Derek St. Holmes: Back In The Saddle Again

By Jeb Wright

Ted Nugent will tour across the USA this summer opening for REO Speedwagon and Styx. They will start that show off with a bang…a very loud bang!

Derek St. Holmes has returned to the band much to the delight of every Ted Nugent fan in the world. There is just something magical that happens when the two men share the stage. Sure, Nugent is still the main attraction, that will never change but with St. Holmes onboard Nugent has a brother in arms that goes clear back to the debut solo album by the Motor City Madman.

Derek St. Holmes was the voice of many classic Nugent tunes including “Stranglehold,” “Just What the Doctor Ordered,” “Snakeskin Cowboys,” “Death By Misadventure,” “Live It Up” and “Dog Eat Dog” among others. He is also a great guitar player in his own right and raises the musicality in the band. Now when Nugent solos, as opposed to the three-piece band he has been touring with, there is a rhythm in the background laying down the bedrock and creating that wall of sound that was so prevalent on the early Nugent albums.

In the interview that follows, St. Holmes discusses how it feels to be back and how Nugent has changed over the years. St. Holmes also discusses the album he did with Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford and how the pair may be doing something else together in the near future.

It is clear that Nugent and St. Homes are enjoying their reunion and are ready to rock out opening for REO and Styx. There may be new music in their future as well, and some older songs finding their way into the Setlist.

St. Holmes also discusses how he keeps his voice primed and admits that he saw Ted Nugent play with the Amboy Dukes in the 1960’s and actually walked out of the gig!

Jeb: I saw you twice with Nugent last year and it was fantastic. How does it feel to be back?

Derek: It’s great. Last year was a riot. Ted is as sweet as he can be and it is just a wonderful thing, to be honest with you. It is so much fun being back. Ted is nicer than he has ever been and he is really being gracious. I guess we get older and we get kinder and gentler. Ted is really a riot to be around. Sometimes it is embarrassing how much he praises me over the microphone. Ted is at a place in his life where he is really happy. Ted called me up a few weeks after the tour was over and he said, “Derek, I just wanted to call you and tell you how great it is to have you back in the band. I am really going to enjoy growing old together.”

Jeb: I love Nuge but I have always been a fan with you in the band. I just think you should sing those songs.

Derek: People want to hear the songs the way they sounded on the original recordings. When we play it really sounds like the real deal.

Jeb: Last year you added “Turn It Up” in the set and that was a great surprise.

Derek: We are still doing that one and we are bringing back a song called “Gonzo” that was on Double Live Gonzo. We are going out with REO and Styx and we are opening up. I have to say that somebody should bring some flowers for those guys because we are a band on fire and we are going to play as hard as we can. We are just so glad to get back out there again.

Jeb: Three songs you should put into the set are “Queen of the Forest,” “Death By Misadventure” and “Live It Up.” Will Ted ever play those songs live again?

Derek: I don’t know, maybe. We will see how Ted’s feeling. We are going to go with the set we have and we will take it from there. We have been talking about adding “Live It Up.”

Jeb: You will be on tour but I have to ask about new music.

Derek: I am looking forward to maybe getting a chance to record some stuff. It has been a long time since we have recorded together.

Jeb: Have you approached Ted with some song ideas?

Derek: Yes and he is into it but he is really wrapped up in doing the hunting shows and he has a new pilot he is shooting called Welcome to the Nugent Family, or something like that.

I have started writing music that sounds like the first Ted Nugent album. I say we go retro and we go back to the big licks and we hit it fast and hard like we used to and take no prisoners. He is thinking the same thing and I’ve heard some of the music he has been writing and it is awesome. I have been writing the same kind of things like we did back then. I try to add to things and give him ideas, like we used to. I have three things that are only half done because I want him to finish them. When he touches them they are going to turn into the Ted Nugent magic.

Jeb: Were you surprised to get the call to invite you back into the band?

Derek: I didn’t think it was going to happen. I knew we would always play and sit in with each other, now and then. I never thought he would ask me to come back to the band. I think it is a great thing for both of us as we both get a chance to come back in the band and do what we do best. The first couple of nights we played together I saw that he could spread his wings and fly. He didn’t need to be anchored to the ground like he had in the past. He didn’t have to be a singer and a guitar player and an entertainer. I think it was wearing him out. Don’t get me wrong, that boy can do it but why not call your buddy and make it easy.

