Legendary drummer Joseph “Joe” Holland has a unique and colorful origin and story, to the say the least. His career has been a string of interesting stories, celebrity encounters and time spent with Paul W. Klipsch (PWK). Let’s start from the beginning…
Joe was born November 2, 1927 in Shreveport, Louisiana. He attended Centenary College in Shreveport, as well as Louisiana Tech in Ruston, LA, and Texas Western in El Paso, TX (now UT El Paso).
Joe began drumming all the way back in grade school. In those days, the Shreveport schools did not have a junior high. Elementary graduates went directly to high school. There was a push to prepare these elementary students for high school music programs. Joe’s first music teacher was a type of “circuit teacher” – one that makes the rounds. He had just graduated from college and he admitted to Joe “I don’t know anything about drums at all, about how to play, but I know how to teach it.” He gave Joe a book and told him: “Do what it says here and I’ll be back next week and check on you.”
Joe practiced from the book’s instructions the whole week, and when the teacher came back, Joe had learned a great deal. Joe continued the year in this manner very successfully. There were three levels of bands in high school. Joe was admitted to the A level.
Joe’s first brush with celebrity occurred when he was only 10 years old. His father was a builder and built their family home on Scoville Court. Across the street, on Dalzell, lived “Bubba” Broyles, owner of a profitable music store. It was the gathering place for local and transient musicians. He had a fine home and also owned the house next door, which he would occasionally offer to hard-up musicians who needed a place to stay.
Pud Brown, a tenor sax man of some repute, was there at the time, and he was a close friend of Louis Armstrong. Louis was having trouble dealing with threats from the owner of a Chicago nightclub. It seems that Louis had received a better offer from another club and gave the owner his two-week’s notice. He called his old buddy, Pud Brown, and was invited to Shreveport to use the “sleepin’ porch” until things cooled down. Bubba gave his OK and Louis felt safe there.
Joe said, “I awoke to the sound of Louis’ trumpet and followed the sound to the sleepin’ porch. There sat Satchmo’ himself, smiling and playing his horn.” Of course “Jim Crow” was the order of the day in the Deep South, but Louis felt safe there because Bubba and Pud were his friends. Joe continued, “I had recently seen him in a movie short featuring Louis and his band, and I was fascinated by the man. He played for me and soon there were half-a-dozen other kids lined up at the door, equally wide-eyed. Bubba came over to get Louis and take him down to his store in the entrance of the Inn Hotel. I spent the afternoon listening and talking to Louis. I kept calling him Lou-ee until he corrected me, saying, “Joe, mah name, spelled L-O-U-I-S, not L-O-U-E-E! Say it: Lou-ISS.”
I have forever after called him LouISS. The last time I saw Louis, he and his band were featured in a performance at Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium. He had “Big Sid” Catlett, one of our finest, playing drums. Sid played a fabulous drum solo and dedicated it to me, a 14-year-old kid with tears in his eyes.”
World War II was only months away when Joe got a job in Shreveport playing in a “low-down honky-tonk band.” His parents never paid much attention to his musical activities and knew nothing of his job, which paid $100.00 a week. At the time, this was more than many executives in Shreveport made. Joe saved his money and opened a bank account, which soon grew into the thousands.
Riding home on a city bus one afternoon, Joe noticed a new Packard in front of a house with a sign on the windshield: “Buy this car for $300.00, I have been drafted into the army, Must Sell.” Joe hopped off the bus, rang the doorbell, looked at the car, drove it around the block and paid $300 cash.
His parents were astonished when he drove the car home and they asked him where the money came from. They both drove “mere Dodges.” This also prompted his mother to find a good, tough military academy. Schools with a military mission were becoming popular because of the looming certainty of war.
They decided on a military school in Gulfport, MS. When the family car arrived, a sign greeted them: “Send us the boy and we will return you the man.” It proved to be the low point in Joe’s life. He said it was like being in jail with a bunch of little boys from Mississippi, all being treated like prisoners. It even involved hazing from upper classmen that escalated. Joe credits the presence of his drums for “saving his life” and sanity. After a year or so, around 16 years of age, he “escaped in broad daylight” by taking a bus about 60 miles to New Orleans. He went straight to the musician’s union, signed up and had a job offer in a matter of hours. They kept him busy with good jobs that paid well and put him in association with a variety of celebrities.
These celebrities included Rosemary Clooney, Earl “Fatha” Hines and Candy Candido. The latter was a comic personality who had done many voice-overs, including work in the movie “The Wizard of Oz.” After this months-long tour concluded, the union recommended Joe to an all-girl band that had lost its drummer.
