Cult Heroes No. 39: Doc Holliday
This week’s Cult Heroes looks at the rather up-and-down career of southern confederate rockers Doc Holliday. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a whole crop of American southern rock bands – such as The Allman Brothers, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Blackfoot, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Outlaws, Molly Hatchet and .38 Special – were regularly breaking into the US Top 30 album charts and selling millions of records. So where do the Docs fit in? Oh yeah… and you can check out all the previous Cult Heroes here.
Words: Xavier Russell
The Doc Holliday story starts in the summer of 1971, in the small town of Warner Robins, Georgia (population 61,666), which is situated next to the huge US Air Force Base where the B52 bombers live!
It’s also the home to the Rev. Neck rock’n'roller, Bruce Brookshire, who fronted a local home grown band called Roundhouse. The original line-up featured the aforementioned Brookshire on guitar/vocals, Bruce’s brother Bob on keyboards, Charles Glover (lead vocals, later to join Ram Jam of Black Betty fame!), John Samuelson (bass) and drummer George Woods, whose Harley Davidson was to feature on the sleeve of the Doc Holliday album Rides Again… Solid touring of the southern states during the mid-1970s helped Brookshire and the band hone down their unique southern sound.
Brookshire, on a crackly line from Warner Robins, Georgia, fondly recalls those early days:
”Looking back now, Roundhouse was a good time. We were young, hungry and keen. Southern rock was becoming immensely popular in the States, and we came along just at the right time. We were approached by Molly Hatchet’s manager, Pat Armstrong, who we had known since our college days in Macon, Georgia. He was dying to manage us, as he had built up a roster of southern bands. But we felt that by going with him we would always be playing second-fiddle to his main band, Hatchet. We got to know the guys from Nantucket (who were not in the clutches of Armstrong) quite well, and they in turn introduced us to their manager, Bill Cain. He then did some serious wheelin’ and dealin’ and, after several showcase gigs, got us signed to A&M. Not surprisingly, he became our manager.”
Now Roundhouse had to convince the powers-that-be that they were not gonna sound anything like labelmates .38 Special, who leaned towards a softer, more AOR-oriented southern sound. Brookshire and co. were going for a guitar-driven style with gruffer vocals. But the folk at A&M had a more immediate problem to deal with, as another band called Roundhouse were claiming rights to the name, and couldn’t be bought off. So the band had to find a new moniker – and quick.
A local radio station ran a competition airing a demo version of Keep On Running, asking listeners to choose a name for the band from a handful that had been specially selected. Doc Holliday won by a (gator) country mile, although I did quite like one of the other candidates: C.S.A (Confederate States of America). But going with that name would more than likely have upset other states in the grand ol’ U.S. of A!
Now armed with their new nomenclature, Doc Holliday (after the notorious gunslinger who also hailed from Georgia) had to find a producer for their debut album. The Docs’ mangager Bill Cain had just worked with Tom Allom, who produced Nantucket, doing a sterling job on their third outing A Long Way To The Top. The combination of Allom and Doc Holliday was to be a match made in heaven. After all, Allom was a master at working with duelling guitar attacks. You only had to listen to his past work on the Judas Priest repertoire for evidence of this.
Doc Holliday was recorded during the autumn of 1980, at the amusingly named Bee Jay Studios in Orlando, Florida. Released in 1981 the album went straight into the Billboard Top 30. If you like your southern rock to be loud, with multi-layered chicken-scratch guitar solos topped off with a deep gravlley voice that sounds like it’s had more than its fair share of Jack Daniel’s, then this is the band for you. Just listen to opener Ain’t No Fool. Allom’s done a grand job keeping a raw, almost live feel to the guitars as they climb higher and higher up the fretboard. Meanwhile, the Docs’ love of bourbon is especially evident on Moonshine Runner, where Bruce snarls: ‘I make a whole lot of money, selling home made whiskey, running from the law.’ You’ll love the corny train-horn effects that accompany the biting guitar solos as the song reaches its climax, giving the listener the idea that Bruce and co. are on the run from the law with their moonshine whiskey in tow.
