John Turner Samuelson's interview
Words & Photo John Molet - December 2003



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 influences....
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 stuff.

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 it all!

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.
Best regards,John

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 good work!
John Turner Samuelson

 

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