Wendell Holmes, vocalist, guitarist, pianist and songwriter of the acclaimed soul/blues band The Holmes Brothers has recently been diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension and has announced his retirement from performing and touring. He plans to continue writing songs. Wendell’s brother, bassist, vocalist and songwriter Sherman Holmes will continue to perform, billed as The Sherman Holmes Project with Brooks Long. Wendell has been mentoring Long since 2013. Holmes Brothers drummer Willie “Popsy” Dixon died on January 9, 2015 of cancer.
Since forming the band in 1979, The Holmes Brothers toured the world, releasing 12 albums beginning with 1990’s In The Spirit on Rounder Records. Their most recent release is 2014’s Brotherhood on Alligator Records. The New York Times called The Holmes Brothers “deeply soulful, uplifting and timeless.”
In September 2014, The Holmes Brothers were honored with a National Endowment For The Arts National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor the United States bestows upon its folk and traditional artists.
Wendell Holmes, the man Entertainment Weekly calls “a timeless original,” was born in Christchurch, Virginia in 1943. He and his older brother Sherman were raised by their schoolteacher parents, who nurtured the boys’ early interest in music. As youngsters they listened to traditional Baptist hymns, anthems and spirituals as well as blues music by Jimmy Reed, Junior Parker and B.B. King. According to Wendell, “It was a small town, and my brother and I were about the only ones who could play anything. So we played around in all the area churches on Sundays.” The night before, though, they would play blues, soul, country and rock at their cousin’s local club, Herman Wate’s Juke Joint. “When he couldn’t get any good groups to come from Norfolk or Richmond, he’d call us in,” Wendell recalls. “That’s how we honed our sound. We used to say we’d rock ‘em on Saturday and save ‘em on Sunday.”
Once Wendell finished high school, he joined Sherman, who had already begun playing professionally in New York. The two brothers played in a few bands before forming The Sevilles in 1963. The group lasted only three years, but they often backed up touring artists like The Impressions, John Lee Hooker and Jerry Butler, gaining a wealth of experience. Sherman and Wendell met drummer Popsy Dixon, a fellow Virginian, at a New York gig in 1967. Dixon sat in with the brothers and sang two songs. “After that second song,” recalls Wendell, “Popsy was a brother.” They continued to play in a variety of Top 40 bar bands until 1979, when the three officially joined forces and formed The Holmes Brothers band.