Henry Lee Summer talks about drug addiction
Scott Swan/Eyewitness News
When people used to hear the name Henry Lee Summer they would think of hit records. "Hey Baby" and "I Wish I Had a Girl" climbed all the way up to the top 20 on the Billboard charts in the late 1980's. But lately, the rocker's name conjures up brushes with the law and multiple stints in drug rehab.
For the first time since his latest drug arrest, Summer is talking exclusively about the inner demons he battles and the music that draws him to the stage.
Summer, 55, wore a Led Zeppelin shirt during a candid 30-minute interview at "Ike and Jonesy's" in downtown Indianapolis and was comfortable talking about the rise of his popularity.
"I thought I was going to be the next Bruce Springsteen," says Summer. "Maybe I'll be big like him. And, for a moment, I started thinking that. But then I came back down to reality - no I'm not going to get close to that. It was the best. That was my dream to be a rock and roll musician. To have hit records and tour around the country," said Summer. "Your 15 minutes (of fame) goes by so fast you have to smack yourself to enjoy it. 'Cause doggone it; there it went."
Summer laughs when he is asked about his music videos from the 1980s.
"Aren't those corny? I've got the big (hair). I've got a mullet, thinking I'm looking cool. Looking like a dork," says Summer. "Looking at it now. my kids are like 'Dad'. I said, 'Hey, everybody looked like that. Chill out."
The rocker from Brazil, Indiana, whose real name is Henry Lee Swartz, says he sold over two million records and made millions of dollars.
"I've got a picture of me and a check worth $1.25 million that I got for signing a publishing deal."
"How bad did it get for you?"
Summer says he wasted a lot of the money he earned in music. Much of the money was spent on drugs after becoming hooked on narcotics in cough medicine.
"I knew I was a drug addict before I did drugs because I don't do anything a little bit. So, once it got into my system, it was hard. It's hard every day right now."
Scott Swan: "What drugs were you doing?"
Henry Lee Summer: "All of them. Everything from crystal meth to heroin. Once you start doing it, at least for people like me, because I'm an addict, you try everything. My drug of choice was opiates. I can't do one opiate. Or, I'll be right back on the skid. I need to completely stay away from everything."
Scott Swan: "How bad did it get for you?"
Henry Lee Summer: "Bad. I flat-lined a couple of times. I'd (overdose). Ambulance would have to come pick me up. It wasn't like I was trying to kill myself. But, you're taking so much, you don't even know what you're taking. I didn't think I was going to make it. Like everybody else, you don't think you're going to live through the year. You're waiting for yourself to die. Enough people didn't give up on me. And, they stuck with me. I let 'em down a lot of times. I had to lie to them. I told them I was cleaned up. And, I'd get money to do something else and go out and buy drugs. I was letting them down by telling them I was off. And I'd get right back on it."
Scott Swan: "What do you tell your (four) kids?"
Henry Lee Summer: "I had to tell them 'your dad had problems. Or has problems. I have that addictive personality. I can't do drugs at all. I can't get high on the weekends and come back. When I do it, it doesn't stop. It just keeps going. It was me being stupid. One of the dealers called me up because they're always calling me up, cause I'm a good customer. Or used to be, I'm not now. They'd said, I've got some whatever. It's 4 in the morning, Heck yes. I'd drive out there. And the police are waiting for me."
Scott Swan: "People look at your mug shot. You've seen that mug shot."
Henry Lee Summer: "Me and Nick Nolte. Right there together. I know it's bad. I only laugh at things because it's so humiliating. I have to laugh at it."
Summer says he is now off probation for the first time in six years.
Scott Swan: "Are you drugs right now?"
Henry Lee Summer: "No. no drugs."
Scott Swan: "Are you clean right now?"
Henry Lee Summer: "Yes."
Scott Swan: "How big a challenge is staying sober?"
Henry Lee Summer: "I can promise I can get through this day, but I can't promise you next week."
Scott Swan: "When is the last time you took drugs?"
Henry Lee Summer: "Like right before Thanksgiving (2010)."
Scott Swan: "What did you take?"
Henry Lee Summer: "Man, you're being hard (laugh)." Crystal meth. I know every drug dealer in town. And, it's not their fault. It's my fault. People don't realize how there all drugs are. If you want them, they are just there. When I'm trying to be clean, they'll put stuff in my mailbox. Throw things in my yard. Anything. Because they want that money."
Scott Swan: "Do you feel like you've hit rock bottom?"
Henry Lee Summer: "Boy, I hope so. I keep telling myself, man Henry, how much further are you going to go? I'm proud of myself. As bad off as I am, at least I'm not going down, physically and mentally. I can look at you and say this, I don't have to be ashamed of myself. At least I'm going in the right direction, but I have a long way to go. I willed myself to have hit records. But, I couldn't will myself to quit drugs."
Scott Swan: "What are your goals now?"
Henry Lee Summer: "To stay clean. It's such a hard thing to do. I'm going to do it. I don't want to let my parents down or my kids down. If I do that, everything else will fall in place. I would love to have another hit record. That's probably not going to happen. But, if I can stay clean. When they hear my name, they're not going to think, oh he's the guy that gets in trouble all the time, I want to be back to music. If I stay clean long enough, I know that will happen because I'm a good musician. I'm just not a very good drug addict. I'm a good musician. I'm just not a very good drug addict."
Summer says he pawned off everything he owned to support his drug habit. Now, he is getting a fresh start because of his parents.
"My mom and dad bought a guitar, a drum set and a piano to get me started again," says Summer. "This (guitar) is my magic wand. Come on everybody, let's go," says Summer. "I love music. I don't need to do anything beside music. I don't need drugs."
Summer still writes music and paints everything he can reach at his home, including microphones, guitar straps and guitar cases. Summer plays regular gigs, saying he needs structure to keep him out of trouble.
"If I could be on stage 24 hours a day, I would never be in trouble. I would never have any problems. (Music) is way better than drugs. Way better. Being on stage and the music's going. There's not a drug in the world that comes close to that. You can tell by the way I talk, a million miles an hour, if I don't have something to latch on to, that's when I get myself in trouble. That's when I start thinking, pretty soon, I'm on my way to the drug man's house," says Summer. "(Drugs) rip your family up, your career, and money you might have. Drugs takes it all. I messed up. Give me a chance. I'm trying to make it right."