There’s a nod to fellow southerners Lynyrd Skynyrd on Keep On Running, while Never Another Night has an almost Thin Lizzy feel to it. And the British theme continues on Somebody Help Me, with some Deep Purple-inspired Hammond organ courtesy of Eddie Stone. I should add here that if you don’t already own this classic album then do buy the version that is available on Rock Candy Records, as you’ll benefit by having the pleasure of listening to a remastered sound. There’s also the added bonus of two unreleased Roundhouse demos, namely Bad Love – a very raw cut that takes the best of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet and Blackfoot and rolls it into one. And the other unreleased song is the whiskey-fuelled high of Crazy. ‘I like good whiskey from the hills of Tennessee’ – don’t we all! Another chicken-scratch delight.
Hot on the heels of Doc Holliday came the even more impressive Doc Holliday Rides Again… Once again it was recorded at the Bee Jay Studios, but produced this time by David Anderle. Although an earlier version of Rides Again… was done with Tom Allom, but mysteriously rejected by A&M. So what exactly was wrong with the original? Bruce Brookshire picks up the story…
”Yeah, it was really odd. We loved the mix Tom had done, but sadly Jerry Moss, the head dude at A&M, had a crappy old reel-to-reel tape machine, and the album sounded very muddy on his system. He said he couldn’t hear the guitars, and that the album needed a serious remix. So enter David Anderle. David worked as an in-house producer at A&M, and had a pretty impressive CV, having worked with such established acts as Kris Kristofferson and The Ozark Mountain Daredevils.
“I wasn’t sure about him at the beginning, but we actually ended up getting on real well. He wasn’t what you would call a hands-on producer, he was more a vibe kinda guy. He even left in Tom’s original mixes of Don’t Go Talkin’ and Don’t Stop Loving Me. We did record two or three new songs with David, and we did a totally different version of Lonesome Guitar because A&M hated the original. I later released the original version on our album A Better Road (2001); it has a completely different ending, a sorta Charlie Daniels Band feel to it, and to this day I still prefer this version.”
Rides Again… easily outsold the first album and truly put Doc Holliday on the southern map. I seem to recall writing back in 1986 in Kerrang! that southern rock, and Doc Holliday in particular, was music from the heart, from the land, from the soul, and this was very much the case here. Lonesome Guitar, with its tender slow build, twiddly guitars and sensitive vocals, is easily up there with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird as one of THE great southern rock tracks of all time. Elsewhere, there’s the boogified Last Ride complete with natty motorbike effects, and if it’s humour you crave then look no further than Doin’ (It Again) as Bruce Brookshire snarls, ‘I like to drink a little whiskey, mostly all of the time’ over some great chicken-scratch geetar. Once again, I can highly recommend you purchase the Rock Candy version. Mainly again for the two bonus cover versions of Procol Harum’s Whiskey Train and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Travelin’ Band that were recorded when the band were a tad light on original material.
Doc Holliday spent most of 1981/’82 on the road averaging between 250 to 300 gigs each year, supporting everyone from Black Sabbath to The Outlaws. But the music scene was constantly changing and evolving. Bands like Culture Club and A Flock Of Seagulls were the new hip thing in the US, and in 1982 the folk at A&M made the strange decision to pair Doc Holliday with renowned Queen producer Mack to try and alter their southern sound and make them more hip. Modern Medicine, the band’s third album, was recorded at the Musicland Studios, Munich. It was a brave gamble that sadly backfired.
The songs were okay, but the poppy production didn’t do the Docs any favours. It was the beginning of the end.
”It got to the point in America where getting airplay on radio was crucial and we couldn’t get arrested with our music, and the charts back then were full of claptrap like Culture Club and Cyndi Lauper. The album was deliberately produced with a poppy edge to it. It was an experiment that sadly failed, and consequently the album didn’t go platinum or gold, it went plywood! We all got very disillusioned and decided to split up.”