Jeb: How long did it take you to say ‘yes’?

Derek: Ted’s manager called me and it took him about five minutes to tell me that Ted wanted me back in the band. When he got done I said, “I’m in. Let’s see what we can do.” So, it took all of five minutes. The first time we rehearsed, I remember that it was just like the old days.

Jeb: The two gigs I came to last year proved to me that your voice is as good as ever. Do you work at that or are you just blessed?

Derek: Are you kidding? That’s funny; I’m just blessed. Me work? I think I am singing better today than I have ever sung in my life. I’ve sat around for fifteen years and listened to people moan and groan about how that can’t sing anymore and all I want to do is sing. I’m lucky. I pace myself through the show but that is really all I do. By the time I hit the stage I am ready to rock because I have been waiting for that moment all day.

Jeb: In every interview I have done with Uncle Ted over the last ten years I have told him to bring you back in the band.

Derek: I think he finally heard you.

Jeb: You are nearly in the same class as Nugent as a guitar player but you’ve never been able to strut your stuff live with Nugent. I don’t think people understand how damn good you are on that thing.

Derek: I appreciate you saying that but I have to tell you that Ted has started doing just that. He says, “This is Derek St. Holmes from the Motor City and he knows how to play guitar. Come on Derek, play some guitar; show them how you can play that guitar.” I start wailing away and then he comes over and says, “How about I join in with you.” We start going back and forth and we are smoking.

Jeb: I am glad you still have the fire.

Derek: I was at my little house out in the country with my half stack of Marshals totally cranked up. I was going through a couple of chord changes that I’m going to bring to Ted when I see him in a couple of days. The music was so powerful that the flock of turkeys that were in my front yard took off.

Jeb: You’ve just done some solo gigs.

Derek: I just did a bunch of them. I did a couple in Buffalo, New York. I have been doing a couple of dates with Joe Lynn Turner and Jimi Jamison. I am going to play on a couple of cruises in December and January and that will be really fun. I just turned 59 and I feel like I’m 27. It is really fun to meet people and it is fun to play with them. I can’t tell you how much fun it is to have fun.

Jeb: You went through a lot of tragedy over the last decade. I have to admit it is wonderful to hear you say that you are having fun again.

Derek: I have been through a lot of hardships and a lot of people don’t even know about it. People ask me all the time, “Derek, where have you been?” I just tell them that life just happens to you. Sometimes kids happen as well. I took a few years to take care of the kids and keep them on the straight and narrow. Now, they are all out on their own and they actually told me, “Dad, its time for you to go back and play music.”

I think the last time you and I talked I was standing in my driveway in Georgia and I was married to someone else and that ended up bad and it ended not too long after you and I had that conversation. I have met a girl and we are going to get married in August. She is a wonderful woman. I wanted to get married in Vegas but she has two daughters and they want to be involved and I think my kids want to be there so we are going to do it in August.

Jeb: I spoke with Brad Whitford the other day and he told me you are working on some stuff together.

Derek: Yesterday morning, he and I had breakfast. He had to fly out to Los Angeles to put one more guitar track on the Aerosmith album. I am leaving tomorrow and I won’t be back until September. Aerosmith will be on the road soon so we will have to wait until later to work on some more music. Brad and I are both Pisces; our birthdays are only one day apart. Sometimes we will show up and we will both have on the same thing. We like the same cars and the same guitars. I had not seen Brad for about for about five years and during that time I had bought a sea foam green Stratocaster guitar and I went and saw him play and he had a sea foam green Strat. I think we are both water signs and we just click.

Jeb: I asked him why Whitford/St. Holmes was not on iTunes and he said he really did not know why and that he needed to look into that.

Derek: You want to know why? It’s because neither one of us have any idea how to put it up on iTunes. We wrote that a long time ago and I guess we think nobody would want to hear it anymore.

Jeb: That is a niche album and it would not sell tons of copies but the hardcore fans would love to have that album once again. Periodically, I actually search for it on iTunes hoping to see it there.

Derek: What it really is though, is that there are some legal issues. Sony owns it and if they wanted to put it up then we’ve got to cut a deal with them and figure out how much everyone gets and all of that. Brad and I are not lawyers. I am just not the kind of guy that wants to go through all of that. I live in Nashville now and I may just go over to Sony and ask them about it. I will check it out.

