J-Henry's handlers like to compare him to scruffy heartland heroes such as John Mellencamp and Bob Seger, but the goateed everyguy owes more of a musical debt to Bruce Springsteen, and not just because he is also from New Jersey. Born in North Plainfield, NJ, in 1974, J-Henry, who chooses not to reveal his given name, grew up in a solidly middle-class family. Though Henry said in a fall 2005 interview that his brother was always considered the family musician, years of listening to his siblings' classic rock collections stirred a need to create his own Neil Young-Lynyrd Skynyrd-Led Zeppelin-inspired "rippin' rock."
Fooling around on the guitar came early, at around age ten, but by his late twenties Henry was venturing to local haunts to get a sense of how his own rootsy, relatable material might sit with audiences. After playing to minor crowds at minor nightspots in northern New Jersey for a couple of years, a routine Henry settled into around 2002 and said he enjoyed because "most people aren't really paying attention to the music, and it's fun to just go out and play acoustic by myself," Anthony Krizan, former guitarist for the '90s pseudo-hippie band Spin Doctors, heard one of Henry's sets and invited him to record a demo at his Raritan, NJ, studio. After recording three songs in three days with Krizan producing, Henry hit upon a sound he loved for its back-to-basic rock and its not insignificant element of nostalgia. "Remember how great Skynyrd and the Rolling Stones sounded when you saw them, just guitars into the amp?," he asked. "That's how we wanted the music to sound, like it was made 20 years ago."
With Krizan's help, Henry began shopping his demo in 2004. His road to rock star credibility proved both circuitous and luck-studded: a woman who purchased an EP in New Jersey knew an L.A. accountant who managed Matchbox Twenty's money, and after she sent him the disc he sent it to an entertainment lawyer friend who represents artists such as Elton John and Steve Winwood. The lawyer liked the music so well he invited Henry to fly to L.A. to meet some industry folks in January of 2005, and that meet-and-greet resulted in Henry securing both a manager and a publicist. Within months, Tommy Mottola expressed interest in Henry's sound, but attempts to secure a recording contract through Mottola proved fruitless. Still, word of his gift for crafting story-like, gritty guitar-based songs with common themes spread quickly, and by summer of 2005 J-Henry was showcasing regularly in New York clubs, working out the details of a deal to perform at NASCAR events across the country, and heading back to the Raritan studio with Krizan to record his debut album, Another Long Day, for indie Rock View Records.
The cover art of the disc, recorded with an eight-piece band and released in September 2005, speaks volumes about the music it represents. In a motorcycle jacket and tattered jeans, with facial hair aplenty, J-Henry holds a tough-guy pose while the lights of Manhattan glitter and glow behind him -- images don't get much more Springsteen-ian. Though stabs of the Rolling Stones, John Hiatt, and Tom Petty punch through Another Long Day's sound, even its song titles -- "City Girl," "Let's Cruise" -- seem more South Jersey than Middle America-inspired. But if the artist considers his sound more closely descended from Ryan Adams and Mellencamp than Springsteen, he doesn't bristle at comparisons, and openly mentions Springsteen as an early influence. ~ Tammy La Gorce