Friday, November 16, 2018

Another Blues Fix Mix CD - Volume Two, Track Seventeen

Clarence Hollimon
Only two more tracks to go before we wrap up Volume Two of the Blues Fix Mix CD series and the excitement is almost palpable.  This week features one of the finest guitarist to ever emerge from the Houston music scene - Clarence "Gristle" Hollimon.  Given the long list of stars to come from the Houston area over the years - Lightnin' Hopkins, Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Cal Green, Joe "Guitar" Hughes, etc......that's a pretty strong statement, but Hollimon's body of work will certainly attest to the fact that if he's not in a class by himself, it certainly wouldn't take long to call the roll.

Hollimon worked as a session guitarist for Duke/Peacock Records as a high school student, and he played with a prestigious list of artists including Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, Big Mama Thornton, Charles Brown, O.V. Wright, Joe Hinton, Dionne Warwick, Buddy Ace, the original Jazz Crusaders and many other stars from the 1950's through the 1990's.  I first heard him on several recordings for Black Top Records during the late 1980's, beginning with Grady Gaines' first release, Full Gain, which also featured another great Texas guitarist, Grady's brother Roy Gaines.  That album is still one of my favorites and still gets regular play around the house, mainly because of the fantastic guitar work from Hollimon and Gaines.

Carol Fran and Clarence Hollimon
While working with Black Top, Hollimon had the opportunity to record two albums with his wife, singer Carol Fran.  The pair had worked together for years before they married in 1983.  Fran had been performing since the mid 50's, and had a regional hit, "Emmitt Lee," for Excello Records in 1957, along with other fine recordings for multiple labels over the following decades before taking a step away from the business, disillusioned with the musical and career opportunities that slipped past.  She reunited with Hollimon in the early 80's (they had dated briefly 25 years earlier.  Their two Black Top albums were top notch, and Hollimon's "Gristle" was recorded for their first album together, Soul Sensation, and really shows off his dexterity.  It's one of my favorite instrumentals.

Hollimon was known as "Gristle" for many years, but no one ever really knew how he came about that nickname.  Some figured it was because of his thin, wiry build, but no one knows for sure.  He was also known as one of the nicest and most humble musicians in the Houston area.  Singers loved to work for him because he never overplayed or showboated.  He played just what needed to be played and man, did he play it well.  Sadly, Hollimon died in 2000, just after he and Fran finished recording It's About Time for JSP Records.  He was only 62 years old.  Fran, now 85, has continued to work and record a couple of albums, even recovering from a stroke several years ago to return to performing.

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