community weblog - [ James "Red" Holloway, 1927 - 2012 ]

James "Red" Holloway, 1927 - 2012

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James “Red” Holloway
May 31, 1927 – February 25, 2012

 Life is after all a terminal disease, and even if we were still teenagers, our mission at the AMRF pretty much guarantees there will be more funerals than weddings. It’s just that some passages are harder to take than others. Red Holloway’s death at the age of 84 on Saturday, February 25th, is one of the hardest.

 Just hearing his name I see his ever-present smile. I hear his laugh, and the way he said, “greazzy,” with more than a couple of z’s. I hear him snoring contentedly in my car as I drove him from rehearsal at the Firefly in Ann Arbor back to his hotel in Farmington. Mostly I hear his tenor saxophone, so sweet and so gritty all at once.

It’s not that I really knew Red; he wouldn’t recognize me on the street, and it’s beyond doubtful he’d even remember my name. He spent but four whirlwind days with us in Detroit during the 8th Annual Blues & Boogie Woogie Festival in 2006. But what I took from him during the few hours in which we were together and he wasn’t snoring was more meaningful than days and weeks I’ve spent with some others.      

The AMRF had decided in January to present a big band boogie-woogie show.  Paul Keller had agreed to serve as Music Director, with his 14-piece PKO providing the foundation. Pianists Mr. B, Bob Seeley, Charles Boles and Axel Zwingenberger were all in the mix, and we were casting about for additional players and vocalists, and also big band boogie woogie charts; Paul has a massive book but there were some holes we were looking to fill, and the more material to choose from the better.

It was sometime in the spring when I walked into AMRF President Ron Harwood’s office and he said that Axel had suggested we consider a guy he had worked with, Red Holloway, who played saxophones, sang, and probably had some charts. Ron asked me what I thought. After peeling myself off the ceiling I told him in language more colorful than can be repeated here that I thought it absolutely brilliant.

Red was 79 years old, a seasoned veteran and product of Chicago’s south side who straddled the worlds of jazz and blues with ease. He had played with everyone from Roosevelt Sykes, Willie Dixon, and B.B. King to Clark Terry, Sonny Stitt, and Dexter Gordon. He was a member of organist Jack McDuff's famed quartet in the early 60’s, with Joe Dukes on drums and a teenager named George Benson on guitar. He was a favorite sideman for vocalists Etta James, Joe Williams, and Carmen McRae.  He was the perfect choice to round out our ensemble.

I Googled Red and found his website. There was phone number I figured was for his agent. It was Red’s home number and he answered himself, the first of many pleasant surprises from this wonderful man. I explained the project, said that Axel had recommended him, and just like that, he was in. Just like that.

The concert itself was so magical we made two television shows from it. Red’s soul infused the entire evening. He reached deep into the mud for an exquisite duet with Mr. B on “Going Down Slow,” swung mercilessly with Charles Boles on "Rt. 66," and blew the house down while Axel pounded out the boogie woogie. He pulled out a pennywhistle to play an achingly beautiful ballad, and pulled in the audience to clap along and sing with him on “Locksmith Blues.” It made the crew a bit crazy that he was playing through the vocal mic, holding it in the bell of his horn between choruses, but they got over it.

Red’s contributions to the concert were extraordinary, but it’s the interview that really sticks with me. The express purpose of our Motor City Blues & Boogie Woogie Festivals is to bring artists to us so that both their music and stories can be captured on video for posterity. Red’s anecdotes alone were beyond entertaining: Sitting next to Johnny Griffin at fabled DuSable High in Chicago. Being stranded, starving and freezing on tour in North Dakota. Practicing a lick over and over in the closet with a towel jammed in the bell of his horn, so that he wouldn’t be blown off the stage at next week’s jam session in a south side club.

Most compelling is the extent to which his story informs our understanding of what music is, and what it means to be a musician. I hear every nuance of cadence and inflection as he said, “If you cannot play the blues, you cannot play good jazz.” I am still awed by the breezy eloquence of his simple statement, “I liked jazz, but I liked to eat too.” His equally eloquent summation gives voice to a universal truth: “If you’re going to be a real musician, you’re going to play anything that’s going to make you some money, so you can eat regular, and be just like the people who work six or seven days a week.”

We have been privileged at the AMRF to capture the performances and stories of over 50 artists, and we have learned from every one of them. We are particularly proud that one of those artists is Red Holloway. Not only did he provide some of the most compelling footage in our archive, but in the process he touched us all with his wisdom and beautiful soul.  He made us feel, not just good, but greazzy good. RIP

John Penney, AMRF



AMRF Festivals and Concerts  AMRF News  Artists  Blues  History  

discussion

  • i had the pleasure of working with red holloway in the 2006 concert and I must s...more
    - [Charles Boles]
  • Thanks for the wonderful article about my Dad! He was truly one of a kind and w...more
    - [Lianne Holloway]

  read more (2 total)


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