Gary James' Interview With The Honeycombs'
Honey "Vosh" Voshell
Honey "Vosh" Voshell is the leader of the Delaware group The Honeycombs. "Vosh" has quite a history. In the 1950's he went on tour with Patsy Cline and Wanda Jackson. He is still performing today and we talked with him about his life pounding the skins for some of the greatest names in the business.
Q - "Vosh", there are two British bands called The Honeycombs and then there's your band The Honeycombs. Does that ever get confusing to people who want to book your band?
A - No. I know the guys over there. They have e-mailed me before. I started my group here in the United States in 1958. I think they got together around 1960. They were one of the one-hit wonders. They recorded a song, "Have I The Right". But we were together just a few years before them. Then in about 1962, '61 or '62, my group, we broke that up. Then we got back together in 1991 and we reorganized The Honeycombs and we have been together ever since. Right now it's a seven piece group. We got horns, trumpet and sax, keyboard, base, drums and we have five singers in the group also. I've written some music myself but we've never recorded it. We do mostly all cover stuff and we cover everything from the Big Band era back in the '40's up 'til about 2012. We've even got a couple of numbers from 2012. Our main forte is '50s, '60s and '70s music. It's all the hits.
Q - That covers a lot of ground.
A - Yeah. It does. We have about 700 tunes that we are capable of doing and the guys in the group have played all kinds of stuff. I've played everything from the Big Band thing too. I've worked with The Glenn Miller Band and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. I started out in Country music. I worked with the girl who is now known as the "Queen Of Rock-a-billy", Wanda Jackson. I worked for Wanda quite a few years, all over the country. I worked with Patsy Cline. I've worked with other artists too, guys like Al Martino, a couple of dates with the Benny Goodman thing in New York. So, I've played all kinds of music.
Q - For a guy with your credits, when you put together a band like you have now, which is a cover band, is that a step down for you? How do you view it?
A - Let's see, I was on the road for roughly 13, 14 years. I got a little tired of it. (Laughs). I wouldn't say it's a step down, but it's a little different from having maybe 4000 people at a concert and doing a lot of local stuff here (in Delaware) where you may have 300 to 500 (people). So in that aspect you may call it a step down. I've been fortunate. I've studied with some of the best. I play drums in the band and I've studied from some of the best guys in the world as far as being in the drum field. I teach. I have quite a few students. I have a music store called The Drum Pad. We are a full-on store. We sell everything. That keeps me busy. I invested in real estate. I make a comfortable living. As far as the excitement, I miss the excitement of playing even though as I've gotten older now, the five or six nights a week thing has gotten a little old. (Laughs). It's probably a good thing I went this route. I was talking with Wanda Jackson's husband. He said we slowed down this past year because they recorded a big album a couple of years ago and it took off. She was working like 25 to 26 days a month and traveling here and England and back here and over to Australia. It's different than when I used to play. I worked with Roy Clark. He used to be on the Hee Haw thing. In fact, Roy was leading Wanda Jackson's band when I first went there. Of course I'm known in the area. I got married and we've got four kids. One of my kids took up the profession of playing drums. He plays with a local band on the East Coast called Love Seed Mama Jump. They've been quite successful. They worked in Atlantic City with Motley Crue's singer and they've opened for The Beach Boys. My daughter is in the entertainment business too. She just finished a 3 1/2 year stint with Billy Joel not too long ago. She was his Dance Captain. She's into Ballet and Modern Dance. She's done a couple of Broadway shows. She just finished a thing out in Sacramento, California. She's into the acting thing too. It's different from playing 4000 to 5000 people and coming back and playing your local Lion's Club or something like that. Some of the biggest crowds you get around here, maybe 400 or 500 people.
Q - And that's big considering what's happened to the club business today.
A - They're not all that big. I played one a couple of months ago. The pay was decent. Most of the guys in my group are pushing the 70 mark. Some of the jobs we do are under 100 people. But we built up the reputation over the years. When I got the group together we just took Billboard magazine and went back to 1955 and picked the Top 12 songs out of each month. That's the way we started this group back in '91. We wanted to make sure the songs we played, everybody had heard of. So that's the reason we just learned the very top tunes. It's paid off. It's been successful.
Q - When you tell people you used to play drums for Patsy Cline, do people give you a funny look?
A - Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Q - They think you are lying, don't they?
A - Well, they think basically you are either real old or you are lying. (Laughs). But I have autographed pictures to me from all these people that I worked with. I have 'em all over my music store. The people come in and they bring their kids for lessons and they'll walk around the store and look at all the old newspaper clippings. I have newspaper clippings dating back to when Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly got killed in the plane. We also used to do some shows with Bill Haley And The Comets, who really got the Rock 'n' Roll thing started. Bill was up here from Boothwya, Pennsylvania, which is just over the Delaware line and we worked the same booking agent, Jolly Joyce Theatrical Agencies out of New York and Philadelphia. We used to go in and Bill and the guys would be there. I've still got some memorabilia stuff that Bill Haley gave me here in my store. Ashtrays with all their hits. We got pictures of them too, kind of lining our walls here in the music store. People will find that kind of fascinating.
