Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
March 2, 2011
By Dawn O’Keefe Williams
If you want to know what real American roots music sounds like, you can go right to the source with the Holmes Brothers. From uplifting gospel harmonies, to down home country, to sweet soul, rhythmic blues and R&B, along with their Holmes-ified take on pop and rock -- Wendell, Sherman and Popsy were present and accounted for when these genres first blossomed from American soil. The brothers’ deep roots go back to their hometown of Christchurch, VA where they were raised on Baptist hymns along with the blues. A move to NYC in the 1950s exposed them to many more styles of popular music and they garnered a cult following in the city’s music clubs. From Saturday night roadhouse dance music to Sunday morning gospel soul, the Holmes Brothers move in and out of these opposing musical camps with ease.
The small audience that made the pilgrimage to Evanston on a winter’s Wednesday night knew they were in for a treat as the Holmes Brothers prepared to feed their souls with the finest of musical comfort food. As the trio walked from the S.P.A.C.E. backstage/V.I.P. room, through the crowd and onto the stage, a cheer rang out from the audience well before there was an introduction. The Holmes Brothers, Wendell and Sherman Holmes and Popsy Dixon, each took their places behind their instruments as Wendell spoke to the audience while strapping on his guitar. Wendell greeted everyone and then stated that the Holmes Brothers were going to play a song about “going home”. They began the performance with a very soulful rendition of “Amazing Grace” using their trademark, crystal clear three-part harmonies. The next song, “Close The Door”, was upbeat and blatantly truthful as they sang “I can’t stand your conversation….”
Throughout the evening, songs were peppered with Popsy’s famed falsetto and, of course, the trio’s wonderfully concise harmonies along with their rich and warm vocals. The audience was treated to a blend of blues, soul, gospel and pop-rock. The Holmes Brothers gave the fans a nice surprise by mixing in some Beatles tunes while putting their own soulful spin on them. Popsy sang lead on “And I Love Her” as Sherman played a melodic bass line giving the song an intimate, tender touch, thus complementing Popsy’s gentle rhythm on the drums that expressed the song so well. Popsy also sang another Beatles number, “I’ll Be Back Again,” but with his arrangement. It really made you listen with awe as he hit those high notes and performed with such feeling. After the concert, Popsy stated that the arrangements on the Beatles songs are decided by whoever is performing the number. “Whoever does the song, that’s who decides how it’s done,” he said.
The entire evening was a journey in musical style as they jammed an up-tempo gospel song with Sherman’s bass walking to “Lord Remember Me”. Then they played the title song to their latest CD Feed My Soul which has a mellow pop/rock sound to it, highlighted by their trademark gospel harmonies.
“You’re The Kind of Trouble I Can Get Into” featured a bouncy rock tempo as they harmonized the hook. This song’s title is an amusing phrase that brought back memories to those who dared to remember.
Throughout the show, Wendell treated us to his creative solos played with feeling and also used his volume control with finesse to make the guitar sound like a violin. Later he went to the grand piano and said he wanted to play some blues as he sang Ray Charles’ “Come Back Baby”. Wendell then insisted that Popsy come to the front of the stage and sing “Precious Lord”, a gospel classic, without playing the drums, as he and Sherman played behind him. The audience was mesmerized as Popsy’s voice soared on old school gospel.
Sherman Holmes, the quiet brother on stage, sang one of their originals,
“Dark Cloud,” from their Feed My
Soul CD. And what would
a Holmes Brothers performance be in
Wendell then invited blues guitarist and co-owner of S.P.A.C.E., Dave Specter, to join them on stage as they performed an instrumental. Specter, always the gentleman, played behind Wendell when he soloed and took his lead when it was appropriate. The Holmes Brothers encouraged him to stay on stage with them until the end as they performed “New And Improved Me”. Dave and Wendell shared solos, their instruments called and answered as they performed in sync, giving the audience a wonderful way to share their music as they wrapped up a great evening. The Holmes Brothers at S.P.A.C.E. was an intimate gathering with huge talent and a night to remember.