Thee Holy Brothers are comprised of two mainstays; Johnny B Holy aka Willie Aron and Buddy Holy aka Marvin Etzioni and this pair of experienced musicians have a long history both on and off the stage; no matter who may join them.
Recently this dynamic duo has debuted "My Name Is Sparkle," a full length effort which they foresee as being a possible trilogy but to understand the thought process behind this initial offering; one must delve a tad into their history
"We are a duo," started Etzioni, "We're a two person band and we will bring in additional players for a track or did so per show pre-COVID depending on what we were doing; sometimes it's just the two of us live. I was born in Brooklyn and raised in Los Angeles; we left when the Brooklyn Dodgers left but for different reasons (laughs). My grandmother had hay fever and her doctor said that she needed a better climate and a friend of my grandfather's was moving to L.A. and suggested he check it out and he did and he liked it and the whole family moved; I've been in L.A ever since."
"I was born and raised in L.A., I am a Los Angeles native; there's more of us than you think," laughed Aron as he continued the history of their relationship. "Marvin was pretty much the same way and although we are some years apart, we both went to the same high school. There was a record store across the street from the high school called Aron's Records and my friend Dave and I would walk across the street during our lunch break and we'd spend pretty much every lunch hour shopping for used records. The school was so close that you could hear the school bell ring and one day we were shopping for records and we heard the bell ring and Dave says, "We've got to get back to class there's the one o'clock bell" and I said, we can't leave right now listen to what they're playing in the store, it's side two of The Who "Live At Leeds" and then I hear this voice saying, "There's somebody who likes good records" and I turn around and it's Marvin behind the counter, he was working at the store as a clerk. We actually struck up a conversation; I had seen Marvin's band The Model a few months earlier because they had played a noon concert at the high school during our lunch hour; so, a friendship was formed pretty much from that moment on."
Two musicians with similar interests who have performed and written together is not uncommon but how did they get the name; The Holy Brothers? The way Etzioni tells it, it came from divine intervention; well, somewhat.
"We've known each other for 40 years or more and some years ago; we both attend the same temple and at the beginning of one of the services the rabbi walks around the congregation, shakes hands and thanks everybody for showing up and Willie and I were standing next to each other and we were both wearing black suits and Fedoras and the rabbi looks at us and says, "Oh, it's the holy brothers" and we laughed and I looked at Willie and said, well, now that we've got a name; why don't we make an album? So, we did! So, that kind of became this crystalized moment of before and after because before that we were Willie and Marvin and after that we were Thee Holy Brothers; we were christened at temple."
Aron and Etzioni are both sought after for their various talents on stage, in recording studios and beyond and each have hectic schedules and other interests both in and outside of music. So, with so much on their plates; are Thee Holy Brothers considered somewhat of a side project and how do they make it work?
"We are Thee Holy Brothers, we are constantly working on things all of the time; the word side project doesn't even enter our vocabulary," stated Etzioni emphatically. "This is a 24 hour a day thing, we are constantly in touch, we've already recorded songs for our second album, I've written songs for a third album and I probably have songs ready for a fourth. So, the concept of this being a side thing; we would never look at it that way; it's kind of a life or death for us. This is a really high priority in our lives which is why we take the time to do things like talk to you and everything else that we are doing. We are constantly in touch with each other; it's a pretty tight thing. Willie and I are both involved with other projects, in lockdown 2020 I signed a digital distribution deal with Six Degrees Records for my label Regional Records. So, at the end of last year I put out a solo album, "what's the mood of the country now?" Then we put out "My Name Is Sparkle," we put out a stand-alone single "Lift You Up;" the video was directed by an award winning director in Atlanta, Frederick from Tomorrow Pictures. Yet at the same time I'm producing Grey DeLisle Griffin's next album which will be a covers album and after that she's doing an all original album; there's a lot of stuff going on but it has always been that way for Willie and I. He's got stuff going on and I've got stuff going on but it doesn't take away from the focus that we have going on as Thee Holy Brothers."
