Henry Lee Summer: Then and Now

A recent cold winter night, with snow falling, Henry Lee Summer was on stage at a northside bar, there to sing a few songs, play some guitar, have a bit of fun. Continue to get himself into musical fighting shape. Just another gig, and a bit more than that, too.

“What I am trying to do is go back to square one,” Summer says, talking about his career today. “First and foremost, I am taking care of myself and my family. Musically, I am writing and using the past few years’ experiences for material to write about. My goal in one year is to have a full time band that can play my old and new music and sustain my living and support my family.”

When NUVO interviewed Henry Lee Summer 20 years ago, for our debut issue, his story came across as that of a Hoosier homeboy – all blue jeans and cafeteria food (the first interview was at an MCL Cafeteria). The talk at the time was a new album and what he believed bands needed to do to succeed.

“I prefer to hear originals,” he said at the time. “When a band is playing their own stuff, they are much more alive.”

“In Indy there were places to play (back then) if you were a musician of any caliber,” he now remembers. “Starting out, I got to play six nights a week for several hours. There were lots of opportunities back then that aren’t there now. There were battle of bands, Ramada Inn, Holiday Inn, sock hops – it was great.

Has it really been more than 20 years since Henry Lee Summer broke big? “I Wish I Had a Girl,”, “Hands on the Radio” and “Darlin’ Danielle Don’t” come 1-2-3 on the debut record. An anthem, a pop-rocker and a power ballad with some grit. It is late 80’s rock and roll, filtered through Top 40 AM radio and smoky bars. It is the sound of the Midwest.

“‘I Wish I Had a Girl’ was a number one record for a few weeks,” Summer remembers. “I always wanted to have a hit record, so I was lucky and thankful. It was in heavy rotation and saturated MTV and the radio so people remembered it. ‘Hey Baby’ was a big hit, but ‘Wish I Had a Girl’ was everywhere.”

Way Past Midnight (1990) and Slamdunk (1993) were his last two major label releases, as the business was changing and grunge had arrived. With 1999’s Smoke and Mirrors and then a live album, Summer released records to a regional audience. Two of his cover bands, the Alligator Brothers and Candybomber, took much of his time.

Then, a pair of well-documented arrests brought Henry Lee Summer to where is today. First was a 2006 drunk driving charge and then a methamphetamine arrest in 2009. After that, he went into rehab.

If that was the end of the story, then it would be like hundreds of other musicians who burned brightly and then faded away. But there has always been a little more to like with Summer. Legendary show, full of energy and passion; great heartland rock made better live. Seeing him was an event. We loved Henry Lee Summer. And that’s why it’s been has been tough — though more for him than us.

It’s early in this new chapter of his life, but the story seems to be unfolding as a hopeful tale. His support has come from his family, and he says he feels the fans’ influence too.

“Most people have been very forgiving in general. They know that I am working hard to stay on track,” he says. Summer says he’s touched by the support. “Mom and Dad, my wife and immediate family, Mike Denton and Jimmy Ryser at Methodist Hospital in the Substance Abuse Recovery Program. It means a lot that my family has stood by me through all of it.”

His career is again being managed by Blonde Entertainment’s Lisa Sauce, and she says Henry is more engaged in his life and career than he has been in a long time.

“We have had some very real conversations since his sobriety,” Sauce says. “In the past, I felt like he was distant and closed off from me and others. I think that it’s ‘one day at a time’ for him right now. He needs to keep building up his stamina and health. If he continues to do that, then he will do great. I can see him getting a new record done and performing original shows and tapping into his loyal fan base. I do think that his fans are aching for his original music and shows,” Sauce says.

“I feel no pressure with a timeline,” Summer says. “I didn’t write for a while. Everything feels fresh to me again. I have been writing more than I ever have, and I want to put out a record that captures some of the experiences that I have had over the last 10 years. Lately it has been really good to write. It is hard to raise your bar high and write good songs. I am enjoying the process now.

“I am very hopeful. I don’t need a big house on the hill. I want to stay on the recovery side of my addiction,” he says. “There is no room for error with me now.”

6 thoughts on “Henry Lee Summer: Then and Now

  1. I still have you on my IPOD and I listen everyday to most of your songs at work. I grew up in Indy in the 70’s and 80’s before I went off into the Air Force. I actually sold you a lawn mower from Lowes a long time ago at the one on 86th street when I use to work there. I am coming home in October and wonder if you would be playing anywhere in Indy from the 6th-10th of Oct. Good luck to you

    Ron P.

  2. OMG,, So glad to hear all this about you dear Henry Lee Summer.. Back in the I believe mid 70’s, you were in Taylorsville, Kentucky and played at Jewell’s Acres.. My Mom and Dad, Kenneth and Carletta Jewell, owners. There were several of you singers there in an open field and a homemade stage of barnwood, that my Dad built, on Hwy 44.. I remember you in a black hat, black trench coat and jumping the fence into the audience singing your heart out. Just wondering if you remember that day at my parent’s Quantrail Raiders aka Jewell’s Acres Festival…???? I so hope so… My Dad since then died in 2005, but was so excited to have you there… You made the crowd sing!!!!!!!!! I still love your music today and by the way, my son at 17 and his friends do videos of your song, I wish I had a girl that walked that way,,, way to go… More please… Good Luck and God Bless you and your family, Henry Lee Summer…

  3. Hello Henry. My name is Rory Gallegos. I’ve been playing music since I was 6 years old (about 30+ years). I traveled on the road for 15 years from the southern tip of TX through the mid-west, southwest, and the northwest. I’m very interested in playing guitar for you. My brother plays bass and I play lead guitar. We’re very versatile musicians and can play anything you put on the radio within about 5 minutes of hearing it. We play in a cover band “Fools Gold” currently. I’ve listened to your music for years and we’ve been watching and listening to your music online all day today. If you’re serious about starting over and putting together a new band, I’d be very interested! I hold notes on my guitar longer than Santana can. Please reply to this email

  4. I wish you well and complete recovery. If you ever need a keybord player send me an e-mail I would love to play for you. we have met befor Tony Pers was your light man for a wile, he was are light man befor that. he has past on now he had a hart atack. I will miss him.

  5. Wondered where you been man.
    Hope you make it back
    Rock-n-roll sounds better when you’re in it
    Been missing you a lot, a whole lot, more than you think

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s