Q&A with Memphis-based Soul Blues harmonica ace Tony Holiday - Hill county with a step of Memphis lightning

"Music has always affected the way people live their life, example - in the mining camp days, you would go to the saloon after work, and the piano player would be relating all the news from the last mining camp, it used to be the heart of information as they were the only ones traveling from town to town to spread that information. As far as my music goes, I’d like to bring people together and make them feel and think about things they love and things they’ve lost."

Tony Holiday: Memphis Lightning

There’s something about Tony Holiday that draws people together. In fact, community has been at the core of Holiday’s young career from the beginning. Since relocating from Salt Lake City to Memphis in 2017, Holiday has been at the center of a soul blues revival in Memphis, anchored by a contingent of young, savvy well-schooled musicians with a “family-like” attitude and a strong belief in one another. Mentored by past legends, Holiday and this loose Memphis collective are building on the city’s rich traditions and carrying them forward. Motel Mississippi, Holiday’s 2nd solo album, was recorded about an hour outside Memphis in Coldwater, Mississippi, at Zebra Ranch, the studio of the late great Memphis legend Jim Dickinson.                                       (Photo: Tony Holiday)

Motel Mississippi follows 2020’s Soul Service, produced by another regular collaborator, Southern Avenue’s Ori Naftaly. This followed two volumes of Tony Holiday’s Porch Sessions (2021/Blue Heart), which saw Holiday traveling across the United States and throughout Europe recording blues musicians on their very own front porches, in front of juke joints, in the countryside, and even on the front stoops of raucous night spots in bustling cities, resulting in two critically acclaimed albums. The guestlist struck a balance between older legends like Charlie Musselwhite and Bobby Rush, former Muddy Waters guitarist John Primer and the iconic Lurie Bell, alongside some of Holiday’s peers Southern Avenue, Victor Wainwright, and John Németh. The latter two have served as important mentors for Holiday since his move to Memphis. There’s something in the water in Memphis, and Tony Holiday has tapped into it to contribute to an exciting new chapter unfolding in this storied region.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Soul and Blues music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Blues and Soul music have had a huge impact on my life, as it’s taken me all over the world. As far as my view on the world, blues music has shown me that the suffering that music comes from, can actually take your sorrows and worries away and allow light within a very dark place.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

I wouldn't describe it. It has been described by others as “Hill county with a step of Memphis lightning”. My creativity comes from being inspired by Memphis music and local Memphis musicians, philosophies of life, and the daily analogies we find ourselves in.

What touched you from the sound of harmonica? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

Little Walter was huge for me, when I heard the song “Mellow Down Easy,” Walter made the harmonica sound like a saxophone of sorts, and I was hooked.  The balance between technique and soul …in my opinion, you have to have soul to feel this music and technique is the tool to expand your vocabulary within that expression.

"Blues and Soul music have had a huge impact on my life, as it’s taken me all over the world. As far as my view on the world, blues music has shown me that the suffering that music comes from, can actually take your sorrows and worries away and allow light within a very dark place." (Photo: Tony Holiday)

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

One thing I miss most about the music from the past, although I was not there, my observation is that people were just having more fun doing it, you had to really work hard to be heard without social media platforms and I appreciate the work it took to get there. I hope that young people get into soul and blues music, and that the young artists within this genre can keep it alive.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

Music has always affected the way people live their life, example - in the mining camp days, you would go to the saloon after work, and the piano player would be relating all the news from the last mining camp, it used to be the heart of information as they were the only ones traveling from town to town to spread that information. As far as my music goes, I’d like to bring people together and make them feel and think about things they love and things they’ve lost.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

I would say the biggest lesson I have learned in this industry is that you have to find your own voice, your own style, and once you do, just get out of your own Way.

Why do you think that the Memphis music scene continues to generate such a devoted following?

The Memphis music scene is King. Anytime I go down and play Beale Street. I am reminded of the people that built the culture there.

It’s in the air and it’s in the water here in Memphis Tennessee. It will never go away.

Tony Holiday - Home

(Photo: Tony Holiday)

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