I began my career with Mercury Racing in 1988 as a Product Support Specialist. I traveled throughout the country supporting stock outboard and Formula 1 tunnel boat racing.
St. Louis was the Indy 500 of outboard tunnel boat racing. Racers and fans from around the world would converge on George Winter Park to watch hometown favorites, the Seebold’s, defend their turf. I was working the parts truck one year when Mike Butler (Race Sales Manager at the time) was talking with an older gentleman about tunnel boat races from days gone by and variety of other topics. Mike then introduced me to the gentleman. He was WS Holland, Johnny Cash’s drummer. I had to step back and process who I had just met. I couldn’t believe it! I’m a music lover and drummer as well. The chance of meeting someone like WS at a boat race was very cool and as I would find out later, more than a fluke encounter.
I was impressed at how humble and down to earth this man was. It’s been over 20 years since WS and I have spoken in depth. My impression hasn’t changed.
WS grew up with Carl Perkins and his brother Jay and Clayton in Bemis, TN. He would go to their concerts and, once in a while, assist the band in keeping time by slapping the side of Clayton’s stand up bass. “It was on a Saturday evening in 1955 when Carl approached me with an offer to play drums for an audition the band had at Sun Records the following Thursday. I told him I didn’t own a set of drums let alone know how to play them. I borrowed a set and we ended up getting the record contract,” WS said. “I later found out the real reason Carl asked me to go to the audition was because I owned a Cadillac and he wanted to make an impression with Sam Phillips and the people at Sun Records,” WS said with a chuckle.
Their first recording was a song called Movie Magg. They would get their big break in 1956 after recording Carl’s massive hit song, Blue Suede Shoes. WS went on to record with Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. He got a call from Johnny Cash in 1960 to join him in what was to be a two week tour of the East Coast. They opened at the Atlantic City Theater and never looked back. WS earned the nickname “Fluke” for his unique entry into the music industry and legendary career behind the Man in Black.
So what does a famous drummer do to relax? Why race boats, of course. WS’s passion for boats started at an early age. He grew up on the Tennessee River in Saltillo, Tennessee. His father, a farmer, built a boat to move machinery across the river. It was powered by a Ford Model A car engine. “My friends and I would gather water from the river to keep the engine cool, said WS. “My first boat was made out of two pieces of plywood and powered by a Mercury Hurricane 10 outboard. I still own the motor – and the owners manual to go with it.” WS said.
The first thing WS would do when coming off tour was gather up the family and head for the water. “My goal was to have the fastest boat on the water,” said WS. “In 1957, I went for a ride in the fastest pleasure boat of its time; an AristoCraft powered by a 60 h.p. Mercury Mark 75 outboard. That boat topped out to whopping 41 mph!,” WS exclaimed. His need for speed was enhanced once again in ’63 when he first experienced the Merc 1000, the worlds first 100 h.p outboard. “It was the first black Mercury mounted on a Commando U2 hull. That thing was really fast -topping out at 62 mph!,” said WS.
Now he was hooked. He had to race. His first race was Portsmouth, Ohio – 1969. His ride was a Glastron Carlson tunnel with the Mercury 1250 Super B.P. race outboard. He has several race wins and championships to his name. And like most, he has also had his share of losses and crashes. He cherishes all of it. Billy Seebold, Reggie Fountain, Earl Bentz, Benny Robertson and Kenny Kitson are a few names WS referenced as lifelong friends in his boating family. WS promises there will be plenty of his boat racing featured in The Father of Drums, a video documentary on his 60 year drumming career.
WS feels blessed to have had such enjoyment and success in his passion for playing music and racing boats. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to meet The Father of Drums and share our common interests.