Gary James' Interview With
Clint Holmes

He had one of the most recognizable songs on the radio back in 1973. The song: "Playground In My Mind" (My Name Is Michael). The singer: Clint Holmes. That song made it all the way up to number two on the Billboard charts. In Canada, and the song went to number one on the singles charts. Clint went on to become the announcer for the late show starring Joan Rivers from 1986 to 1988. Calling Las Vegas home these days, he was recognized as The Best Singer In Las Vegas and Las Vegas Best-Kept Secret. When we caught up with Clint Holmes, he was working on a Broadway show and a Jazz CD.

Q - Clint, you were born in Bournemouth, England, but raised in Farnam, New York. I have to confess I've never heard of that city.

A - Farnam is like 500 people. It's a very little town. It's one of those you pass through and you didn't even know you were ever there. But that's where I was raised.

Q - You stayed there until you went on to college?

A - Yeah, exactly. I went to Fredonia, which is just down the road actually.

Q - So, you went to Fredonia State College, a SUNY (State University of New York) college to study voice.

A - Correct.

Q - You were hoping to get a degree in what, to do what?

A - To be honest with you, I don't even know. I think I went to college because it was something I was supposed to do. I left after a year because I was basically gigging. I'd go into Buffalo (New York) and perform at night and get back at school at two or three in the morning and miss the morning classes. I suppose I went to college because it was what you were supposed to do. But I was always going to do this. It wasn't right. I shouldn't have been in college. I should've been out singing, which is what I did.

Q - Were you a solo act or part of a group?

A - I had a little group in high school. By that time I was doing some Jazz stuff in Buffalo. The Club Sheraton is one of the places I worked. It probably doesn't even exist anymore. I just wasn't really interested in school. I was much more interested in making music.

Q - What kind of material were you singing in your high school band?

A - We were doing the typical '60s stuff. I thought I was Johnny Mathis in those days. So, we were doing that stuff and Dion And The Belmonts. Whatever the popular bands of the day were, we were doing. But by the time I got to college, I didn't have the band anymore. By then I was doing what I guess I'd now call the Great American Songbook. I was singing the Nat King Cole songs, Frank Sinatra songs, kind of thing.

Q - So, I guess you weren't singing Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney songs.

A - We did some Beatles. I was never a Rock 'n' Roll singer. Let's put it that way.

Q - So you left college after a year and you joined the Army. And they put you in the Army chorus?

A - I was about to be drafted into the Army. It was the Vietnam era. I heard about the Army music program. I played trombone. I was in the All New York State Band in high school, playing trombone. So, I went in and auditioned on trombone. They put me in the Army band program, which meant that you basically learn all the marches and all the repertoire for the Army band. Then they ship you out somewhere to play trombone in a band. It could've been anywhere in the world really. But I got lucky. I kept bugging them and telling them I was a better singer than I was a trombone player. Finally an occasion came up where they needed a singer. So I sang. At the time, the United States Army chorus, which is in Fort Myers, Virginia, but they always say Washington DC, didn't have any people of color in it. It was an all white chorus. General Westmoreland evidently saw a performance and commented that they needed to be more representative of the entire population. So when the Army people heard me sing, they sent me up to Washington to audition for the chorus and I got in. I spent about a year playing trombone in the Army band and then I spent the last two years of my Army career singing with the Army chorus in Washington.

Q - Did you go all over the world?

A - We didn't go all over the world. We went to different parts of the country. We went to St. Louis for the opening of the Arch. We performed there. We performed in New York. But we never went overseas.

Q - You never did see any combat, did you?

A - No. I was very fortunate.

Q - After you got out of the service, you started singing in nightclubs. How did you make that transition?

A - Well, I made that transition while I was still in the Army. I got to know people like Roberta Flack in Washington. I would sing with them. I would sing in little clubs in Georgetown so that by the time I got out of the Army, I had already started to kind of establish myself as a local club singer.

Q - How did that lead to a record deal and you recording this song "Playground In My Mind"?

A - One of the first gigs I got outside of Washington D.C. when I was out of the Army and really looking to have a career, was in Nassau, in the Bahamas, in the Paradise Island Hotel. I had a band called The Bachannal, Clint Holmes And The Bachannal. I used to do a Johnny Mathis impression. As I told you, when I was in high school I thought I was Johnny Mathis. I had this little impression of him and I did it in my act one night in Nassau, in the Bahamas. This gentleman came up to me after the show and said "hey, I wrote and produced Johnny Mathis. I have a great song for you, if you're interested". I said "well sure I'm interested in talking." He lives in New York. He was on vacation in the Bahamas. So, when I finished my gig in the Bahamas, I went up to New York and met with him. His name is Paul Vance. He had this song "My name is Michael, I've got a nickle". He had a couple of songs. I didn't particularly like the "My Name Is Michael" song. I thought it was cutesy. The other song he had was a song called "There's No Fortune In My Future Without You", which was a little closer to where I really thought I ought to be recording. Kind of where Roberta (Flack) was, doing really cool R&B, but singer songs. But we made a deal with Paul Vance and that's how it happened. It was Epic Records, which was a subsidiary of Columbia Records. Clive Davis was the one who picked the song.

