You know that feeling you get when a guitar rift, piano solo, or first chord of a song instantly takes you back to a moment in your life? There is nothing quite like it, void of words, yet telling a full story beginning to end. Many people feel that music is the universal language, preempting English as the most widely used form of communication. For Mike Hensley, music was his ticket to wholeness, an avenue to provide for his children as a single parent, and a way to truly connect to the world. His story is one of goal-setting, determination, and continuing to work hard to live the dream he had imagined for himself.
Mike “The Professor” Hensley is one of those unassuming, quiet, don’t make me talk about myself, kind of guys. With a resume that would make most musicians foam at the mouth, this guy is reluctant to tout his accolades, instead focusing on the peripheral stories of others who had helped him, his children who he holds as his greatest accomplishment, and Sarasota, which he says has been kind to him and just a hotbed for super talented musicians and artists.
Right on the heels of recent recording sessions with the Sean Chambers Band in New Jersey, Mike is looking forward to the release of that new album out this spring. Thought of as one of the premiere keyboard players in the area, he has played with some of the greatest jazz and blues performers in both genres. He is one of the many talented Sarasota musicians who quietly rocks the roof off local haunts and major labels, doing both humbly and with a true artist’s heart who strives for a great song rather than a great headline. And like many, his story is one of simple principles coming together to make a dream come true.
As a young man growing up in the 60’s with little money for extras, Mike Hensley developed a love for music which he found could transcend his circumstances. He began playing an old acoustic guitar his dad had given him and in time, learned enough to be good. His desires to take his music to a higher level took him out of his meager household and into the realm of performing. Unfortunately, in a time of blossoming electric guitars, he quickly discovered his acoustic guitar needed to be replaced. It was with that desire that he spent a full summer working long days, while friends were out partying and hanging out, to afford an electric guitar so he could join a band. Once the summer ended and he had guitar in hand he began the daunting task of lining up gigs as a teenager. He quickly discovered that a band with four guitar players, and he being the fourth, meant they were lacking in originality. Ascertaining that a good organ player was what the band needed to set themselves apart, he volunteered to hole himself up in his grandmother’s home one weekend with an old organ she had and learn the parts himself. After a difficult couple of days, he emerged as the new organ player for the band who had managed to transpose all his guitar parts into organ music. With that determination in hand, Mike found himself to be a regular member of the live music sect, earning more money as a rock and roller teenager than some adults were earning at blue collar jobs. And that is how a dream is born and bred.
Today you will find Mike Hensley happy with how he has scripted his life. His love of music and determination to succeed afforded him the opportunity to raise two children as a single parent while making a living as a musician. Though he has played with the best of the best he sites one instance when he was playing in a church with his son and daughter beside him as his singular best musical experience of his lifetime. Throughout his musical successes, he has always thought of his relationship with his children to be the most significant priority.
In a day of overnight stardom with shows like The Voice and American Idol, Mike categorizes Sarasota as a unique mecca for musicians who can stand the test of time. With a magnet-like attraction to performers he says Sarasota is kind to artists of all genres. Though the heyday of outdoor live gigs may be in his rear-view mirror, he says Sarasota remains one of the most special places in the world for musicians, thinking of it as a younger sister to New Orleans which is home to generations of musical performers. He loves places like Blue Rooster where good food, nice people, and live music make any night feel special. And like many, he credits the Suncoast with providing a young boy with a dream, a stage upon which to achieve anything. If you’d like to catch Mike “The Professor” Hensley playing at local establishments, please check out his Facebook page for dates and times.
All photos are from various photographers, courtesy of Mike Hensley. Bosk Photography, Bob Trester. Commercial use of these photos is prohibited.