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Ben Henderson: Hand Crafted

In Culture, Music
BEN BY DESIGN: San Jose-based musician and graphic artist Ben Henderson is happy to see a return to hand-crafted artisanship.

BEN BY DESIGN: San Jose-based musician and graphic artist Ben Henderson is happy to see a return to hand-crafted artisanship.

Fans of Ben Henderson might be surprised to learn that the soft-spoken graphic artist and musician has a soft spot for one of the most critically derided sub-genres of the past 20 years: rap-rock. “There was a lot of potential there,” Henderson says with a wry smile, though it doesn’t seem like he’s kidding. The San Jose native goes on to explain, recalling an early and formative musical experience from his youth—the time he saw Salmon play Music in the Park.

Looking back, Henderson recalls how he and his best friend—both of whom started playing together in their teens—would take mental notes whenever they went to shows. And then one day it really clicked.

“We’d go see other bands and be like, ‘We could do that,’” he says. “But then when we saw Salmon we were like, ‘Whoa. Those guys are legit.’”

Henderson remembers being mesmerized by the Gilroy-spawned rap-rock quartet. “I just remember the singer and the guitar player flinging themselves across the stage with dreadlocks and braids,” he says. “It was awesome.”

Of course, Henderson didn’t go on to find success mashing up hip-hop beats and nü-metal riffs. The singer and multi-instrumentalist first earned a following fronting the funk-soul outfit Good Hustle before paring down his sound in the indie-acoustic duo Brother Grand.

These days, he’s striking out on his own—with a little help from his friends. Henderson will open for Blues Traveler this Thursday at Music in the Park.

Billed as Ben Henderson & Friends, he will take the stage with members of Good Hustle as well as David Knight—who many South Bay alt-rock fans will remember as the former singer and guitarist for Day One Symphony. After the show, the crew will move their gear over to Forager in the SoFA District for the third installment of Henderson’s month-long residency at the recently opened venue. That show starts at 9pm.

At this point, Henderson says his only real ambition with music is to keep doing it and to have fun in the process. “I have no long-term goals with my music in particular except just to keep writing songs like I always do and to play them whenever I feel like it,” he says.

That’s not to say he is backing away from creating. In fact, in recent years Henderson has doubled down on his visual art. In the process he has become one of the most visible graphic designers and sign-makers in downtown San Jose.

His hand-painted handiwork can be seen in the street-facing mural at Good Karma Artisan Ales & Café, the logo for Café Stritch, the mural inside Be the Change Yoga, and the signage above Second Story Bake Shop and Park Station Hashery. He also painted many of the signs inside the San Pedro Square Market—Crewners, Little Chef, Robee’s Falafel, and Market Beer Co., to name a few. Henderson is even responsible for the “no smoking” and “trash” and “no alcohol beyond this point” placards.

“It’s all really glamorous,” he jokingly deflects.

But it’s hard to deny Henderson’s ingenuity. In addition to designing and hand-painting logos and murals all over downtown, he also created the three-dimensional sign hanging above Five Points on Santa Clara Street, which includes what resembles the large hilt of a knife plunging into the façade.

Henderson is part of a resurgent movement in design, which favors handcrafted artisanship over machine-produced uniformity. And while he notes that exposed bricks, distressed wooden beams and wrought iron fittings are “trendy,” it’s a trend he’s happy to be a part of—especially as someone who grew up surrounded by the sprawling beige of strip malls and vinyl printed signs.

“Things got cheap and ugly for decades,” he says. “All the signs and artwork and advertisements that you see out in world are made out of plastic and lights and stuff like that. As those cheap technologies proliferated, the hand-painted, handmade, hand-carved, hand-whatever went away. So, now that we’re older and we’re just inundated with all that cheap stuff we’ve seen for years, I think that when it comes to food, art, music, we all look back romantically when things were handmade or hand-painted.”

Ben Henderson & Friends
Jul 20, 5:30pm, $10+
Plaza de Cesar Chavez, San Jose
sjdowntown.com/music-in-the-park

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