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The Holmes Brothers

Tradition
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Popsy Dixon, Wendell Holmes and Sherman Holmes, Washington, D.C., 2014, photograph by Alan Govenar
Wendell and Sherman Holmes performing at the 2014 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Wendell and Sherman Holmes performing at the 2014 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Wendell Holmes performing at the 2014 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Wendell and Sherman Holmes performing at the 2014 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Wendell Holmes performing at the 2014 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Sherman Holmes performing at the 2014 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart

The Holmes Brothers’ long career began with a chance meeting in a New York nightclub about 1967. Sherman and Wendell Holmes were playing a gig when they met a fellow Virginia native, Willie “Popsy” Dixon, and invited him to sit in. Dixon’s deft drumming and multi-octave harmony vocals fit like a glove. As Wendell Dixon recalled years later, “After that second song, Popsy was a brother.” Over the next several years, the three continued to cross paths as they played in various groups before forming The Holmes Brothers in 1979 with Dixon on drums, Sherman Holmes on bass and Wendell Holmes on guitar and piano. Their musicianship and haunting harmonies made them adept at everything from juke-joint blues to gospel and country.

In the early years, they made their home base a Greenwich Village bar called Dan Lynch’s, where they often ran the Sunday afternoon jam session. There, they met Andy Breslau, a musician and record producer, who helped sign them to Rounder Records. Their popularity grew, and over the next several decades, The Holmes Brothers performed widely at home and abroad, appeared on radio and television and recorded a series of highly regarded albums. They wrote and performed the soundtrack for the film Lotto Land, in which the band appeared and Wendell Holmes played a troubled musician.

The brothers grew up in Christchurch, Virginia, listening both to the blues and to the gospel music and hymns in their Baptist church. They took to playing and singing at an early age and soon were performing in area churches and on some Saturday nights in a cousin’s juke joint. “That’s how we honed our sound,” Wendell Holmes has said. “We used to say we’d rock ’em on Saturday and save ’em on Sunday.” Sherman dropped out of Virginia State University in 1959 and moved to New York City for a job with Jimmy Jones, a singer who’d had a hit with “Handy Man.” A few years later, Wendell graduated from high school and joined his brother in New York.

Dixon was born in Virginia Beach, Virginia, but grew up in Brooklyn. He started playing drums at age 7 when his parents bought him a toy set. “By the next morning, the thing was in the trash can. I beat it all to death,” he told an interviewer. “But I tell you what … I knew how to play after that, I just knew. I had the rhythm down pat and had timing, too. Just that fast. I been playing ever since.”

Among their numerous honors, The Holmes Brothers was named Band of the Year by the Memphis-based Blues Foundation, which also picked State of Grace as Soul Blues Album of the Year in 2008. Sadly, the group's career ended in 2015 with the deaths of Dixon and Wendell Holmes. Sherman Holmes has continued to perform with the Sherman Holmes Project, featuring Brooks Long and Eric Kennedy. Despite the emotional devastation of losing his band mates, Holmes vowed to keep playing music as long as possible: "I have to, or otherwise that would be an end to me."