After disbanding in 1983 Bruce Brookshire and the rest of Doc Holliday took time out before trying to cash in on the new wave scene that was sweeping America at the time. With confederate rock getting little airplay, Bruce had to move with the times and formed a new wave band.
”The band were called The Next. We formed from the ashes of Doc Holliday with our friend Charles Glover. So it was me (guitar/vocals), Eddie Stone (keyboards), John Samuelson (bass), Charles Glover (lead vocals) and Jamie Deckard (drums). Soundwise it was 80s funk with drum machines and live electric drums, heavy synth and bass rounded off with some bluesy guitar. We wanted to be a combination of The Bar Kays, Gap Band, Billy Idol and BB King, all rolled into one.
“We recorded constantly in little studios wherever we could. I reckon we had about three albums’ worth of material in the can. We played mostly originals that no one had ever heard. So it was a hard road to go down. We played shows wherever we could for as little as $35 a night, in some real dives. We ended up sleeping on the floor of this little flat, ate a lot of rice, and wondered why we weren’t famous anymore. I guess we lived like that for a couple of years. It was horrible.”
Thankfully this grim period of doom and gloom was given a much-needed lift when Bill Cain got on the phone to Bruce with the surprising news that a label in England were keen to sign Doc Holliday (as a southern band, no less). That label were Metal Masters, who put the band into CMC Studios, Zebulon, North Carolina to record their fourth studio album, Danger Zone.
And this is where I first met Doc Holliday. Metal Masters shipped me out to North Carolina to cover the story for Kerrang!. And like Geoff Barton in his recent excellent feature on Jim Dandy, I too had a nightmare journey to the United States.
It was the early days of Virgin Atlantic, when they only had a couple of 747s in their fleet. I was at Gatwick Airport, staring out of a huge plate-glass window, looking at a gang of mechanics working frantically around one of the engines. The plane was seriously delayed. Thankfully, The Ramones, who had a gig in Philadelphia the next day, kept us entertained with an acoustic set in the departure lounge!
The flight finally took off two hours late. The pilot tried to make up time, but then flew straight into a heavy rain storm over New York, and had to re-route to Boston to refuel. By the time we finally landed at JFK Airport it was 2am, local time. I had, of course, missed my connecting flight to Raleigh, North Carolina. And, after an hour of complaining to Virgin Atlantic, a mini bus turned up and took our group of 10 or so disgruntled Brits to a seedy motel in darkest Newark, New Jersey. This had a crackling neon light the flashed ‘Vacancy’ on and off as the heavy rain teemed down. It was just like the Bates Motel in Pyscho!
”Ah, Virgin Atlantic, my favourite customers,” said this strange voice with a deep, heavy New Jersey accent, like it was a regular occurrence. We were each given a credit card key and hammer to smash it into the slot, as they didn’t work so well in the rain! Once I turned the light on, I was greeted by the sight of a thousand cockroaches!. How am I gonna get any kip with this lot crawling all over me? There was only one thing for it – sit in the Hot Jacuzzi for four hours! I later found out my fellow travellers had also opted for the hot tub option!
The next day I got back to JFK at 7am and found the check-in desk for Piedmont Airlines who, unlike Virgin Atlantic, were very sympathetic and put me on the first flight to Raleigh-Durham. I was beginning to wonder if the band would even bother to show up at the airport as I had no way of contacting them – after all this was pre-mobile phones! Luckily Brookshire and Samuelson had heard about the severe weather in New York and worked out which plane I was likely to be on.
Introductions and 10-gallon-hat-tipping out of the way, I hopped into the back of their pick-up truck and we headed straight to the CMC recording studios. Once inside, the band pulled the first of many stunts that were top occur over the next few days. Bruce asked me to get a beer from the ice cooler which was sealed. I lifted the lid and out jumped a terrified, but very angry possum – a giant white rodent that snapped angrily at me as it flew past. Bruce later told me that possums are basically very thick (as in stupid) creatures that get run over for a living on the highways and byways of the southern states – by pretending to be dead!
