Local musician Henry Kinsley, who passed Feb. 11 at age 68, may have come closer to mainstream success than any other musician in the county.
Yet music wasn’t his first love. That honor went to his wife, Judy.
Unlike the stereotypical musician’s wife in a constant competition with the life of an artist, Judy Kinsley supported her husband’s career, one reason their marriage spanned more than four decades.
Despite the fresh pain from her husband’s recent passing, Judy’s quick humor displayed itself as she reminisced about their years of marriage.
It was 1971 when Judy, 17 and still attending Joseph High School, met Henry, who had already graduated from Enterprise High School. She had no idea if his feelings were mutual until her father mentioned his interest, which he’d heard from Henry’s father.
“I thought oh my goodness, because I was still in high school and he was already graduated. One day, I got the courage to wave at him,” Judy said with a laugh.
Judy worked at a Joseph bowling alley where Henry’s rock band, Lodestone Development, often bowled. She learned how he liked his hamburgers and fries. He started coming more often.
“Everyone said your dad’s not going to let you go out with Henry because he has long hair and plays in a rock band,” Kinsley said. “We were totally Johnny Cash and cowboy boots.”
The couple married in 1972.
Henry’s music wasn’t the first thing that attracted Judy. There was also his dimples — and he had a Ford Mustang.
“That was a big plus,” she said.
Henry started as a rock player in high school for The Re-Actions. He later played for local country-rocker Jimmy Bivens as well as the recently reincarnated Re-Actions.
Henry’s switch to country-rock occurred in the 1980s with the rise of country group Alabama.
“They were getting older and the rock kids were taking over,” Judy explained. “The country rock and classic rock was always his favorite.”
Henry began to find some success as a country songwriter. He placed in several national songwriting contests with more than 30,000 entries.
Classic country singer Brenda Lee recorded one of his numbers. Henry and Judy made three extended trips to Nashville, once staying for an entire summer as he wrote songs and worked as a session player.
In Nashville, he passed up more than one opportunity to further his music career. He knew his songs were good enough
“I think it scared him,” Judy said. ‘What if I become successful — or what if I try and don’t?’”
His kind nature also prevented him from stepping on others’ toes, something often required to be successful in the business. His aversion to blowing his own horn didn’t help.
“He was humble,” Judy said. “He often told our daughters Joni and Jill, ‘If you’re good, you don’t tell people. They’ll tell you.’ That was his mantra.”
Neither of the two found Nashville to their liking.
“We felt like tiny fish in a big pond with piranhas out there,” Judy said. “We just felt vulnerable.”
Still, she encouraged his songwriting.
“He wasn’t a flashy entertainer, and his physique wasn’t what they were looking for,” she said. “His voice was golden, though.”
Henry was a prolific songwriter, and Judy served as his muse. On stage, he prefaced many of his originals by saying they were about her or written for her. Her favorite was “Unknown Girl,” which he wrote shortly after meeting his future wife.
“It was done while he was younger, so it’s never been recorded,” Judy said with a wistful smile. She thinks it’s possible that a live recording exists somewhere.
Judy’s favorite memory of her husband was taking an active role in the songwriting process.
“He’d bring his acoustic guitar in, and it might be 11 o’clock and I was ready for bed,” Kinsley said. “He’d say. ‘Hey Jude, I need help with this one line of a song.’ Sometimes I could come up with a line or even a chorus, and we’d look up and it would be 3 a.m. They were wonderful private moments.”
After children arrived, Judy still enjoyed going to watch her husband play. Judy also watched as the marriages of other band members fell apart under the strain.
“Henry and I were the only surviving couple,” she said with a laugh. “Every musician we know is married to someone different now, but we clicked and kept clicking.”
Henry made a good living as a working regional musician, often working four to five nights a week in Walla Walla, Lewiston and Wallowa County — while working split shifts piling green lumber at the Boise Cascade mill in Joseph to help support his family.
“That’s how much he liked to play,” Judy said.
Thanks to her interest in his music career, she asked her husband to quit piling lumber when it started affecting his wrists and ability to play. The couple later moved to Bend where Henry played for one of the most popular bands in the area.
But times changed. Gigs became less frequent and the family moved back and started a flower shop and kindergarten. Henry worked at various jobs before the couple opened a combination gift and music store in Joseph called W.C Marketplace.
“It’s Wallowa County, and you have to work two jobs,” Judy said. “As long as you’re happy, you can do that drudge work and have that place that sends you to your happy spot.”
Henry also taught guitar lessons and played with local musicians.
In 2013, doctors diagnosed Henry with bladder cancer. After surgery, he underwent chemotherapy.
“After chemotherapy, he said ‘I’ll never have chemo again,’” according to Judy. She watched as doctors kept finding cancer as it popped up in different places.
“It kept getting ahead of them,” she said.
Immunotherapy seemed to help until last year, but a case of lymphedema in a one leg developed, and Judy massaged and wrapped his leg four times a day. His doctor had said the immunotherapy had kept spots in his lymph nodes at bay, but another examination showed spots of cancer in his lungs.
More chemotherapy followed, and after another round of immunotherapy as well, Henry’s health took a serious downturn.
Earlier this year the couple planned to attend a Joseph High School basketball game. As the couple got ready to leave, Henry said, “I can’t make it Judy.” They stayed home.
Some time later, Henry developed breathing problems from blood clots. He was taken to Wallowa Memorial Hospital.
“He was much sicker than we knew,” Judy said. “There were tumors throughout and blood clots.” Henry was airlifted to Boise and passed away soon afterward
Judy takes a moment when asked to tell something people generally didn’t know about her husband.
“What people don’t know is that he was almost an introvert,” she said. “Having the shop helped drag him out of it because he had to wait on customers if I wasn’t there. If he was talking about music, he would come out of his shell, though. He became alive when he got behind his guitar.”
The one thing she misses most about him is the thing that attracted her in the first place.
“Those dimples,” she said. “I miss that dimply smile.”