By: Donna Marie Miller
Since 2009 country singer and songwriter Weldon Henson has performed music for what he considers to be Austin’s own version of the reality show, Dancing with the Stars, or “Two-Stepping Tuesdays” each week at the Broken Spoke.
“This is Dancing with the Stars in South Austin. The best thing about Two-Stepping Tuesdays at the Broken Spoke is we’ve got the best dancers in town. If it’s danceable, it doesn’t matter what kind of song we play, these dancers are good,” he said.
“You go to a lot of other places in town you’ve got to kind of stick to your good ‘ol Two-Steps, waltzes and shuffles. Here we can play a lot of swing country and a little more rock ‘four on the floor,’ cha chas and stuff like that and these people just eat it up.”
Not anyone could have filled the dance hall at the Broken Spoke on Tuesdays the way that Henson and his band has. It took a lot of convincing to get Broken Spoke co-owner James White to even think about opening up his dance hall to Henson’s crowd.
“James White doesn’t let just anybody walk in here and play. It took time to get in here. It took me talking to him and a lot of his regulars talking to him to get this gig,” Henson said.
“Since we started playing in the back room, it’s grown. It’s great, we have a couple hundred people coming every week.”
Now he has a great relationship with James White and admires his business sense.
Henson said throughout the construction of The 704 apartments by Transwestern developers over the past year, he played faithfully every week at the Broken Spoke.
“I admire his (James White’s) endurance and the tenacity because I played here every week throughout it. We heard ‘We gotta load through the front door,’ ‘we gotta load in the kitchen,’ ‘we gotta load back here,’ or ‘there’s no parking.’ Yet it has endured. The Whites – both James and Annetta — amidst all the changes, have been able to keep this place authentic, as a true, Texas dance hall.”
The Broken Spoke itself serves as a model statewide, he said. “We’ve still got the great bands. We’ve still got the low ceiling and the concrete dance floor,” he said.
“Mr. White always says ‘We ain’t changin’ nothin’, but that’s Texas to me. Texas is all about doing things your way. I don’t care what you think about that statement, but that’s our attitude here in Texas – we’re going to do it our way.”
The Broken Spoke represents the last of the true Texas dance halls in Austin, he said.
“Sadly a lot of them just can’t quite make it anymore,” he said. “That’s a sad thing because I’ve known a lot of them. The Broken Spoke amidst all the growth here in South Austin, has endured.”
He also personally considers James White a role model.
“He’s somebody who’s genuine, someone who’s been here – he’s been here 50 years now. Mr. White is going to do things his way and it’s worked for him. That’s something that I have a lot of respect for,” Henson said.
“He’s going to be nice to everybody, but it took a while for he and I to become friends. We are friends and I think we have a lot of respect between us. He knows he can call me up and ask a favor and I’ll do it. At the same time, he takes care of his musicians on the back end and throws them good gigs and makes sure everything’s going well for them.”
Henson said that years ago he performed at Jenny’s Little Longhorn Saloon and he gathered a fan base there that followed him to the Broken Spoke.
“I started getting a good crowd and then I got a good gig and it all kind of meshed together,” he said.
Another country singer/songwriter in town, Dale Watson, owns The Little Longhorn today.
Some of Henson’s fans compare Henson’s showmanship and on stage persona.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t know who Dale Watson was when I first moved here. I went out and saw him one night here when he was playing,” he said.
“Obviously, his originals that he was playing were phenomenal, but some of the covers he was playing, I thought – ‘I do that song.’ Then I thought ‘I’m going to have to be careful here so that people don’t think I’m trying to copy him.”
After Henson sings, he said his fans often come up to him to tell him that he makes it look effortless.
“I’m comfortable singing these songs. Through the thousands of years and all the gigs I’ve kind of figured out what I like to sing and to play on guitar. My band has kind of figured it out.
I’ve never been one who likes to jump around on stage with theatrics,” he said. “Even though I don’t mind going to big rock show on stage, that wouldn’t be me.”
Off stage just before he performed at the Broken Spoke in August, Henson dressed casually in shorts, boat shoes and a striped Henley shirt.
“It’s hot in the summer time here. I won’t wear this on stage, no. I look like I’m getting on a yacht right now, but it’s because it’s 102 degrees outside,” he said.
“On stage I’ll wear what I normally wear: boots, jeans, a (western) shirt and hat and stuff like that.”
Henson looks younger than his years. The youngest sibling and only boy in a family of five children, he comes from a musical family tree that stretches all the way from Central Louisiana to East Texas. He hails from Humble, Texas.
