HENRY GLOVER WAS the man behind the glass. A behind-the-scenes musical innovator, his credits as a producer and songwriter are limited to a line or two in the liner notes. But his music is everywhere.
Whether it was country, blues, pop, R&B, jazz or rock ’n’ roll, Henry Glover handled it all. The Hot Springs native, born there in May 1921, had an uncanny ability as a producer to help artists find their voices. His additional musical-arranging abilities made him the guy you wanted at your recording session, and his expertise as a talent scout made him the guy you wanted on your record label. And his songs? They’ve become part of our musical fabric. With his varied skills—and varied tastes—Glover had the additional good fortune of coming of age during the 1940s and 1950s, when the American music business was in expansion mode and open to a little experimentation.
Although Hot Springs was, for Arkansas, a comparatively cosmopolitan burg in the heyday of healing waters, the destination quickly defaulted to hardscrabble rural environs on the rough roads and train tracks out of town. This town/country dichotomy was later reflected in the variety of artists that Glover would produce in the studio: early country stars Grandpa Jones and the Delmore Brothers; R&B performers James Brown and Hank Ballard & the Midnighters; pop artists Joey Dee & the Starlighters and The Charms; and jazz vocalists Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn. Glover also produced the first recordings of rock ’n’ roll pioneers Levon and the Hawks, later known as The Band. The group’s leader, Levon Helm, bonded with fellow Arkansas native Glover, and over the years, Helm came to see Glover as his mentor.
Although Glover began his musical life as a trumpeter in the mid-1940s, by the end of the decade, his career was primarily as an arranger and producer. But what he’s really most recognized for are his songs. There are R&B standards, “Ram-Bunk-Shush” and “I’ll Drown in My Own Tears”; early rock ’n’roll gems, “Teardrops On Your Letter,” “Seven Nights to Rock” and “Cherry Wine”; and certified pop classics, “The Peppermint Twist” and “California Sun.” Sometimes using his pseudonym, Henry Bernard—his middle name—he also wrote many salacious titles in the bawdy tradition, including “Annie Had a Baby,” “It Ain’t the Meat (It’s the Motion),” “Mountain Oysters” and “I Want A Bowlegged Woman.” Glover’s songs have been recorded by a spectacular array of musical giants, from Ray Charles to the Ramones, (see “Songs of Henry” below).
Glover was just one of many overachieving graduates of Langston High School, which black students in Hot Springs were required to attend prior to the racial integration of U.S. schools. He carved out the bulk of his musical legacy at Cincinnati, Ohio-based King Records. King is best remembered by fans today as the starting place of James Brown, but the label is a behemoth in American roots music with a deep and wide catalog. King Records was where Glover produced such standards of the Great American Songbook as the original versions of “The Twist” and “Fever.”
“Fever” is one of the most enduring songs Glover had a hand in, which is saying plenty. And the song has an additional Arkansas connection: It was originally sung by Ouachita County-born crooner Little Willie John, when John was just 17. It’s since been covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to Madonna. “I heard Willie John at 5 o’ clock,” Glover later said. “And I was so impressed with him that at 8 o’ clock, I had musicians in the studio, and I recorded him.”
Another Glover-credited song with notable Arkansas connections is “Blues Stay Away From Me,” written with Cleburne County native Wayne Raney and the Delmore Brothers, based on Glover’s “Boardinghouse Blues.” It became the Delmores’ biggest hit and has been covered by the likes of The Everly Brothers, Gene Vincent and Les Paul. “Blues Stay Away From Me,” as sung by Glover’s friend Levon Helm, closed The Band’s first album following its 1990s reformation.
The strident racial segregation of the era bled over to all aspects of American life, including musical genres. But Glover often struck gold with the same song on both sides of his label’s musical aisle at King Records. An R&B number was easily cut by a country artist, and a country hit could become an R&B song. And if a songwriter could receive double the royalties while also blazing across stratified lines of race and genre, more’s the better, eh? In the process, Glover broke down musical and cultural barriers in the United States, helped forge rock ’n’ roll and personified genre-busting artistic freedom.
With all Henry Glover did to develop American song as a producer, writer and arranger, how did this Arkansawyer’s name get overlooked? To ask the question is to answer it—Glover was the man behind the curtain, twisting knobs and pulling levers to alchemize gold. And while we admire the gold, we pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
Songs of Henry: From Ray to the Ramones
A brief Arkansongs playlist of songs Henry Glover wrote or produced. Take a listen by visiting our Spotify playlist at tinyurl.com/SongsOfHenry
“Seven Nights to Rock” – Moon Mullican
“All Around the World” – Little Willie John
“Teardrops on Your Letter” – Hank Ballard and the Midnighters
“Star Eyes” – Sarah Vaughan
“Cherry Wine” – Little Esther Phillips
“Keep on Churnin’ (Till the Butter Comes)” – Wynonie Harris
“Icy Stone” – Dinah Washington
“Well Oh Well” – Tiny Bradshaw
“Blues So Bad” – Levon Helm and the RCO All-Stars
“Drown in My Own Tears” – Ray Charles
“Who Do You Love?” – Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks
“It Ain’t The Meat (It’s the Motion)” – The Swallows
“Blues Stay Away From Me” – The Delmore Brothers
“California Sun” – The Ramones