The Henchmen VI played the Upper Peninsula from
east to west, recorded a 45 rpm single and were poised
for greater success when the Vietnam War broke up the band.
Standing, from left: Joe DeHut, Jay Jackson, Jeff Jackson,
Scott Heinski and Bob Durant. Seated: Art Moinlenen.
By STEVE SEYMOUR
When Ontonagon's Henchmen VI rock group pursued their musical aspirations in the mid-1960s, the Vietnam War loomed menacingly on the horizon.
Started by Joe DeHut (rhythm guitar, vocals), the Henchmen VI also included Scott Heinske (vocals and lead guitar), Bob Durant (bass and vocals), Art Moinlenen (organ), brothers Jay Jackson (drums) and Jeff Jackson (tambourine).
Jeff Jackson was considerably younger than the other members of the group and was added for his ability to move about the stage and fire-up the crowd, DeHut said. Another sibling, Dean Jackson, played bass in the band for a brief period, giving the rhythm section a double punch.
Heinske and Durant hailed from the tiny community of White Pine, while the others were from Ontonagon where the band conducted practice sessions on the second floor of the local fire hall. "Nobody cared how much noise we made," DeHut told me.
Because there was a Marquette band also using the Henchmen moniker, the Ontonagon group added the Roman numerals to their name to avoid any confusion. The VI referred to the number of musicians in the band.
Like many other Upper Peninsula bands looking for increased exposure, the Henchmen VI traveled to Negaunee to perform for a March of Dimes Telethon on WLUC-TV6. Brief footage of their appearance is included in a 50th anniversary documentary prepared by the television station, "Lights, Camera, Action."
Distance didn't seem to bother the Henchmen VI. They played at the Soo Armory at the eastern end of the Upper Peninsula and in Ironwood on the west end, as well as neighboring Hurley, Wisconsin.
In early March, 1967, the band made a 250-mile trip to Cuca Studio in Sauk City, Wisconsin to record "All of the Day" and "Is Love Real" for a 45 rpm single.
"All of the Day" features jangly guitars, reminiscent of the Byrds, famous for "Turn, Turn, Turn," a top hit in 1965.
"Is Love Real," meanwhile, includes a fierce guitar solo. In the lyrics, Heinske pleads: "Tell the truth now. Is love real? Or, is it just something to steal?"
Both songs were recorded in the period of one hour, DeHut remembered. "All of the Day" clocked in at 2:35, while "Is Love Real" lasted all of 2:10.
Kirchstein also published Heinske's songs, as was the usual practice at the time.
Back in the Upper Peninsula, DeHut, Heinske and the others waited impatiently for their order of 45s to arrive. Kirchstein shipped the records to Baraga by Greyhound bus. When the Henchmen VI finally took possession of the box they discovered it had been opened in transit and that many records were damaged or missing.
The records which survived carried a label which included the drawing of a figure with a sombrero taking a siesta.
Few copies of the 45 exist today, although the songs have appeared on a compact disc, "Garagemental," issued by Ace Records in 2006.
While the shipping fiasco was disappointing, the Henchmen VI were also aware that the Vietnam War was intensifying.
On April 20, 1967, sparsely-populated Ononagon County lost two U. S. Army soldiers to the war: SP5 Ernest Skinner and SP4 William Lundberg. Sgt. Kenneth Somero died the previous year.
"We knew we were doomed," DeHut said about the future of the band.
Although their career lasted just two years, the Henchmen VI enjoyed a number of accomplishments. They opened for the Left Banke when the New York-based combo, known for "Walk Away Renee" and "Pretty Ballerina," performed in Negaunee. "The audience seemed to like us better because we played the songs they wanted to hear," DeHut remembered.
Their Cuca single also earned some airplay for the Henchmen VI. The record was played on WSOO in Sault Ste. Marie by disc jockey Chuck Gervasio, now owner of WUPM in Gogebic County. Radio stations in Ironwood and Duluth, Minnesota broadcast the recording too.
The Ontonagon sextet also recorded with Rob Kirk, a singer, guitarist and songwriter from Sault Ste. Marie, but due to a monetary dispute, nothing was released, DeHut said. Another song, titled "Girl Talk," credited to Rob Kirk and the Word was issued on Cuca in June, 1967. Kirk played some dates with the Henchmen VI where the two acts would alternate songs, DeHut recalled.
While the Henchmen VI talked to a promoter about playing the fair circuit, Uncle Sam soon came calling.
The group played together for the last time at a reunion show at Ironwood's Memorial Building in the fall of 1967.
Heinske, a member of the White Pine High School Class of 1967, was drafted first. DeHut joined the Air Force and served in Thailand. Durant and Moinlenen enlisted in the Navy. Jay Jackson was also drafted into the Army and served in Vietnam, DeHut recalled.
Today, the members of the Henchmen VI are dispersed around the country. Only DeHut remained on Ontonagon. He performs each week in a Christian band called Victory 8:28, at White Pine United Methodist Church where his wife Rosemary serves as pastor.
For his service in Vietnam, SP4 Heinske was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. The Vietnam War hero continued honing his music skills throughout his life.
Sadly, Heinske died at home in Garner, North Carolina on May 30, 1997 after a long illness. The Henchmen VI's singer, lead guitarist and songwriter was just 48 years old. Heinske was buried at the Raleigh National Cemetery in Wake County, North Carolina, on June 5, 1997.
Due to the Vietnam War, Uncle Sam took a toll on the Henchmen VI, but they left their mark with two memorable recordings and a measure of patriotism which can't be denied.
MORE HENCHMAN VI PHOTOS
The Henchmen VI with Rob Kirk (in red shirt).
From left, Jeff Jackson, Bob Durant and Joe DeHut performing.
The Henchmen VI with seven members.