W.S. Holland's musical career began in 1954 at Sun Records as drummer for Carl Perkins. He played on all of Carl's Sun releases, including the original "Blue Suede Shoes." He was also the drummer on the "Million Dollar Quartet" session.
In 1960 W.S. Holland joined Johnny Cash and "The Tennessee Two" became "The Tennessee Three." He played on all of Cash's hits including "Folsom Prison Blues," "Walk the Line" and "Ring of Fire," and was the first drummer to play a full set of drums at the Grand Ole Opry in the Ryman Auditorium.
W.S. Holland remained with Cash as drummer until 1997 when Johnny retired due to illness. Cash gave W.S. the nickname "Father of the Drums." Holland was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
While the Man In Black was front and center, drummer W.S. "Fluke" Holland, kept a steady beat. Johnny Cash has retired from stage life, but Holland will play tonight in Nashville. - by Peter Cooper, staff writer / 2001
When the mood struck and the song was right, W.S. Holland would keep time by slapping the wooden body of Clayton Perkins' upright bass while Perkins' brother Carl sang at clubs around Jackson, Tenn.
"On a Saturday night, Carl said, 'We've got an audition at Sun Records next week,'" Holland remembered. "'Get some drums and go with us.' I told him I'd never played drums, but I borrowed a set the next day. I set them up backwards, because I didn't know the difference. Tuesday, I went and played with them at the Cotton Boll. Thursday morning, we went to Memphis."
The specifics of the story vary (Carl Perkins told it various ways at various times, and different historians have placed the Memphis trip in late 1954 and in early 1955), but the outcome was irrefutably positive: Carl Perkins, his two brothers and Holland made a record. With Sun Records owner Sam Phillips at the soundboard, they cut a song called Movie Magg, a composition that has been a rock 'n' roll standard for 46 years (it was recently covered on Paul McCartney's Run Devil Run ).
"On the way back to Jackson, we were all laughing about it," Holland said. "I mean, the second time I ever sat on a drum stool in my life, I played on a record." Not surprisingly, Holland's nickname is Fluke.
For nearly a year after Movie Magg was released on a Phillips side label called Flip, Holland continued to work for Perkins as a drummer and for S.M. Lawrence Co. in the air-conditioning department. Then Blue Suede Shoes came out, and things got wild. Perkins' fame spread quickly, and he became a leading purveyor of the peculiarly Southern convergence of blues, rock and country called rockabilly.
And so, while Elvis Presley continued to work the road with a drummer-less backing duo that included guitarist Scotty Moore and bass man Bill Black, Fluke Holland became the first important drummer of the rockabilly era. He was a participant in the Sun scene that included now-legends Presley, Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison; he helped Phillips overcome what Holland characterizes as an innate dislike of drummers; and he was present at the "Million Dollar Quartet" session that featured Presley, Perkins, Lewis and Cash.
"Looking back, there's no way to know what all of that happened, and why it happened in Memphis," Holland said. "It's just like, 'Why does a storm come through a community and blow it away?' Nobody knows. It's strange, really. If you listen to Blue Suede Shoes now, it's not even good. Really and truly, we even played it wrong. We put extra beats in there after 'One for the money.' If we had done it the right way, I don't know if it would have hit or not."
Perkins' older brother, Jay, died of a brain tumor in 1958, and Carl's drinking habit took a turn for the worse. In 1960, Holland was preparing to quit the music business, go back to Jackson and become an engineer when Cash asked him to join his Tennessee Two band for a two-week tour of the northeast. That's when the Tennessee Two became the Tennessee Three.
"Those two weeks turned out to be about 40 years long," Holland said. "He told me, 'I want you to work with me every show I play for as long as I'm in the business.'" That's just what Holland did. He also worked most of Cash's recording sessions, played on many of Cash's classic Columbia Records hits and can be heard on live albums including At Folsom Prison, Live at San Quintin and the famous Dylan/Cash Sessions bootleg. In 1980, while still retaining his drumming gig, he took on additional duties as Cash's road manager.
"We called him Drum Daddy," said Dave Roe, who played bass for Cash from 1992 until 1997. "Fluke is a burly guy with the most finely tuned common sense."
While his place in music history is documented in books and celebrated by his peers, Holland gets far less attention than contemporaries including Presley drummer D.J. Fontana (who was not yet playing with Presley when Holland played on Blue Suede Shoes). And other of Holland's important contributions to rock 'n' roll and country ‹ including discovering Carl Mann and playing drums on Mann's Mona Lisa, bringing the Statler Brothers to Cash's attention (the Man in Black then demanded that Columbia Records sign the Statlers, and the rest is history), and recording with luminaries from Johnny Horton to Marty Stuart ‹ are often overlooked by the general public.
"Fluke hasn't gotten his due," Roe said. "There are a lot of people in this business who owe him big. People tend to have selective memories." But drummers such as The Band's Levon Helm and the Beatles' Ringo Starr have publicly acknowledged Holland as a major influence. Holland has no ax to grind with music historians, though he is quick to assert the importance of the so-called "side men" who helped break new sonic ground. "I think Scotty Moore and Bill Black were just as important as Elvis was to those first records," he said. "And the same goes for Cash when he was at Sun, with Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant."
And what about Carl Perkins, with brothers Jay and Clayton and drummer W.S. Holland? "Well, I'll tell you what I think about that," he said. "Carl patterned himself after Hank Williams, with that thump guitar. When I came along, Carl was doing that Hank Williams-style music, stuff that sounded a lot like Hey, Good Lookin'. Electric guitar and bass were already there. "Everything was there, and we added the drums, and then it became rock 'n' roll."