Joseph Lee Henry (born December 2, 1960) is an American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer. He has released 15 studio albums and produced multiple recordings for other artists, including three Grammy Award-winning albums.
Henry was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, the state where his parents, whom he described as devout Christians, were also from. He grew up in Oakland Township, Michigan and attended Rochester Community Schools. He graduated from Rochester Adams High School, then graduated from the University of Michigan.
1985 to 2005
Henry moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1985 and began performing in local music venues. He released his first album Talk of Heaven in 1986. The album earned him a recording contract with A&M, which subsequently released the albums Murder of Crows in 1989 and Shuffletown in 1990.Shuffletown, produced by T-Bone Burnett, represented a shift in musical direction towards the "alt country" genre. Henry's next two recordings, Short Man's Room (1992) and Kindness of the World (1993), featured members of the country-rock band the Jayhawks. The song "King's Highway" was recorded by Joan Baez in 2003 and Gov't Mule in 2005. For his 1996 album Trampoline, Henry incorporated guitarist Page Hamilton of Helmet and a reviewer at Trouserpress called the album "idiosyncratic broadmindedness."
2003's self-produced Tiny Voices album was Henry's first recording on Epitaph's Anti- label. AllMusic's Jurek described this album as "the sound of....electric guitars in an abandoned yet fully furnished Tiki bar in Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles."
In the early 2000s, Henry was an inaugural member of the Independent Music Awards' judging panel to support independent artists.
2006 to present
Joe Henry at The Garfield House, 2009
After producing the Grammy-award-winning album Don't Give Up on Me by Solomon Burke, Henry produced additional records and in 2006 opened up a home studio where he often collaborates with recording engineer Ryan Freeland and Los Angeles-based musicians such as Jay Bellerose, Greg Leisz, David Piltch, Patrick Warren and Keefus Ciancia. In September 2006, Henry and Loudon Wainwright III began composing the music for the Judd Apatow movie Knocked Up in Henry's home studio. Some instrumentals were used as background score for the film while other songs appeared on Wainwright's 2007 Strange Weirdos which Henry produced.
In 2007, Henry released Civilians, which was described as "a rich, acoustic affair that returns us to Henry's rootsier sounds". The final track on the album, "God Only Knows," was used in a "TCM Remembers 2008" TV commercial. Bonnie Raitt's 2012 album Slipstream, which Henry produced, contained versions of two songs from Civilians.
In 2009, Henry released his ninth solo record, Blood from Stars which incorporates orchestral blues with guitarist Marc Ribot, pianist Jason Moran and his son, Levon Henry, on saxophone. The album focuses on facets of blues with a sprinkling of jazz, rock and pop and traces the rugged history of American storytelling."
In May 2011, Henry released the album Reverie with simple acoustic instrumention on guitar, upright bass, piano and drums. "When you listen to Reverie, especially on headphones, you can hear traffic in the background or a neighbor calling her dog. It's not always a pristine recording environment. Henry not only left the windows open at his basement studio, but also put microphones on them." "But there was this singer-songwriter environment, this post-Dylan fallout, of people who think that pages of your diary set to music are songs, and that the more 'honest' songs are, the better they are. And that's the greatest misconception of American popular music: that if you're being honest, you're being entertaining."
In June 2014, Henry released his thirteenth album, Invisible Hour. It was recorded at his LA home studio, The Garfield House, in 2013 with his regular band of musicians (Jay Bellerose, Jennifer Condos, Levon Henry, Greg Leisz, John Smith, and David Piltch). Guests providing backing vocals on the album included The Milk Carton Kids and Lisa Hannigan. Paste magazine described it as "11 impossibly beautiful songs" and "Joe Henry's masterpiece".
In October 2017, Henry released Thrum.
In June 2019 Joe recorded what was intended to be demos of 13 new songs. With only a handful of friends playing in support, Joe entered the studio and tore through these songs with determination and abandon, then went home. The next day he listened and understood that something had transpired that was more than he had bargained for; that the songs as recorded sparked an ember that somehow remained bright and alive before him, moving beyond any sense of expectation he may have held. These raw and wirey songs together construct Joe's 15th studio album titled "The Gospel According To Water", which was released on November 15, 2019.
Henry has been described as "a modest-selling 'critic's darling' with a reputation for pushing the envelope" and who writes "songs [that] don't fit into an easily defined box" and instead is influenced by folk, blues, jazz, rock and country.
Henry married Melanie Ciccone in 1987. They have two children. Melanie is the sister of entertainer Madonna.
In 2013, Henry and his brother David released a biography of Richard Pryor, titled Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him.
Joe Henry and his family moved out of their home (and his long-time recording space), The Garfield House, in early 2015.
In May 2019 Joe Henry revealed that a few months earlier he was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer. He further advised that he has responded well to the treatment he has received, and that his prognosis for now is very encouraging.
Talk of Heaven (Profile, 1986; digital re-release on Astor Place, 1999)
"At the Heart of Me" by Chely Wright (co-writer, 2016)
"Holy War" by Chely Wright (co-writer, 2016)
"See Me Home" by Chely Wright (co-writer, 2016)
^Don't Give Up On Me by Solomon Burke (Best Contemporary Blues Album, 2002), A Stranger Here by Ramblin' Jack Elliott (Best Traditional Blues Album, 2009), Genuine Negro Jig by Carolina Chocolate Drops (Best Traditional Folk Album, 2010). See grammy.com.
^An unusual video, which was created to accompany the song "Bloom" - the first offering from the new album, was presented by Joe Henry on October 10, 2019, "with love and squalor". See "'Bloom' music video out now" (retrieved October 19, 2019)
^The album's tracks, as they were gradually presented by Joe Henry's friends (retrieved December 21, 2019)
^Thus, during a special performance he played at Largo (followed by an interview with The LA Times). "He came to the conclusion that 'it would be disingenuous not to say anything' in public about his situation, and so he booked the Largo show -- in part to share his experience with others who are going through the same thing or who have loved ones who are." Joe Henry reveals cancer diagnosis at Largo concert: 'This is my journey', an article published on May 13, 2019 in the Los Angeles Times website (retrieved October 20, 2019)