Frankly, I was starting to worry about Cory Henry. The musician and songwriter known for his gospel-infused organ and piano with the band Snarky Puppy and on his own solo efforts, has recently taken to social media to voice what sounded like existential despair.
On Threads last month he wrote, “This will be my last year of touring for a living… I’ll still play shows…but #ThisIsTheLastDance.” The posts that followed were a little more vague: “GOD takes care of me… I never have to worry,” he wrote. Then: “I really just wanna put out music.” Soon after that came, “It’ll be amazing if musicians got deals with music companies like pro sport players do with shoe deals…” Something was going on, professionally or personally, and it didn’t sound happy. Fortunately this week, things sounded a little brighter. “Along the way I’ve lost my way many times… But somehow I always find my way back … Thank GOD.”
Social media is terrible at letting you know what’s truly going on inside a person’s mind and heart but live performance gives you a better idea. Last night at the Masonic Lodge on the grounds of Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, it was clear from the start—whew!—that Henry had full and total access to his sense of joy. He told the crowd how good he was feeling and had a sparkle in his eyes that said all you needed to know about his psychological well-being. Clearly, the guy just wants to play music and reap the rewards he deserves (more on that second point in a moment).
“I’ve been playing piano since I was two years old and I really just wanted to get back to it,” Henry said by way of introduction to a two-hour set of stripped-down gospel, funk and soul songs all played without accompaniment at a baby grand. The show was part of a U.S. and European tour to support Henry’s latest album, “Live at the Piano.”
Here’s the very good news: From the opening gospel slow-chords of “Amazing Grace,” and for the next couple hours of delight, Henry was the picture of contentment and bliss. On songs like “Love’s in Need of Love Today” and “Inner City Blues,” Henry made those classics his own with deep appreciation for the magic of the originals but with unpredictable nuances: Speeded-up riffs here, a thumping bass line there, jubilant vocals throughout. Songs from 50 years ago suddenly found new ground.
Seeing Henry play his own compositions, like “Happy Days,” “Icarus” and “Dedicated,” you got the sense that his music is made to be experienced in person—close up and in community like this. So what that we were gathered at a Hollywood cemetery? Wherever Henry plays, you’re immediately at church.
Those Threads posts of his made more sense at the end of the evening when Henry stopped to explain the economics of the contemporary music business to the audience. “I don’t know if you know this, but every time we use our streaming sources it’s giving the artist 0.004 cents per stream, and given those calculations, it will take another 30- or 40,000 plays until I can go back to H&M and buy another T-shirt.”
The crowd laughed, but you got his point. As Henry went on to say, if you go to a store and they gave you half a penny as change, you would first wonder how they ripped the penny, but then you’d say, well, that’s not very much money at all.
The answer is to support musicians not just by streaming (”although if you’re going to stream, please listen to every song on my new album 5, 6, 7 and 8 times,” Henry said to more laughs). Go see musicians live, he said. Buy the vinyl, buy the t-shirts, get the hoodie, tell all your friends. This is how musicians make money today, and it’s how we as fans can continue to safeguard experiences as sublime as this one, watching Henry play live in a small venue, and with endless soul and spirit.
It turns out Henry is doing just fine. It’s the rest of us who need to rethink our priorities when it comes to how we support talented artists.
Here’s where to see Cory Henry as the tour continues.