Once I’d recovered from the possum incident I returned to the beer cooler, looked inside to make sure no snakes or other nasties had been planted, grabbed a beer and sat down on a bumpy, broken spring sofa to listen to a few mixed tracks from Danger Zone. The giant speakers rattled into life as powerchords from Ready To Burn came blasting forth. The Docs were back on form; it was as if that nasty mistake that was Modern Medicine never happened. Red Neck Rock ‘N’ Roll Band followed, and hearing this song in the Docs’ backyard felt so right. You could appreciate where all this Southern inspiration came from.
But I wanted to see the band live. As luck would have it, the Docs were playing at The Attic in Greenville, North Carolina. So once again we all piled into the pick-up truck and headed for Greenville. Bruce then produced a bottle of Moonshine (Runner) Whiskey from a brown bag. This is where I found out that Doc Holliday drank hard and partied even harder. To be totally honest, I don’t remember too much about the gig itself as I was hammered. But I do have a blurred recollection of playing air guitar to Lonesome Guitar and then waking up the next morning in the back of the pick-up truck with a pounding head and trying to force down a foul-tasting green liquid, which I later found out was an energy drink called Gatorade. I asked Bruce if he remembered the incident – he sure did:
”Gatorade seemed like a good idea at the time, due to the dehydration of heavy drinking… our band were always best friends with the bands on the outlaw fringes of the southern rock scene like Grinderswitch, Nantucket. We ran into Freddy Fender (country rocker) and partied like wild with his guys. We did a show with Stevie Ray Vaughan in the early days, and he went into the back of his bus and wouldn’t come out… his bass player and drummer were good people.
“When we toured with Molly Hatchet down in Louisiana, they had to get their road manager to escort us off of their bus; we were too rowdy for them at the time. They were good guys, just seemed to be working too hard. Touring with Sabbath was very cool. Ronnie Dio would always encourage us to do our best and keep on rocking through the good times and the bad. April Wine were a very strong rock band; most people don’t know how good they really were. Their drummer Jerry Mercer got a cowboy hat somewhere out west that he would wear when we partied together.
“Loverboy were shocked at our behaviour. They kind of looked on in disbelief, but that was strong package: April Wine, Loverboy and Doc Holliday. We had a great tour of Germany with UFO and Quiet Riot. Whoever had to go on and follow us, after our set ended with all guns blazing Lonesome Guitar, well they were unfortunately placed in any show’s line-up.”
Any mention of drink had Bruce harking back to the good ol’ days. I remember the rest of the above trip looking out the wrong of a whiskey bottle! God, I hadn’t drunk this much alcohol since going out on the road with Metallica and Armored Saint in 1985! I had to escape this alcoholic hell, and headed to Atlanta, Georgia to hook up with .38 Special guitarist Jeff Carlisi (later to guest on the Borderline project – see below) for another southern rock Kerrang! interview. Thankfully, the booze-ometer went down from bourbon to beer – rest at last! Needless to say the Docs finally tracked me down in Atlanta… ahhh!
The Doc Holliday story took another twist toward the end of the 80s when the band suddenly found themselves more popular in Europe than in their native homeland. Doc Holliday were massive in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway and Finland. What was it like playing to European audiences instead of the usual rowdy southern rednecks?
“I think being an American band in Europe is like being a British band in the States. There is a mystique because we are doing something so specific to our part of the world, the south. In Europe you only find copies. But it’s the same for European bands; no US band can be The Beatles or Coldplay. Metal tends to blur the line a little, but Judas Priest are an English band. Sabbath are an English band. Sadly, more often than not we seem to come up with Ratt or Dokken.”
The mixing of different cultures was to rub off on Bruce in a serious way. In 1989, whilst touring Germany with Doc Holliday, Bruce ran into Georg Bayer, frontman of legendary German southern rockers Lizard. The two were to become confederate buddies. Bayer was looking for someone to produce his upcoming album Rock & Roll Refugees. Brookshire got the gig. The end result, released in 1991, was an entertaining slice of southern rock, but with a very comical German lilt to it. Well, that’s my opinion. Bruce begs to differ.