"I've always been a musician and a professional musician since I was 20 but I always did other things along the way to supplement my income and make my life work for me," added Aron. "I was married in '94 and then I went back to school and got a Master's Degree in Psychology but everything happens for a reason and I think that everything in my life has worked out the way it was meant to work out. We are both big believers in destiny; it's not constructive to think about regrets and "What if" situations. I think it's always more productive to stay in the present while looking forward to the next creative endeavor and we are very much on the same page in that regard."
"It is an interesting collaboration, Marvin is the songwriter and all of the songs that you hear in Thee Holy Brothers are Marvin's. Marvin is so prolific that he sort of trusts me to be the arbiter of determining what songs are appropriate and right for Thee Holy Brothers. We have this sort of mutual good will and trust that we are going to be honest with each other and so he is always writing and has been prolific as long as I've known him. So, he will send me a new song and say, "What do you think?" My criteria is, if I can relate to the lyric and I can sing to it; then it will be a good song for Thee Holy Brothers to record."
"One of our touchstones is Simon and Garfunkle; Willie and I have talked about it, it's a very unique phenomena," continued Etzioni, "As great as Paul Simon did after them, he never did anything that was equal to Simon and Garfunkle. There was something about their combination and how they approached the Simon songbook during that time that was so unique to Simon and Garfunkle that it was never parallelled or equal for either artist afterwards. So, we both kind of look at that as a way of working together. I really do think of myself as I'm in a band in the same way that Pete Townsend writes songs but without Roger Daltrey it takes on a whole different point of view and meaning. When you are working in collaboration and collaboration is a real key word for Willie and I because this album would not have existed without the art of collaboration between Willie and myself."
With "Collaboration" being emphasized and an obvious key component to their success as a duo; how do they pick who makes up their supporting cast? Etzioni's perspective is quite open and according to Aron they both share a commonality when it comes to who keeps the time for their unit; no matter what the situation.
"There are two parts to that answer; it's kind of like Lennon's Plastic Ono Band; anybody could be in the band but by the time he got to the Plastic Ono Band the debut album had a set band. It was a trio with a few additional players and then he moved on; the year before he could've put out a record with Clapton on it. So, it was very changeable, it had a mercury kind of thing to it and I think it's not being flippant to say it doesn't matter who is in the room but if you're in the room you're in the band. There is kind of a power to that, there's kind of a sense of not of resignation but of acceptance; if the guy across the hall plays bass then he might be on the record so he's in the band. In lockdown 2020 we released an album, a stand alone single; I've been sending Willie tons of new songs. So, we don't have a set band, sometimes we'll look at a particular song and on our next album we may have two or three different drummers on the record by the time the album is done. We take it a song at a time and do what is right for each song and I think with COVID it demands flexibility, it demands looking at things differently but the one thing I demand is to keep writing songs, keep productive, keep the ideas going, keep the concepts going; that's the most important thing. Thank God that we are in a position where we can still promote our record, we are letting people know what we are doing and creating; not even a world-wide pandemic can stop Thee Holy Brothers (laughs)."
"It matters to me greatly, yeah, it does," says Aron. "We are very particular about drums and drummers. Marvin prides himself as a drum fanatic and I am as well; meaning that we have a particular idea or standard as how the drums should go or how a drummer should feel as in their sense of time. We were fortunate to have James Gadson on the "My Name is Sparkle" album, one of the greatest living drummers. James was in Bill Withers' band that did the "Still Bill" album with "Use Me" and "Lean On Me" and all of those songs; he also played on "I Want You" by Marvin Gaye. He played with McCartney, Beck, he has played with a million incredible Iconic artists and we are fortunate to have him on the album."
Ah yes, the album; Etzioni speaks fondly of their first release and the route they've taken to promote it as well as their choice for a video.
"It's ten songs and "Lift You Up" is the only stand-alone single; meaning that we've sent out "My Name Is Sparkle," "Elvis In Jerusalem," we've sent out about three or four songs to our friend Mark Platt who does internet radio and some of those songs have hit number one on world-wide charts on the internet. "Lift You Up" came about because Freddie the director heard the song and thought it should be a song for Thee Holy Brothers and it was his concept to get Stephon Ferguson as the voice of MLK and for Stephon, that's his gig. He would fill an auditorium pre-COVID by reading the "I Have a Dream" speech and he put that recording session together with Stephon in Atlanta and then sent us the tracks. Then Freddie directed and conceptualized the video and everyone loved what he came up with. So, stand-alone single just means that it's not on the album but we have released singles to internet radio and the responses have been really great; we're talking college radio next."