Q - "Playground In My Mind" was a big hit for you.

A - Yes.

Q - Did you have a follow-up to that song?

A - Yeah, we did a follow-up. It was called "Shiddley Dee".

Q - I never heard of that one.

A - Well, that's it isn't it? (laughs) It was another one with kids. Again I kind of fought it. I thought we got lucky and had a hit with "Playground". Let's go to where I really thought I should be. See the problem is, I didn't write back then. I write now. In those days I wasn't a songwriter, so the producers kind of had sway. So, we did a song called "Shiddley Dee" and it didn't go anywhere. That was kind of the dawn of Disco. Disco was really coming in. So I kind of found myself no place to be. And the next couple of things we tried didn't really work, so we never had another hit. I even went down to Nashville and cut some stuff I liked a lot. But we did have a follow-up and we did have an album, but we never had that second hit.

Q - After "Playground" became such a big hit for you, did the record company put you out on the road? Did you tour?

A - I didn't. I did a few things. I did television. I did the shows of the day, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, and American Bandstand. But then when the next record didn't do anything, nothing happened. I was very fortunate in the sense that I was a strong enough entertainer at that point that I could still work, which is what sustained me and still sustains me actually in many ways. So, I never did tour. They never did put me out, I think partly because while "Playground In My Mind" was a very lovable record, you don't have any idea how many people still come up to be and tell me wonderful stories about how much that song meant to them, it didn't really establish me as an artist. It's one of those songs where people will still go "oh yeah. I remember that song", and you'll go "who recorded it?" And they'll go "I don't know," unless they happen to be a fan of mine. They would know. So, it's that kind of a thing.

Q - I don't suppose you did the package tours or cruise ship work either?

A - No. I made a quick transfer to opening for Bill Cosby and Joan Rivers and Don Rickles. People like that. My career went to Las Vegas and Atlantic City. That's kind of what happened after the record.

Q - You really have to have a show to do that song don't you?

A - Of course.

Q - So you're playing the songs of other people?

A - Yeah. I wasn't a writer then. Now I am and a lot of the material I do is my own material. In those days I was picking songs that worked. The blessing that I had was that I had been out there performing and working, so I had an understanding of stagecraft and I had an understanding of building a show and how to be an entertainer in the tradition of my heroes like (Harry) Belafonte, Sammy Davis and Lena Horne. People like that. So, that's what sustains me. At that point I was almost exclusively doing covers and I would do my "hit". A medley of my "hit."

Q - You must have had a high-powered agent to open for Joan Rivers and Don Rickles. Not anyone can get a gig like that.

A - Well, yeah. Once I got the opportunity, it took on its own kind of life. I was performing in Florida in a lounge and a producer who was about to open a Resorts International in Atlantic City saw me and invited me to open for Bob Newhart. This has got to be 1980, 1982, something like that. Steve (Lawrence) and Edyie (Gorme) opened it. I was the second act in. I opened for Bob Newhart. When they saw me, they booked me. I think I was doing 12 weekends a year for them, opening for different people. That's when I open for (Bill) Cosby and Alan King and Don Rickles. And once they saw me, they would invite me to go to other places with them. It kind of took on its own life.

Q - Was it hard to open for someone like Don Rickles? I don't know what his audience is like.

A - No. It was fun. Absolutely.

Q - There seems to be one common thread running through your story, go to a warm, sunny climate to be "discovered".

A - I think that's right. (laughs)

Q - The guys from New York will come down on vacation, see you, and your chances are greatly improved of getting a "break".

A - I suppose that kind of worked in some ways for me.

Q - Your a headliner in Las Vegas today. That means you're headlining in a showroom?

A - Correct.

Q - What's the capacity of the showrooms you find yourself in?

A - Well, I was at Harrah's for almost 7 years and that was a 600 seat showroom. That was from about 2000 to October 2006. They renamed it The Clint Holmes Theatre. It was a great run. Then when I left, I wrote a theater piece. It has been produced now. It was my first play that I had written. The original title was Comfortable Shoes. It was about my family. So, I put a lot of my energy and efforts into that. I got it produced in several places actually. Never look a gift horse in the mouth. I've been very grateful for my career in Las Vegas, but it isn't the be-all and end-all of what I want to do. I want to do theater. I want to do Broadway. I'm looking at doing a Jazz album next. I needed to diversify and to do that. I needed to get out of doing 48 weeks in one place, even if it was Las Vegas. I've spent since 2007 until recently, working on my play, doing gigs, writing. Here in Las Vegas we opened The Smith Center last year. It's the first Performing Arts Center in Las Vegas not connected to casinos. It's just like any Performing Arts Center in any major city. I was invited to be the artist in residence in their Jazz room. So now I perform the first weekend of every month and other times throughout the year at The Smith Center while I'm doing the other things I'm doing. It took me a couple of years to be where I wanted to be, but now I'm at the place where I want to be. I have time to work on other things. I have time to be in New York and work. I have time to do some theater stuff. I'm going to Europe next year (2013). I'm working on the Jazz album and I still have a home base here. (Las Vegas).

© Gary James. All rights reserved.