By John Katic
It’s often said in music that you have your whole life to write your first album but only a year to make your sophomore album.
That certainly wasn’t the path longtime friends Brad Whitford of Aerosmith and Ted Nugent vocalist/guitarist Derek St. Holmes took when putting together their new album, Reunion. Time and a music kinship brought these two veterans back together to pick up where they left off more than 30 years ago.
In 1981, Whitford, who had left Aerosmith, teamed up with St. Holmes to release their self-titled debut. Tracks like “Sharpshooter” and “Whisky Woman” carried on the same “stadium rock” style that made each guitarist famous with their respective bands. The album received critical acclaim, and they turned in a successful round of tour dates before returning to their “day jobs” and shelving the duo. Until now, that is.
It’s been 35 years since your first album together. What brought you guys back together?
WHITFORD: It was a simple matter of geography. Over the past 30 years, we had been living in different parts of the country. In the past few years we have been neighbors living outside of Nashville. We are always playing. We play around town and jam at home. This was the result of really reconnecting on a musical level because it was much easier for us to get together. The result is the record.
ST. HOLMES: We had a chance to start hanging out again. When we were hanging out there where guitars all over the living room and we started picking them up and playing. We came up with ideas for songs. That’s how it got started.
Can you take me back to the early Eighties? What was the impetus for you to go your separate ways?
ST. HOLMES: We did a couple major U.S. tours. At the end of the last tour in 1981, Aerosmith called Brad and asked him to come back. Within a week of that, Ted Nugent called and asked me to come back. We went back with our bands and went back on tour again. We just went our separate ways.
Did the two of your stay in touch much over the years?
ST. HOLMES: I’d see Brad when they’d come through town and I’d go see them. He’d come out and see me play. I used to drive from Annapolis, Maryland, to Atlanta and Brad was living in Charlotte. I’d call him and stop by. We’ve always had a really go rapport with each other. We really respect each other. Brad has so many great ideas that he can’t use in Aerosmith. I couldn’t use my ideas in Nugent. For some reason these guys are on a different agenda. They don’t want anyone’s input. Until you have input they can take away or borrow as their own.
Did you guys colocate to write in the same room, or were these ideas you had that didn’t fit your respective day jobs?
WHITFORD: A lot of both. We did a lot of sitting together putting this music together. When we weren’t together we would be scratching out ideas for lyrics, etc. We had a lot of fun working on it. It was a labor of love. We were into it really deeply.
ST. HOLMES: I had about three different ideas to start with and Brad had three different ideas. Things we would just jam on. Sometimes I’ll have 75 percent of the lyrics and Brad will listen to it and come up with the rest. On a couple of these songs I had nothing and Brad would grab a pad of paper and he’d come up with exactly what I was feeling.
It’s one thing for two musicians to sit together and enjoy making music together. But when someone first said, “Let’s get a band together and do this again for real,” was the thought to do live shows or was creating new material the goal from day one?
WHITFORD: It wasn’t so much a commitment, it just kept on taking more of a life of its own. The band grew one person at a time. Our bass player, Chopper Anderson, was someone we met when we first moved to this neighborhood. He was the natural choice on the bass. He helped a lot to put this material together. We got very lucky getting Troy Luccketta (Tesla) on the drums. He fit like a glove on this project and brought so much to the table. We brought in Buck Johnson (touring keyboardist for Aerosmith) on vocals and keyboards. It did not feel like work at all.
Did you have any hesitation doing a new album over just touring—based on the state of the music industry these days?
ST. HOLMES: Not really. We all know the music business sucks. We have resigned ourselves to going out, playing, having fun and in the process hopefully selling merch. I think it’s the only way you make your money. The only reason we want to make the money is to keep paying for buses, musicians and the crew. A little bit here or there for the mortgage is good. We don’t have any big plans of being megarich off of it. Those days are over. Unless you have a machine behind you like a Taylor Swift then it is a whole different ballgame. We don’t have that in our genre. I hope it changes but right now it hasn’t.
Both of you have been in bands with somewhat, shall we say, larger-than-life characters. When it was time to go back out and do some of the initial shows you did together with you two as the focal point, did you feel more pressure or was it more relaxing?
ST. HOLMES: We find it relaxing. The two of us together are dynamic enough to make it happen. We also get to turn it on a little bit more than we do in our own bands. This is ours. Brad comes on stronger and people get a chance to see him differently and the same with me. It’s not even a challenge. This is the most fun band I have ever been in.
WHITFORD: Definitely more relaxed. We don’t bring airs about us other than the music. The focus is on music and not on the personalities. It makes things a lot easier and more relaxed. The atmosphere is good times.
I could be wrong but I would assume with Aerosmith, you are a business as well as a band. This is being more a band has to make that easier.
WHITFORD: The business comes easier when the focus is on the music and we are not dealing with any bigtime personalities. This is very much starting out with a garage band. It’s a lot easier to deal with.
