Tony Holiday

Tony Holiday

One of the magical aspects about blues music is the form is a universal language which transcends nationality, genre, age, and skill level among the artists, who understand its parameters, allowing them to have musical conversations filled with spontaneity, openness, and freedom. Bluesman Tony Holiday convened several sessions with a cavalcade of players – friends and mentors – for Porch Sessions Volume 2. The sixteen tracks recorded raw without overdubs at studios in Memphis and Jackson TN, Bristol VA, Fort Collins CO, Clarksdale MS, Anaheim and San Jose CA are reminiscent of the historic Lomax field recordings from the 1930’s/40’s that documented undiscovered voices of roots music.

Holiday, along with Big John Atkinson and JD Taylor, set up the mics for as they call them “One Take Shots,” employing over thirty-five musicians on a collection of timeless classics and undiscovered gems. The guests include Grammy winner Bobby Rush, Victor Wainwright, Kim Wilson, Vasti Jackson, Kid Ramos, Johnny Burgin, Ben Rice, Kid Andersen, together with stellar vocalists Willie Buck, AJ Fullerton, Watermelon Slim, James Harman (R.I.P.), Jon Lawton, Rae Gordon and Tierinii Naftaly, and fellow harmonica gurus Mark Hummel, Dennis Gruenling, Andrew Ali, Jake Friel, who shared duties with Holiday.

The album opens with a cut from the Late Night at Wainwright Studio session recorded in October of 2020 with Wainwright, his rhythm section and Holiday killing it on the harp, covering the classic “She’s Tuff” from The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Willie Buck demonstrates his vocal powers on a run through the Sonny Boy Williamson Delta standard “Honey Bee,” while Rusty Zinn and Kim Wilson spar on gritty slide guitar and blues harp. Up and coming Colorado bluesmen AJ Fullerton and Jake Friel deliver acoustic Piedmont Blues on the prophetic “Change Is Inevitable” and the irrepressible Bobby Rush preaches a blues sermon on a duet of “Recipe For Love,” with acclaimed guitarist Vasti Jackson. Watermelon Slim rolls easily through “Smokestack Lightnin’” on his dobro; the Howlin’ Wolf number has been a fixture of his repertoire for decades. The collection includes one of the last recordings from James Harman, who leads Holiday and guitarists Kid Ramos and Landon Stone through “Going To Court,” a playful boogie filled with joyous improv. Jon Lawton pairs up with Richmond VA harp player Andrew Ali for another Delta Blues chant “Go” and living legend of Chicago Blues, Lurrie Bell, is matched up with Blues Harmonica Blowout conductor Mark Hummel on a faithful reading of the 12-bar anthem “Every Day I Have The Blues.”

Richard “Rip Lee” Pryor, son of the legendary Snooky Pryor, leads his crew through the bawdy juke joint tale “Brazilian Brothel.” Remarkable Greaseland guitar man, Kid Andersen, nimbly plays the bass backing up Portland’s Johnny Burgin and Holiday on the spontaneous “Bad Bad Girl,” literally recorded on the front porch of the San Jose studio. Rose City blues diva Rae Gordon struts her stuff on her own tune “Find Me When The Sun Goes Down,’ with fellow west coast players Ben Rice and Dave Melyan. Rice delivers some of his award-winning blue-eyed soul on the easy shuffle “That’s How I Learned.” Dennis Gruenling and Mark Hummel give us a cutting-heads harp duet on “Cake Walk,” trading rhythm and leads on the Mississippi saxophones. JD Taylor and his son Alex work some mournful Hill Country Blues on “Family Tree,” and the latest sensation from Memphis, Southern Avenue take us to church with an acoustic version of their civil-rights anthem “Peace Will Come.” Bobby Rush returns for an encore with “Get Outta Here (Dog Named Bo),” an acapella folk tale from the legendary blues storyteller.

All in all, Porch Sessions Volume 2 is a magical gathering of musicians perfect for any music lover’s catalog.

Rick J Bowen


At the age of 13, Tony’s mother introduced him to Best of B.B. King album that provided him with his entrée into the blues. “She used to go to the library a lot, and she’d bring home music,” says Holiday. “I just popped it in, and that’s when everything changed.” At 16, Tony got his first guitar. “My mom bought it for me to keep me out of trouble, and it didn’t work. So, five years later, after I got out of trouble, I joined a band as the guitar player. And then when that band broke up, I didn’t want to quit. I just started my own. That was a band called Blue Root that I established with Jordan Young, who just placed third on The Voice.” Tony also played with a band called the Velvetones in Salt Lake City.

Front porches hold a special significance for Tony Holiday. Not only does he enjoy the cozy informality of making music on them, but he’s also done some outstanding recording on those porches too. Studios simply aren’t a necessity for the blues harmonica wailer when he’s ready to lay some sounds down for posterity. He just meets his friends on their front porches, sets up his portable recording equipment, and gets down to business without the constraints of being inside a professional studio environment.

As the title of the new recording implies, it is a follow-up to his 2019 Porch Sessions, which was nominated for a Blues Blast Music Award in the Live Album category. Holiday was surrounded by a highly impressive cadre of blues talent; James Harman, guitarists John Primer and Kid Ramos and harpists Charlie Musselwhite, John Nemeth, Mitch Kashmar, and Bob Corritore. “I’ve just been traveling around the country the last five years or so, recording bluesmen and women on their porches. It didn’t end with the first volume. It just had more life in it,” says Holiday.

In between the two Porch Sessions’ collections, Holiday released Soul Service, recorded at Zebra Ranch in Coldwater, MS. “I used some of John Nemeth’s band,” says Tony. “I had my own band, and John Nemeth helped me. We wrote a song together, and then Ori Naftaly (Southern Avenue) reached out and he produced the album.”

Nemeth has been crucial to Tony’s musical development over the years. Firstly, he inadvertently inspired Holiday to switch instruments when Tony was still living in his original hometown of Salt Lake City, UT playing guitar. “I didn’t start playing the harmonica until I was 29,” he recounts. “I was washing dishes in a barbecue joint, and I heard music down the hall and peeked my head around the corner to see what that sound was. And it was Nemeth playing the harmonica. I sold my guitar the next day. I’ve never played it since.”

Just as importantly, Nemeth swayed Holiday and his guitarist, Landon Stone, to relocate to Memphis in 2018. “Memphis is a super magical town,” says Tony. “I don’t know what it takes for you to be welcomed to Memphis, but John Nemeth was always so kind about having us stop by his house when we passed through town, and while we were on the porch one night, he was just sitting there smoking cigars and drinking brandy. He told us that we really should move here. It’s such a great town. And he kind of convinced us to make the move, so we pulled the trigger.” Whether he’s making recordings on someone’s front porch, lighting up Beale Street with his own band, or bringing his soulful vocals and blazing harmonica to destinations nationwide, Tony Holiday remains a dedicated blues disciple. “I’ve been on the road for ten years,” he says. “It’s only gotten better.”





SEPTEMBER 17, 2021