Bibliography
Alligator Records. “The Holmes Brothers.” http://www.alligator.com/artists/The-Holmes-Brothers
Alligator Records. “Willie ‘Popsy’ Dixon, Drummer and Vocalist of Acclaimed Soul/Blues Band The Holmes Brothers, 1942-2015.” January 9, 2015. http://mailman.305spin.com/view/?cid=5&sid=6832&uid=130715&lid=5703
Associated Press. “Willie ‘Popsy’ Dixon, Holmes Brothers Drummer/Vocalist, Dies at 72.” January 9, 2015. http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/6436448/willie-popsy-dixon-holmes-brothers-dead
Holek, Tim. “Band of brothers defeats adversity with their uplifting music & message.” Chicago Blues Guide, ca. 2010. http://www.chicagobluesguide.com/features/holmes-bros-interview/holmes-bros-interview-page.html
Holmes Brothers website, http://www.theholmesbrothers.com/
Holtzclaw, Mike. "Wendell Holmes, musician from Middlesex, dies at age 71." Daily Press, June 19, 2015. http://www.dailypress.com/entertainment/blog/dp-popcorn-wendell-holmes-dies-0619-story.html Maddix, Jacquie. “Interview with Willie ‘Popsy’ Dixon of The Holmes Brothers. Blues on Stage, September 7, 2000. http://www.mnblues.com/review/popsy-intv-jm9-00.html
National Endowment for the Arts. “NEA National Heritage Fellowships: The Holmes Brothers,” 2014. http://arts.gov/honors/heritage/fellows/holmes-brothers
National Endowment for the Arts. “Statement on Death of 2014 NEA National Heritage Fellow Willy ‘Popsy’ Dixon of the Holmes Brothers.” January 12, 2015. http://arts.gov/news/2015/statement-death-2014-nea-national-heritage-fellow-willy-popsy-dixon-holmes-brothers

Discography
Holmes Brothers, the. Brotherhood. 2014, Alligator Records, CD.
______________. Feed My Soul. 2010, Alligator Records, CD.
______________. State of Grace. 2007, Alligator Records, CD.
______________. Simple Truths. 2004, Alligator Records, CD.
______________. Righteous! The Essential Collection. 2002, Rounder Records , CD.
______________. Speaking In Tongues. 2001, Alligator Records, CD.
______________. Promised Land. 1996, Rounder Records, CD.
______________. Lotto Land (soundtrack). 1996, Stony Plain Records, CD.
______________. Soul Street. 1993, Rounder Records, CD.
______________. Jubilation. 1993, Real World Records, CD.
______________. Where It’s At. 1991, Rounder Records , CD.
______________. In The Spirit. 1992 Rounder Records, CD.
Various artists. Willie Nelson & Friends: Angels & Outlaws. 2004, Lost Highway Records, CD.
___________. Shout, Sister, Shout! A Tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe. 2003, M.C. Records, CD.
___________. A Week or Two in the Real World. 1994, Real World Records, CD.
___________. A Week in the Real World. 1992, Real World Records, CD.
___________. The Best of Mountain Stage Vol. 4. 1992, Blue Plate Music, CD.
___________. Fresh Air in Concert. 1990, CD.

Filmography
Lotto Land. 1995, Lotto Land Productions.

Watch

The Holmes Brothers interviewed by Nicholas R. Spitzer and performing, 2014 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Listen

Wendell Holmes talks about his upbringing, interview by Alan Govenar, Washington, D.C., 2014

Wendell Holmes answers the question 'How did you get started playing guitar?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Washington, D.C., 2014

Wendell Holmes answers the question 'When you came out of high school, were you already determined to be a musician?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Washington, D.C., 2014

Sherman Holmes talks about how he got started playing the bass, interview by Alan Govenar, Washington, D.C., 2014

Willie "Popsy" Dixon answers the question 'How did you get into music?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Washington, D.C., 2014

Willie "Popsy" Dixon answers the question 'What influenced your drumming style?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Washington, D.C., 2014

Willie "Popsy" Dixon answers the question 'How did you get together with The Holmes brothers?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Washington, D.C., 2014

Wendell Holmes answers the question 'When did The Holmes Brothers come together as a group by that name?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Washington, D.C., 2014

Wendell Holmes answers the question 'What's your process for writing songs?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Washington, D.C., 2014

Sherman Holmes answers the question 'What's your process of writing songs?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Washington, D.C., 2014

Wendell Holmes talks about the song he wrote inspired by his mother's yearbook, interview by Alan Govenar, Washington, D.C., 2014

Wendell Holmes answers the question 'What keeps you going?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Washington, D.C., 2014

Wendell Holmes answers the question 'How have all of these life experiences figured into your music?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Washington, D.C., 2014