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Time for A 'Reunion': Q&A with Whitford/St. Holmes
By the early ’80s, guitarist Brad Whitford and lead singer/guitarist Derek St. Holmes, members of Aerosmith and Ted Nugent respectively, had departed from their classic bands and were forging out together on a new project aptly titled Whitford St. Holmes.
In 1981, the duo issued a self-titled album, packed with radio-friendly songs bursting with power charged riffs, passionate, soulful singing and giant hooks.
Inexplicably, the album failed to make a commercial dent on the charts and after a slate of touring dates they disbanded.
Now a remarkable 35 years later, they’ve joined forces once again and have returned with a brand new album Reunion, a strong effort corralling their talents into a solid and cohesive package with standout tracks Catch My Fall, Tender Is The Night and the epic Flood of Lies setting the stage for a welcomed comeback.
It’s been 35 years between records–the debut Whitford St. Holmes release came out in 1981; that might be a world record. What prompted your reunion?
Brad Whitford: Well, we ended up living in the same town just outside of Nashville. So since we were finally living so close to each other, we’ve been hanging out a lot and that led to a lot of jamming and playing and we started writing songs. We said, “Well, we have to do something with this stuff” so that’s how this all came together.
What was happening in the state of your career when Whitford St. Holmes came together?
Derek St. Holmes: I left Nugent at the end of ’78 ‘cause we had musical differences and financial differences. So I left and put together a band called St. Paradise and went for about a year and a half and that worked pretty well.
But I was also managed by David Krebs who managed Ted and also managed Aerosmith.
Here and there I would bump into Brad and he would say, “Hey man, I’m getting really tired of my band being so high and everybody’s falling down on stage and nobody’s playing their parts. I’m just getting fed up with it.” I said, “Man, I’m sorry.”
Then one day I heard in the press that Brad finally left and said that he had had enough and didn’t want to put up with that stuff anymore. At the same time I got a call from David Krebs and he said, “Hey, Brad has left Aerosmith. How about if I put you two guys together and get you a deal on Columbia and we go into the studio?”
And I said, “Wow, okay, let me call Brad.” So I called Brad and he said, “Derek, let’s go in in the studio.” Just as we are now, we were so excited to be able to hang out and play together. It’s just a mutual respect. I love the way he plays and love him as a person and love him as a partner. We share the same love of music and it’s just real easy for us.
Being with the same management company, Leber/Krebs, you must have done a lot of touring together. Did you both have an eye on each other with interest in working on a project from that time?
Brad Whitford: Well, we became fast friends when we were touring together in the ‘70s; probably a couple of years into that we started talking that maybe we should do something and the result is the first Whitford St. Holmes record.
What did each of you bring to the table to drive the project creatively and has that changed with your first new CD together in 36 years?
Brad Whitford: Well, we just happened to have good chemistry for creating songs. It’s something that seems to be pretty rare. It’s something you can’t do with every musician and then with certain people it just clicks. Derek and I happen to click very well when it comes to putting music together.
Is there a thread beyond your participation on both records that connects the Whitford St. Holmes record with Reunion?
Derek St. Holmes: I know Brad has said, “Wow, when I hear these two albums together, we definitely have a sound.” I think it’s inevitable that we would. We approached Reunion the same way we approached the first album. We’re only playing stuff that we like. It’s just good old rock and roll that we are proud of and like to play.
A lot of it is written so we can do this stuff live. We’re a live band and we can’t wait to get out there.
Brad Whitford: Oh I can definitely hear a thread between those two records. We sat down and listened to it back to back and it has some kind of a common thread going through it. It definitely has a sound.
How would you describe that sound?
Brad Whitford: To me, it’s kind of like the Who meets AC/DC or something like that. (laughs)
Listening to both records back to back, you don’t sense it’s been 35 years since you teamed up to record.
Derek St. Holmes: No, I know. It’s just so organic the ways that we did. I’ll be honest with you; we did it the same way we would have done it in 1967 or 1968. We went in and everybody was in the same room and it was very Abbey Road. Everybody was looking at each other and we were all counting off and then playing the songs looking at each other.
Our amps were in different rooms but we had cans (headphones) on and we were going for a live performance. We’d run it until we got the right take and usually it was the second one. We never did any of the songs more than three times. We’d rehearsed them so much that we had it. We knew what we wanted and we knew what we had. It was so exciting to watch it unfold live. Just standing there watching Troy (Luccketta) play the drums…That’s as much fun for me as it is to go out and perform it live.
Brad, you and Derek are both very talented guitar players, how do you carve out what each will play who takes a solo, for example?
Brad Whitford: It’s pretty organic. When we come to laying down a solo, we let the solos dictate to us where they need to go. I’ll have a good feel about a certain part and Derek will have a good feel about a certain part. So it’s kind of like, “Yeah, you do that” and “Yeah, you got that one so you do that.”
Like I said, it’s very organic: it just happens.
Derek, while you’re renowned as a hard rock vocalist and can blast with the best of them, I hear much more of an R&B/soul flavor to your vocals. Who were the singers who shaped the way you approach a song?
