“Great songs, whether we write them or not, bring great things,” says guitarist/pianist/vocalist/songwriter Wendell Holmes. “And we are all about striving to write, find and perform great songs.” The Holmes Brothers—Wendell, bassist/songwriter/vocalist Sherman Holmes and drummer/vocalist and brother-in-spirit Popsy Dixon—are true treasures of American roots music. For 35 years, The Holmes Brothers’ joyous and moving blend of blues, gospel, soul, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll and country has been captivating audiences around the world. Their spine-tingling three-part harmony singing, mixing Wendell’s gruff and gravelly vocals with Popsy’s soaring falsetto and Sherman’s rich baritone, brings the spirit of gospel-inflected deep soul music into every song they perform. Equally gripping is the rhythmic foundation laid down by Sherman’s bass playing and Popsy’s drumming, perfectly complementing Wendell’s blues-soaked guitar solos and church-inspired piano playing. The band expertly blends Saturday night’s roadhouse rock and blues with the gospel passion of Sunday morning’s church service. Rolling Stone says The Holmes Brothers play “impressive, fervent country soul.” Entertainment Weekly goes further, declaring “The Holmes Brothers are juke joint vets with a brazenly borderless view of American music...timeless and rapturous.”
The band’s new Alligator Records album, Brotherhood, was produced by Glenn Patscha (Ollabelle, Marc Cohn), Chris Bruce (Me'Shell NdegéOcello, Seal) and Hector Castillo (Brazilian Girls, David Bowie). It is another stellar chapter in The Holmes Brothers’ storied and still-evolving history. It’s also their most bluesy album to date, filled with roadhouse wisdom, late-night doo wop, proto rock ‘n’ roll punch, soulful R&B and closing with an amazing dose of Sunday morning spirit. Featuring fourteen songs—including eight new Holmes Brothers originals and six carefully-chosen covers—Brotherhood finds The Holmes Brothers at the absolute top of their game, creating timeless roots music. From the rocking Wendell original Stayed At The Party, to the sweet harmonies of Ted Hawkins' I Gave Up All I Had, to Sherman's soulful composition Passing Through, to the doo wop splendor of Popsy's vocals on the Stax classic My Kind Of Girl, to Wendell's gorgeous duet with his daughter Felicia on Loving You From Afar, to the final note of the band's most requested song—and a highlight of each and every live performance—the soul-stirring Amazing Grace, Brotherhood is a testament to the uplifting musical power that comes from the close-knit, fraternally telepathic relationship of The Holmes Brothers. “As much as I love all of our albums, this is among my favorites,” says Wendell. “We worked hard. We tried for a live, loose feel and we got it. Glenn, Chris and Hector captured The Holmes Brothers sound most distinctly.”
From winning multiple Blues Music Awards to sharing stages and recordings with Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, Joan Osborne, Willie Nelson, Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, Merle Haggard, Al Green, Ben Harper, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Levon Helm, Rosanne Cash, Odetta, Marc Cohn and The Jungle Brothers, The Holmes Brothers have seemingly done it all. USA Today says that band is “glorious...full of soul and surprises.” The New York Times declares The Holmes Brothers “deeply soulful, uplifting and timeless.”
Their journey started in Christchurch, Virginia, where Sherman and Wendell were raised by their schoolteacher parents, who nurtured the boys’ early interest in music. As youngsters they listened to traditional Baptist hymns, anthems and spirituals as well as blues music by Jimmy Reed, Junior Parker and B.B. King. According to Wendell, “It was a small town, and my brother and I were about the only ones who could play anything. I guess you could say we were large musical fish in a small pond. So we played around in all the area churches on Sundays.” The night before, though, they would play blues, soul, country and rock at their cousin’s local club, Herman Wate’s Juke Joint. “When he couldn’t get any good groups to come from Norfolk or Richmond, he’d call us in,” Wendell recalls. “That’s how we honed our sound. We used to say we’d rock ‘em on Saturday and save ‘em on Sunday.”
