We wet fweedom wing”. In winter John would refer to the Walter Wind-chill. I know that I have to wrap this up and it is hard, because I keep remembering little snippets of stuff that happened along the way.
I do have to mention that while we were doing the show life and history was being made. I would come in very upset about what was going on in the news and vent to John off the air and point out that I did not want to talk about it on air. Then John, looking across the room, would smile that impish smile, and deliberately ask me about whatever the topic was that I had asked him not to bring up. Dancing between KDHX policy and the FCC, I would do my best to vent without getting us kicked off of the air. He made me work. Hard. Later, in the car, listening to the show he would be laughing about what he had wrought.
There is so much more…John was so many things to so many people. A husband, a father, a grandfather, a son, a brother, a journalist, a teacher, a builder, a drummer, a reluctant DJ, a friend to friendly people and also, tolerated /appreciated any number of characters that my brother Bob referred to as “airedales.” John in truth, had a thing for “eccentric” people. He embraced life and brought love and joy to those he met along the way. He was by no means a pushover. We did not always agree, but we always had loads of fun. When he first graduated from college he worked as a reporter for the Alton telegraph. Later, he found the job that became his life’s work, teaching at Edgewood School in Webster Groves. He would share the ups and downs of working with special needs children who could not be in mainstream classrooms. He was not a tradesman, but he knew how to open a book at the library. Over a period of years he built his family home in Cedar Hill, from the bottom up. He was one of the drummers that played with the Soulard Blues Band in the early years. A drumming highlight of John’s career happened at 4th and Pine when Albert King brought his band to St. Louis. John was sitting in the front row playing “the table” and Albert noticed and asked John if he wanted to play the drums instead of the table, looking towards the drummer. John was up in a flash, and as John told it, King’s drummer kept the High Hat going as he slid out of the chair to make room for John,....passing off the sticks. John played 3 or 4 songs with Albert smiling and the crowd enjoying the electricity of one of those “moments” that are hard to explain. John described himself as “insufferable” for about a month because he had played with one of “the King’s”. I cannot thank Art Dwyer enough for his bringing us together, and for his part in bringing about “It’s A Blursday Afternoon”. Blursday was a gift, it gave me my best friend. For more than 28 years we had a weekly date with the two of us, and many of you. Music, stories, bad jokes, good jokes, jokes that callers shared with us, current events and ridiculousness.
I would be remiss, and I know John would want me to acknowledge all of the help we got along the way from the various people that worked at and ran KDHX. Larry Weir, Andy Coco, Nick Acquisto, and Meghan Dougherty were mainstays that smoothed out the rough edges of a Blursday, almost every week. Over the years we had Geoff “The Underling” Whittington helping us with the phones and data entry. George Fortier dropped in for a while doing Irish and other voices along the way. One of the more enjoyable times was when the station decided to do weather reports and Bridget Weibel nervously joined A Blursday. Like most people dealing with going on air, initially her voice was shaky. However, within a couple weeks of her maiden voyage her description of a springtime storm showed that she was “ready”. She warned the audience that there was butt-cheeked sized hail falling in St. Charles. John and I looked at each other and then at Bridgett as she smiled the smile of someone who knew she was “on”. Now that was a weather report that painted a vivid picture. So much spontaneous fun.
The last couple of years I was often down in Mexico and Steve St. Cyr was always there, answering the phones and doing data entry. Then Jim Findlay returned to the airways. He and Jay Schober had for many years been the hosts of The Brain Boys. The story of The Brain Boys Show is for another time, but I must thank Jim for being there for John (and Gayle) those last couple of years. His help kept Blursday on the air for a few more years, picking up John and driving him there each week when it had become clear that John would not be able to do it himself.
As for KDHX, we have to keep on “keeping on”. I would argue that there is not one radio station in St Louis that has the institutional knowledge that KDHX has because of the variety of DJ’s within the different genres. The amount of knowledge that rolled out over the years from Papa Ray, Sunny Boy, Art Dwyer, Ron Edwards, Al Becker, Bruce B, and the many other DJ’s is huge and I know, much appreciated by the musicians around town. I cannot mention all the people that have made KDHX what it is. I can only hope that we have the courage and will to keep the fire burning.
After rereading this I realized that I came up severely short on the biggest part of John’s life, his family. John’s biggest success was his life with his wife Gayle, and his daughter Hannah and son Jack. I know that they know this, but you all need to know that when I say this,....it is not just words. They were the real deal and “still are”. Their love for each other, I have no doubt, will see them through.
Now back to my buddy John. I can see him now, a Bud or Natty Light in hand, either listening or telling a story. So much fun.
Thank you John, for being you.