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MUSIC : Holmes Brothers Have Their Roots in Blues : The easygoing trio started their career in the '60s, but didn't record until '89. Their latest, "Soul Street," came out last year.

March 17, 1994|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Type A people dream of a James Bond-style cannon that would miraculously materialize from the hood of their Hyundai and blast that slow moving tourist ahead of them into the next time zone. "Slow" and "late" are not in their vocabulary, and their patience level can be measured by a decimal point followed by so many zeros.

The Holmes Brothers, definitely not a Type A trio, have the collective stress level of a stone. They'll be bringing their rootsy bluesy show to SOhO in Santa Barbara on Tuesday night, doubtlessly getting there by driving 55 m.p.h. or slower.

Wendell Holmes plays guitar; his brother, Sherman is the bass player; Popsy Dixon is the drummer. Everyone sings, and how.

The Holmes Brothers, based in New York City, are just your basic overnight sensations with 30 years of experience.

"Things have changed for us a lot because we used to do a lot of current covers, sort of keeping up with the Hit Parade," said Sherman Holmes during a recent phoner from Boise. "Now we play what we want to, but we still reach back sometimes. Going on the road is the only way we can work. We've been on the road about 200 days a year for the last five or six years."

Back in the '60s, Wendell and Sherman backed up various R&B singers such as Inez Foxx and Jimmy Jones, then gravitated to New York City from their native Virginia. Eventually they played every venue and every dive bar in town. The current lineup has been together since 1980.

"We used to do a lot of driving from place to place and we didn't ever fly," said Sherman. "Now we fly a lot. We're going to Australia soon. We've been to Europe, to Turkey, to Africa; we've been all over. We go to Europe four times a year now. They seem to appreciate us in Europe more than they do here because in America, we've got so much of everything. In America, we've got a lot of choices."

The Holmes Brothers had a choice, too. They opted for the kick-back, chill-out scenario--they didn't record an album until 1989. Their latest, "Soul Street," came out last year on Rounder.

"Well, we were busy playing and raising families, plus we saw a lot of bands make records that weren't successful," said the bass player. "So we finally made some records in our evening years. One night some record company guy saw Popsy and asked him who he played with, and the guy came to see us and gave us a contract. Right now, we're hoping for a second contract because our contract with Rounder has been fulfilled."

The Holmes Brothers are masters of a variety of styles that are generally labeled roots music, encompassing all forms of indigenous American music not usually associated with Nirvana or Madonna. Most of their stuff has a blues base, but they do everything from straight rock to a cappella gospel music.

"We play a mixture of a lot of different stuff," said Sherman. "If we played any kind of blues, it would probably be Piedmont Blues because we're from Virginia. We represent a good cross-section of roots music because we do country and Western, blues, soul and gospel music. Wendell and I grew up in the church; we were in the church chorus. At different times, we both were church organists. When I'm not playing, I listen to a lot of jazz, Sly & the Family Stone, and I listen to a lot of classical music, too. Then other times I don't wanna hear nothin."

That's probably because he lives in New York, a city not exactly known for the blues, though it probably ought to be.

"I don't really know if there's such a thing as New York blues," said Sherman. "All I know is that you really should love what you're doing, and try to enjoy yourself wherever you are. You better choose your career very carefully. You must persevere and believe in yourself and develop your skills."

Details

* WHAT: The Holmes Brothers.

* WHERE: SOhO, 1221 State St., Santa Barbara.

* WHEN: Tuesday at 8 p.m.

* COST: $10.

* FYI: 962-7776.

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