John Turner Samuelson
Hi John, as I recently told you, here are some
questions for your interview for the website "Road to Jacksonville".
But first, let me thank you for the great performance you and your buddies
from the Doc Holliday band did at the "Spirit of 66" in Belgium. With
our friends of "Bands of Dixie", we made the trip to Belgium and we've
been really pleased, we had such a wonderful time. We're more fans than
journalists but with a few friends we try to do our best to let this
great music live for ever in France. We consider Doc Holliday as one
of the most influent bands in the little world of southern rock. And
as a founding member of this band, with Bruce, we wanted to ask you
a few things.
Can you tell us the story of the band ? How it's been created ? The
I actually joined the band thirty years ago. We played for many years
under the name Roundhouse before we got our first record deal with A&M
records in 1979 and changed the name to Doc Holliday.
To understand our influences you can just look at middle Georgia at
that time when we were starting out, hanging out in Macon with all the
great Capricorn acts, the Allman Brothers, Charlie Daniels and Marshall
Tucker, etc. Capricorn was famous for Southern rock, but there was also
an element of soul, like with Otis Redding, James Brown and Little Richard,
and Southern rock has a certain amount of soul in it that you wonít
find in more mainstream rock. But we were also huge Beatles fans and
loved everything from Bob Marley to the California bands, like Quicksilver
Messenger Service and old Fleetwood Mac, whatever we thought was cool.
We didnít limit ourselves. For every song we ever recorded there are
a hundred songs sitting in a box somewhere that were never released,
and youíd be surprised at some of it! We have written country songs
and dance-oriented music, some very, very heavy rock and all sorts of
During the early years, you were playing the bass guitar. What decided
you to switch to the guitar ? Who were your first influences on bass
and guitar ?
I learned to play bass guitar the year I was fifteen in the Baptist
church. At that time I owned a set of drums and one of the deacons in
the church wanted his son to play drums with the youth choir, so they
asked me to join the band and loaned me a bass so that they could use
my drums! I played trombone for many years so it was easy for me to
read the music, and I stuck with it. I had already been playing guitar
since I was twelve, so it was a snap.
I can remember slowing my record player down from 33 & 1/3 to 16 RPM
so that I could try and figure out what Hendrix was playing! Honestly
I like it all. What I look for in music is a certain art quality rather
than a certain genre. Outside of rock for instance, I love all the old
Broadway musicals. My mother was a huge fan of big band swing music
and I love that too. I still have her record collection, Stardust by
everyone who ever recorded it (it was her favorite song!). As a kid
I played big band and orchestra, entering college second chair trombone.
As a bass player I was influenced by McCartney, but who wasnít? I have
always appreciated well constructed bass lines, the kind that can make
a song, and you donít even realize that is what makes it move like that.
Guys like Cliff Williams with ACDC and Aerosmithís Tom Hamilton; they
really get the job done! I was very influenced by Phil Lynott, but not
just as a bass player, more as a songwriter. I wrote some lyrics for
a Doc song that was never released, although we played it on tour in
Ď83, called Gangbusters. If you affect a Phil Lynott imitation in your
voice when you sing that song, it sounds so much like him itís almost
embarrassing! I just loved him that much. I got to meet Philís mother,
Philomena Lynott year before last at the Sweden Rock festival where
she introduced Doc Holliday for our set. When I talked to her before
the show I was very happy to tell her how much her son and his music
has meant to me.
As a guitar player Iím a real mutt, a mixed breed. Iíll be finger picking
one minute and yank out some knee-jerk, straight-from-the-gut southern
boogie the next. Honestly, itís hard to say where I got all this stuff.
As young men hanging out in middle Georgia we were around some very
fine players. When I moved from Atlanta to Macon in í72, what I found
was a higher standard for musicians. My friends were back in Atlanta
experimenting with jazz and being weird, and I got down to Macon where
music was played from the gut and not thought of like mathematics. The
entire Macon scene at that time was amazing, the Brothers, Tucker, Wet
Willie, Bonnie Bramblett, Sea Level, tons and tons of bands, all of
them great, and we were soaked in that great southern music. We learned
most of what we know about music, and life too, during those years.