Jeb: I would love to see a follow up album with Brad. I am putting the pressure on you, Derek.

Derek: If you don’t then we won’t do it [laughter]. We’ve demoed four tunes, actually. Time is the thing that we have to overcome but hopefully we will get to it.

Jeb: How exactly has Ted Nugent changed?

Derek: He is much more aware of the people around him and of other people’s feelings. Sometimes I go, “Okay, who stole Ted?” [laughter]. In all sincerity, we’ve all traveled a really long road and some of us are not here anymore. I think all of that kind of stuff has taken a toll on us, I know it has taken a toll on me. We want to use the time we have left to make a lot of good music and to make a lot of friends and look after each other.

Jeb: I want everyone to know that they need to check you guys out because I had so much fun. We drove four hours a day for two days in a row to see those two shows.

Derek: I will tell you something that I want to do, even though Ted is the kind of guy who wants to keep things current and move forward, I want to, one of these days, go out and do the first album, start to finish, just like it ran and make that the whole show. We would open up the show with “Stranglehold.” We can slam it down like it’s nobody’s business for a couple of guys in their 50’s and 60’s. When we open for REO Speedwagon and Styx…its not going to be pretty because Ted and I have this inner lining and we’re competitive and nobody is going to beat us. We are going out there to win people over. When people walk out of that show, we want them talking about Ted Nugent.

Jeb: The downside is that Styx and REO have been very successful touring together and I am afraid that you might not get invited back!

Derek: [laughter] I think you’re on to something! I am really excited for this tour to start. I called Ted and he didn’t answer and I left him a message and said I was very excited for the tour to start. I had hardly hung up and it was Ted calling back saying the same thing.

Jeb: Last one: Did you ever see Ted Nugent live before you joined his band?

Derek: I did as the Amboy Dukes played at our high school. I was a big fan of the song “Journey to the Center of Your Mind.” I saw them live and I really didn’t understand all of the other stuff; I only liked the one song. It was actually the high school at the next city where we went and saw them. We watched a couple of songs and then went to hang outside. Whoever knew that a couple of years later I would be in the band? Isn’t that crazy?

Last year, we did about ten weeks on the road and I got tired of being on the bus so Ted told me that I could jump on the plane with him and come back to his house. He told me that I could come with him every night. I didn’t want to intrude but, as it turned out, a lot of the times we would show up and nobody else was home, as Ted has a few other homes and everybody was out and about.

The next morning, we get up and we’re sitting on the couch and we’re convalescing, as we are tired. Ted looks at me and goes, “What the heck were we thinking about back then? What did we even argue about that led to us not playing together anymore?” I said, “I think what probably happened is that they worked us so much that we were just together so much – familiarity breeds contempt –they never let us breath, or take a vacation, and it just got to the point that we exploded.” If you take three kids and put them in the back seat of a car they will do okay for a while but if you keep them there too long then they will start going, “Mom, tell him to stop breathing on me.” I think that is what happened to us. We just exploded, inside out.

One night we were getting ready to go on stage and Ted recites the entire night of our fight that broke us up. I thought that he didn’t remember it but he remembered everything about it, exactly the way it happened. We just looked at each other and said, “We were dumb asses.” We are so far removed from that now that it is like talking about something that happened to other people. We have different priorities now. Our families come first and then we want to get together and play music. All I want to do is to back his ass up against the wall. I know exactly when to back him up and when to let him breath, or when to stop playing and when to be there for him – no one knows that better than me.

Jeb: Did you ever tell Ted that you walked out on him back in high school?

Derek: [laughter] I did not! I think there is probably no need to bring that up now. There are actually a lot of things that I do not remember. Ted remembers everything. He was talking the other day about how he came down a river to play with me in this club. I thought he was thinking he may stop by but he planned to do this all along. He came to see my band play at this sold out little club and he got up and did three songs with us and we tore it down. I think it was the turning point to get me into the band. He told me after he played with me that first time that he needed to have me in his band.

Just for fodder, that concert that I saw back in high school was the Amboy Dukes, Bob Seger, Alice Cooper and The James Gang. Can you imagine seeing all of those bands at one concert? I remember Joe Walsh was playing a Gold Top Les Paul and he was playing slide as well as Jeff Beck did back then; it must have been 1968. I think it cost four bucks to get into the show but we got in for free because we knew everyone that was working the door.