Picture courtesy of WEVL Volunteer Radio
The Blues Silence a D.J. Who Knew Them Well
MEMPHIS — Violence and heartbreak have long shaped the music that makes this city synonymous with the blues. But when the police were alerted to the slaying of Dee Henderson, a disc jockey whose soft voice piloted “Cap’n Pete’s Blues Cruise” on the city’s volunteer radio station, WEVL, for 26 years, the death seemed more like the lyrics of the Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters songs he so loved than his friends and fans could stand.I had the opportunity to meet and "hang with" blues great Ms. Denise LaSalle and her band when she came up to Alaska in the mid-1990's. The band told me a lot about the fabulous Beale Street Blues Scene where they came from. I've always wanted to go to Memphis and check it out for myself...more than I even wanted to check out New Orleans.
I'd heard of Cap'n Pete when I was doing some research a few years ago. True Blues DJs and aficionados are hard to come by (we're lucky in Alaska to have our own "Atomic Mama," Amy van Singel and Todd Glazer) because there are so few places in radio for them. Blues shows are usually on public radio and often are lovingly produced and aired by volunteers like "Cap'n Pete."
Through the station, Mr. Henderson became a reluctant celebrity. A brake mechanic by trade, he happened across WEVL’s Americana programming when it was a 10-watt secret only enjoyed by central-city residents. Mr. Henderson installed an FM antenna at his home, amplified the signal and was captivated.
Over time, he relayed enough blues knowledge during frequent calls to WEVL that the station manager, Judy Dorsey, and others gently cajoled him into becoming a disc jockey.
He was dubbed Cap’n by friends for his love of fishing and Pete because “he looked like a Pete,” said one of his daughters, Sandra Palmer, and his folksy demeanor made him one of WEVL’s most popular personalities.
Magnifying the loss, Henderson died just a few days before Steve Ladd, 63, "the host of a WDIA Saturday morning blues show died of complications from a brain aneurysm."
This is a huge tragedy for the family, as Henderson was shot by his own grandson:
On July 15, Mr. Henderson was felled by shotgun blasts in the backyard of his longtime family home. The police were called by Mr. Henderson’s grandson, Cortez Thomas, 30, who was later charged with first-degree murder in the case.
Reading this story made me think about how we don't appreciate the folks who freely provide the wealth of their experience to us until it is too late. With the deaths of those two Blues DJs, there are now folks in Memphis who will never experience Blues music the same way.
Let's not let that happen here:
"9th Alley Blues" on KNBA 90.3 FM, Sunday at 7:00 PM
"The Twilight Show" on KSKA 91.1 FM, Saturday at 8:00 PM