Derek St. Holmes – “Derek, if it wasn’t for you, I’d be driving a Renault.”

by Martin Popoff

Deadly Tedly crooner Derek St. Holmes has seen the wars, and so has Aerosmith legend Brad Whitford. In fact they started a skirmish of their own back in 1981 when they issued the Whitford St. Holmes album, only to call a truce and head back to their bigger bands, killing in its tracks what could have become a prosperous partnership. Now the duo is back with Reunion, and what we have is a much fatter, bolder, rocking collection of classic rock chestnuts, Derek singing like the flaw-free soulman technician he is, and the two guitarin’ up a storm, but sticking to the sticky rib sauce songs of their sole selections. Classic Rock Revisited got talking to old friend Derek St. Holmes to get the lay of the land on the new band, as you read this, out supporting Whitesnake.

Martin: I guess, first question, what characteristics are you bringing forward from that first album in 1981?

Derek: What the main difference is is that it’s a bit more hard rock-influenced, I guess. I have a tendency that I can get a little poppy, and I think with the first album, we were really trying to write something that was hard rock, to show that we come from Aerosmith and Ted Nugent, but we also were hoping to get a song on the radio, so we could keep this thing rolling forward. And it didn’t quite work out for us, so this time when we got together, we threw all that stuff out the window and said, let’s just go with songs that we’re feeling. So that’s kind of what we did. We came up with different song ideas and we went, man, this feels like a big heavy John Bonham kind of groove on this one; let’s go with that.

Martin: I detect a little bit of a southern rock sound throughout this thing too.

Derek: Well, I’m in Nashville. I was in Atlanta for maybe 34 years. And then we decided to move to a couple other different places. But we came here about six years ago, to Nashville. And then Brad got here about two or three years ago. And we added a little bit of that flavor, but I don’t think we did it totally on purpose. I think we just wanted to hear a couple people whose playing we respected, and we wanted to hear their vibe on some of the songs. So that’s why you hear some of the violin—and some people call that a fiddle (laughs). You know, as far into rock ‘n’ roll as Nashville is going to get is what you’re hearing here.

Martin: So Brad is living there now?

Derek: Oh yeah, as a matter fact, I’m standing down in our little town here, waiting for him to come cruising through. He’s coming down. It’s about ten old 1920s houses. It’s just a little teensy town. with two restaurants and five little curiosity shops. It’s a little hamlet.

Martin: Cool. And live-wise, you’ve got a pretty high profile thing backing up Whitesnake, right?

Derek: Yeah. Yeah, we’re fixing to go out on that. As a matter fact, we, were rehearsing three days this week, and we’re leaving Tuesday, something like that. You heard who we have on drums, right?

Martin: Is it Troy Luccketta?

Derek: Well no, Troy can’t come out on this run, because he’s out with Tesla. We decided to get a young Canadian boy, and his name is Brent Fitz.

Martin: Oh, okay. I know Brent.

Derek: Yeah, you know Brent?

Martin: Yes, great talent and utility man; been in a bunch of cool bands. Super guy.

Derek: Including the Guess Who.

Martin: I didn’t know that one! Funny.

Derek: Yeah, funny, yeah; we talked about yesterday. Him and I were chitchatting, and I was asked to be in The Guess Who once. And I said, you mean to tell me maybe ten years ago we might’ve been in same band together? How funny is that?

Martin: Now, how would you say you and Brad are different in terms of being guitarists? How do you split things up here? And what have you learned from Brad and what has he learned from you?

Derek: I think what I’ve learned from Brad is, be a little more patient, you know? I’m not as patient. I’m a lot less patient than he is. And he also is a little more of a jazzer. He loves jazz and blues. And I do as well, but he’s a little more on the jazzy side. He can play all these notes and chords, I don’t even know what they are (laughs). And I think that’s where it’s different. I’m a little bit more of a bluesy off-the-cuff kind of player. But as far as playing together, man, it’s just great to play with a guitar player who’s so accomplished and as good as he is. And as nice as he is. He’s so giving. That’s the best part about him. When we see each other, nobody’s in charge, nobody has attitude, everybody gets an equal shot. So it’s pretty cool.

Martin: What does he tell you about the state of Aerosmith, and whether he can get called back to work at any moment?

