(Editor’s note: Life has been so jammed packed that time has been at a premium for Jackaboutguitars…My sincerest thanks to Henry Carvajal and apologies for taking so long to get this interview out there to his public. Thanks for you’re patience and understanding, Henry! – Jack
Photos by Ed Huerta unless otherwise noted.)
HENRY “THE HAMMER” CARVAJAL…(NICKNAME PENDING) by ED HUERTA
Let me just tell you people, Henry Carvajal has his act together. I am not sure how much interaction you all have with musicians. but punctuality isn’t usually high on most musician’s list of things to deal with.
Dig. Henry and I set up an interview appointment at 3 o’clock-ish at the World Famous DiPiazza’s Restaurant in Long Beach, California on a Monday, and no sooner did I show up, when Hammerin’ Henry strolls through the door. I wasn’t even set up yet! He has got to be the most prompt musician I have ever met.
Henry made a great first impression, Peeps, and if I was an employer, I would have given him the job right on the spot along with a company car (just for being a musician showing up on time)! This is how impressive of a feat this is, Ladies and Gents.
Needless to say, I blame the Hammer (I learned Henry doesn’t have a nickname so I made this up, maybe it will catch on) for my mistake in missing the first part of our interview!
Just kidding, but I didn’t want to call Henry and try to recreate the magic that we encountered on our encounter or to check on what kind of condition our condition was in either, so relax, put the problems of the day behind you and take a trip with Henry Carvajal and his life in the blues…
I will admit it. Someone (who will remain nameless) messed up just a little bit here. The first 10 minutes of the interview weren’t. Operator error (those operators)! Someone thought the Zoom was on. It wasn’t. Bummer.
Let me try to recap by memory. It was mostly about Henry’s humble beginnings and how he came to embrace the blues. I’ll try to remember it but my mind isn’t what it used to be, folks…too much of the devil’s music running around my head.
I think it went something like this. The scene: At a corner booth in DiPiazza’s, Henry and I are both settling down to some serious conversation when suddenly a loud, booming voice pierces the calm, “CAN I GET ANOTHER BEER HERE??” … (Oh wait, that was me).
Anyways, Henry was born in a dirt shack just a mere stone’s throw away from the old Buddy Guy place in Little Rock. He had a childhood sweetheart – they were always hand in hand. Henry had high top shoes and shirt tails, Suzy was in pigtails. He knew he loved her even then…oh wait that’s another dude…okay let me think..I will have to consult Henry’s Musician’s Corner article with Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers for this early info.
It seems that Henry’s love for music began when he was a very young boy growing up in the Pico Union district of Los Angeles. He remembers the low riders rolling past his house blaring doo-wop from their tuck and roll ensconced speakers. (Ed’s note: Henry still pays homage to those early greats with his vocal stylings on Lee Dorsey’s “Ya-Ya” and Little Willie John’s “Talk to Me” in live shows.) He fell in love with guitars when his dad would take him around the various local pawnshops on the weekends.
By the time his family moved to South Gate, (best known for a Cal Worthington dealership), Henry was into 50’s rock and roll and the blues and still digging the doo-wop sounds too. At the ripe age of 18, Henry started to play the guitar. Otis Rush, T-Bone Walker, Buddy Guy were the bluesmen that most interested Henry.
Cal Worthington and his dog Spot – (http://mediaandmayhem.com)
He learned to love the harmonica style blues after visiting Lamar’s Records in Long Beach. I can attest that was a fantastic record store! Every blues artist imaginable could be listened to there. An amazing place! Henry credits Gil “Lamar” Duarte (avid record collector and virtual walking encyclopedia of the blues and owner of Lamar’s) for shaping his musical knowledge.
Just three years after picking up the guitar, Henry went out in search of club gigs…talk about chutzpah! Is it any wonder that this man is known the world over as “Hammerin Henry”????? Okay peeps, let me check my magic recorder…okay, we will currently resume our previously interrupted interview…already in progress…
EH: WOW!!! HENRY!!! I can’t believe you said that!!! THAT IS AMAZING!!! Remember folks, you heard it here first on Jackaboutguitars!!! I’m not even going to repeat that story Henry….man, that lady over there just about knocked over her wine. I will probably not get to heaven after hearing that stuff, for sure…I better go to confession, wash my ears out…anyways, let me try to regroup…okay, Henry, what originally or who originally, got you interested in music? Was it the radio? Childhood friends? Parents? Were they musicians?
HC: No, not really…My dad would pick up the guitar now and then. My mom would sing some songs or something but it didn’t actually get me interested in music. Like my dad, he would go around to pawn shops and sorta look around so that sort of got me into the guitar…(Just then Henry’s cell phone rings…an enraged Henry hurls off a string of expletives that this Catholic journalist had never heard in his life!!! Is it any wonder that they call him “Hammerin” Henry????
