An Interview with Steve Holley
Stephen Jeffrey Holley was born into a musical family in London, England. His father, Jeffrey, led a Swing band and his mother, Irene, was the singer. By age five, Steve was fascinated by drums and his good natured neighbor, who was the drummer in Jeffrey's (his father) band, gave him guidance. At age eleven, Steve formed his first group, The Formula, and entered a talent competition at a local Methodist church. Upon winning the competition, Steve was hooked. Music became his first priority.
Although Steve had already passed entrance exams for the Royal College of Music on piano, guitar, and drums, he nonetheless left school early to pursue his career. He spent a couple of years in Holland with the successful G.T. Moore and the Reggae Guitars, where they recorded an album for Polygram in 1975. Influenced by a wide variety of music and working sessions with a number of different artists, Steve was searching for something more.
Relaxing behind the console at Pilot Recording Studios in New York City, Steve remembers " It became apparent to me that there had to be a market for a group that could handle any given situation, and could guarantee the effectiveness of each facet of the music and the individual performances. I liked the idea of putting together a band who could work as session guys behind anybody."
This new group of session players, dubbed Vapour Trails, attracted the attention of Warner Brothers who signed them to a contract. "By a series of coincidences", the V.T.s were now in the big time and backing Kiki Dee, then the winner of Melody Makers best female vocalist poll. She had just signed a contract with Rocket Records and Elton John was handling the production of her new album.
Elton, who was restructuring his own band, invited Steve to join him in the studio to work on his new single and subsequent album, A Single Man. It was then that Denny Laine moved to Laleham, the same village in which Steve had grown up. The two became friends and would quite often see each other socially.
One evening Denny was having some guests over to his house for a party and Steve was asked along. Little did Steve know that Denny's boss, Paul McCartney, would also be in attendance.
Denny had a big music room with a piano, guitars and amps, and drum kits. Steve remembers fondly, "and there was nobody playing drums." I thought that was my opportunity. I remember Denny's jaw dropping because I don't think he really knew that I could play. He thought it was a hobby or something."
It wasn't long after that Paul McCartney himself called Steve and invited him up to MPL's London office for a proper audition.
"Elton had asked me to join his band permanently, and at the same time I was asked to join McCartney" says Steve. "It was a difficult decision. Elton was enormous at that time. He was probably the biggest act there was at that point. He was such a nice guy, and he made me feel so welcome, so comfortable, that I think that enabled me to work with McCartney. Elton helped me get over the nervousness. Just meeting Paul was terrifying".
"I would have loved to stay with Elton", continues Steve, "but I had made the record, and how many times in my life am I going to get the opportunity to work with McCartney? So I made the decision to work with Wings and I did for almost three years."
In a span of eighteen months, Steve Holley went from a fledgling studio artist to Rock Drummer backing some of the biggest stars in the history of entertainment.
During his tenure with Paul McCartney's Wings, Steve played on the Back to the Egg album and various other projects McCartney was involved with, including the Concerts for Kampuchea and the "Goodnight Tonight" single.
The first Wings recording session that Steve participated in was a song Paul wrote for the movie Same Time Next Year, starring Alan Alda. The song was recorded at Abbey Road with a 62 piece orchestra but was never used for the movie. It was widely bootlegged on a record called Cold Cuts, and eventually saw an official release some twelve years later as a bonus track on the import single of "Put it There".
Cold Cuts was a brilliant idea", says Steve. CBS wanted a hits album, Paul wanted it to be Hot Hits and Cold Cuts , a double album."
With the amount of hits records on the market today that contain a few "new" recordings to entice buyers, it just shows how far ahead of the pack McCartney has always been. Cold Cuts, essentially an album of out takes, stands superbly on its own. It remains unreleased to this day. "I was disappointed", says Steve, "considering how much money CBS had spent on Paul. They were impatient". For all the disappointments and rough times there may have been working with an ex-Beatle, Steve remembers plenty of great times and has a deep respect for his former boss.
"My personal favorite moment was playing the Glasgow Apollo, which coincided with the soccer final with Scotland and England. Paul had decided that he would wrap himself in the flag of the winning team," Steve recalls of the fabled evening. "We had the Campbeltown Pipe Band, in full kilts and regalia, underneath the stage for the performance of "Mull of Kintyre". That was a very excited crowd, and Scotland won that night". coming back on stage for the encore, McCartney cranked into the opening of "Mull" and the doors swung open to allow the pipe band, with drums and bagpipes blasting, to walk through the audience and onto the stage. "That was a special moment", Steve reminisces."
The dawn of the 80's was bleak for most in Rock. Punk had made many of the Rock Stars seem outdated and in the way of progress. Worse still, in January, McCartney was arrested for marijuana possession by Japanese authorities just as Wings were about to kick off their first ever Japanese tour. It signaled the end for Wings. When the word came in December of the tragic death of John Lennon, an entire community of musicians who shared a common bond, fell apart.
Steve then decided it was time to start over. With his then girlfriend, now wife of twelve years, Steve arrived in America with a suitcase of clothing and a drum set. Steadily making a name for himself in a new land, he worked on many prestigious recordings including Julian Lennon's debut. His new career culminated with a three year stint in the Joe Cocker band with whom he performed "A Little Help from my Friends" in Berlin on the day that the wall came down.
Recently Steve has gotten involved in production with Pilot Recording Studios, New York City, owner/producer Wil Schillinger. Working with Schillinger, Steve says "We had exactly the same desires. That was to have a beautiful place, like a church, that can do anything from production to mastering. You can come here and get the best; assistants, sound, equipment. We have huge collection of guitars, a huge collection of drums and it's all here. If we don't have something you want, we can get it in fifteen minutes."
In the past year Steve has recorded several albums with various country and blues artists, including Katy Moffat and Grammy nominated Junior Brown, who he believes "will become a household name." In the late 90's, Steve also played A Benefit Concert for Orphan Children in Bosnia-Hercegovina titled "Lilies in the Field" backing such artists as Justin Hayward, Steve Howe, Phoebe Snow, Gary Brooker, Annie Haslam, Ian McDonald. Steve has also been recording and performing with Sean Fleming, The Handsome Dogs, Catherine Russell, Kevin Bacon, G.E. Smith, Ian Hunter and in the fall of 2000, on the CRY, CRY, CRY Tour with DAR WILLIAMS.
Steve is happiest working, playing drums. "I like playing 8 hours a day, 7 days a week", he exclaims. Steve is grateful for all the experiences that have led him to where he is. "I'm in the city, making records and playing with as many people as I can and watching my daughter grow up," he says.