Derek: I think those guys are getting ready to go to South America, to do shows down there, something they have to do. And a couple of one-offs here and there that they have to do. You know, when you’ve been together as long as Aerosmith, if you’ve got the opportunity to take some time, you take it. I think for those guys, to be able to take a break from each other, and everybody do an album and go and do different projects, I think it’s super-healthy when you come back. Because then you’re ready to get back together again and enjoy your past as well as your future with the band that you’re in. I mean, those guys are in the biggest rock band in America.

Martin: Do you get the sense that this Steven thing is bothering them?

Derek: I don’t think so. You know, I think it’s like a bunch of family members that’s been together so long that they all know how to push each other’s buttons. But when it comes down to it and they go, hey, let’s count the song off and play it, those guys are one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands in the world. And they know it—they know it.

Martin: When you were doing the first album back in ‘81, how much were you still in the orbit of Ted Nugent, or what other things did you have on the go? Same thing with Brad. It sounds like Brad was in and out of Aerosmith, right?

Derek: Yeah, yeah. I think he got tired of all the craziness, so that’s why he quit. And I know, Joe got tired of the craziness and that’s why Joe quit. And then in 1981, they all got smart and said, hey, let’s get back together, and it’s funny, because at that time, people ask me, how come Whitford St. Holmes stopped? It was because Brad went back to Aerosmith in ‘81 and I got back to Nugent around ‘81. And we haven’t had a chance to get back together until now.

Martin: Brad told me last week that a key to the sort of muscular and warm classic rock sound on Reunion comes from, like, just a single rhythm guitar track in most places, right?

Derek: Yeah, that’s pretty cool. And, you know, I’m on the left and Brad is on the right. So, you know, when you can’t tell who’s playing what, it’s just, I’m on the left and Brad is on the right.

Martin: Even for soloing?

Derek: And even for rhythm guitars.

Martin: Rhythm guitars and soloing?

Derek: Yes, rhythm guitar and solos. I’m on the left, Brad is on the right.

Martin: And what is your situation with Ted Nugent? I mean, do you see another record ever?

Derek: You know, I’m not sure what he’s doing. We were supposed to have a record, actually about a year ago, and he went and did it all himself. And this year, he kind of called everybody and said, hey, I’m changing up directions, and I’m gonna get a new bass player and a new drummer, and I’m just gonna do a three-piece. And I’m scratching my head going, what? That’s cool but I didn’t get it. And so, he’s going out this summer as a three-piece, and he brought back our bass player, Greg Smith. And he’s got a new young drummer, so Wild Mick Brown isn’t playing drums with him; I guess Wild Mick Brown is out with Dokken, so he’s got his hands full with that. But I don’t know, listen, let’s put it this way, if Ted wants to do an album, and he wants it co-written like we did the first four, like we did Ted Nugent, Free for All, Cat Scratch Fever and Double Live Gonzo!... we all had a say in that. And if we do that, it would be interesting.

Martin: So why are you only on one song on Shut Up & Jam!?

Derek: That was all him—that was all Ted. That’s how involved I was. That was the one that we were supposed to write and turned out he did the whole thing himself, and he said, hey, will you sing this one song for me? And I went, well, okay. For me, I’ve got to charge you. When he heard how much I wanted to—because he had eight songs for me to sing—and when he heard my fee, it went down to one. But that doesn’t mean I charge a lot of money. It means he’s a little on the frugal side. But it’s all good. We’re good buddies, I love Ted, he’s like my older brother. Without him, I might not be standing right here, who knows? And he always says the same thing; he just says, ‘Man, Derek, if it wasn’t for you, I’d be driving a Renault.’

Martin: Right, Renault (laughs).

Derek: You can quote that. Will you quote that?

Martin: Absolutely.

Derek: Nobody knows what a Renault is.

Martin: I can picture a brown ‘70s Renault in my head right now. Pretty sure my French teacher had one.

Derek: Yeah, exactly! (laughs). Funny.

Martin: Well, very cool Derek, I’m glad this is all happening for you. Anything else you want to say about this record? Anything about the studio experience?

Derek: Well, we did it here in Nashville at a place called The Castle, and it’s very sort of out in the country. It’s actually a small castle. They gave us these really tall rooms so we could get the Led Zeppelin sound we were looking for in our heads. So they gave us that, and we leaned towards keeping it on a bigger, heavier scale, and that’s how we approached every song. I think Nashville played a little part in some of the swing on it, so, it’s pretty cool. But it’s probably the hardest rocking album anybody’s done in a long time coming out of Nashville (laughs).