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50 Years Ago

Claude Jones played for the 1971 May Day peace protest in Washington, D.C. The concert was part of a kick-off event that brought forty thousand people to West Potomac Park to camp out and enjoy the music as they prepared for the protest activities over the following days.

We were supposed to go on at eight o’clock, but we kept getting bumped by “national” acts like NRBQ. Claude’s big green step-van, which served as our equipment truck and a mobile lounge of sorts, was parked behind the stage, so we had a place to hang out drinking tequila and getting high while we waited for our turn, which was always “next.”

It was five a.m. when we finally got to play. We played “Bad Dream”, “Patch of Gray”, and a few more of the usual numbers. Everything was sparse and focused, with no extra notes, distilled by the long night. Looking out from the stage, all you could see was blackness, but as the set was drawing to a close, night almost imperceptibly gave way to morning twilight, and you could just barely make out a few faces down in front. A sea of people in sleeping bags and blankets gradually emerged from the darkness while Joe and Franny sang Bob Dylan’s “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine,” their voices floating over the stillness in perfect harmony, accompanied by Henley’s ethereal organ lines. A remarkable, transcendent moment. It gave me chills.

I put my fingers against the glass
And bowed my head and cried…


[harmonica solo and out]

Afterwards, I packed up my bass, and Con and I headed out to find the car. A fleet of buses carrying cops in riot gear pulled up by the Lincoln Memorial. We had to wait a minute before crossing uncomfortably close to them, and one of the cops waved his club out the window and yelled at us to stick around for the fun. I shuddered, picturing all those sleepy campers back in the park. They had no idea what was coming. It was going to be a massacre. In the end, though, they all went peacefully after being ordered to leave, and nobody got hurt. The bad stuff would come later.

Mike Henley

We have lost our long-time friend, keyboard player Mike Henley.

He was an unmistakable presence on the stage, and his Hammond M3 organ was an integral part of the band’s signature sound. One of the “old-timers” in the band, Mike brought a wealth of early rock ‘n’ roll knowledge to Claude Jones, and he would occasionally step out front to favor us with a selection from Johnny Otis or Fats Domino. He will be remembered fondly by fellow musicians and fans alike.

Mike played with numerous groups in the Washington area over a musical career that spanned half a century. He was one of the original members — along with Tom Guernsey, Joe Triplett and Bob Berberich — of the legendary Reekers, who recorded the 1965 regional Hangmen hit “What a Girl Can’t Do.” After Claude Jones, Mike had a 30-year run with the Mystery Band and an overlapping tenure with the Newports that was still going into 2020.

Michael Peter Henley died on March 1, 2021, after a long struggle with numerous health problems following a quadruple bypass surgery.

Where oh where does the sun go…

It’s been 50 years since the Summer of Love, when Woodstock made headlines and peace on Earth seemed achievable. In 1969 Claude Jones was riding high in the Washington, D.C. area, playing regularly, getting momentum toward recording. The Amoeba was expanding with every passing month.

But now, in 2019, a time of contraction is upon us. In April, over Easter weekend, we lost two of our brightest and most beloved band members, Franny Day and John Guernsey.

Where oh where does the sun go
When it’s gone, when it’s gone?

John Guernsey

John Austin Guernsey was born into a musical family. His father, George, had an enormous jazz record collection, and it was a rare night that nothing was on the phonograph. George would take John, Tom and me to the Showboat Lounge to hear and meet such friends as Teddy Wilson and Charlie Byrd.

There was a piano in the Guernsey living room, and John took to it at a young age, while his brother Tom gravitated to guitar. It wasn’t long before they were making music together. John was unusually single minded when it came to mastering his instrument, spending hour after hour practicing. He mastered the difficult idiom of stride piano at an early age.

John also wrote beautiful songs with haunting lyrics. In the late 60s, a band called Claude Jones was among the first to play clubs with a repertoire heavy on original material, and John was a natural fit. Eventually John joined the band as a performer as well as a writer, and subsequently the band recorded several of John’s songs. Later, The Mystery Band recorded “Twelve Songs By John Guernsey.”

John’s legacy extends far beyond his musical contributions. He was a highly respected artist, wrote a novel, wrote and produced a musical, and performed nightly at the New Deal Cafe in Greenbelt for many years. He was a sought after piano teacher, and many of his former students remained dedicated friends throughout his life.

John Guernsey died on April 22 of complications from Parkinson’s disease.