Mickey Stevens was the leader of the ten-member group. In order to maintain its all-girl status, the press releases said “All girl band. Featuring Joe Holland on drums.” “We worked well together,” said Joe, “We had a great time playing fancy resort hotels in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida before Mickey found a fine female drummer.”
After their tearful goodbyes, Joe moved on to a luxury hotel in Kansas City for the drum spot in a Mickey Mouse Band. Translation: very corny music but even higher pay scales, plus room and board were on the house! Just for kicks, he dropped in on some of Kansas City’s top jazz clubs.
Joe got to sit in with the likes of Count Basie, Earl Hines and many other greats of the day. However, he would not be able to work with black musicians again until his army days. That would come in 1957, the night after the 101st Airborne’s occupation of Central High School in Little Rock. It was the night he met the great Art Porter Sr. at a club in downtown Little Rock.
Joe will never forget the feeling of working with such a great jazz personality. “Art should have been an internationally known pianist, but he did not want to leave Little Rock and his children,” said Joe. His son, Art Porter, Jr. became known internationally for his skill with the alto saxophone.
One of his early jobs in 1944 was in a “hillbilly band” for Jimmie Davis’ run for Louisiana governor. Joe says it was just by luck that Davis secured the “world’s greatest guitarist,” Snoozer Quinn. Joe and Snoozer became personal friends and worked together several times. Snoozer taught Joe one of his greatest lessons, how to integrate his skills with other band members. They continued playing Davis’ rallies right up to a successful election.
As soon as he was ensconced in office, Governor Davis left his advisors in charge while he made a beeline to Hollywood, where he starred in some of the worst movies ever made. There were two other notable musicians in the Jimmie Davis Band: brothers Hoke and Paul Rice. They wrote one of the greatest country music songs of all time, “You Are My Sunshine.” This beautiful, sentimental ballad was shopped around to top country singers of the day, but no one recorded it. The boys needed money so badly that they sold the song to Jimmie Davis for a mere twenty-five dollars!
The rest, as they say, is history.
Davis recorded the tune and both he and the song became instant hits, selling in the hundreds of thousands. Davis listed himself as the composer of the song and wouldn’t pay anything more to the Rice brothers.
“In 1946, just before I left New Orleans I got to spend five days working with The Three Stooges when they were booked into the St. Charles Theatre. Curly had had a stroke, Moe was worn out and Larry Fine had been cheated out of most of the money he was due from the movie company they worked for.
They did very little hitting and spent most of their time on stage singing! They were very good at that. I was on stage with them, using the bass drum pedal to enliven their stomping around on stage and providing sound effects with Korean temple blocks to provide sound for what little hitting they did do. Just a few months later I saw Curly’s obit in the paper,” Joe said.
In 1960, Joe found himself working in another “colorful” Louisiana governor’s race. This time it was with Earl Long. Earl had carried on an embarrassing tryst with a stripper named Blaze Starr. The band didn’t see much of Ol’ Earl. The routine was to get to the dusty towns first, set up on the rail freight platform, play and draw a crowd. As soon as they saw the white Chevy sedan they’d load up and move on to the next town. Joe said, “These things started mid-morning and continued until around 5 pm. The old boy was a trooper, as long as he had his glass of “amber colored liquid.”
In 1967, Joe broke with his tradition of Louisiana governor’s races and worked with the future governor of Arkansas, Winthrop Rockefeller. This was Rockefeller’ third and most difficult run. Joe provided the musical background for all of his commercials and 33 rallies around the state. Johnny Cash and Cal Perkins appeared at many of those rallies. On several occasions when Johnny’s drummer failed to show up, guess who sat in? Much later, in 1980, Joe worked with Frank White in his campaign that unseated Bill Clinton as governor of Arkansas. Initially, Frank was still wearing his tired plaid “country boy” suits and work shoes. Joe ended up being Frank’s advisor on how to dress for success.
The music business has been a central part of Joe’s life for over 70 years. However, Joe has held several “day jobs,” mostly in sales positions. According to Joe, “Music was always been something I was trying to escape from. The minute I’d escape, I couldn’t stand it. I had to go back and play. As a young musician, I received a lot of advice from older, experienced musicians. They always said to have a back-up plan.” Joe explained that the dependency of the music business on the liquor business must be recognized. “Once a club starts to fail…the first thing they do is lay off musicians.”
Joe’s first day job was with Revlon, representing the Louisiana area and continuing over to Dallas, Texas. This put him in contact with Neiman-Marcus, a company Joe paid careful attention to, learning a lot of the fundamentals. At the time there were many popular quiz shows, one of which was sponsored by Revlon. There was some cheating involved in the show, and it really hurt Revlon.
