From the Roots: The Holmes Brothers, 'Feed My Soul'

From the Roots: The Holmes Brothers, 'Feed My Soul'
March 29,2010
Marc Silver
Express Night Out

THE HOLMES BROTHERS are serious about their down-home brand of blues/gospel/country music. "I'm not a comedian, I'm a musician," said twangy tenor Wendell Holmes, 66.

He may not tell jokes, but Holmes is a very happy musician. He's recovered from a bout with bladder cancer. "I received a victory," he said.

And the new Holmes Brothers album, "Feed My Soul," debuted at number one on Billboard's blues charts, with cuts ranging from a rockabilly-tinged original, "Living Well Is the Best Revenge," to a wistful remake of The Beatles' pledge of eternal longing, "I'll Be Back."

The Holmes Brothers perform at The Barns at Wolf Trap on April 1, and Wendell talked to Express about his family's multidimensional roots music.

» EXPRESS: Your album is a "blues" hit but your music goes way beyond the blues.
» WENDELL HOLMES: The blues is probably our favorite. But we love country music, we love rhythm and blues and pop, and my brother likes classical music and I do, too. We don't want to be a blues band. We want to be an Americana roots-music band.

» EXPRESS: Isn't country more of a white genre?
» HOLMES: I don't put music in any category as white or black. There's no more soulful music in the world than country. Who loves Hank Williams more than me? "I'm so lonesome I could cry" — how can you beat that?

» EXPRESS: On your new album, the song "Fair Weather Friend" is about a pal who didn't stand by you while you fought cancer.
» HOLMES: I found out that some people you thought were going to be there for you are not. Of all the songs on the album, I'm beginning to like "Fair Weather Friend" is the best. It's brutally honest.

» EXPRESS: You play piano and guitar. Are you trained or self-taught?
» HOLMES: I taught myself guitar. But I started piano lessons when I was 7 or 8. Black parents of my era, the 1940s and '50s, [would tell their children]: "Work hard, go with the shipyard, stay there for 30 years and retire." My parents were teachers, and they encouraged my brothers and me to pursue our dreams.

» EXPRESS: How did you advise your own children?
» HOLMES: When my daughters wanted to sing, I said go to school and get an education.

» EXPRESS: Did they listen?
» HOLMES: They're in the corporate world. But we have some of the best jam sessions in the living room.

» EXPRESS: Did you like performing at the Barns?
» HOLMES: I love it. It's intimate, the seating is arranged properly, and you can reach out and touch people.

» EXPRESS: You told me you're "66 years young." How's your on-stage stamina?
» HOLMES: The cancer crisis cut into my stamina a little, but we do from an hour to 90 minutes. That's a lot of minutes for old people!

» The Barns at Wolf Trap, 1635 Trap Road, Vienna; Thu, April 1, 8 p.m., $22; 703-255-1900.

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