Interview with Ron Haney, Alan Wheeler and Jim Reece (The W.S. Holland Band): Rock & Roll Journey

"Rock & Roll music, in its purest form, is honest. It speaks of life experiences, emotions, and relationships. I think music fans want music that is honest."

The W.S. Holland Band: R & R Vertigo

The W.S. Holland Band is made up of legendary Johnny Cash & The Tennessee 3 drummer, W.S. "Fluke" Holland on drums, Ron Haney on guitar/vocals, Alan "Gator" Wheeler on keyboards and Jim Reece on bass guitar/vocals. The W.S. Holland Band pays tribute to all the great artists of the Sun Records days including the Million Dollar Quartet and, of course, Johnny Cash. Their onstage performance is one of high energy and house rocking music that takes the audience on a Rock & Roll journey through the career of W.S. Holland. The band is headquartered in Jackson, TN, the home of Rockabilly music.

Ron Haney started his music career over four decades ago. A native West Tenneessean, Ron’s first musical influences were the gospel harmonies and hymns he heard growing up in a southern rural Baptist church. When the Beatle “Big Bang” happened in 1964 Ron says he was, like so many of his friends at the time, changed forever. Ron is not only a musician but a proficient songwriter with numerous published songs, a producer, arranger, singer and recording artist having written, recorded, released several projects over his career. 

Another Jackson, Tennessee native, Alan Wheeler has long been one of the most in-demand keyboard players in the Mid-South. The diversity of styles he plays fits any musical situation with a mastery unsurpassed by most others in his field. Alan cut his musical teeth on show tunes, classical, rhythm & blues, soul, rock & roll and country and brings a well-rounded sound to the stage of every WS Holland Band performance. He has toured, recorded and appeared with some of the South’s legendary artists including R&B great Rufus Thomas, Rockabilly pioneer Carl Perkins and others. 

Long recognized as one of the regions finest bassists, Jim Reece is proficient in any style of music he undertakes to perform. His strong Memphis music influences go back to the days of the legendary Sun Records era and spans early rock, country and rhythm & blues. An active part of the Memphis music scene during the early 1960’s while working with a number of noteworthy music pros including Roland Janes, Chips Moman, and Travis Wommack, Jim’s music reflects the many influences that have inspired, entertained and motivated him over four decades. 

Interview by Michael Limnios

How do you describe your sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

Ron: My sound is a mixture of all the influences I have had over the course of my life and career starting with artists like Carl Perkins, Johnny Rivers, B.B. King, Albert King and others. These guitar players had an impact on me that shaped what I hear in my heart when I play. My basic music philosophy is play what moves, excites, inspires and entertains you in such a way others will be moved, excited, inspired and entertained as well. I believe a musician’s music is more for the benefit of the listeners than it is for the musician himself.

Jim: Actually "my" sound varies greatly depending on the type of music I'm playing at the time...and has always come from the inside...as to  my music philosophy...music is a means for making emotions and feelings to be able to be experienced by those who love music but can't play it.

Alan: I like music that challenges my playing ability, to have to work at it. I like playing different music formats; Rock & Roll, Country, Blues, Jazz, and Classical. I don't know if I have a particular playing style, probably a mix of all of those.

"That music would be controlled by the musicians themselves, not by lawyers & accountants, who know nothing about it."

Why did you think that the Rock n’ Roll music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Ron: Simply because it is such a clear example of the things mentioned above. It moves, excites, inspires and entertains the masses. Rock & Roll music, in its purest form, is honest. It speaks of life experiences, emotions, and relationships. I think music fans want music that is honest. It may not be philosophically deep, necessarily, but honest in that it provides an emotional and enjoyable journey for the listener.

Jim: Because from rock and roll’s beginning there has never been anything to equal what the pioneers of it created...the fact that musicians the world over love to play it, listen to it being played by others and even sit and talk about it validates it being the best music ever.

Alan: It's the excitement in it that stirs the emotions in people. People have fun playing it or just listening to it.

What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had? Which memory makes you smile?

Ron: Though there have been many memorable gigs and shows over the years I’d have to say getting to play on the Las Vegas strip a few years ago and our recent tour in Norway was some of the most recently memorable to me. Getting to play on stage with Marty Stuart & The Fabulous Superlatives in early 2014 was a major thrill for me, as well.

Jim: Way too many to mention because they all make smiles and memories each time I play.

Alan: Working some shows back in the 70's with Rufus Thomas was a hoot! Our Texas trip with WS was a lot of fun. Travelling across the US & Canada in 1976-1978. Winning a band contest in 1968 when Ron Haney & I were in a band while still in High School. They all make me smile.

"Change one thing in the music world that would become a reality...I'd change the fact that people who aren't musicians could actually feel what those of us who are feel when we perform and play...and not just hear the music...if for only once... Then everyone would understand..."

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

Ron: Meeting and becoming a business partner and band member with WS Holland rates among the highest honors of my career as a musician. WS, while sometimes misunderstood by some people, is a great guy to work with. He is a legend in the music business on many levels. He is honest, witty, compassionate and a whole lot of fun to tour with. My wife and I both consider WS and his wife, Joyce, among our most treasured friends and are thankful for their friendship. As far as the best advice ever given to me...I’d have to say learning that sometimes less is more in playing music. It’s not the complexity of the arrangement, musicianship, lyrics or performance of the music that matters the most. For me, it is the honesty, feeling, and sincerity behind a performance that matters most of all.

