Holmes Brothers celebrate soul at Evanston’s S.P.A.C.E.

Brotherhood: Popsy Dixon, Wendell Holmes and Sherman Holmes perform Aug. 17 at S.P.A.C.E.
Brotherhood: Popsy Dixon, Wendell Holmes and Sherman Holmes perform Aug. 17 at S.P.A.C.E.

If it has soul, the Holmes Brothers have been playing it for a long lifetime, whether it’s gospel, R&B, funk, country or blues.

See for yourself when 70-something Sherman and Wendell (and longtime honorary brother Popsy Dixon), perform at S.P.A.C.E. Aug. 17, fresh from their recent win of an National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Award.

Wendell spoke recently about that honor, “Brotherhood,” their recently released 12th album (on Alligator Records) and music as therapy.

Q. Congratulations on the NEA award.

A. Thanks. It’s a great, great honor to receive that award. We were not expecting it and it’s very much welcome. I think our longevity in the business has a lot to do with why we received it. That and being true to the genres of music we play — the blues, country, gospel. But mainly I think it’s because we’ve been in the business a long time.

Q. A long, long time. Going all the way back to when you played in church as kids.

A. Absolutely. My brother and I have been playing together since we were little kids. We used to play Nightclub using broomsticks for guitars. (Laughs)

Q. Tell us a little about “Brotherhood.”

A. It’s more rootsy, I think, than any of the other albums we’ve made recently. It has a little gospel on it and a lot of blues and it has a live feel, even though it’s not really recorded live. It also has a lot of original songs that speak to our life experiences. At our age, we welcome record sales but we’re more concerned about being true to who we are and sharing our experiences with our audience.

Q. Speaking of roots, who was influential for you when you were getting started?

A. We come from a small town in Virginia, very rural. We used to say we’d rock ’em on Saturdays and save ’em on Sundays, because we had a cousin named Simon Wake who owned a juke joint there. And when he couldn’t get a good band out of Richmond or Newport News, he’d let us play. And then we go play in one of the churches on Sunday.

So, we had to learn how to play in both those places. We couldn’t play much church music, but nobody else could play anything. (Laughs) And I was learning, mainly by listening to the Harmonizing Four, a great gospel group out of Richmond. Then I picked up on the blues by listening to Jimmy Reed. I’ve always been a Jimmy Reed fan, especially after he came out with “Honest I Do.” That’s one of my favorite songs of all time.

Q. You’ve done a lot of touring in your day.

A. Oh yes. We call ourselves the 50/50 club, because we’ve played in all 50 states and in 50 countries. We used to do one or two hundred dates a year. Now we do maybe one and a quarter. That’s plenty for an old man. (Laughs)

Q. Do you still enjoy it?

A. I do, very much so. I always say music is therapy. It’s good to have an audience, but some of my best times, musically, have been sitting in my home in Maryland with my daughters and my wife, sitting around an acoustic piano playing and singing some good gospel or blues.

We are so blessed, my brother and I. We enjoy what we do. I tell my grandchildren I have one of the few jobs where people applaud when I go to work and even more when I leave. In a positive way. (Laughs) As long as the fire’s in your belly, you’re going to enjoy it. You’ve got to have that fire in your belly, but we still do.

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Holmes Brothers

Where: S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston

When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 17

Cost: $17-$30

Website: www.evanstonspace.com

Phone: (847) 492-8860

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