Sherman studied composition and music theory at Virginia State University, but in 1959 he dropped out and headed to New York for a promising job with a singer named Jimmy Jones (of Handy Man fame). His younger brother Wendell joined him in New York after completing high school. The two brothers played in a few bands before forming The Sevilles in 1963. The group lasted only three years, but they often backed up touring artists like The Impressions, John Lee Hooker and Jerry Butler, gaining a wealth of experience. Sherman and Wendell met drummer Popsy Dixon, a fellow Virginian, at a New York gig in 1967. Dixon sat in with the brothers and sang two songs. “After that second song,” recalls Wendell, “Popsy was a brother.” They continued to play in a variety of Top 40 bar bands—Wendell even toured with Inez and Charlie Foxx (Mockingbird)—until 1979, when the three officially joined forces and formed The Holmes Brothers band.
In the early years, the band worked primarily at Dan Lynch’s, a New York club that featured weekly jam nights and performances by a wide variety of blues acts, most notably The Holmes Brothers. More importantly, the club served as a meeting ground for many members of New York’s blues community, including future members of Blues Traveler, Joan Osborne and producer/harmonicist Andy Breslau, who brought the group to Rounder Records.
Since their debut on Rounder in 1989, The Holmes Brothers have toured virtually non-stop. They’ve performed in 50 different countries, including dates across the United States, Canada, throughout Europe, and in Singapore, Japan, Russia, Turkey, South America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. In addition to their four critically acclaimed Rounder albums, they recorded Jubilation for Peter Gabriel’s Real World label in 1992, becoming the first American group to record for the standout world music imprint. 1996 found The Holmes Brothers starring in the independent motion picture Lotto Land, for which they also recorded the soundtrack. Their albums all received massive praise. “Mind-blowing,” said the Boston Herald. “Rich and satisfying,” raved The Washington Post.
The Holmes Brothers joined Alligator Records in 2001, releasing the Joan Osborne-produced Speaking In Tongues to overwhelming popular and critical acclaim. They followed with 2004’s Simple Truths, 2007’s State Of Grace and 2010’s Feed My Soul (which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues Chart), each release earning the band more fans and more accolades. The success of their albums led to multiple appearances on national television, including visits to The Late Show With David Letterman and two trips to Late Night With Conan O’Brien, as well as a rousing performance on CBS Saturday Morning. Profiles and concerts on NPR have put them in front of millions of listeners. They have appeared on Weekend Edition, All Things Considered, A Prairie Home Companion and performed on NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert. They played their original song Opportunity To Cry with Willie Nelson for the Willie Nelson & Friends: Outlaws And Angels TV special. The Holmes Brothers have been featured in countless newspaper and magazine articles and continue to tear up the highway, touring across the country and around the world. Greg Kot of The Chicago Tribune said The Holmes Brothers are a “joyous, foot-stomping carnival...a gift to the world of music.”
All of The Holmes Brothers’ musical gifts are displayed in full force on Brotherhood. With their deeply soulful singing, uplifting harmonies and unsurpassed musicianship, The Holmes Brothers’ ability to deliver gospel fervor and raw blues intensity is as legendary as their ability to bring audiences to their feet. The band is eager to bring their new release to the stage. “We’re looking forward to exposing the new songs to our fans, and bringing new fans to our songs,” says Wendell. “If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready, and The Holmes Brothers are always ready.”
DISCOGRAPHY: Brotherhood (Alligator, 2014) Feed My Soul (Alligator, 2010) State Of Grace (Alligator, 2007) Simple Truths (Alligator, 2004) Speaking In Tongues (Alligator, 2001) Promised Land (Rounder, 1997) Lotto Land (Stony Plain, 1996) Soul Street (Rounder, 1993) Jubilation (Real World, 1992) Where It’s At (Rounder, 1991) In The Spirit (Rounder, 1989)