Joe’s next job was with Playtex covering a bigger area for two to three years. The pressure for greater sales was intense so Joe moved to Yardley of London. This was a great job, including trips to Great Britain and Europe. Yardley’s head executive in London had a daughter who married a businessman in Little Rock. Through this connection, Joe managed to meet him and escorted him on a visit to Little Rock. When Joe took him to the airport the man asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?” Joe asked him for a job in London.
Unfortunately, the British did not look kindly on giving their jobs to foreigners. However after some consideration, it was worked out that Joe would come over as a consultant, for which Joe admits he was not qualified. The British stint included trips to Paris, Belgium, and a several-week-long trip in 1970 to Russia. He returned to the U.S., continuing to work for Yardley, until they closed their U.S. operations. Prior to this, Yardley had a practice of rewarding employees with a Cadillac. Joe got one.
Joe was an early Hi-Fi buff and had naturally heard of Paul Wilbur Klipsch. Joe built his own speakers but is quick to say that they were nothing compared to what PWK was doing. In early 1955, he drove from Shreveport to Hope on the off chance that he might meet Paul. He was amazed that PWK invited him in, and later took him to lunch.
Paul was “easy to meet, easy to talk to, and easy to get along with, just a great guy. I could sense that he was going to be a fun guy because I never knew what he was going to do or say.”
When Paul discovered that Joe had his drums in the car, he asked Joe to play them in a live versus recorded scenario during their first encounter. PWK said he wanted to play some records and asked Joe to bring his drums inside. He pointed a speaker right at Joe. He wanted Joe to play along with his Glen Miller music. Fortunately, Joe had just gotten out of the Army Band and knew all of the arrangements by heart!
Joe played along with the recorded drummer exactly, which fascinated PWK. This exercise was conducted in the hallway of what is now Klipsch’s Hope office building, with Joe not being able to see whether the source materials were records or tapes (dammit). The result was the beginning of a serious dialog on possible collaborations.
Shortly after, they were doing a live versus recorded demo for a large audience in an auditorium at Centenary College. Dealers and the public were invited. Curtains hid a speaker on one side and a drum set on the other. Joe would play and then a recording of Joe would be alternated. The audience was asked to identify the live performance. Several more of these demonstrations were staged.
Soon Paul suggested a recording session. On the morning of June 19, 1955, Joe and the short-lived Joe Holland Quartet entered KWKH in Shreveport, Louisiana. At the same time, Elvis Presley was exiting the studio. He and his band recorded all night due to Elvis’ proclivity to put five notes in a four-note bar. The band members were afraid to call him out, so they just kept telling him that they had made a mistake and needed another take. [Do not irritate Elvis!] Elvis’ drummer, D.J. Fontana was a good friend of Joe’s and related the events of the previous night.
The recording session lasted most of the day, but included no pictures or other documentation – just the music. All songs were recorded straight through without mixing. Playback at the studio was via a pair of Klipsch Rebels as they were small enough to fit in the back of Paul’s airplane. If there were a serious mistake or flaw noted in the initial playback, the whole number would be repeated. Only a few required retakes. Extraneous noises were left in some of the recordings. One noise that was thought to be the drummer’s chair squeaking was actually a pedal. Joe used a Ludwig Speed King, which has also been referred to as a “Squeak King.” Unfortunately, it is not known if any of the band members ever heard their finished product on Klipschorns. [Joe has not, but I plan to remedy that!] Joe had Rebels………………
In 1957, a second recording session was arranged with a reunited Joe Holland Quartet. Paul explained to Joe that during his demos at frequent dealer visits, many people would request a copy of the material. At the time, the KlipschTape division had just been created with the help of John Eargle. Joe recalls that John represented himself as an A&R man from RCA. As with the earlier recording session in 1955, PWK utilized a Berlant tape recorder and two widely spaced, omnidirectional Stephens microphones. The second session did not seem to impress the band like the first. A “been there, done that” mentality could have been at play.
PWK and Joe remained in contact for many years. Joe knew some generals at Barksdale Air Force base. He arranged to take a General Westmoreland (the “lesser” Westmoreland) up to Hope to visit with PWK. The General was a huge Klipsch fan, so it was somewhat amusing to see his “subservient posture” in Paul’s presence. Joe gave at least another general the same “audience with King Klipsch.” Much later, PWK orchestrated, pun intended, an invitation from Arthur Fiedler for Joe to play with the Boston Pops. Unfortunately, this never materialized due at least in part to the pressure of Joe’s day job.
In the 1980’s PWK ran into Joe at Cajun’s Wharf in Little Rock. It had been 20 years since they had seen each other but Paul instantly recognized Joe. At 88, Joe lives on the west side of Little Rock, and is still getting paid to play his drums.