JOE 'MR. PIANO' HENDERSON - Musical director, arranger and accompanist to Petula Clark (1947 - 1960)

Joe 'Mr. Piano' Henderson b. 02 May 1920, Glasgow, Scotland, d. 04 May 1980, London was a pianist, composer, performer and a successful music publisher of Henderson Music Limited.

Joe earned his 'Mr. Piano' label while visiting Holland. The owner of the hotel where Joe was staying found it difficult to pronounce his surname and knowing that he was a pianist, solved the problem by calling him 'Mr. Piano'!

In 1932 Joe travelled south to London from Glasgow to start his own jazz band. His parents had planned a medical career but the young pianist had other ideas. During his stay in the Forces, the idea of composing and music publishing came more and more into his mind, and, when he was demobbed, he 'did the rounds' of Tin Pan Alley to offer his services to a number of the major publishing firms.

From 1947 until 1960, Joe served as Petula Clark's accompanist, arranger and musical director. It was a chance meeting in 1947 that Joe met Petula. The then 15-year-old Petula stepped into Joe's Denmark Street office with her father Leslie. They urgently needed a song for her television show 'Petula Clark' that was going out live that same afternoon on BBC TV. Joe not only found the right song for Petula but he also insisted on rehearsing it with her and pointing out a couple of minor faults in her presentation of the song. Leslie Clark, impressed at the way Petula and Joe worked together at rehearsals, invited Joe to become Petula's permanent musical adviser and accompanist.

In an article for TV Mirror from 1954, Petula recalled how she first met Joe: "My father and I went along to the old Leeds song-publishing office, seeking a new song for me; and, as is the fashion in song-publishers offices, somebody came out to run a selection of songs over on the piano. That 'somebody' happened to be Joe. We were interested to discover that he had been playing with an orchestra since he was sixteen, and been a leading member of a boy's orchestra which had travelled all over Europe. Not only did his style of accompanying appeal to me, but also he is very gifted in transposition, and can immediately transpose at sight no matter how difficult the key. As I do not read music and am not bothered with the complexities of different keys, this is important. Joe has played the piano for me in all my own TV shows, from the very first 'Pet's Parlour'."


Under the direction of Joe Henderson, Petula cut her first disc in June 1949 Put Your Shoes On Lucy b/w There's A House In The Sky for Columbia Records (D.B 2538).

Above: Petula at the Columbia recording session holding the orange!

In an interview from 1973, Joe Henderson fondly recalls Petula's first recording session: "Each of the songs belonged to different publishers (referring to the four sides recorded for Columbia), so I phoned them up and asked if they would do the arrangements for us quickly. I phoned Pet and asked her what sort of orchestra she wanted, I fixed that and then we went to the studio and I remember that Pet had an orange in her bag and in the middle of the song when she wasn't singing and the orchestra was playing, Pet was sucking away at this orange and she didn't realise the terrible effect it was having on the trumpet players who were just drooling at the sight of it. But we got the record made in the end; we went to hear the playback and were just thrilled to hear a tune come out of the loud speaker. We didn't look for any technical fault or anything like that, we were just thrilled to hear it".

Under Joe's direction, Petula recorded and released two additional songs for Columbia in July 1949, I'll Always Love You b/w Clancy Lowered The Boom (D.B 2551). The four Columbia tracks were recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London.  


Above: Petula with Alan A. Freeman

In 1949, Joe introduced Petula to Alan A. Freeman who, together with her father Leslie Clark, formed Polygon Records in order to better control and facilitate Petula's singing career for which she recorded her earliest hit recordings.   Alan Freeman was a British record producer, remembered for being Petula Clark's producer from 1949 until 1963, when his role was taken over by Tony Hatch. It may have been Hatch who made Clark an international recording star, but Freeman had nurtured her musically since she was 17.


ABOVE: Sing It With Joe EP featuring Petula

Joe Henderson's first recordings for the Polygon label marked the start of a remarkable solo recording career that continued until the late 1970s. Joe popularised the sing-along trend when in 1954 Sing It With Joe entered the UK hit parade. The distinguished company of friends singing along with Joe included Petula.


Throughout the 1950s, Petula and Joe toured together extensively around the UK and presented their own 26 week radio series in 1959 for the BBC Light Programme entitled Pet and Mr. Piano where Petula and Joe wandered through a precarious musical alphabet. Pet and Mr. Piano was transmitted from Brighton.  


As a composer Joe wrote the incidental music and several songs for three British films that featured Petula including Made In Heaven (1952), The Gay Dog (1954) and The Happiness of Three Women (1954).  



On record, Petula recorded / broadcast 14 of Joe's compositions including, Tell Me Truly (1951), The Card (1952), Made In Heaven (1953), Flirtation Waltz (a favourite of President Eisenhower) (1953), Somebody (1954), Meet Me In Battersea Park (1954), A Long Way To Go (1954), Our Love (1954), How Are Things With You (1955), Dear Daddy (1959), Java Pour Petula (1959), Lucky Day (1959), There's Nothing More To Say - from the album In Other Words (1962) and Why Don't They Understand (1965).


On television, Joe appeared with Petula as her accompanist in Pet's Parlour (1948 - 1953), Starlight (1950 - 1955) The Petula Clark Show (1956), Melody For Two (1958) and Twosome (1959) to name but a few.


Golden Guinea was Petula Clark's first published composition. The song unites Petula as a composer and Joe Henderson as the performer / publisher. This instrumental tune from 1959 was written as the theme to publicise a new series of recordings to be under on the Pye Golden Guinea label. The grand melody features Joe at the piano with the Peter Knight Orchestra and Chorus. The song was released in 1959 as the flip to Joe's Pye single Winterset.


In 1960, Joe's publishing company Henderson Music Limited published All Over Now, which debuted Petula as writer of both music and lyrics.

Joe remained Petula's musical director, arranger and accompanist until 1960.


Throughout the 60s and 70s Joe recorded numerous albums, appeared in Summer Season at top venues in Blackpool and Bournemouth and presented his own daily BBC Radio 2 show Melody Time.

Joe also achieved his own chart successes, notably with Trudie which which peaked at #14 in the UK Singles Chart, and #1 in the sheet music chart, where it was the biggest hit of 1958 and won him an Ivor Novello Award.

In 1960, the theme from the Anthony Newley film Jazzboat gained him a further Ivor Novello Award.

In 1968/69 Joe appeared in Pantomime as Buttons in the Gaumont Theatre production of Cinderella.

Joe's songs have been recorded by international singing stars like Frankie Avalon, Bobby Vinton, Anthony Newley, George Hamilton IV, Jerry Lewis, Eddie Fisher, Winifred Atwell, Marion Ryan, Yana, Dickie Valentine and Ted Heath. Throughout his career Joe was closely associated with Donald Peers, Alma Cogan, Shani Wallis, Stanley Black, Ruby Murray and Petula Clark to name but a few.

Joe married Janet Brunell in December 1961.

Above: The Stage 08 May 1980

Joe Henderson died in 1980 at the age of 60 (two days after his sixtieth birthday) at his London Hyde Park home following a heart attack.


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Joe 'Mr. Piano' Henderson

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Researched, compiled and created by Steven Warner & Tim Hutton
Selected graphics by Ray Leaning @ Muse Fine Art & Design 

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