Actually Henry is a very soft spoken man and politely tells the caller that he is in the middle of an interview and he will return his call afterwards and to leave the ransom money in the previously agreed on drop spot…just trying to see if you guys are paying attention..back to the interview…)
EH: Folks, Henry is a very busy man people! Don’t be botherin’ Henry during no interviews!!! Man, people have got some nerve…This is Henry C, y’all!
HC: Plus my dad had some Ray Charles…so between the two, I started getting heavy into 60’s, into like soul and blues. I also remember listening to The Beatles, loved them and Spanky and Our Gang all that kind of stuff.
EH: What was the first record that you ever bought?
HC: Well I went to Wenzel’s Records (Downey, California) close to my high school and bought a Buddy Guy LP. I remember the cover looked cool… it was crazy. He had that early Strat sound going. That’s what got me going. That was about high school.
EH: I also read somewhere that you were into the mod scene…(Ed’s note: Could be a reason that Henry is a “most nattily attired bluesman” on stage)
HC: That was in high school too…like 8th grade then high school…like I said before from my aunt’s collection I knew all about that British Invasion stuff instead of that like 70’s stuff which I’m not too hip on. It turned out my high school buddies, that we all realized, we were like into the same music.
Like at the time, my high school would be listening to Madonna and Prince and we all wanted to hear some maximum R and B or The Jam, some early Who or The Kinks.
So we’d go to our high school dances and it would be all that scratchin’ stuff… but the cool thing was we could go to St. John Bosco’s, which was on Bellflower, or St. Joseph’s, which was an all-girl school in Lakewood, they were a little more hip. So we would spend our time at dances over there. They played hipper music and there were more mods there than at our high school.
Okay, so when you were about 18, you started playing some serious guitar…and tell me about Lamar’s Records. That seems to loom large in your legend.
HC: I was playing with Whiteboy James. He was my first band. Whiteboy was really instrumental in introducing me to everybody in the Long Beach scene that was happening in the early 90’s. We were really popular then if you remember.
We played everywhere in town. So I walked into Lamar’s and talked to Gil, told him I played a little..and he was probably goin “yeah right, everyone plays around here”, but he was really cool.
(Ed’s note: the owner of Lamar’s Records, Gil “Lamar” Duarte. It was THEE record store of the blues. This place had everything. Artists you have never heard of…I mean, this place was blues heaven. They would have live in-store shows there. I remember a young Ed Huerta and Don “Mr. Hollywood” Butler spent a 7-11 Big Gulp sized vodka soaked day there seeing The William Clarke Band. We somehow ended up at a magic shop across the street and proceeded to get 86ed from there by some dude named Mandrake! But that is another story entirely…).
HC: We were like scoping each other out. We became good friends and stuff. He was instrumental in telling me what bands to listen to, what music to listen to, and through him, I discovered T-Bone Walker, so that was pretty cool. We still remain friends.
EH: Now Lamar’s, now that’s not there anymore, is it?
HC: Naw. The first location was on Atlantic…then they moved and that was about it.
EH: Yeah, I remember seeing live shows there and stuff…okay. So Whiteboy James was your first band then you got into William Clarke. So how long were you in The William Clarke Band?
HC: The first time about 2 years.
EH: So how old are you at this point in time?
HC: Oh man, I was probably about 23 or so.
EH: So that must have been cool. Here you are like a 20 year old kid and you’re packing houses. I mean. You’re not playing The Forum but you are playing real cool places. I always remember going to see Whiteboy and there would always be a freakin’ packed crowd in there. I still, to this day, go to see Whiteboy. I love the man. He is super cool.
Now I remember seeing The William Clarke Band at a private birthday party in Huntington Beach and he was really late…like 2 hours late! (Ed’s note, *Now I didn’t relate the following story to Henry due to respect or time constraints or both but here goes. The William Clarke Band was all set up and they were getting nervous, like fake tuning and everything because their singer was nowhere to be found…finally, one of the guys in the band asked for an audience member to come up and sing some blues.
So this guy, that was a friend of a friend, got up there, obviously feeling no pain…and here is this room full of like grandmothers, aunts, uncles, sisters, family members….you get the idea…anyway the band goes into a slow blues tune and the guy starts singing…and he starts singing words that I had never heard in a blues song before or since…I mean he made Jim Morrison look like Mother Theresa!
He actually sang “I want to #@(< your mother!!!” I mean this is in front of a room full of relatives and stuff!!! We sort of all looked at each other and thought he didn’t say what we thought he said. But again he kept repeating the line over and over. I had never laughed so hard in my life. I was seriously doubled up in pain on my hands and knees crawling to the exit.
I was crying from stomach cramps!!! I was laughing so hard!!! Man, those were the days. Butler, Cudz “The Professor” Johnston and I were running around that party like The Three Stooges in “Hoi Polloi”…and if some lady from that party found a few meatballs in the pocket of her fur coat…well, send me the dry cleaning bill…I feel bad about that now…Hey, when you’re young…) The story circulating around the party was that William Clarke had slept in and didn’t