The History of Henry’s Blueshouse

The original Henry’s Blueshouse opened in The Crown Hotel in 1968 in Birmingham, England, and ran every Tuesday under the flag Tuesdays is Bluesdays. It was said by Melody Maker to be “the first progressive music venue outside of London”.

Henry’s was seen as an important stepping stone to fame by dozens of bands including Status Quo, Jethro Tull, Thin Lizzy, Robert Plant, Judas Priest, Rory Gallagher & Taste, Thin Lizzy, Chicken Shack and Ten Years After – click here to view a full list

In 1968, Jim Simpson, trumpet player and bandleader of Birmingham-based ska/rhythm & blues band Locomotive quit playing to concentrate on the band’s management. Locomotive had a hit with “Rudi’s In Love” and Simpson felt he wasn’t able to properly devote himself to developing Locomotive’s career and remain on the road playing one-nighters.

With time on his hands and free evenings for the first time nearly a decade, Simpson decided that he needed to get out more, and in so doing found a talented young blues band from Tamworth which featured the precocious talents of guitarist Dave Clempson [later with Colosseum, Humble Pie and many UK rock superstar sessions]. The band was Bakerloo Blues Line [later just Bakerloo] and as the brief but bloody British Blues Boom was coming to an end, gigs proving difficult to find, Simpson put into effect that old Brummie adage, “if you can’t join’em, beat’em”.

Bakerloo needed a platform to build a fan base [not 1960s words, these] and an opportunity to hone their craft and develop their not inconsiderable potential.

Simpson looked for an affordable city centre location, with a stage [essential], and ante-room or two because this was not going to be your ordinary music venue and a door that could be properly controlled box office.

The Crown Hotel, on the corner of Station Street and Hill Street, right behind New Street Station fitted the bill. With its separate entrance, and luxury of luxuries, even a changing room, a separate bar, a room to show movies and a 156 capacity room. There was no Health & Safety then, but funnily enough, everyone was. Both, I mean. Healthy and safe. Well, maybe not too healthy.

The clincher was the now-legendary Alex’s Pie Caravan parked a dozen paces away around the corner.

The pub was Victorian, run by Tom Pickering, whose passion [apart from the horses at Cheltenham] was to run the perfect pub operation, which he did.

Tom rented Simpson the upstairs room every Tuesday for the princely sum of £5, promising not to accept the money whenever there were 50 or more people drinking upstairs. Thanks to the ever supportive, invariably thirsty Brummies, Simpson rarely had to cough up room rent.

He named the venture. Henry’s Blueshouse [one word, it is often wrongly referred to in today’s media as Blues House] after a particularly handsome Afghan Hound belonging to a neighbour. The venture carried the strapline “Tuesdays is Bluesdays”.

Aware that the blues, as played by British bands, was nose-diving at the box office Simpson set about promoting the opening night with a marketing plan driven by sheer panic-on the night resulting in a queue halfway down Station Street with 140 people being turned away.

Bakerloo played a stormer and continued to do so on a regular basis. They were to sign to EMI Harvest and be produced by the legendary Gus Dudgeon, still under Simpson’s guidance and management.

On the opening night, Henry’s Blueshouse membership cost the princely sum of one Shilling. Availing themselves of the offer were a certain John Michael Osbourne and Anthony James Iommi of whom more later.

But Bakerloo’s datesheet quickly filled so that they were no longer dependant on Henry’s, allowing Simpson to book bands that were to become famous, such as Status Quo, Jethro Tull, Rory Gallagher as well as American Bluesmen.

Black Sabbath, with Ozzy Osbourne sporting a Henry’s T-shirt

The aforementioned Osbourne and Iommi asked if their band, Earth could play the support slot, so Simpson booked them to open for Ten Years After. They impressed, were rebooked, promoted to headliner and became a top draw.

They asked Simpson if he would become their manager, he said that he already was, after a battle got their name changed to Black Sabbath, and took them to two hit albums, “Black Sabbath” and “Paranoid” and a hit single “Paranoid” before losing them.

American Bluesmen to grace the stage at Henry’s Blueshouse included Arthur Big Boy Crudup, who wrote “That’s Alright Now Mama”, the first Elvis Presley hit, Champion Jack Dupree, Lightnin’ Slim, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Reverend Gary Davis and J.B. Hutto.

Henry’s continued awhile, while Simpson’s Big Bear Records got much more deeply involved with American bluesmen, bringing them to the UK and Europe to tour and record, which meant closing down Henry’s – for a while.

After a short break of some 50 years, Henry’s Blueshouse reopened, this time at The Bulls Head in Bishopsgate Street on Birmingham’s Westside.

Once again in Birmingham, Tuesdays was Bluesdays running every week with a Blues Talkin’ session at 7pm, where Blues musicians talk about how they first met the Blues and what it mean to them, followed at 8pm by a visiting band session. Admission is free.

The Blues was rocking along nicely, until Covid arrived in March 2020.

Henry’s Bluesletter, a weekly newsletter with an international readership of 1744 has kept the pot boiling, with Henry’s Botanical Blueshouse live sessions in The Botanical Gardens on Sundays from May to September in 2020 and from May through June in 2021.

These were joined in July 2021 by Henry’s Blues Hour, a monthly broadcast on Black Country Radio Xtra. From September 2021, Henry’s Blueshouse On The Road presents monthly blues performances at The Core Theatre in Solihull and Red By Night in The Merry Hill Centre.

On Tuesday 3rd July, Henry’s Blueshouse proper opened its doors.