Interview with British multitalented musician Derek Holt, founder member of The Climax Blues Band

"If I could change one thing in the musical world it would be take X Factor, Pop Idol off TV."

Derek Holt: Choruses & Harmonies

British singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer Derek Holt has written, sung and played on hit records, has toured with bands throughout the world, has managed a studio, that has consistently produced hit records of the 90’s, writes and produces music for film, television, the corporate market and library albums. Founder member of The Climax Blues Band, initially playing guitar and later switching to bass guitar and keyboards, Derek’s first album ‘The Climax Chicago Blues Band’  was recorded in 1968 at the infamous Abbey Road Studios. Derek recorded 12 albums with the band. During the late seventies Climax produced a string of self-penned singles and albums which not only sold well but also received critical acclaim.

Climax toured the world constantly and became known for the hardest working band on the road, they toured the US for many years in the 70’s and 80’s, playing with such great acts as Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, BB King, ELP, ELO, Jeff Beck, The Eagles, Sly and The Family Stone, The Beach Boys, Little Feat, Steve Miller, Bad Company, Foreigner, Kiss, Black Sabbath, Albert King, T-Bone Walker, Johnny & Edgar Winter, James Brown, Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels, and Peter Frampton, to name but a few. Climax were also invited to appear on The ‘Startruckin’ tour where about a dozen bands would all tour around like a travelling circus, on this legendary tour were Mahavishnu Orchestra, Wishbone Ash, Caravan, Rennaisance, and Soft Machine. After leaving Climax in 1984, Derek teamed up with Nektar guitar legend Roye Albrighton, recorded two albums and toured with ZZ Top and Marshall Tucker Band. In 1989, Derek teamed up with Steve Hunter and Pete Haycock to form a band called The H Factor which was formed to record an album for IRS records, Derek featured as lead vocalist, bass player and keyboards on all the tracks.

In 1990, Derek was invited to play bass, play keyboards and sing lead vocals on Miles Copeland’s tour, which featured such artists as Alvin Lee, Leslie West, Steve Howe, Randy California, Robbie Krieger, Phil Manzanera, Robin Trower, Jann Akkerman, Andy Powell and Ted Turner from Wishbone Ash. During May 1999 and Sept 2000, Derek was invited to a song writers ‘gathering’ in France, with many other international artists. Derek was also teamed up with other prolific writers such as Timothy B Schmit, Stewart Copeland, Jeff Beck, Pat McDonald, and Steve Balsamo where many great songs were written, he described the experience as a ‘pinch yourself’ moment. Derek was also bass player for Chuck Berry in Spain, he continues to play live with various different acts, most recently ‘The Abbey Road Experience and ‘Desperado’, he is still involved in international song writing, writing music for film and jingles for the corporate market. Most notable credits include Title music for ‘Notes From a Small Island’, Central TV’S, Main Ident music, ‘One False Move’, ‘The Wedding Band’, ‘Ewoks and Droids’.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

Having now reached the age of 66 and having been in music all my life I have learned so much from listening and playing The Blues. From my early days in The Climax Chicago Blues Band I learned what 'feel' meant, what 'The Groove' meant, why people wrote sad lyrics. Having had many disappointments in life I now understand how people write great songs from life’s experiences, but then of course blues doesn't have to always be sad. I would like to think that my music is pretty diverse, I've learned a lot from the blues, like it’s not what you play it’s also what you don't!

"The thing I miss about the music from the past is you could always tell who the band or artist were by their music, you can always tell The Beatles, Kinks, Pink Floyd, The Who, Fleetwood Mac, Chuck Berry, Elvis, etc etc."

How do you describe Derek Holt sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

My musical philosophy has always been about having strong choruses and harmonies. I am self-taught as a musician and I have so many different styles in me and I tend to write music for myself mostly, I do keep an eye on current trends but my main style of writing is fairly old school formula, intro, verse, chorus, middle8, verse, chorus, etc. I'm also more into trying to write great lyrics these days, you have to have a good story otherwise what's the point. I don't do rap.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

I guess meeting people like Miles Copeland helped us along the road to becoming more successful as a band especially by helping us get to The USA, meeting Paul McCartney on the first album we did at Abbey Road, in 1968 was a blast meeting George Martin, Chris Thomas and Geoff Emmerick were also highlights in my life as they were so involved in producing some of the greatest music/bands, most notable of course The Beatles, Pretenders, Roxy Music, Elton John. The best advice ever given to me was by my Mum who always said 'Make the most of your life, enjoy every minute, cos one day you will be old' and now I'm her age when she said it to me.

Are there any memories from Climax Chicago Blues Band which you’d like to share with us?

I have so many memories and I am putting together a book of my life and times with The Climax Blues Band, we had many narrow escapes from disaster like, missing a plane by 5 minutes in Chicago that eventually crashed killing all on board, like driving thru heavy snow up a mountain in Switzerland, and out running an avalanche, being parked on the side of a mountain in the alps waiting for the border post to open, we left the engine running to keep warm but the van was being enveloped with Carbon Monoxide fumes which almost took us all, fortunately I couldn't sleep and got everyone out. It will all be in the book.