When you go out on the road do you expect the audience to be familiar with the first album?
WHITFORD: Not at all. The first album became kind of a cult classic with industry people. It never got out there. We are focusing what we do now on the new record and we know most people haven’t heard that yet. We have found the new music seems to be very accessible. People seem to really enjoy this music even though they have never heard it. I think we are having so much fun delivering it and the crowd can see that. It has an infectious quality.
In terms of the tour you are about to start with Whitesnake, what are you anticipating as far as a setlist?
WHITFORD: It will be primarily the new record. In the fall people didn’t know it but they liked it. We want to promote it. We think the songs are that good and they are a lot of fun to play live.
ST. HOLMES: We aren’t really sure how much time we are going to have. If we get a longer length set we will do a medley we worked up. It doesn’t take up to much time but we do two Aerosmith and two Nugent that we both wrote or played on. We really want to hammer home this new album. Most of the crowd I expect will look at us almost like a new band.
I think a lot of people might find it a little criminal if they didn’t get a taste of a little Aerosmith or Nugent.
ST. HOLMES: Criminal? [Laughs]. I think you are probably right. We are probably going to do “Sharp Shooter” from the first album.
They melodies are very strong on the record.
WHITFORD: In the case of Aerosmith I have been involved in all sorts of recordings and songs and stuff. I really feel I know what connects with people. What connects is just honesty. Honesty in the lyrics and honesty in the fact that you remember a song is a song. It is not about guitar solos and just riffs. What you really have is a song to sing. You have to have something you can grab onto. We let the songs dictate what is going to happen with our music. We don’t let anything get in the way of that.
As far as the guitar work, did you split that up or did you do more solos, Brad?
WHITFORD: That was really easy. We split it up. It was very organic. It was a matter of listening back and hearing a great lick. It didn’t matter who played it. We just went with what worked regardless of who played it.
The new material fits very nicely with the first record, although it’s perhaps a bit more mature. Was that a conscious effort?
ST. HOLMES: We just decided to make a rock record and have fun. We wanted to play and write things we wanted to play live. We didn’t even think about the first album. Occasionally when we first came back together we would put the first album on and neither one of us can believe at our ages back then that we accomplished all that. We did that in two weeks. This was a clean slate.
As far as the touring lineup, are you taking the band from the studio out with you?
WHITFORD: The only guy that will be coming in and out is Troy, due to his commitments with Tesla. We have another drummer, Sandy Gennaro, who will be sitting in when Troy can’t. But he’s adamant that he wants to be at every show he can.
I know you have dates through July with Whitesnake and Aerosmith has some South American dates in the fall. Is the rest of the year going to be centered on promoting this album?
WHITFORD: The Aerosmith schedule is pretty wide open. We are only down there for about a month. The rest of the time, for the time being, I’m going to be concentrating on this band.
Whitford/St. Holmes’ new album, Reunion, will be available June 3 worldwide. For more information, visit whitfordstholmes.com.
WHITFORD/ST. HOLMES ON TOUR
All dates with Whitesnake unless noted.
Fri 06/03/16 Dallas, TX The Bomb Factory
Sun 06/05/16 Houston, TX Revention Music Center
Mon 06/06/16 San Antonio, TX Majestic Theatre
Wed 06/08/16 Indianapolis, IN Old National Centre
Thu 06/09/16 Traverse City, MI Ground Zero (with Tom Keifer)
Sat 06/11/16 Northfield, OH Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park
Sun 06/12/16 Whitsburg, KY Appalshop Theater (Headline Show)
Tue 06/14/16 Cincinnati, OH PNC Pavilion At Riverbend
Wed 06/15/16 Huber Heights, OH Rose Music Center At The Heights
Thu 06/16/16 Pittsburgh, PA Hard Rock (Headline Show)
Fri 06/17/16 Detroit, MI Fox Theatre
Sun 06/19/16 Farifield, CT The Warehouse (Headline Show)
Mon 06/20/16 Brooklyn, NY Kings Theatre
Tue 06/21/16 Montclair, NJ The Wellmont Theater
*Wed 06/22/16 Sellersville, PA Sellersville Theater (Headline Show)
Thu 06/23/16 Hampton Beach, NH Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom
Sat 06/25/16 Boston, MA House Of Blues Boston
Sun 06/26/16 Portland, ME Maine State Pier
Tue 06/28/16 Lewiston, NY Artpark Amphitheater
Wed 06/29/16 Silver Spring, MD The Fillmore Silver Spring
Thu 06/30/16 Annapolis, MD Rams Head On Stage (Headline Show)
*Fri 07/01/16 Londonderry, NH Tupelo Music Hall (Headline Show)
Sat 07/02/16 Pawling, NY Daryl’s House (Headline Show)
Sat 07/30/16 Elgin, IL Festival Park (with Lynyrd Skynyrd)