Born Rolan Webster Holden, 7 August 1940, Seattle, Washington
A typical one-hit wonder, Ron Holden was born into a prominent African American Seattle family that has long excelled in music and sports. Both his parents were professional jazz musicians and his four siblings all played instruments. His father Oscar, whose piano playing was an early influence on Ray Charles, taught young Ron to play the trombone.
In 1957, while still in high school, Holden formed a rock & roll group with some fellow students. They called themselves the Playboys and played at sock hops and house parties, with Holden as the lead singer. The Playboys were one of the first bands to play Richard Berry’s later classic “Louie Louie”. During the intermission of a gig in Seattle in April 1959, the band members smoked some “funny little cigarettes” in their car. When the police pulled them over, Holden was the only one over eighteen and he was arrested for “contributing to the delinquency of minors”. He had to serve ninety days at King County Jail. During his time there, Holden met Larry Nelson, a deputy sheriff by day and doowop singer by night. Nelson overheard Holden singing doowop harmonies with some fellow inmates and thought they were pretty good. He told Holden that he was about to start a record company (Nite Owl Records) and that Ron should come see him when he got out of prison.
Upon release, Holden discovered that the Playboys had recruited a replacement singer, but Nelson introduced him to a similar group, the Thunderbirds. Holden has described his first recording session as follows : “We did it in Fred Rasmussen’s living room. For 19 hours there were fourteen people in this room which was 10 x 12 feet - it was the engineer, his wife, his daughter and his dog sitting there on the couch, Larry Nelson, Chuck Markulis (Nelson’s partner in Nite Owl, who played tambourine on the session), Ron and the Thunderbirds and a couple of the guys’ girlfriends.” Every time the dog barked they had to start over. After nineteen hours three songs had been completed, “Love You So”, “My Babe” and “Louie Louie”. The first two, both Ron’s own compositions, were paired for release on Nite Owl in August 1959, credited to Ron Holden with the Thunderbirds. “Love You So” was a very basic song with simple romantic lyrics and a Latin beat along the lines of “Little Darlin’” by the Gladiolas. It was unusually long for its time (3:28), but still managed to get airplay on local radio stations in Seattle. The other side, the up-tempo rocker “My Babe” (a complete contrast), also made some local noise and several companies took an interest in buying the masters. In December 1959 the Nite Owl record was picked up for national distribution by Bob Keane, the owner of Del-Fi Records, who reissued Holden’s disc on his Donna label, named after Ritchie Valens’s big hit on Del-Fi. “Love You So” peaked at # 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 1960. Holden was suddenly a hot commodity. He relocated to Los Angeles, began to tour nationwide and made TV appearances on American Bandstand and several other shows.
On his subsequent Donna singles Holden was not backed by the Thunderbirds, but by studio pros like Rene Hall, Plas Johnson, Earl Palmer and the Blossoms. Though the sound was much more professional, there was no further chart success. Bob Keane also issued a 10-track LP in late 1960 (“Love You So”, Donna DLP 2111). After Donna, Ron recorded for Mem-O-Ree (a duet single with Rosie Hamlin of Rosie and the Originals), Eldo, Baronet, Rampart, Challenge and VMC until 1969. There was a five-year hiatus before he recorded again. “Can You Talk” was a # 49 R&B hit in 1974 on the Now label. This was probably his last release, if you don’t count the many reissues of “Love You So”/“My Babe”.
In 1972 Holden was hired to join the first Rock & Roll Revival show at the Hollywood Bowl, along with Little Richard, Chuck Berry and other stars. Subsequently, he worked as an emcee at Art Laboe’s “Oldies But Goodies” club in Los Angeles for four years. In 1977 he returned to Seattle, where he opened his own night club, while also participating in oldies concerts far and wide. One such booking brought him to Rosarito Beach in Mexico, where he died of a heart attack on January 22, 1997. He was 56.
More info :
Discography : http://www.soulfulkindamusic.net/rholden.htm
CD : The “Love You So” LP has been reissued by Collectables in 2006. Only 10 tracks.
Acknowledgements : Peter Blecha, Michael Jack Kirby, Wayne Jancik.
Dik, August 2017
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