Johnny Cash’s Drummer W.S. “Fluke” Holland Talks to Rocking God’s House
W.S. “Fluke” Holland laid the ground work for many time keepers: he was a pioneer from the Sun Records revolution out of Memphis, Tennessee; he performed with the likes of Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and his mainstay — and what he is most noted for — the The Tennessee Three, the backing band for the late great Johnny Cash. In my interview with him, “Fluke” shared some stories about his drumming experiences and about Cash that were like gold to my ears: How long have you been playing drums? In 2014, I will have been playing drums for 60 years! We are having an event here in Jackson, Tennessee, my hometown, [to celebrate 60 years] and we have Marty Stuart and Larry Gatlin confirmed to play so far. [Details on Fluke’s website now show an August date for the special concert event.]< How did you get started playing drums with Johnny Cash and The Tennessee Three? I joined the Johnny Cash band in 1960, but I started playing professionally in 1954 with Carl Perkins on Sun Records; with him I recorded “Blue Suede Shoes.” I had met Johnny Cash and toured with him during this time, not just in his band, but in “package” shows where lots of entertainers were on the same bill to perform. In 1960, Johnny Cash decided he wanted to have a drummer in his band. So he called me to go with him for two weeks, and we played together for over forty years! How did you get the nickname “Fluke”? I worked at a gas filling station. I started using the word “Fluke” to describe cars I saw and other things I would comment on. Instead of, “Hey, look at the car,” I’d say, “Hey, look at that fluke.” The gas station owner started calling me “Fluke,” and the name stuck. Can you tell me an interesting story about Johnny Cash? Johnny decide he wanted to record the song “Ring of Fire.” His wife June Carter Cash wrote the song, and her sister Anita Carter had previously recorded it and had done a beautiful rendition of it. When we went into the studio to record it, Johnny told the producer he had a dream the night before that the song had the sound of “Spanish” trumpets in it, and he wanted to find a Spanish horn section to record with. The producer asked Johnny Cash what he had been smoking to come up with that idea. But Johnny was set on the idea, and we brought a horn section in, and our version of “Ring Of Fire” became one of the most popular songs of our entire career. Why do you think Johnny Cash became so popular and is still so relevant after all these years? It’s real simple: it’s all because he had a really great drummer! How did Johnny Cash proclaim his faith? I know at one time one of his brothers wanted to be a preacher. Johnny as well as all of us had a deep affection for the Lord. We always kept and played Gospel songs and hymnals in our performances. Johnny’s song [“Man in Black”] tells the reason why he always wears black as a testimony to his faith and the love of Jesus.
It was amazing to speak with the man who recorded the original “Blue Suede Shoes” in 1955 with Carl Perkins before it landed in the hands of Elvis Presley — before Cash got a hold of him, of course. Johnny Cash once said to him, “I want you to be my drummer for every show as long as I am in the business.” Holland fulfilled Cash’s request, and then some: “I was asked to go out for two weeks, and performed with Johnny Cash for over 40 years!” Holland said with a heartfelt grin.Fluke also performed with the “Million Dollar Quartet”: a jam session at Sun Records with Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. Ringo Starr of the Beatles named W.S. “Fluke” Holland as one of the major influences on his career. “Fluke” is the genuine article, a drummer who relied on raw, natural talent that would catapult him onto stages across the world in one of the most legendary bands in history.