TONY HOLIDAY BIO

 

 

Front porches hold a special significance for Tony Holiday.

Not only does he enjoy the cozy informality of making music on them, he’s 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. And he has
some pretty impressive friends, too.

“Alan Lomax was a big inspiration of mine,” says Tony. “I grew up on bluegrass music. I
grew up with a lot of porch pickers. When I heard that story of Buddy Guy taking a piece of wire
out of a screen door and nailing it to the porch and plucking on it, that was his first little idea to
play music. And I realized, ‘Wow, the blues is really back on the porch too!’ The porch is kind
of the place where families used to go to cool off at the end of the day, get to know each other,
play music together.”

Not long before the pandemic brought everything to a crunching halt, Tony visited a
cross-section of his network of blues friends and made the exciting recordings showcased on
Tony Holiday’s Porch Sessions, Vol. 2, his new all-star CD on Blue Heart Records. Blues
veterans that include gritty Chicago belter Willie Buck, harpist Richard “Rip Lee” Pryor (son of
the legendary Snooky Pryor), the impossible-to-categorize Watermelon Slim, and West Coast
harp ace Mark Hummel are each spotlighted on a song apiece. So are next-generation standouts
Jon Lawton, Ben Rice, A.J. Fullerton, Rae Gordon, the acclaimed band Southern Avenue, and
harpist JD Taylor, who co-produced the set with Holiday.

Only one performer has the distinct honor of having two songs on the disc: the legendary
Bobby Rush. Full disclosure: his recordings weren’t done on his front porch, and a boisterous
crowd was on hand for the proceedings.

“I facilitated that through Barbara Newman, the former president of the Blues
Foundation,” says Tony. “They were celebrating Bobby for something that I can’t recall now,
some big thing he did. Anyway, she knew about the porch sessions, and she had come to one and
when that was going on, she said, ‘Why don’t you come down? We’re going to do this on the
front stoop of the Blues Foundation!’ And it ended up being too rainy or windy, so we moved it
inside. A lot of people came to see him, so that was kind of a special one.”

Porch Sessions Vol. 2 also features the perpetually amazing Windy City guitarist Lurrie
Bell, who contributes a compelling revival of “Every Day I Have The Blues.” “He came to
Memphis to receive an award at the BMAs, so I caught him while he was in town,” remembers
Holiday. “Lurrie was great. He had Mark Hummel on harmonica.” Tony plays harp on the album
too, but only sparingly. “I’m on a handful of tracks,” he says. “I’m on ‘She’s Tough’ with Victor
Wainwright, ‘Bad Bad Girl’ with Johnny Burgin. A lot of times, there were harmonica players
already there.”

One beloved performer on the album remains especially close to Holiday’s heart:
harmonica wizard James Harman, who passed away on May 23. “He was my mentor and my
friend,” says Tony, who raised $50,000 for James when he fell ill with cancer. “He meant a lot to
me, man. The album is dedicated to him.” Harman’s “Going To Court 2” stands as one of the
many highlights on Porch Sessions Vol. 2.

As the title implies, Tony’s new CD is a follow-up to his 2019 CD Porch Sessions for
Vizztone, which was nominated for a Blues Blast Award in the Live Album category. That
release also found Holiday surrounded by a highly impressive cadre of blues talent; in addition to

Harman, guitarists John Primer and Kid Ramos and harpists Charlie Musselwhite, John Nemeth,
Mitch Kashmar, and Bob Corritore were among its featured stars.

“The first volume, I was on most of the tracks. This one, I didn’t see the importance of
me playing on every track,” notes Holiday. “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. The project had more life, so we kept going.”

In between the two Porch Sessions collections, Holiday released Soul Service, a more
conventionally recorded album featuring Tony as its sole front man that was done at Zebra
Ranch in Coldwater, Mississippi (he calls that 2020 Vizztone CD “my pandemic record”). “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 from Southern Avenue actually reached out
to me and he produced me. Ori has been such a big supporter, and very humble, and helped me.”
Nemeth has been crucial to Tony’s musical development over the years. First off, he
inadvertently inspired Holiday to switch instruments when Tony was still living in his original
hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah and playing guitar. “I didn’t start playing the harmonica until
I was 29,” he reveals.

“I was washing dishes in a barbecue joint, and I really wasn’t playing live. This was
when I was about 25. John Nemeth came through town. I’d never heard—well, I’d seen his
pictures around. Anyway, I just remember the sound coming through. And I’m a butcher over
there at the barbecue shop, so my apron has blood on it. I’m not really supposed to come out into
the area where they’re playing music, but I couldn’t help it. So I kind of walked down the hall
and peeked my head around the corner to see what that sound was. And it was him playing the
harmonica. You know, 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 never even considered
it. I never thought I could. I never thought I would be allowed. 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.”
When he was 13, Tony’s mother introduced him to a Best of B.B. King CD that provided
him with his entrée to 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 then that’s when everything kind of 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 started playing a little bit in my
early 20s. I joined a band. I was just the guitar player in a band at first. 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. Jordan
Young, he just placed third place on The Voice, him and I started that band.” Tony also played
with a band called the Velvetones in Salt Lake City.

Even at the height of the pandemic, Tony found a way to keep the porch vibe happening.
“I was doing virtual porch sessions,” he says. Now that things are opening back up, his itinerary
looks a lot more like it used to. “I was playing Beale Street a lot before the pandemic. Then
during the pandemic, I kind of rearranged my show, took a step back. So I haven’t been eager to
book any local stuff. I’m still working on my new show right now,” he says. “I have a band in
Memphis called the Soul Service. I just travel under my name right now. I’m not on tour with
that band. I’m on tour with several bands, just pickup bands.”

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.”

 

 

TONY HOLIDAY ENDORSES SEYDEL HARMONICAS!!

OUR PHOTOS

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