Henry Clement, or Big Chief Takawaka, the “Swamp Doctah,” as a jokingly calls himself, is a unique and entertaining performer. When he dons his Indian outfit and head-dress of many feathers, whether on stage or as a regular street festival performer, his Swamp Boogie / Second Line style of music and his evocations of the sights and sounds of New Orleans and Mardi Gras makes him and his band a real treat.
Henry grew up in Crowley, Louisiana, a child prodigy who played piano, harmonica and drums professionally at dances throughout Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi before the age of ten and made his recording debut on J.D. Miller’s Feature label in 1954 at the age of nineteen playing on a Lightning Slim session in place of Wild Bill Phillips, who could not make the date.
At St. Teresa Elementary School, Henry won a number of talent shows and during his high school years he was honored as the number one percussionist for four consegutive years. His first high school band was the Junior Jivers. He subsequently won a full music scholarship to Southern University in Baton Rouge, where he formed his first band, The Drops Of Joy, which later became the Dew Drops, and later, the Gaynotes. For Henry, college was one continuous musical experience. He played with the Jazz Band, Concert Band, Marching Band, ROTC Band, the Men’s Chorus, and the Symphony Orchestra. In college, he formed the Trojans Band which lasted from 1958 ’til the 1970s.
Henry’s recording career started in July 1957 as Little Henry & The Dew Drops. He recorded three songs for Jay Miller, only one of which, “Tall Skinny Mama,” saw belated release in 1981 with Lazy Lester on drumming box. He issued singles in 1958 with moderate regional success as Little Clem & The Dew Drops and as Little Henry.
In the early 1960s, Henry began his career in education, working with students in music and math, and counseling while coaching and serving in administrative positions. He went on to earn a Masters Degree in Education from Southern University and a Doctorate equivalent in Education from the University of California, Berkeley. Henry was a Career Counselor for the Oakland Unified School District and his primary source of income came from teaching kids how to stay away from drugs and off the streets. He retired from teaching and mentoring in Oakland in June of 1996 with more than 40 years of educational experience. But The Gumbo Band has stayed together and Henry has always found time to perform during school vacations and weekends with such major artists as Amos Milburn, Fats Domino, Otis Redding, Charles Brown, Jimmy Smith, Joe Simon, Bobby Bland, The ChiLtes, Joe Tex, Barbara Lynn, Ray Charles, James Brown, Clifton Chenier, B.B. King, and others.
Henry is also very active in his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi.