I’m not sure I should tell you about Nick Holmes. For years now he’s been a secret all over the block, an ace up my sleeve, a private reserve.
One night, sometime in the 1970’s, I stumbled into the Café Au GoGo and chanced upon Nick. The Au Go Go was the temple of song, the cathedral of cool, and if you were clever or lucky or simply ambulatory you could wander in and hear Tim Hardin or the Butterfield Blues Band or Fred Neil or Karen Dalton. That night, Jerry Jeff Walker was playing solo, but I got there in time to hear the opening act, a skinny guy with a mane of brown hair, a 5 day beard and a band that could stop on a dime or float into a psychedelic infinity of musical possibility, stretching songs beyond meaning and into pure sound, the way Van Morrison did on Astral Weeks, the way Ramblin’ Jack Elliott did with tales that meandered into word jazz, the way Miles stretched silence into melody and melody into silence.
I was a musical know-it-all, a snob, a walking encyclopedia of songwriters and songs and the dark and smoky places where magic happened. Or didn’t. But I’d never heard anything that prepared me for Nick Holmes. I’d never heard someone that I’d never heard of before who was that good, whose songs were that powerful, whose voice could take you anywhere (including some dark & private places that you need a passport to go to). There was – and there is – a honeyed richness to his singing that pulls together bits of soul & blues & country into a cocktail that goes down smooth and easy just before it stings you.
When we got to be friends, I discovered just how seriously Nick was taken by players and singers and scenemakers. Paul Simon and Linda Ronstadt and Joe Cocker would stop by to check out his new songs, try to figure out how he’d get that sound; Carly Simon, Bette Midler. Jerry Jeff Walker and Art Garfunkel all recorded songs of his, all of them faithfully, none of them well enough to wash away the spirit of his versions. When he sang a song, any song, it stayed sung. And it stayed his.
More than thirty years on, he still has that voice. He still has those songs (not to mention many, many new ones). And he still has that ability to stop time, to stretch a moment so far into the distance that it seems like it’s always been there. And always will be.
--- Brian Cullman July, 2010