For more than 50 years, J. Tamblyn (“Tam”) Henderson, Jr. has combined his love and knowledge of music with his quest for “the sound of real musicians making music in real space,” in the process molding Reference Recordings into one of the most innovative and respected independent labels in the music business. Founded on the premise that most commercial recordings sound nothing like the live performance experience, Henderson’s productions for Reference Recordings have been widely and lavishly praised for their dedication to high quality sound in the service of great music.
After receiving a degree in music history from the University of Georgia, Henderson worked as Music Director for Classical KSFR radio, then as owner of two San Francisco record stores. It was during this time that Henderson realized the depth of his dissatisfaction with commercially recorded sound. While working as a reviewer for Sound Advice and The Absolute Sound magazines, he decided to try it himself and launched Reference Recordings. In 1977 the first Reference Recordings release appeared: RR-1, a direct-to-disc LP production of chamber music called “Guitar and…,” which was followed by “Flute and…,” “Viola and…,” and an album by the percussion ensemble Kotekan; all four discs are long out of print and highly collectible.
Shortly, Henderson began working with engineer Keith O. Johnson, who was already becoming an audio legend for his innovative approach to realistic recordings. Their first release was a 45-rpm LP of the Chopin Sonata in B minor. Their teamwork created over 120 more releases, which many consider to be the finest-sounding classical and jazz discs in the world.
Under Henderson’s direction, Reference Recordings productions and engineering won three GRAMMY® Awards and many other nominations, including Producer of the Year for himself in 1998. In addition, RR has received numerous awards and citations from industry organizations and publications. RR has issued world premieres, of music by John Tavener, Malcolm Arnold, George Chadwick and many others, and has pioneered many technological innovations—most recently HRx, the first commercially available discs containing 176.4 kHz/24 bit music. Also most notable was the introduction in 1992 of the HDCD® digital encoding process® (co-invented by Keith O.Johnson). This process brought RR’s CD sound to levels of realism previously attained only by the finest analogue masters. As President, Chief Producer and Director of A&R from 1976 through 2011, Henderson brought Reference Recordings to a position of prominence and respect achieved by few independent labels. In 2012, John Tamblyn (“Tam”) Henderson stepped down his position as President of RR. He continues consulting on important decisions and oversees the label’s new LP division, Reference Mastercuts.