What was the work like when you were writing new songs ? >as it a
band effort of just Bruce coming with riffs, melodies and arrangements
Bruce is the principal songwriter of the band, however we have all made
contributions in this category along the way. Ed and I both have contributed
many lyrics and ideas. Bruce would be working on a new song and tap
out a rhythm with his pencil and say: ďI need a line like thisĒ. Invariably
Ed or I would come up with some words that fit right in his rhythm and
theme for the song, even some whole verses. In this manner I have lyrics
in many, many of the Doc songs. There were a couple of Doc songs that
I wrote all the lyrics to (or most of them), Never Another Night and
Angels In Waiting (along with Gangbusters and several others that were
never released), and we all throw in ideas musically. Itís Bruceís vision
primarily, but it is still a band in the sense that we all contribute
to the whole.
Your first two albums ("First" and "Rides again") are just fabulous.
SOuthern rock fans really love those ones. As many southern rock bands,
your style evolved to something a bit different. Who wanted this evolution
? How did it mature ? Did you have the support of your record label
You know, what exactly is Southern Rock? To me, it is rock music being
played by people who are from the South. Here in the South we have a
different way of looking at things, and this is reflected in the music
we play. I think Southern rock has more soul, more heart. If you listen
closely, you can hear Dwayne Allmanís slide guitar crying, the same
tears you hear in Hank Williamsí songs. We have never worried about
labels such as ďSouthern rockĒ, or any label, and always just wanted
to be who we are and to make whatever music we liked. This has been
a problem for managers and record companies in the past, but we just
keep writing and playing what we like.
To you, which moments are the greatest ones, and worst ones, for
the Doc Holliday band ?
I remember so many great moments, thousands of them, and I donít remember
the worst ones. Life is too short, and in the long run the good far
outweighs the bad. I remember each victory like it was yesterday, our
first record contract, Madison Square Garden with Black Sabbath, our
first visit to Europe in 1982, the list goes on. Thatís a good one though,
when we played the Garden with Sabbath. Everyone said that the New York
crowd at that time in 1983 would not take kindly to us, being southern
rock guys and all, and when we took the stage you never saw so many
rebel flags in your life! I will always remember Ronnie James Dio from
that tour, what a gentleman and consummate musician he is. I wonít forget
that New York crowd either!
We've talked a lot of musicians about the southern rock "label" (bad
conotation ...). What does southern rock means to you ? Do you believe
it became underground, a trademark or something else ?
I suppose you donít really have to be from the south of U.S.A. in order
to play Southern rock. Southern rock has a certain spirit. Listen to
some old delta blues, some old R&B, Memphis and Muscle Shoals, some
country music, and sprinkle in some of your Les Paul guitar through
your Marshall. Dig down deep and remember what your parents taught you
about life and dignity, remember where you were born and what is important,
and then play with all your heart. Is it underground? A trademark? I
am lucky to be one of the ones who make the music, and I admire the
many writers and historians for tackling the hard job of categorizing
In France, having the dixie flag on stage is not always really well
accpeted (the french band Calibre 12 had troubles with some clubs owners).
Did you have that kind of problems when you play here in Europe ? What
do you think of people misunderstanding what the flag means to some
other people ?
I think the world has become too sensitive. During this last tour, I
wore a shirt made from a rebel flag at the show in Hamburg. Thatís what
I think about it! Tell those Calibre 12 guys to hang in there, ok!?
Throughout your career, you certainly crossed the path of mythical
bands such as Skynyrd, Hatchet, Allman...Which ones do you prefer ?
Do you feel real close to these bands ? What do you think of the new
bands coming out these days ? Do you think they care take over the challenge
of making this music live ?
In the world of Southern rock, we have always been sort of the ďbad
boys.Ē We were always a little bit too heavy for the traditional guys
and a little too edgy for the rednecks. I know and love all of these
bands, along with many others such as Blackfoot, Grinderswitch, Charlie
Daniels, Wet Willie. I loved the Allman Brothers, still do. I loved
Skynard and still do. I thought Toy Caldwell was one of the finest players
ever, and Danny Joe with Hatchet was just plain magic! I definitely
feel a closeness to these bands and I know I am proud to be a part of
this community, of this legacy! I love them all!