Derek St. Holmes: I think you hit it on the head. Some of my favorite singers are Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Eddie Kendricks from The Temptations, Steve Marriott, Rod Stewart and even later on it would be Robert Plant.
I also hear some Paul Rodgers in your vocal style.
Derek St. Holmes: Oh yeah, definitely Paul Rodgers. I’m sorry: I should have named him in the first three. I was a huge Free fan when I was 17. I thought, Wow, look at this young white kind from England singing the blues so soulfully. He was dead on the money. I also have to say Steven Tyler, I loved the way Steven put that stuff together. I remember being in high school and listening that first Aerosmith album when it came out and I went, “Wow, I don’t know who this kid is but he’s been listening to the same stuff I love.”
Catch My Fall from the new album shows off that soulful approach.
Derek St. Holmes: That one renders back to top 40 music for me. I really thought I had to have a really good hook on this one and it came naturally. I pretty much wrote that about my girlfriend who has now become my wife. She said, “Sweetie, that’s a great song. Just keep writing that one and get that one done.”
I remember one day sitting I the kitchen and I just could not come up with these two lines to sort finish it off and she was sitting and she said, “Why don’t you just say this?” And then I went, Uh oh, now I have to share songwriting credits!” (laughs) She just gave me two good lines. As much as I tried to get around it, she just held me to the fire. No, just kidding; that’s where that came from. All the songs on the album were written by Whitford/ St. Holmes except Catch My Fall is by me and Shelley Sarmiento.
Flood of Lies is epic, the verse in particular sounds very Aerosmith-esque.
Brad Whitford: Well, we had the recording all done for this new record in just two weeks. But on the first two days, the band came in and we did all the songs live for the basic tracks and Flood Of Lies actually got written on that first day. It came to me out of nowhere and we roughed it out on Monday night and recorded it the next day. That’s probably one of the first songs I ever wrote where I wrote the music and the lyrics.
The 1981 Whitford St. Holmes album is filled with strong, radio-friendly material. So you had the material, you had the pedigree, why did it meet with greater success?
Brad Whitford: There’s a certain amount of luck involved. At that time in the industry you had guys out promoting records and record companies spending large amounts of cash to promote records. Our record didn’t really get any attention like that. So it didn’t get a chance to be heard by a lot of people.
Maybe if it gotten some airplay it might have done better. Today I have a greater appreciation for that record than I ever did. We got it remastered recently so it sounds a whole lot better; apparently our first mastering job was horrible and we never even realized it. There’s just a lot of good tracks on that first album.
Derek St. Holmes: I didn’t think the label put enough push. We didn’t have a big enough team behind us. David Krebs, as our manager, got us the deal and then he kind of dropped the ball when it came to making sure Columbia pushed us and kept pushing us. Then also it was self-serving for him because Aerosmith wanted Brad back in the band and Joe Perry was coming back in the band.
So it behooved him to let Whitford St. Holmes go and get Brad back n Aerosmith. Funnily enough, I got a call at the same time from Ted Nugent who asked, “Derek, will you come back and work on this album with me?” But we both honestly said, “Let’s pout this in hiatus, I’m gonna go back to Ted and you’re gonna go back to Aerosmith and I hope it all works out.”
I think it worked out a whole lot better for Brad than it worked out me. (laughs) But Brad’s always been in a diplomatic five person band: I’ve always been working for a B.B. King. It’s not always been fair but it is the way it is. If it wasn’t for Ted I wouldn’t be sitting here so it’s all good. I love him.
Sharpshooter and Every Morning still sound like hits to my ears. Shy Away is another one with chart success written all over it, sporting an amazing, infectious chorus.
Derek St. Holmes: I know! I mean, I used to sit there and say to myself, Is it me? How much better of a hook do you have to write? (laughs)
Vinyl has made a big comeback with both baby boomer generation and younger generations gravitating towards the medium. Where do you stand on vinyl vs. MP3/CD?
Brad Whitford: Vinyl is certainly the best sounding of the bunch. It’s funny; when we started getting into digital you could get more information into the music and I found that I could hear things that might have gotten lost on vinyl so for me that was the attraction to digital but many years later when I listen to vinyl I think, well, do much for hearing all the little parts but the vinyl sounds so much nicer.
I know there are a lot of younger people getting into vinyl and that’s all it is for them; they love the sound. It’s so different from what they’ve become accustomed to.
Also, you have the full-fledged artwork not miniaturized with a CD.
Brad Whitford: Oh yeah, that was always such a great thing about vinyl. I remember waiting on albums to come out. You knew a certain album was coming and you’d be waiting and get to the record store and hopefully it wasn’t sold out. There was a lot more romance to it than pushing a button on a computer. (laughs)
Brad, what’s the status on Aerosmith in 2016? There’s talk of plans to wind down the band as a live act and go out on a Farewell Tour. Are you behind that decision?
Brad Whitford: Well, we’re thinking about starting to call it a “Farewell Tour” but we still might be talking about three to five years of touring. There’s a chance we may play some markets that we won’t ever get back to, so that’s the thinking.
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