Jim: The best advice I've been given came from one of the greatest pioneers in the record business...Mr Roland Janes and simply put he said...Jim, it’s not what you play but what you don't play that keeps the sound honest and on track.

Alan: Too many to list. Meeting Merle Haggard was great. Best advice: Keep a day job!

Are there any memories from WS Holland, Travis Wommack, Rufus Thomas, and Carl Perkins which you’d like to share with us?

Ron: There are hundreds of great memories to share but not room here to do so. So, I’ll suffice it to say that besides the tours we do together, the private times we share with he and Joyce simply going out to dinner and talking, my great memory is seeing how fans react to and respect him for his achievements over the past 60 years.

Jim: As for W.S. Holland memories…each road trip we've made has given us time for him to talk about his career with Johnny Cash and all the travels and the artists he's worked with....it’s like being able to have been there myself...so real and rich in living history with one of the greatest....Travis Wammack memories are equally as valued in that I was actually afforded the opportunity to be the bass player for one of the best and most innovated guitarist at the time in the world....working with people like Peter and Gordon and Roy Orbison, and many many more of the top recording artist of the day was a great feeling for a young man ...many many memories that are forever treasured.

Alan: Ron Haney & WS Holland trying to turn the bus around in a store parking lot in Texas. This guy was hollering at WS in Spanish the whole time. Rufus ordering biscuits and grits up north & the look on the waiters face. Carl Perkins showing me his closet full of toupees once when I was working on his wife's piano at his house.

"Blues music, and music in general, helps give us an understanding of where we have been and where we are going. It shines a light on our experiences in life and helps illuminate the meaning of those experiences in such a way that encourages us."

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

Ron: Because the great music of my era is still around I really don’t miss anything about it. I still play, love and enjoy the music I grew up with during the formative years of my career. My hopes, on the other hand, are that young people today can experience more and more of the great music of the past and what the true value of it still is. There are a lot of great examples of great music being created today. I just hope that 30 years from now today’s music fans will look back on their music as me and my generation looks back on ours.

Jim: I guess I miss being able to play with some of the guys I played with and learned from in the past....some have gone and won't ever be replaced ....my hopes for the future would simply be that one day I would be able to see and hear music return to the greatness it once was...there don't seem to be anyone coming along to create the "sound" as we knew it back then... My fear,,,,, lol is  that music won't be as real as we all know it once was...that's why ALL of it from back in day is still so good!!!!

Alan: Musicians used to have to actually be able to play their instruments to sound good. Still a lot of good young players, but too many depend on studio tricks instead of talent. My hope is that we can get back to that. My fear is that as technology progresses, there will be more "manufactured" music using computers instead of real players.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul/R&B and continue to Rock n’ Roll and Country?

Ron: I think music, by its very nature and creation, is spiritual. Someone said, “God created music so He wouldn’t have to talk to us so much.” I like that because it captures what I think music is all about. Music is to entertain, move, and inspire us in beneficial ways. Within great music there is healing, therapy, encouragement, direction and a host of other benefits for us to grow from. It speaks to us in ways that touch us at our very core and can be such a powerful thing. So, in my opinion, the common thread that runs through and connects various genres of music is its ability to have a positive impact on its listeners.

Jim: Lines that connect all the genres you mentioned...to me there's only one line...the heart and soul of the artist that is actually heard by us all...it’s the inside of the musician that creates the sound....There is on this earth no feeling to compare to making music...it’s both a curse and a blessing at the same time...a disease with no cure and none wanted...hahaha...

Alan: It's the shared experiences of the people, especially in the southern part of this country, good times & bad, that are reflected in the music.

"Musicians used to have to actually be able to play their instruments to sound good. Still a lot of good young players, but too many depend on studio tricks instead of talent."

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

Ron: I learn that we are all alike in many ways. We are all human having similar experiences on this planet. We love, we grow, we aspire to great things and we all want the opportunity to achieve what is in our hearts to achieve. Blues music, and music in general, helps give us an understanding of where we have been and where we are going. It shines a light on our experiences in life and helps illuminate the meaning of those experiences in such a way that encourages us. It lets us know, for sure, we are all basically the same wherever we live or come from.

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

Jim: Change one thing in the music world that would become a reality....I'd change the fact that people who aren't musicians could actually feel what those of us who are feel when we perform and play....and not just hear the music....if for only once.... Then everyone would understand.....

Alan: That music would be controlled by the musicians themselves, not by lawyers & accountants, who know nothing about it.

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

Ron: Besides being able to once again spend time with my parents, who are deceased, that day, would take place in Memphis, Tennessee. For the first half of the day I would be sitting in and playing a recording session with artists like Otis Redding, B.B. King, Booker T & The MG’s, Sam & Dave and Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and other icons from their era. After lunch, I’d take the short trip to 706 Union Ave. and play a session with Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis at Sun Records. Man, now that would be a “Million Dollar Memorable Day.”

Jim: Time machine....I'd like to spend a day with my mother and father #1 and also with my musical brother for all time...Tony Snider...

Alan: Back to the 1920's and get to play piano with one of the great jazz bands, I really like the music of that era.

WS Holland Band - Home

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