I like many bands coming out these days. Music moves in cycles, and
Southern rock will never die. There will always be some young man or
woman with a strong heart who wants to embrace this style of music.
Southern rock is not frivolous, but rather is more ďmeaty,Ē there is
substance to it. It will never die.
Is it difficult for bands such as DOc Holliday to live only by the
music in the states ?
Itís not hard living only by the music, and it beats digging ditches!
We ainít rich or nothiní either, weíre just working musicians.
It seems southern rock bands are real close to Germany. Some bands
even reord over there. Do you have an idea why ?
God bless the Germans and their love and support of Southern rock! I
think the whole thing is epitomized in the German Southern rock band
Lizard, and embodied in George Beyer, Lizardís singer and one of our
best friends. I can see a connection between Southern rednecks and German
rednecks. Neither one of us would ever watch a guitar player wearing
a tutu! As for recording, Germans have always been very good at the
technical side of it. The first Disco records were created there, along
with countless hit productions like Queen and Zep.
We heard Rick Skelton was playing in a new band. Did you hear his
new band ? Are you still in contact with him ?
I donít get to see Ric often enough, but the last time I saw him a couple
of years ago he hadnít changed a bit! We hung out in a hotel room like
the old days, and he floored us with some killer acoustic guitar and
singing! I hear his new band is really great! Rica Duane is a fantastic
guitar player and singer, as well as a wonderful human being. When there
is one, buy the record!
Doc Holliday just released a great album "Good time music". We really
think it's the best album since "First" and "Rides again". Can you tell
us how it was born ? how the songs were written and recorded and so
Hereís a story about one of the songs. Sometimes we play an old Deep
Purple instrumental song during our sound check. It wasnít released
in the U.S. and itís called Angel Eyes, just something we can jam on
while they set the sound for all the instruments. After so many years
of jamming around on this song, Bruce used the riff for inspiration
for one of the songs on the new CD, Black Cat. Eddie and I went to see
Deep Purple during a night off in Stuttgart, and we talked to Steve
Morse after the show. We knew Steve from when we used to open for the
Dixie Dreggs a long time ago in North Carolina (he is the best guitar
player in the world!). I was happy to lay a copy of the new CD on him
and tell him the story. I wanted them to know that it was in our minds
more of a tribute. I didnít want them to hear it and think:ďHey, that
sounds like our riff!Ē
When you write a new songs, do you have in mind the fans always hope
new songs to sound a bit like "Ain't no fool", "Southern man", "Doin'
it again", "Last ride", "Lonesome guitar", "Song for the outlaw" ?
You canít really control that. You can think: ďOK, Iím going to write
a new Lonesome Guitar or Southern Man, or Hey JudeĒ for that matter!
But when it comes down to it, you just write with whatever inspiration
you can find. God is much more in control of that than we are! We do
think about what the fans want to hear, and we do hope they like the
new stuff, but we donít try and write like that too deliberately, it
just canít be done.
With this new album released, do you think the band is back on the
road ? Do we have any chance to get some video footages or a dvd ?
Yes, weíre back on the road. We did a short run to Europe this winter,
but weíll be coming back next spring I believe, with many new places
on the schedule. We recorded a DVD in Nierenberg during the last tour,
but I donít know if it will be released.
You never came to France. Do you know the reason why ?
We once did a one-hour interview at a rock radio station in Paris, but
we have never played in France. We have always wanted to play there,
so letís hope this next time we come over we can do some France shows!
I have no idea really why this has never happened so far.
Last, but traditional question, if you had to spend the rest of your
life on a desert island, which five albums would you take with you ?
I canít choose! Iím sure I would drown trying to get to the mainland
where I could get some more music! Abbey Road, Blonde on Blonde, Led
Zeppelin II, Street Survivors, and Brothers at the Fillmore. Maybe,
Sea Level (self-titled first album), Searchiní For a Rainbow, Pickiní
Up the Pieces (Poco), Wet Willie II, and Idlewild South?
Donít ask me this! Itís like choosing between children!!
Thanks a lot John for your time and for answering theses questions.
If you wanna add something else, feel free to do so.
Thanks guys! Sorry it took me so long! Itís like a school term paper!
This thing was hard (great questions)! Love you guys, and keep up the
John Turner Samuelson