New Jersey Stage

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Interview with Wendell Holmes of The Holmes Brothers

I caught up with Wendell Holmes after his band's set at the 2010 XPoNential Music Festival in Camden, New Jersey. The Holmes Brothers have been playing the blues for over 30 years during which time they’ve shared stages and recorded with artists like Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, Willie Nelson, Lou Reed, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Rosanne Cash, and Peter Gabriel to name a few.

While I was watching the band I couldn't help thinking that it's not really a summer music festival until you hear some blues.
That's right! That's right!

You tour all over the world. Is it true that jazz and blues is generally more accepted outside the U.S.?
Absolutely. It's similar to when the European acts come to the states. They get a bigger audience here than they do in their home countries. It also seems like people in different parts of the world appreciate music in a different way - not to say better, but in a different way. For example, in Europe they clap after every song; in the states, we kind of take our artists for grant while over there they appreciate us.

In New Jersey, we've seen a lot of blues clubs struggle and close in recent years. Do you see that happening everywhere?
It's happening everywhere. We were very fortunate, even though we're from Virginia we spent most of our lives in New York. When we started making records it was a blessing because the scene in New York was fading away, just dying. The clubs were closing and musicians were starving. So, we were very blessed.

It's tough to see the clubs close when radio basically treats the blues as a niche program.
Absolutely! Just niche programs and college stations. The blues isn't on the radio - we've been in the artist protection program!

Bluesville on the satellite radio has helped a lot; XPN and a few other stations playing all kinds of music have been good for all kinds of artists. It's not as good as it should be, it's hard to get airplay. And if nobody ever hears you, people don't buy your records.

We like to play all of the festivals. The older I get the more I like shorter sets with bigger audiences. It’s good.

Tell me about the latest record, Feed My Soul. I know several of the songs were influenced by what you went through.
I don't mind speaking about what I went through. I went through bladder cancer. As a matter of fact, I went through bladder cancer and my daughter went through breast cancer at the same time. It was a pox on our house.

How is she doing now?
She's doing fine. We both made it through so far so good. God has blessed us. The devil tried to kill us, but it wasn't our time to die. So, a lot of the songs from the new album came from that. "Feed My Soul" - the song itself is a song dedicated to my wife of 36 years, who's also here today. It's speaking of the devotion and stick-to-it-ness of caring through all of that chemo, radiation, and puking up.

How long was the experience?
I came down with it in 2008 and it was almost a year I guess. I was fortunate, I did not have to have my bladder removed. Everything was treated and so far everything is good.

The songs "Rounding Third & Headed Home" and "The Edge Of The Ledge" -- a lot of it comes from the cancer experience. Another song is called "Fair-Weather Friend" and it's about a friend of mine - one of my very best friends -- who did not come to see me when I was going through cancer. I was really taken back, hurt, and devastated. But, as time went on, I realized that sometimes in a situation like that good friends don't even know what to say to you. They don't know how to come visit you. I've forgiven him since that happened, but the song is out there!

Do you feel the experience helped make a record you're really proud of?
I think it's our best album.

Photo by Photo by Mary Ellen Mark