Wait; did he say, "Internet Radio?" Why have they embraced this form of radio as opposed to the more traditional terrestrial method? Etzioni recalls another form of entertainment that was once maligned and thought of as out of step with the mainstream.
"The same thing happened when HBO started, it was a joke," he said with a chuckle. "It was real left of center; what are they going to air, boxing? It really takes visionaries to go into an unknown territory and say, you may not think it's real now but give me a few years because I think it is real and you're going to have to catch up with me. Who listens to AM radio now? People don't even own CD players, I hear things like, nobody in my family listens to CDs, I don't have one in my car or at home. We market our product by talking to people like you, records are out and we hope that if one person is listening and it leads to them telling someone; we've gotten some attention from our video on various platforms. There's a parallel universe in the video world; the Roku world of television, it's not NBC but there are a lot of people now into Top TV. It's the equivalent of internet radio and it's becoming more legitimized and TV manufacturers are actually building Roku and other digital equivalents into their televisions. So, that's becoming more legitimate as time goes on as well; the idea that the only way people will hear you is if you're on "The Tonight Show" at 11:30 and although there is nothing wrong with that; there are other mediums. That's kind of the way that we are approaching it, we've gotten some incredible press in the UK, Europe, Netherlands; it's just another brick in the wall, it's just one more event like this with you, we got a nice five star review in a British magazine, Mojo just gave us a nice review. The story just propels and keeps adding, people like you who want to interview us; that's how this is going to get built. I don't really see it as some kind of immediate overnight sensation, it will just build itself and when people hear it they seem to like it but the catch 22 is; how do you get people to hear it?"
Getting a product out to the masses is always a challenge for any artist no matter what their creative field; Etzioni and Aron say that despite any difficulties they've encountered; they'd have it no other way.
"We've played the Calgary Folk Festival as a duo, we've done tons of gigs and the response was incredible. We've done shows in L.A., we've done shows where we had a horn section and it was great; sometimes trumpet and when we use horns, Willie does all of the arrangements. So, on the next album, we have one song in particular where we have a horn arrangement and it's all Willie; like I said, it's a great collaboration. We'll share ideas and who can do what, it's really exciting as we are both very open about where things can go and sometimes things don't work; you experiment on something and say, oh; how can we make that work? How can we make it better? How can we take it to the next level? We are not deterred by failure, failure is just a momentary stop sign and then you adjust; failure is an invisible word. I now know how to improve on situations from many, many years ago; it's a series of choices at times but then I didn't have the insight like I do now. I remember seeing an interview with the Davies brothers and they were asked what they would change about the past and one brother said, "Absolutely nothing" and the other said, "Absolutely, I would change everything" and I think that Willie and I are different in a lot of ways but our differences kind of balance out and we'd not change a thing."
Going forward in a post pandemic world; what does the future hold?
"The first album "My Name Is Sparkle" is out and we'd like to see the next two as a continuation and a trilogy of the "Sparkle" character," said Eizioni. "So, we're going to just keep making records and videos and I personally; I think that a lot of people that I talk with or that I read about; they want it to be 2019 all over again. I'm not sure if the world is going to open up as we once knew it; I'd rather just look at things as they are because it could be this way for another six months or two, three years, I don't really know. I know that no matter what the environment is, it' not going to stop me from writing songs or Willie and I from collaborating and conceptualizing and we'll figure out the recording thing; that's really what's ahead. We are talking about releasing the first album on vinyl hopefully by the end of the year, we'd like a second album out by the end of the year maybe early next year and a follow up album within a year. So, there's a lot to do and a lot to catch up on when the studios open."
Currently, "My Name Is Sparkle" is available on all of the digital platforms and to discover more about Thee Holy Brothers; please visit www.TheeHolyBrothers.com.
That's it for this week! Please continue to support live and original music and until next week....ROCK ON!