The Holmes Brothers: Gospel, In Good Humor The diagnosis of bladder cancer for guitarist Wendell Holmes could have meant the end of the group. Instead, it inspired a new album for the bluesy, sacred-meets-secular trio. The band gives a special performance, and speaks about Feed My Soul.

The Holmes Brothers: Gospel, In Good Humor

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(Soundbite of music)

The HOLMES BROTHERS: (Singing) I know we've been through a night. Sometimes we've had, sometimes had not.


For more than three decades, roadhouse rock has met up with gospel in the music of The Holmes Brothers. Over the years, the Holmes Brothers have made music with everyone from Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen, to Patti Smith, Merle Haggard and Ben Harper. One of their favorite musical collaborators is Joan Osborne, who produced this latest CD called "Feed My Soul."

The Holmes Brothers are Sherman Holmes on bass, Wendell Holmes on guitar and Popsy Dixon on drums. As they like to say, Popsy is a brother from a different father and mother.

Feed My Soul comes out March 2nd but the Holmes Brothers are in the D.C. area to perform, so we got them to come into our studio.

Thanks so much for braving the snow.

Mr. SHERMAN HOLMES (Member, The Holmes Brothers): It's out pleasure.

Mr. WENDELL HOLMES (Member, The Holmes Brothers): You're welcome.

Mr. POPSY DIXON (Member, The Holmes Brothers): Our pleasure.

THOMPKINS: Now, "Feed My Soul" seems like a triumph on several different levels. But, Wendell, maybe the best part of "Feed My Soul" is that its proof that you're still here with us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. W. HOLMES: Absolutely. You know you're right.

THOMPKINS: Now, you've had a fight with cancer recently.

Mr. W. HOLMES: I did, Gwendolyn, and I came out victorious. You know, the Devil tried to kill me, but it was not my time to go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. W. HOLMES: So I just thank God for the blessing of still being here. And, hey, everything worked out fine. So far so good.

THOMPKINS: That's all right. That's all right.

And, Sherman Holmes, how did your brother's illness influence what we hear on this album "Feed My Soul?"

Mr. S. HOLMES: Well, I think it had a lot to do with both of our writings. And I appreciate my having my brother, since I almost went with him there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

THOMPKINS: Well, it seems like the song called "Rounding Third" takes this whole matter on. So, let's listen.

(Soundbite of song, "Rounding Third")

THE HOLMES BROTHERS: (Singing) Bye-bye. So long. I'm glad you're gone. Good riddance. I'm rounding third. I'm headed home. Sacrifice ain't my style. I like to swing and drive them wild. Wild. So long, I might have heard I'm headed home.

THOMPKINS: Now, Wendell Holmes, after hearing a song like that, I feel like I can't call you Mr. Holmes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

THOMPKINS: I feel like I know you. So may I call you Wendell?

Mr. W. HOLMES: Absolutely.

THOMPKINS: All right then. Now, are you saying goodbye to your illness or bye-bye to a girlfriend, or both?

Mr. W. HOLMES: Well, you know what? It can be interpreted in many ways. But actually I'm telling cancer to bug off. And I'm through with you, no more. I received a victory and you're in my past.

THOMPKINS: Well, that sounds like a good message for cancer.

You know, there's another artist, Levon Helm, who went through cancer - a long battle with cancer. Came out on the other side with two Grammys and you know what I mean, and a revived career. So...

Mr. W. HOLMES: That's right.

Mr. S. HOLMES: Absolutely.

Mr. W. HOLMES: You know, Gwen, Levon Helm - I'm not cutting you off - but...


Mr. W. HOLMES: ...he recorded with us on our last album. It was his first recording after his bout with cancer.


Mr. W. HOLMES: Absolutely; very dear friend of ours.

THOMPKINS: Let's listen to another song. 'Cause as I said, I'm crazy about this CD.

Mr. W. HOLMES: Thank you.

THOMPKINS: And the song "Fair-Weather Friend," now...

Mr. W. HOLMES: Oh, my God.

Mr. S. HOLMES: Hmm.

THOMPKINS: Now this has a very traditional sound. And it talks about an aspect of illness that rarely gets put into song. You know, and that's when people who you consider your friends let you down.

(Soundbite of song, "Fair-Weather Friend")

THE HOLMES BROTHERS: (Singing) Where have you been, my fair-weather friend? my back up against the wall, slipped away again. (unintelligible) the wind. Where have you been my fair-weather friend?

THOMPKINS: It's true. It reminds me of that Martin Luther King line, you know? "In the end, it's not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends."

Mr. W. HOLMES: Yeah, I love that. That is so true, isn't' it?

THOMPKINS: You know, it all looks like friendship. But the truth of the matter is people don't always stand by you.

Mr. W. HOLMES: That's very true. You find yourself alone many times in time of crises. Yes.

