In recent years, Derek St. Holmes had been a key component of the “Voices of Rock” national tour that united famous singers behind famous radio hits; and rightfully so, since it was St. Holmes’ indelible voice that powered Ted Nugent’s biggest hits.
That legendary voice will be unleashed on Sunday at Chicago Street Theatre as promoter Paul Braun pulls a real rabbit out of the hat with this latest installment of his “One Night Jam” concert series.
“I've always had the notion of doing a concert with Derek in the back of my mind, but never thought it would work since we're not set up for an electric rock band, certainly not one like Derek's,” said Braun. “As it turns out, Derek enjoys the challenge of playing his hits acoustically. He’d been told about our unplugged series and was willing to work with me to make something happen. Coincidentally, he was free on March 2, so the show I thought would never happen is actually happening.”
“I really don’t do many of these shows where it’s just me and my acoustic guitar,” confessed St. Holmes. “Probably my biggest reason for doing this show is because I used to live in Chicago and getting back to that area is always appealing because it’s a lot of fun to get together with old friends.”
“The cool thing about this kind of show is that people get to hear the song without all the bombastic craziness going on,” said St. Holmes. “They hear how it sounded when we first wrote it on acoustic guitars backstage or in some hotel.”
Many do not realize St. Holmes contributed much more than just vocals on timeless FM radio classics like “Snakeskin Cowboys,” “Stranglehold,” “Cat Scratch Fever,” and “Hey Baby.” The singer also wrote or co-wrote many Nugent tunes and even laid down many of the famous guitar licks on those old records that most believe were performed by Nugent.
Although St. Holmes is equally great at bending the strings of a guitar as he is belting out a song, he is rarely recognized for his gifted playing prowess. “Eventually people take notice and say things like -- ‘I didn’t know you could play guitar like that!’ -- so it all balances out in the end,” he said.
Sunday’s set list will be mostly Nugent material, but also include songs from St. Holmes’ various side bands and projects. “I’ll probably do a song from St. Paradise album (a 1979 one album project with drummer Denny Carmassi of Montrose) and I’ll definitely do some from the Whitford-St. Holmes album (a 1980 project with Brad Whitford of Aerosmith),” said St. Holmes. Other tunes will come from his last solo release 2000’s “Then & Now.”
St. Holmes fans regret more recordings and live dates failed to come forth from the rocker’s critically-acclaimed pairing with Whitford. St. Holmes feels likewise. “We really enjoyed doing that album and it got a lot of attention, but what happened, is both of our bands called us to get back together with them,” he said of why Whitford-St. Holmes got put on the back burner. “Brad got a call from Aerosmith and I got a call from Ted to come sing on a new Nugent album, so it was mostly a problem of timing.”
Until now that is. St. Holmes revealed he and Whitford have been spending a lot of time together in recent months writing. “We’re not worried about trying to find (a label) right now. We’re just recording and having fun with the songs,” he said. “And it’s easy, because we live just a few miles from each other here in Nashville.” A couple of other famous neighbors are also taking part in the project.
“The Nelson twins, Gunnar and Matthew, both live less than 15 miles away from Brad and I, so we’ve asked them to come down to the studio with us,” said St. Holmes who told of up watching “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriett” starring their grandparents when he was a kid and of idolizing their rock pioneer dad, Rick Nelson. “Those boys have great harmonies and we’re all good friends.”
When not playing dates with Nugent, he continues to perform shows with his own group, The Derek St. Holmes Band. “I just enjoy playing,” he said. “I’m getting ready to gear up the band for dates, because other than a 10-day Swedish rock fest, the Nugent group isn’t going out this year (on the road) until the first week of July.”
After taking a long absence from live performing, St. Holmes began popping up on selected live dates with Ted & Co. in 2008 and eventually returned full time to the gonzo guitarist’s side in 2010 to the delight of Nugent fans worldwide.
“There was never any kind of issue between Ted and I. It wasn’t anything like that; I took the time away from it all because I needed to be with my family,” he said, reflecting on those years away from the public eye; years spent raising his kids and being by his wife’s side during her long fight against the cancer that finally claimed her.
“I never left music,” stressed St. Holmes. “I just left the road for awhile, but I always was writing, playing and recording stuff at home.”
His children now grown and busy making the St. Holmes a very proud and happy grandfather, he is grateful to be back at Nugent’s side belting out the songs that made them both famous.
“This morning I was sitting here at home playing with my grandkids who came to visit. Tomorrow I’m meeting Brad (Whitford) and the Nelsons in the studio. In a few days, I’ll fly out to see you guys in Chicagoland. Then later this year, I’ll be in Texas with Ted working on a new Nugent album and hitting the road with him once again,” concluded St. Holmes. “I’m in a pretty good place and enjoying life.”
Email Tom Lounges at firstname.lastname@example.org