By Jason A. Smith
Saxophonist Henley Varner said playing in the band which bears his name, enables him to pursue a passion he has held for three decades.
"It's a way to relieve stress, and to express my creativity," said Varner, of Ellenwood. "It allows me to become one with the music, because when I'm on stage, I'm totally different than when I'm not."
The Henley Varner Band will perform a tribute to singer Michael Jackson tonight at Bentley's On the Square, located at 32 Macon St., in McDonough. The event is designed to coincide with the anniversary of Jackson's death.
Varner describes his band as "the best-kept secret on the Southside." He said those attending the performance will be treated to a variety of musical styles.
"People think, because I play the saxophone, that we're a jazz band," he said. "But we play all kinds of music."
Varner has been a musician for 30 years, and works as a paralegal for a law firm in Atlanta. He said his interest in music stirred when he was a teenager, playing in the Henry County High School band. He later attended Clayton Junior College -- now Clayton State University -- with an emphasis in music. He said he left college in 1976, to join a band called Blitz. He said he was chasing his dream of becoming a professional musician.
"I felt that the band was going to take me to higher heights in the music business, than being in college, at the time," he said.
Varner remained in Blitz for four years, before joining another band, named Hidden Agenda. He left the road in 1981, to work as a machinist for Atlanta Wire Works.
"I realized as a musician, it was going to take more income to raise a family, so I took a full-time job," he said.
Varner's return to the music scene, in 1993, contains a connection which sparked his interest in performing as a teen. He said he was approached by members of his high-school class, about playing his saxophone, one more time. "Some people put together a band for a reunion, and I've been playing ever since," he said.
Varner formed the Henley Varner Band in 2001. The group performs regularly at local venues, including Bentley's and Season's Bistro in McDonough, as well as for Christmas parties and corporate events in Atlanta.
He said he is looking forward to honoring Michael Jackson's music, and is confident the audience will enjoy a unique experience. "They will be able to see the chemistry of the musicians, and the vocalists on stage," he said.
Chuck Gibson, of McDonough, has known Varner since 2005, and has been a vocalist in the Henley Varner Band for three months. Gibson, a hotel operations manager, said he has enjoyed practicing for the Jackson tribute event with his bandmates. "Michael Jackson was iconic in every shape, form, and fashion," said Gibson. "I grew up on the Jackson 5, and it's taking me back."
Like Varner, Gibson said performing with the band allows him a form of escape from the everyday world. "Music is my release -- just the freedom to express yourself and be creative, and most of all, to touch other people," he said. "There's something about music that gets deep into your soul. Music can make a bad day a great day," he said.
Calvin Moody, of Riverdale, has played the drums for the band for six months. As an aspiring musician, Moody said he is excited about connecting with listeners through the band's music, and their interpretations of Jackson's work.
"We can give the crowd what they want and gel together, and still be musical and professional," Moody said. "We can take a song, and not necessarily play it like the record, but put our own spin on it. Michael Jackson, to me, opened a lot of doors for musicians to expand their musical vocabulary."