“I first met Georg on our 1989 European tour in Germany. He was my brother and my best friend. Sadly, he passed away a year ago. Their first LP was great to record and produce. No, it’s not funny, it’s just southern rock sung with a German accent. It’s damn honest, I can assure you!”
The duo’s next project was Borderline, which started in 1993 and featured, among others, former Whitesnake guitarists Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody! How the hell did Bruce get these two ol’ codgers in the band?
“Well, Georg knew a lot of people from his work as a German TV producer. Jon Lord, Chris Thompson, Ray Davies, Micky, Bernie and a lot of others. We recorded the album in Stuttgart at a great studio overlooking the city. And the list of folk who guested on the album is endless. Daniel Bud Ford and and Danny ‘Cadillac’ Lastinger, the Doc Holliday rhythm section, did bass and drums, respectivrly. I played a bit of guitar.
“It was an honour to record Bernie and Micky. Bernie played Peter Green’s guitar on a track and also sang lead on a tune. I was very happy with it at the time. Rob Walker, my friend from the band Stillwater, was in Germany and came and played guitar as well. A rock magazine in Spain did a review of that project that said Rob played the ‘best rock and roll guitar solo of all time’ on one tune! We’d known Jeff Carlisi from being on the same label (A&M) and also just being southern musicians, so we got him to play some pretty nice guitar.
“But we never played live. Georg put together his current band Lizard after that, they are great, a world-class band! I would put them up against any US southern rock band anytime.”
The 1990s was a period of sproradic activity for Doc Holliday. More European tours with the occasional album release. Best of these records is 1993′s Son Of A Morning Star and 1996′s Legacy.
Brookshire, meanwhile, had started penning original acoustic Christian music. His interest in the Good Lord became more serious when his mother passed away in 1990. His first Christian solo album, Damascus Road, was released to critical acclaim in 2001. He toured the album with band members Ford and Lastinger, playing shows at churches both in Europe and America.
In 2006, Doc Holliday celebrated their 25th anniversary with yet another Euro trek. The band recorded over 100 songs live and the end result was 25 Absolutely Live which was finally released in 2008 through Hamburg label Phoenix Records.
“Basically what the audience heard is essentially what you get on the finished CD. I’m proud to say the band didn’t do any overdubs at all.”
And that pretty much brings us bang up to date in the Doc Holliday story. I’ll let Bruce have the final word about his future plans.
“We have a couple of Doc Holliday shows booked for 2011, when we are supposed to be playing with Saxon at a festival in Sweden. Before that I would like to come over to Europe and play an acoustic set, or if someone is willing to put us on a bill, I would like to come over with Doc Holliday and play anywhere. Flying is so cheap now we can come over for a couple of euros!”
Right, time for some serious southern rock:
Here’s Last Ride.
The Docs’ version of Travelin’ Band.
You gotta have some Lonesome Guitar.
Finally, Song For The Outlaw.
And here are some websites to check out:
Tags: 38 Special, A Flock Of Seagulls, April Wine, Armored Saint, Atlanta Rhythm Section, BB King, Bernie Marsden, Billy Idol, Black Sabbath, Blackfoot, Bob Brookshire, Bruce brookshire, Charles Glover, Charlie Daniels Band, Chris Thompson, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Culture Club, Cyndi Lauper, Daniel Bud Ford, Danny 'Cadillac' Lastinger, Deep Purple, Doc Holliday, Dokken, Eddie Stone, Freddy fender, Gap Band, Georg Bayer, George Woods, Jamie Deckard, Jeff Carlisi, Jerry Mercer, Jim Dandy, John Samuelson, Join Lord, Judas Priest, Kris Kristofferson, Lizard, Loverboy, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Metallica, Micky Moody, Molly Hatchet, Nantucket, Peter green, Procol Harum, Queen, Quiet Riot, Ram Jam, Ratt, Ray Davies, Rob Walker, Ronnie James Dio, Roundhouse, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Stillwater, The Allman Brothers, The Bar Kays, The Next, The Outlaws, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Thin Lizzy, UFO, Whitesnake