THOMPKINS: It's true. It's true. But, you know, I don't want to leave the audience with the impression that this is a bleak album, 'cause there's just too much more to listen to.

(Soundbite of laughter)

THOMPKINS: I notice that you all do a Lennon and McCartney song on this album.

Mr. W. HOLMES: Yeah.

THOMPKINS: Whose idea was that?

Mr. W. HOLMES: Well, actually I believe that was Joan Osborne's idea. And Brother Popsy, he singing lead on it. He does a great job on that song.

(Soundbite of song, "I'll Be Back")

THE HOLMES BROTHERS: (Singing) I love you so. I'm the one who wants you and I'm the one wants you for ooh, ooh, hoo. You could find better things to do than to break...

THOMPKINS: Popsy Dixon, that's a great version of a song.

Mr. DIXON: Thank you.

THOMPKINS: Now, what is the secret to drumming and singing at the same time? I mean Levon Helms does it. You do it. How do you make it look easy? I can barely sing and, you know, walk.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DIXON: Well, actually though, this - if you're not used to it it's very hard.


Mr. DIXON: 'Cause you're doing the drumming, one thing. Then you start, 'cause you'd be singing something, then you've got do an accent between that, or all-timing accent. It gets a little rough. That's real concentration in there.


Mr. DIXON: Yeah. I have played a song and been doing it for years. He took a solo. I got ready to sing again, forgot what song it was...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DIXON: I told him, I said take another solo.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DIXON: And I waited. After a while he said, "You coming?" I said, um, hmm. Oh, that's it. sometimes that happens though, to all of us.


Mr. DIXON: Yeah.

THOMPKINS: Wow, okay. Well, but what I also like about this album, you know, "Feed My Soul," you combine the secular and the - I was going to say the profane...

Mr. S. HOLMES: Profound.


(Soundbite of laughter)

THOMPKINS: There you go. The secular and the profound along with the sacred and all. And you do it quite effortlessly it seems. And so have you ever gotten any pushback, you know, from critics or fans or whatever who are uncomfortable with that notion, Sherman?

Mr. S. HOLMES: Well, once when we were in California, we were on a tour and the churches in the area got together and put the gospel show right across from us and killed our show.


Mr. S. HOLMES: Yeah, that's true, because they didn't want the profane or the profound in there - the profane and the Christian together.

(Soundbite of laughter)

THOMPKINS: Well, there has been a longstanding tension, hasn't there, between particularly blues music?

Mr. S. HOLMES: Absolutely.

THOMPKINS: ...and gospel.

Mr. S. HOLMES: Absolutely.

THOMPKINS: You know, you're fighting for the same crowd.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. W. HOLMES: That's right. That's right. always liked to say we rock them on Saturday and save them on Sunday.

THOMPKINS: There you go. There you go.

Wendell Holmes, you know, did you bring your guitar? You brought your guitar.

Mr. W. HOLMES: I did bring my guitar. Of course, Gwendolyn.

THOMPKINS: Well, I'm so glad. I'm in the snow, you know, we can't really expect anybody to haul anything, you know.

Mr. W. HOLMES: It's my pleasure.

THOMPKINS: Oh, thank you. Well, I am hoping that you can play for us the song "Pledging My Love," which was a Johnny Ace song.

Mr. W. HOLMES: Absolutely. Absolutely.

THOMPKINS: If it's all right with you, if you could just play us on out with it.

Mr. W. HOLMES: Absolutely.

THOMPKINS: And before we hear the song, I'd like to thank you all again for coming in. You've been just wonderful, wonderful guests and great gentlemen.

Mr. W. HOLMES: Thank you.

Mr. DIXON: Thank you so much for having us.

Mr. S. HOLMES: Thank you.

THOMPKINS: So we have Wendell and Sherman Holmes and Popsy Dixon, The Holmes Brothers.

Mr. W. HOLMES: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song, "Pledging My Love")

THE HOLMES BROTHERS: (Singing) Forever, my darling, our love will be true. Always and forever, I'll love only you. Just promise me, darling, your love in return. Let this fire in my soul, dear, forever burn. My heart's at your command, dear, to have love and to hold. Making you happy is my desire, dear. Keeping you is, is my goal. I'll forever love you for the rest of my days. I'll never part from you and your loving ways.

THOMPKINS: The Holmes Brothers, Wendell and Sherman Holmes along with Popsy Dixon, playing in our studio. Their CD, "Feed My Soul," comes out on Alligator Records March 2nd.

(Soundbite of song, "Pledging My Love")

THE HOLMES BROTHERS: (Singing) My heart is at your command, dear, to have love and to hold. Making you happy is my desire, dear. Keeping you is, is my goal. I'll forever love you For the rest of my days. I'll never part from you and your loving ways.

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