“They never played any honky tonk country. Instead it was a lot of southern gospel. My mom played the piano, my sisters did and all my cousins do and my aunt played for the church and I sang in the choirs,” he said.
“I still love singing and it and playing it. That Southern gospel music is not too far from the type of music that I play now.”
Growing up, Henson learned to play the violin and piano and taught himself to play guitar.
“I had this guitar that my grandpa left for me and I was listening to a lot of country music. I thought, ‘I need to learn to play the guitar so that I can play some of these songs,’” he said.
He joined the U.S. Air Force at 19 years old and began practicing guitar on his own.
“I had a lot of time on my hands when I wasn’t working during the day. So I taught myself guitar because I really wanted to play my favorite country songs,” he said.
As an enlisted soldier, Henson spent six years performing at private parties and officer’s clubs. He said the friendships he made while stationed in the military have proved resilient.
“I would have stayed in (the military) longer if I didn’t love music so much. I wanted to get down here and start playing music,” he said.
“It was a lot of fun. I’ve got a lot of life-long friends. We still meet up every year wherever we were stationed together. We just have fun and act like we’re 22 again.”
Henson put together bands while stationed in Utah, South Korea, and finally Abilene.
“We would play the officers’ club every Friday and play the enlisted’ club every Saturday. It was fun,” he said.
After discharging as a Senior Airman Group 4 working as an aircraft technician for the U.S.
Air Force, Henson started his music career when he moved to Austin in 2007.
“Even though a few years before that I had bands when I was in the Air Force, we were predominately doing top 40 cover stuff because that was the only way to get into a club in Utah or wherever else I was stationed,” he said.
“I wanted to move to Austin and I didn’t want to necessarily call myself a classic country band. I wanted to play the songs I wanted to play and write the songs I want to write and I wanted to play them the way I want to play them. People are real receptive here in Texas and in Austin, specifically.”
Henson said that most often he performed covers by Merle Haggard, Marty Stewart, Dwight Yoakam, George Strait, and other “good honky tonk music.”
He put his own little edge on the cover songs and then recorded three full-length albums of his own originals with a unique sound.
“I just like to do it my way. I don’t try to fit the mold. I’m not out trying to play country the way that it sounded in the 50s. I’m just trying to play it the way I hear it and the way I want to do it,” he said.
He enjoys turning a phrase into a song.
“A lot of it could have come from stuff I heard growing up or just listening to other music,” he said.
“I don’t think about it a lot. Other people want to dissect why they did this or why did they did that. I just kind of do what I want to do. There were times that people have talked to me and we’ve kind of gone off into dissecting some song like that for a second, but I don’t think about it too much.”
Henson’s band includes: Ricky Davis on pedal steel guitar, Trey Kincade on bass guitar and Eric C. Hughes on drums. Henson said that he enjoys performing danceable songs.
“I never really wanted to be a dance band. It just turned out that all those songs that I really wanted to play and write were suitable for people to dance to. That’s just kind of how it went,” he said.
Performers who have played in dance halls for years often become successful as a result, people like George Strait, for example.
“You have to at this level because it’s your living. It depends upon people being able to dance to your songs,” he said.
“Your songs have to be danceable and likeable and it’s got to be a good band playing them.
If you’re playing in dance halls and people don’t dance, they aren’t going to come.”
Henson said that by writing dance songs he hopes to continue to provide for his young family.
He said he and his wife, Brooklyn, expect their first child, a girl, in October. She also sings and previously performed in Austin with her own band. Before her pregnancy, she often visited the Broken Spoke to sit in with Henson and his band.
“When she comes out, she has a little set that she does with us – about 20 or 30 minutes. She loves country, but Elvis is her favorite,” he said.
“I would like to put her on a trivia show with all other Elvis aficionados – whatever you call them — who know everything about him. She’s just all about Elvis. She loves doing Elvis songs.
She loves them all, but I guess there’s only a couple we’ve learned.”
Henson’s favorite Elvis song Brooklyn performs on stage is “Hound Dog,” he said.
“If she’s in the car listening to Elvis, she’ll sing every song and know every line and tell you what album it came off of,” he said.
“She had a little band here in Austin, but it wasn’t really working for her. Which is really cool because she really understands the hard work it takes in this business – the nights and the long drives. She tried it for a couple of years and she understood how much of a grind it was.”
These days she works as the associate marketing director at The Paramount Theater.
Henson said he and Brooklyn might be the next Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison husband and wife team.
“If we could ever sit down and work on some songs. You would think that living together that we would have more songs together and work on some stuff,” he said.
“We gotta get this kid first. We’re excited about this little girl. Life will get crazy and be a lot of fun – though not as crazy as playing at the Broken Spoke on Tuesday nights.”