There is something to be said for a couple of rock and rollers, who have played major stages around the world, that claim they feel more at home right here in Williamson County than anywhere else. Brad Whitford and Derek St. Holmes have a long history in the music industry, and they just completed a new project together. One that has a different meaning for them, and they credit our own creative community for bringing out their best.
Brad Whitford has been the rhythm guitarist for the band Aerosmith for more than 40 years. The group is recognized as one of the greatest rock bands of all time, and the Guitar World book included Whitford in The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Four years ago, he began visiting the area when his son Graham (a near clone of his father) moved to Nashville for the music scene.
As parts of the family began to relocate, Brad also began making a home here, what he calls “a slice of paradise.” Coming off the road means coming home to Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee. “It’s just a great way to recharge for what I have to do when I travel a lot. I don’t know anywhere else I’d want to go, this just feels like home,” says Whitford.
Derek St. Holmes first gained international fame 40 years ago as the lead singer and guitarist for the boisterous rocker Ted Nugent. After many years living in the south, he also found himself settling in Leiper’s Fork.
Their friendship goes back to 1981 during a hiatus from playing with Aerosmith and Nugent when they first collaborated on a self-titled album Whitford / St. Holmes. They remained friends and suspected one day they’d be living in the same town.
To this day, both are still touring with those bands. Now, when they’re not on the road, a simple phone call finds them at the same table “talking shop” all day. Derek says, “We go to Puckett’s in Leiper’s Fork to get a cup of coffee and have some eggs and talk about music. It is so cool that we live right here.”
We’re sitting in the picking corner of the little-restored house that is the new Finds in the Fork, a hip music and specialty gift shop in downtown Leiper’s Fork (owned by Brad’s former wife Karen Whitford). Brad even contributed some of his own items to the store.
Like old pros, the soul brothers throw a few poses at the camera and push right into the interview. They’ve done it hundreds of times, after all. But, they’re also itching to get to the guitar store.
So, nearly 35 years after their first album together, with an arsenal of own songs, Whitford / St. Holmes recorded their new CD, Reunion. The record sounds like they continued right where they left off. It’s straight-up rock and roll, heavy guitars, driving rhythms, and the distinct St. Holmes voice and high notes that seem to catch you right in a nostalgic spot.
Brad explains, “We have a sound that is unique like we married AC/DC with the Who.”
This wasn’t just a collaboration for Brad and Derek, this is where they let loose and discovered who they really are as musicians. The songs they created meant coming to the table with their best work.
Derek, “When we go in with an idea, we beat it up so much before we show it to each other, so we don’t waste time. It’s a respect issue. When Brad plays something, everything he plays to me is cool. It’s where we’re going to place it, and vice versa. It’s not, ‘oh that’s no good’…” He starts laughing and nods to Brad. “Hasn’t somebody done that to you before, tell you it’s no good?” Their smirks answer that question.
Joining Brad and Derek in the studio, were Buck Johnson on keyboards, Charles “Chopper” Anderson on bass and Troy Luccketta on drums. Brad says, “It’s insane how good the rhythm section is.”
“This was a creative free-for-all where everybody was encouraged to play what you feel,” says Brad. “It’s unlike the normal experience of making albums with our respective bands.”
Lack of ego and the freedom to explore, the guys went on to explain, made a difference.
Brad says, “It’s funny, usually every album I’ve ever made, once I’m done making it, it’s the last thing I want to listen to.” Derek laughs, “Me, too.”
Brad adds, “We just had a great time doing it, I think that’s part of being able to get music that people enjoy, there’s got to be a spirit of joy when you create it, otherwise you’re never going to transfer the message.”
So how has being in the Nashville area affected their playing?
Whitford explains, “Here, we’re literally bathing in guitars from the time we get up to the time we go to bed. It’s about guitars; that would not happen anywhere else. Wherever I lived I had to go find it. Here you’re always thinking about playing, and you’re playing with a lot of people. So for me, I finally got comfortable in my own skin playing.”
Coming from a guy who has played in front of millions of people for decades for one of the greatest bands of all time.
He adds, “I got a lot more confident in what I can do, just by being so in love with the guitar like I never have. It’s such a joy. I kind of lost that, sometimes working with Aerosmith, I’d come off a tour and I wouldn’t pick up my guitar for six months.”
St. Holmes, a Detroit native, offers his reflection on living here: “When they said the living is easy, well, you’ll get the same thing done down here as you will up north, but we just take our time doing it, and that’s why you have tomorrow. Who says it’s all got to be done in one day, that’s where everybody goes wrong. That’s why God made many days.”
The duo is planning an official CD release and tour this year, although, the other jobs may snag some of their time. They did confess they’re having a lot more fun with this band.
Visit WhitfordStHolmes.com for more on the band and how to grab that new rockin’ CD and the first Whitford / St. Holms re-mastered.