It all started at a little club on the North Side.
Jamie Younger, owner of Young Bro, on Woods Run Rd., called his old friend, Randy Williams, master drummer, and told him he had to hear this young man sing and play the guitar during the Wednesday night jam session. Williams says when he first heard Bill Henry, he knew there was something there. He liked what he heard. But it was when he got behind his drums and did a jam session with Henry that he knew it was magic. He knew he could make something special happen.
“We had the ‘it factor’ immediately,” Williams said. “When I did a full gig with him, that’s when I knew we could go places.”
Fast forward three years and the Bill Henry Band (BHB) has become one of the hottest R&B bands in Pittsburgh, the ability to sell out the Rivers Casino ballroom in one hour.
The four-man group: Manager Randy Williams, drums and percussion, Larry Hutcherson (Hutch), keyboards, Philip Price, bass and synthesizer, and Bill Henry, vocalist, guitar player, came together through trust. “They trusted and believed in me,” Williams says.
Faith is the glue that keeps the group together, it plays a huge part in the philosophy of the band and adds to the cohesiveness of the group. Before each performance, the four huddle and say a prayer. “We always acknowledge God,” Hutch, dubbed the Bishop, says. “We offer the people the same thing that we ask God for. We ask that we can do our best to deliver and to show people a good time and that we also have a good time. We pray that God’s light will shine through us.”
Williams echoed, “If we can’t uplift the next person, if we can’t have a good time, how can we expect others to have a good time?”
All members of the band have roots in the church. Williams, Price and Hutch, whose father was a pastor, all played in churches and knew each other before forming the group. Henry’s father also is a Presbyterian pastor. “We put God above everything else,” Henry says.
BHB will perform at Savoy Restaurant’s New Year’s Eve Celebration, Monday, Dec. 31. Savoy is located at 2623 Penn Ave. in the Strip District.
Since being with the band, Henry tells the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview that he’s regained his relationship with God and his spirituality has grown. “A few years before meeting Randy,” Henry says, “I was fighting God. From day one I was in church every week, but my mind and heart weren’t in the right place. I was doing everything for me.”
But Henry says that when you give that ego up and just trust, things can happen. “I did put a lot of trust in Randy and the rest of the group. I’ve watched in the last two years the growth. Everyone is here to push the next person,” he says.
As a collective, the group says it’s God that makes them so popular. Price added, “From the outside looking in before I got in the group, I could see that they had God with them.”
Price never saw himself as being part of a band, but when he was asked to fill in from time to time, he knew this was a group he could be part of. “It fell right in my lap. I felt like I found a whole bunch of diamonds.”
Initially, Williams wanted to build the band around Henry. The group was originally titled, “The Bill Henry Band,” but Williams says after the chemistry and unity of the band came together it was Henry’s decision to take the focus off him and build the brand of BHB, though the band is still widely known as The Bill Henry Band. “Each member of the band depends on one another,” Henry says. “It’s not me being accompanied by musicians, it’s all of us making music together.”
BHB is not just a musical group, they are truly a band of brothers. A family, you could say. “It’s become a very special dynamic in terms of musical and personal relationships. We are family and I think this is reflected in our shows,” Henry says.
The vibe between the four members is palpable. They tease and joke with each other like brothers. They are so close that when on stage they can anticipate each other’s moves. With just a look over his shoulder, they know where Henry may be going next with a song. “We have gigs on the weekend and rehearse on Wednesdays, but if we don’t talk to each other on one of those off days, we are on the phone checking in,” Hutch says. “We miss each other on all levels, it’s a family experience.”
This brotherhood is evident in the jabbing, in the laughter, in the complete comfortableness and positive aura one feels just being in their presence.
Henry says he was exposed to a variety of music at an early age. “My father had a wide musical library from all genres. I can go from Marvin Gaye to Fleetwood Mac,” but he says he gravitated to R&B.
The group first played some of their original music at a concert in Hartwood Acres when they opened for Lakeside this past summer and will continue to do so going forward. But it’s the R&B covers that they are known for. “We play covers because they are recognizable, but we put our own spin on it,” Hutch explains. “We claim them and own them. We put our own personality on it and allow each one of us to do our thing.” And doing their collective thing includes playing their favorite songs like “Yearning for Your Love,” the Maze medley and their rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain.”
Hutch said Henry incorporates his eclectic musical taste during performances. “He can start playing a song and then start thinking about something else and he’ll just start singing a completely different song. And we’re like, “how did he get here from there?”
Williams has big plans for the band’s future. His motto is “2018, Hard Work. 2019, World Tour,” and they seem to be keeping on track. Currently, an original music album is in the works which should be released in early 2019. The album marries the old school with the new school, Williams explains. “Since we have such a wide demographic, we have something for everyone.”
Only eight of the 10-plus tracks recorded will make the cut for the album. Williams co-produced the album, along with Undeniable, a local production company which wrote and produced the first six tracks. Henry and Hutch collaborated with writing some tracks, and a song by local artist/producer, Travis Malloy, could make it on the final product. The title song of the album is significantly called, “Ride.” Williams says he told the guys in the beginning that he has a vision. “I’m going to do this, but you got to trust me,” he told the group. “I need you to get in the car and ride. Don’t tell me to turn left, don’t tell me to turn right, just ride.”
When it came time to picking the title song after hearing the finished product, Henry said it was a no-brainer, it has to be “Ride.” The song captures the group’s journey, figuratively and literally.
The band keeps focused and keeps their eyes on the prize. The focus was realized after one of their first gigs—opening for a big-name act at the Coliseum in Homewood. “When we first came out on stage, everyone just sat there,” Williams recalls. He said he heard people say, “‘Bill looks like Jon B., but can he sing?’ The house lights were left on, there was no vibe at all in the venue. But once we started playing and Bill singing, and we got into it, the girls started screaming, people started dancing and the place came alive. So now 3,000 people know Bill can sing, people know BHB.”
The group gets a rush when they pull up to the venue where they will be performing and see the line wrapped around the building. “You know they are coming to see you…it’s an awesome feeling,” Williams says. “They come for the vibe—plus we are four good-looking guys.”
The goal for BHB is to just make people happy through music. “Music is healing,” Williams says. Price says he loves feeding off the audience’s energy. “Just entertaining people, enjoying what we do, to see them dancing and singing along, it’s a natural high. It’s a feeling that I can’t even explain.”
Hutch agrees. “The crowd gives you so much that it’s not even work. When we stop playing and hear people singing the lyrics without missing a beat, it’s moving.”
Hutch adds that it’s gratifying when someone comes up to them after a show and says they were glad they came out and that the band brightened their day.
For the members of BHB, two words come to mind: humility and modesty. They take nothing for granted, especially their newfound fame as a group. While BHB members are getting recognized everywhere they go, they are not letting the newfound group fame get to their heads. “It’s flattering, and it fuels us. I’ll run into Giant Eagle for something and I’ll hear, ‘Hey BHB, where are you playing this week?’” Henry says.
Meeting and taking pictures (including selfies) with fans never gets old for BHB. They love when people stop them in public and say hello. “People may come up to us and speak to us like they’ve known us for years. We may not remember everyone, but it’s a feeling that you can’t replace,” Henry tells the Courier. “It’s like a high that you keep chasing. They could have done 19 other things that night, but they decided to come to hear us, that’s special.”
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