"I would like to think that my music is pretty diverse, I've learned a lot from the blues, like it’s not what you play it’s also what you don't!" (Photo: Derek Holt and the Climax Blues Band)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

The thing I miss about the music from the past is you could always tell who the band or artist were by their music, you can always tell The Beatles, Kinks, Pink Floyd, The Who, Fleetwood Mac, Chuck Berry, Elvis, etc etc. Todays music apart from a few is very boring, just basic tracks with bass drum, one hook line, no lyric, no melody, but kids love it, it’s frightening, I also blame modern technology for now making it easy to create music easily without even having the knowledge of being able to play or even sing. Also we have shows like X Factor which is on TV so artists have mass exposure before even going out on the road, we did it the hard way, toured and toured learned how to do it, But I don't blame anyone for their success today, Have fun make the most of it!

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

If I could change one thing in the musical world it would be take X Factor, Pop Idol off TV.

What were the reasons that made the UK in 60s to be the center of Blues/Rock searches and experiments?

With the arrival of American music in the 50s - 60s from people like, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Everley Brothers, Bill Haley etc, The UK and its musicians were starting to experiment, suddenly the electric guitar was a new sound, so different from  the acoustic guitars, there were blues clubs up and down the country opening up from the cafe culture, the beatniks and hippies were all starting to experience great musicians/singers like Alexis Korner, Long John Baldrey, Rod Stewart, Peter Green, all playing American Blues, which would make its way over here via Sailors docking in Liverpool from The USA, bringing with them new records that we'd never heard before, The Radio then was pretty underground and stations like Radio Luxembourg and Pirate stations like Radio Caroline became very popular with the youngsters of the 60's.

"Having now reached the age of 66 and having been in music all my life I have learned so much from listening and playing The Blues." (Photo: Derek Holt with the Climax Blues Band)

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits?

I have a pretty good sense of humour, one has to in this music business take the rough with the smooth and all that, I trend to go out jamming these days with all sorts of musicians and singers, and occasionally get to back new singers of all ages , most recently a lady  came on stage and asked if I knew that song' Weigh A Pie', no I thought I don't know that one, so I asked her to sing it to me, she started 'Somewhere over a rainbow..., well that made me laugh. I'm always touched by people who have the chops to play with feel and great ears, nothing gives me greater pleasure than someone really playing from the heart rather than technically efficient, guitarists for instance, some know all the riffs and skills and others can just play one note in the right place, they're the ones for me. Singers as well. We lost Joe Cocker recently, he had the soul!

Which memory from Lynyrd Skynyrd, BB King, Albert King, T-Bone Walker, and Chuck Berry makes you smile?

I'll always remember being on tour with Skynyrd and being allowed to get up on stage with the backing singers and singing along to Sweet Home Alabama, we had great fun with those guys, they hijacked Colin and Pete from one gig, flew them on their plane from Houston to Memphis, which became the opening line of Climax song' Champagne and Rock and Roll', Skynyrd lived and breathed their music, loved them to bits and a tragic story, God Bless Them!

BB King was very kind to us, he opened his doors to us and spent time with us, even allowed me to hold 'Lucille'. Our first ever gig in New York was at Carnegie Hall with Albert King and T-Bone Walker, never got to meet them but the one thing I noticed was Albert played his Flying V guitar upside down left handed, loved his style and learnt a lot from just that one night.

Played bass for Chuck Berry in Spain, walked into his dressing room to introduce myself and ask what songs he would be playing to which he replied 'Chuck Berry songs' and knock next time you want to come in! wasn't a good start, but he grew to like me as I played great, it was an honour to back him up, he even allowed me a bass solo, he turned around after 45 minutes, looked at his watch, stopped the show, walked off, crowd going wild, negotiated another $5000 to come back on, which he did, played Johnny B Goode, then got in his car and drove to the airport, the band got £50 each, Rock and Roll Chuck, Legend!

"My musical philosophy has always been about having strong choruses and harmonies. I am self-taught as a musician and I have so many different styles in me and I tend to write music for myself mostly, I do keep an eye on current trends but my main style of writing is fairly old school formula, intro, verse, chorus, middle8, verse, chorus, etc."

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Skiffle and Rock n’ Roll?

My first influences were from Skiffle with the likes of Lonnie Donegan, my brother who was 8 years older than me had guitars in the house, that's how  I learned to play, it was a natural progression from Skiffle to Rock and Roll to Blues to Soul, every artist has his own influences, The Beatles for instance took that basic early Rock and Roll music turned it on its head with their talent and wrote some of the most incredible and forever lasting music of all time, Pink Floyd had their roots in The Blues but experimented, Bob Dylan came out of the old folk/blues/poets of the day, The Band, Tom Petty, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, Clapton, ZZ Top, all came from the roots of the blues and it’s still as important today, I think it’s wonderful.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

If I could take a time machine to somewhere it would probably have been Woodstock backstage, just to be around Hendrix, Crosby Stills & Nash, Arlo Guthrie, Country Joe, Santana, Canned Heat, Mountain, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker, Ritchie Havens, The Band, Johnny Winter, Blood Sweat & Tears, Neil Young, Paul Butterfield, to have been amongst the musicians all high on sex drugs and rock and roll, need I say more?

Derek Holt - Official website

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