About The Artist
Smilin' Max Henderson was what Ozark Ed Burton called him in one of his Disc Jockey columns for Country Song Roundup. Mr. Burton told his readers that Max had worked with several stars of the WLS National Barn Dance show including Red Foley, Lulu Belle and Scotty as well as folks like Cowboy Copas and Little Jimmy Dickens. On a side note, we should mention that Jimmy Dickens did work on a radio station, WKNX, in the Flint / Saginaw area early on in his career.
We learned in another magazine article that Max was born in Albany, Oregon, but he did not begin to play the guitar until he was living in Athens, Tennessee. His family had moved there when he was young boy.
His fan club was able to get him featured in Cowboy Songs in one 1951 issue. There we learn he didn't start to think of singing and playing the guitar until he was eighteen years old. But he learned fast. In 1951, his fan club president was Kitty Tullis, who was based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
His fan club had started up around 1948 and like most fan clubs, worked diligently to make sure their favorite got attention in the media.
His career took him to Flint, Michigan about 1939 from what we can piece together from these articles.
At the time Max was working with radio station WTAC in Flint. He joined that station around 1948 or so. Mr. Burton noted that Max was doing not only two shows a day but was also doing two personal appearances a week as one might expect of an artist in that era. Max apparently was the music director for the station at that time.
Around 1954, he was recording on the Serenade Recording Company label that was based in Toledo, Ohio. Some of the tunes he had recorded were "Rickitick", "Parking Meter Blues", "From Someone Who Cares", and "Nature's Darling".
In many of the old publications, the artists or disc jockeys would often right a short article as part of a roundup of news from various parts of the country. Mid-1954 saw Max contributing an article about country music events in the Michigan area.
Max told the readers that his group was part of a three hour show near Christmas time (most likely Christmas 1953). One person that was a part of that was a gal by the name of Rose Marie, who he described as a novelty act and could imitate Minnie Pearl. She could also dance and had worked with the Gene Autry show for a time.
Another member of the act back then was Chuck Adams, from Flint and on the steel guitar. Chuck was back home visiting family during that Christmas and told Max he had been working with Rod Morris on Capitol Records. Chuck's current gig at that time was with Dusty Owens and his Rodeo Boys over in Wheeling, West Virginia. And yes, Dusty got his start in the Michigan area as well.
Max noted that another person with Flint roots was Buz Butler who was also vacationing in Flint around that time. Buz would drop in at the Clover Leaf where Max and his band were entertaining audiences on Saturday nights.
Later that year, he told fans that Merv Shiner has getting ready to record one of Max's songs, "Heartbreaking Waltz".
He wrote in July of 1954 that on March 27, 1954, a new country music television show made its debut on channel 4, WWJ-TV in Detroit, Michigan - The Michigan Barn Dance. Max was the singing emcee, Phil Girard and his Jubileers was one of the acts. Chuck Hatfield was on the steel guitar with his wife, Boots Gilbert on the bass. Tonie Dannon was playing the accordion. The show featured a cast of 15. It aired at 11:00pm on Saturday evenings.
The following month he tells us that Bob Sykes had just joined the show and was recording for the Fortune Records label. Johnny Maddox was a recent guest on the show.
He tells of working a show with another Michigan star, Mae Hawks over in Perry, Michigan. He noted that the Pool Brothers, Bob and Dick, who were a part of her show, were natives of Flint.
Bill Dakota writes to let us know that at one time Russ Waters was playing in Max's band on steel guitar. Another member was "Tiny" Don Faulkner who was in fact a 'large' person. On Friday nights, Bill notes that Max and his band hosted an amateur hour program that aired "live" over WTAC at the Palace Theatre. Bill would help out by ensuring that Max's fan club members had some seats set aside for them near the stage.
Max's columns were filled with mentions of the local Michigan artists, promoting them, helping them get a bit of notice. It could be mentioning another fellow getting his attention at the time in Flint such as Johnny Grimes. Or it could be friends such as Earl Songer, Chuck Hatfield and Boots Gilbert stopping by to visit him at the station. He'd offer little tidbits of information such as the fact that Chuck and Boots both worked with Tex Ritter's outfit for a time.
He told readers that he had just played a show in Flushing, Michigan with Jimmie Collins, Tommy Vaughn along with Terry Bethel on the steel guitar.
Max also tells readers he had his own television show that aired locally in Flint, Michigan on WTAC-TV that started on March 22. It sounded like he was the host that introduced a western film feature each day.
In 1955, Warren Wood told readers of Country and Western Jamboree magazine in his Flint, Michigan roundup article that Max was handling the Country music entertainment portion of the General Motors Auto Show that was held in the IMA Auditorium in Flint, Michigan for five days.
In 1956, Max had changed radio stations in Flint. He had moved to WFDT (but the picture accompanying the article shows the call letters for the station as WFDF) and was their first country and western disc jockey.
Max turns up again in 1957, writing about Michigan country music in Rustic Rhythm magazine. He was still at WFDF then, doing live programs. He told the readers his band consisted of an accordionist, drummer, guitar player and a saxophone player. He noted that they had just played a variety show in Lansing, Michigan that featured Merv Shiner.
While he may have changed radio stations in Flint, Max continued to appear on Saturday nights at the Clover Leaf, which was fifteen miles north of Flint. He told readers that he was the one known as "Happy Henderson", when he was the emcee of the Michigan Barn Dance when it aired over WWJ-TV.
His wife's name was Vera. Around 1954, they had two children, a boy and a girl and were living on a one acre ranch in Flint. A 1956 article notes the couple had another child.
Credits & Sources
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