Award-winning producer, lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter of one of Canada’s top recording supergroups in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Chilliwack, Bill Henderson is one of the Canadian music industry’s most respected leaders, on stage and off. From the early days of The Collectors, Vancouver’s first-high profile rock band, to the evolution of Chilliwack, becoming a solo artist and coveted songwriter and record producer, Henderson’s career spanning more than 50 years is about to reach another milestone.
On Monday, June 26, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (CSHF) presented Bill Henderson with his induction at the SOCAN Annual General Meeting in his hometown of Vancouver, BC. He will be recognized for his distinguished catalogue of hit songs across multiple genres from psychedelic rock, adult contemporary to pop rock, and for stage, television and film. With Chilliwack, he penned some of the band’s most successful songs with 14 albums under their belts, including Lonesome Mary, Fly at Night, I Believe, My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone) and Watcha Gonna Do.
“Bill Henderson is the reason why Chilliwack is one of Canada’s most enduring bands. He has been the constant driving force and the heart and soul of the group, through various incarnations; but it is his songwriting that has carried Chilliwack throughout the eras, taking their writing from on-stage jams to thoughtfully structured songs with great hooks, that brought critical and fan success over many decades,” says Stan Meissner, CSHF Board Chairman.
“It became clear to me that the quality of our songs was the most important aspect of our work. If we could come up with good stuff we could survive for a long time,” says Henderson. “I wrote songs every day for many years and it took a long time to learn how to do a decent job. But every once in a while “the muse” would give me one for free. I gave her all my time and she gave me some good ones.”
In 1966 Henderson joined as lead guitarist for The Collectors, previously known as The Classics, an established Vancouver band which played regularly on local TV’s “Let’s Go” and at local clubs including the strip club Torch Cabaret. The Collectors’ first charting single was 1967’s psychedelic, philosophical Looking at a Baby (written by Henderson with Howie Vickers). They were among the early Canadian acts to find success in the U.S., and even spent time in California, where Henderson would later draw inspiration to pen the 1976 hit song California Girl about his experiences working with California record companies.
By 1969-1970, The Collectors evolved into a new band name, Chilliwack, adding early members Ross Turney, Glenn Miller, and Claire Lawrence. Henderson became their principal songwriter, and garnered the group’s first Billboard charting single, Lonesome Mary, in 1972. In 1978 Henderson was nominated for his first JUNO Award along with Turney for producer on Chilliwack’s “Dreams, Dreams, Dreams” album, their first platinum album, among many to come.
During the formative years, members came and went, with notable additions being guitarist Howard Froese, bassist Ab Bryant, and multi-instrumentalist Brian “Too Loud” MacLeod – who would become Henderson’s frequent songwriting collaborator. The duo wrote the Top 10 hit My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone), and Whatcha Gonna Do (When I’m Gone) that yielded the Henderson-MacLeod duo the 1983 JUNO Award for Producer of the Year.
Chilliwack eventually called it quits after their last single (1983’s Don’t Stop) with 14 albums under their belts. Henderson would later embrace his acoustic side with fellow British Columbians Shari Ulrich and Roy Forbes to form the folk trio, UHF. Along the way he also became a coveted producer, working with The Nylons’ platinum JUNO-nominated “Happy Together” album, Long John Baldry, The Irish Rovers, The Good Brothers, and the band Toronto.
He has also been commissioned to compose songs and scores for theatre, television (as music director for Sesame Street Canada), and in film, winning a Genie Award for Best Original Song, When I Sing, for the 1989 Canadian movie “Bye Bye Blues.”
Recalling his longevity as a songwriter, Henderson has said: “Styles come and go through the years, but songwriting will never die. The urge to sing is deeper and more lasting than any style. So if you’re a songwriter, don’t worry, as long as you write songs that people like to sing, you’ll never be laid off.”
Outside of the music studio and stage, Henderson served as director for the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) from 1986 to 1992; and President of both the Songwriters Association of Canada and SOCAN. Henderson is a member of the Order of Canada as well as an inductee to the British Columbia Entertainment Hall of Fame, and with Chilliwack, to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. He has amassed an impressive 10 SOCAN Awards, culminating in the Special Achievement Award.
In 1997 Henderson began leading a renewed Chilliwack, and continues to tour.