Monday, November 23, 2009

James "Soul" Holvay

1st Record/1st Concert

In 1956, Dennis, my mid, older brother, came home with a 78 of "Rock-A-Beatin’ Boogie" by Bill Haley & The Comets. I believe that was my first exposure to rock n' roll. Then I saw Elvis three times on Tommy & Jimmy Dorsey's Stage Show, and I was totally hooked.
Months later, I saved up some money by collecting empty bottles and rode my bike a mile to Pearsons appliance store. The front of the store was all refrigerators, washers and dryers, TV's etc. I walked to the back where they had a few racks of 45's on a table.

There was a turntable by the cash register. The lady would play the record first before you paid for it, to be sure it didn't skip and/or it was the right version of the song you wanted. I just started looking thru 45's with no particular title in mind. I really hadn't heard anything other than the Bill Haley record. And than I saw that beautiful Sun Record label. Man, I thought, "that looks really neat." And it said Memphis, Tennessee at the bottom. Elvis was from Memphis. So I handed the 45 to the lady. She said, "Do you want to hear it?" I nervously said, "Sure." Lo and behold the vocalist started, "Hey baby. Jump over here. When ya do the Ooby Dooby I just got to be near ..." Man, I went nuts. What a sound! I smiled and started noddin' my head. She smiled and said, "That's a good song.”

I dug into my pocket and gave her I think 49 cents. I rode home on my bike, carrying that bag with "Ooby Dooby" in it, praying I wouldn't crash. I couldn't wait to play it for my brother. After all, my record was a lot cooler than his "Rock-A-Beatin' Boogie".


I have to start off by saying I missed two great shows in my early life.

1) It was 1957, Elvis was performing at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago. I was in 7th or 8th grade and a girl (Jill McCarthy) in my class said her uncle had some tickets and asked if I wanted to go. It was during the week and my parents said absolutely not. The next day there was a picture of Elvis on the front page of the Chicago Tribune. He was on stage in his 24 karat gold suit. I was a little disappointed, because he didn't have his guitar on. My image of Elvis was from the tv shows, with him jumping around. That's the Elvis I wanted to see. I didn't want to see him just pacing the stage back and forth like the older performers.

2) My oldest brother lived in a new housing development called Bloomington, MN, by Mpls. We passed by a roller rink and on the
door it had a poster that said, FRIDAY NIGHT, GENE VINCENT & The Blue Caps. I wasn't allowed to go that show either.

The first rock show that I DID see Rick Nelson at McCormick Place in Chicago in, I think, 1962. I was a junior in high school and playing in a band called The MayBees. There was an older guy (Steve Zimmer), who use to follow the band around the city, to various record hops that we'd play at. He was an Elvis-type lookin' guy and a great dancer. He'd usually win the dance contest, if they had one. The band and him became friends and he'd help transport us to the gigs. None of us owned a car. I remember he had a customized 57 Chevy. Steve was cool. Anyway, it was a Saturday night and we weren't playing anywhere. He came by my house and suggested we pick up the guys and go see Ricky Nelson. I didn't even know he was playing in town. Who read the paper at that time?

So, we all piled in Steve's car and drove downtown. McCormick Place was the new event center at the time and it was pretty breathtaking at night, right on Lake Shore Drive with all the lights flickering and glittering. We got to the theatre just in time. It wasn't sold out and were able to find some seats off to the left side, about 2/3 of the way down towards the stage. Hey, any seat would've been great. Someone came out on stage and announced Rick. His band started playing, the curtain started to rise and than Rick walked out. He looked like Elvis to me. He was wearing a big sport coat, like Elvis wore with big shoulder pads. A white shirt, tie and black slacks. No flash. He was conservatively dressed for a rock n' roll star. He seemed tall, like maybe 6' 2". (my height) There was nobody screaming, which thru a damper on the show. There was no energy at all from the audience. They were real polite and applauding after every song. He talked a little bit after each song. He seemed like a regular, down-to-earth guy. He made some funny remarks, which helped loosen the audience up, but the whole thing seemed stiff. Not like the shows I went to years later, at The Regal.

He went thru his hits, one-by-one. And than he went to the grand piano and started playing "What'd I Say". That's what he closed the show with. It was a downer. It never got off the ground. After the song finished, he walked up to the mike and thanked everyone for coming and walked off. The band, which was the same band as on TV (James Burton and crew), started playing this cool jazz tune called "Moanin', as the curtain came down. I was like "Whoa", these cats can play.” I was familiar with the song and to hear James Burton play "Moanin'" on that Candy Apple Red Telecaster, man that was a treat. It was funky. He was by far, thee best rock guitar player of the day. I think I would've much more enjoyed listening to them play that song all night than see Rick sing "It's A Young World".

James Holvay was a guitar player on the Dick Clark Rock & Roll tour in 1964, then wrote “Kind Of A Drag” and numerous other hits for the Buckinghams. He later joined the Mob, a Chicago band which became a Las Vegas fixture. He grew up in Brookfield, Illinois, where his next-door neighbor was Ron Haydock.
AFM October 2004