E. Mark Windle 23 September 2021
The initial choice of rehearsal venue for The Holidays, the band formed immediately after The Tempests split, was down to bass player Gerry Dionne. As a vice president with American Motor Inns, the largest franchiser of Holiday Inns in the country at that time, Gerry’s father agreed to let them use banquet hall space to rehearse. Like Dave Butler, Gerry had come on the scene when The Tempests were on the cusp of the break up:
“Roger Branch listened to me playing conga with a friend of mine at a performance just prior to the group breaking up. The Tempests had a gig booked, backing up Eddie Floyd at Park Center. Roger wanted me to come to a rehearsal at his family’s home on Central Avenue, so I could get a feel for their brand of R&B, and frankly to see if I could keep up. When I arrived, the band was set-up, and may have already played a tune or two. I sat next to Nelson Lemmond who was voluble, obviously well educated, and seemed to be a corner stone. My bongos and conga were lost in the god-almighty din that the band cranked out in the Branch family basement. I wondered how it was we didn’t attract unwanted attention from the local gendarmes. The answer came when the senior Branch walked in and flashed his badge and service pistol. The Park Center gig came around soon enough. I played until my hands bled that night. This was my idea of fun. Roger paid me twenty-five dollars in cash out of his pocket; my first paying gig. But the next time I came to rehearsal, it was obvious there was something brewing. People were unhappy. Some of the members had thoughts of expanding the band’s repertoire. For Nelson, this was in a more pivotal deep South, down home direction. He wanted to cover artists like Muddy Waters and Bobby Bland.
The writing seemed to be on the wall for the Tempests. Mercury discontinued the Smash label in 1970, recognising a national shift in musical direction.
“Overnight, The Tempests had lost their drummer, bass player, horn player and front man to The Holidays” continues Gerry. “Van started me on a crash course in bass playing so he could switch to lead guitar. It meant having to become proficient on an instrument I had never touched before, in a matter of a few weeks. The guys were generous with me. The first few gigs with me on bass were musical train-wrecks. We played so loudly, however, no one seemed to notice, unless they happened to be members of a rival band. But the audience didn’t seem to notice – Van tried to scream out the bass notes as he played guitar, to mask what I was playing. At 120 decibels, it’s impossible to distinguish between C, D B and E! For about a week, the rest of the band thought I would have to be replaced. And then by the third or fourth gig, I finally got it. It came to me. However, at that point the Branch family had made Hazel Martin an offer he couldn’t refuse, and he went.”
With a few exceptions, The Holidays kept an R&B focus, and played primarily frat and high school venues, booked by the Char-Mac Ltd agency. David Butler’s young age was a double-edged sword. One Christmas concert at Butler’s high school was promoted via the school paper. He felt the gig might not have been booked had he not been in the band, as their market was primarily an older college student audience:
“I also recall a night club where we played in Richmond, Virginia on the same bill as Billy Joe Royal and The Royal Blue. Their bass player was the only musician I encountered on the road that was younger than me. He downed nearly an entire pitcher of beer after the show in one go. We had problems in some clubs because of my age (parochial liquor laws). Eventually, things started to go downhill. As The Holidays, we never made any recordings. I never did meet the Branch brothers either.”
“We were a pretty good band for a short while” says Gerry. “The Holidays didn’t last long as a performing entity though. It just didn’t seem to have much passion behind its existence. And we never did manage to find a viable vocal replacement for Hazel Martin.”
Shortly after The Holidays disbanded, Dave Butler was approached by the Spontanes, a Gastonia, NC based band who played across the south east. An LP release entitled The Spontanes Play Solid Soul appeared in 1966, on Hit Records, the same label as Gene Barbour and the Cavaliers I Need Love – both products of Ted Hall’s Hit Attractions. The Spontanes’ second 45, Where Did I Go Wrong appeared in 1968. The track was written by lead singer James Bates, in his mid-twenties and was an infectious mid 60s horn-led mid-tempo soulful number typical of the time.
“Yes, we often played Where Did I Go Wrong” says Butler. ”We also backed up a lot of singers like Barbara Wilson, Major Lance and Rufus Thomas. I recall one gig where we were on with General Johnson and the Chairmen of the Board. He was annoyed because we performed their hit Give Me Just A Little More Time, prior to their set. During the break between sets, the club owner took time to persuade Johnson to proceed with their performance. In hindsight I can see why he would be upset. I don’t think it was intentional, but we should have omitted that song from our set that night. It was 1970 and we began to evolve our song list from beach music hits to more contemporary music from groups like Chicago. I played with them until I graduated from high school.”
“I went off to get an education” says Butler. “I had grown up in Gastonia where The Spontanes were based. My parents lived less than a mile from Claude Bailey, where we practiced and where we kept our bus. It was all pretty heady stuff for a teenager. But unfortunately with The Spontanes it was another situation similar to The Tempests, in that the original band had broken up and several core members continued with some new blood. I gave up the axe when I went off to college. I got heavily into electronic music after graduation and set up a recording studio in my home in 1977. I’d hoped to produce new age solo instrumental albums but was never able to pull it off. I ran into James Bates about ten to fifteen years ago, playing in a club in Charlotte before I moved to Arizona. We just lost touch.”
To be continued…