Q - Did you ever cross paths Elvis Presley?
A - I did not myself. My guitarist has been to see him two or three times. Back then he was a big Elvis fan. I don't think he ever really got to talk to him. I was more into the horn type bands. I was more into the Bill Haley type thing and the Little Richard type thing, Fats Domino. I always said I wouldn't have a band together that didn't have horns and it. I got tired of playing the guitar, bass and drum thing, which today you can probably make a little more money if you want to go out there and do it. It's really boring for me without keyboards and horns to take up some of the slack. Just to hear the guitar on all the instrumentals, I don't get into that much even though we have got a fantastic group together. These guys have played with everybody. We've all been around. We've all done the circuit. We brought this thing together and fortunately if we have a request for Frank Sinatra or Al Martino, we can do the standard stuff. We know probably hundreds of 'em plus all the early Rock 'n' Roll. We do all the Motown stuff from The Temptations to The (Four) Tops. Most of our stuff is '50s, '60s and '70s oriented. We do some four-part harmony songs. We've got five singers in the band. If one guy doesn't know the song, chances are somebody else in the band is going to know it. We've got good musicians in the band, so we can play a song through and it will sound like we have rehearsed and played it a dozen times even though it might be the first time we've done it.
Q - I consider Patsy Cline to be the top female Country singer.
A - I do too.
Q - What was she like to work with?
A - She was a great person to work with. She was just one of the nicest people that I probably ever played with. Country musicians as a whole were really great. They were really nice people to work with. They always treated us excellent. I played with some of the older stars, Faron Young, Furlin Husky and of course Wanda and Patsy. Patsy by far had the best voice I think that's ever came out of Country music. She was a great person. I used to tease Wanda. Wanda was a great show person. She was really Rock-a-billy, kind of between Rock 'n' roll and Country. Wanda was a beautiful girl. I said, "Wanda you really got the looks. If you'd only sing like Patsy Cline." (Laughs). She used to laugh and come down on that. Everybody that I worked with in Country music was really great. Wanda was a stylist. I'm really glad that she got in the Rock-a-billy Hall Of Name. The Queen Of Rock-a-billy, that's what she's called. She's turned it, man. She's been out there. She's bounced around this country (the US). I looked at her schedule the other day and she's got three jobs out in California and she's coming back to Nashville for a day and then she's back on the West Coast again. You gotta really get tired of beating around the country like that all the time. She really deserved that. I'm really glad that she got that. Unfortunately Patsy died too young. When she died we were in Pensacola, Florida at a club called The Southland Club. We used to go there every winter for about six winters and play. Our singer at the time was from Georgetown, Delaware and his name was Billy Graves. A big artist had a show, a Country artist, had a show out of Washington, DC and Billy was on this show with a guy named Dick Fludd. They were called The Country Lads. This was a TV show. When The Country Lads broke up, Billy recorded one of Wanda's songs called "Right or Wrong". Well, it didn't do too much, but then he he recorded another one that started a dance craze and it's still beating around. It's called "The Shag". It was a big dance thing. He made out pretty well on that. Billy was from Georgetown. I knew him. I said, "Billy, I'm looking for a vocalist for The Honeycombs. Are you interested?" Of course we were friends and he went down with us. We were down there working one year when he got a call from Charlie (Dick) that called him, Patsy Cline's husband and told him what happened. Billy was down there with Patsy and Charlie for a while. Long story short, it really broke Billy up because he was really close to Patsy. They hadn't found her body or nothing. So he left and went up to search for 'em and finally they found 'em. While he was gone, he approached Wanda Jackson or her father; he was known as The Major because Col. Tom was Elvis' manager. He asked Billy if he wanted to work with him. I was having trouble with a couple of my band members at that time so Billy called me and that's how I landed my first job with Wanda Jackson.
A - No. His last name was Jackson. I'm familiar with that name. I'm thinking he was a one-hit wonder too. The name rings a bell. This was Wanda's father. His name was Jackson.
Q - Major Bill was actually successful with two acts; Bruce Channel and Paul and Paula.
A - Oh, okay. I'm familiar with them.
Q - How were you traveling in the '50s?
A - When I was working with Wanda we had two Cadillac limousines that we traveled in. Now, they always flew everywhere. But when we got done with the night, we didn't have "roadies". We didn't have people to pack our gear up. We did all that ourselves. We threw it in the back or on top of the Cadillac limousines and that's how we traveled from town to town. Sometimes we'd get done one or two in the morning, load the stuff up, take turns driving all night across the desert on Route 66, going to some other town. I remember several times we got there about an hour before the job. We didn't even have time to get a room and take a shower. Our meal consisted of peanut butter and jelly crackers or these little crackers and a Coca-Cola. (Laughs). I remember that several times. I had a razor to shave with that you just plug into the car.
Q - No wonder you don't miss those days!
A - (laughs).
Q - Was there a lot of drinking in those days?
A - Oh, yeah. That was around. I could go into a lot of stories on that. Fortunately I didn't drink or smoke. I was lucky. I stayed away from that.
Q - Were there any groupies around in those days?
A - Not really. It wasn't anything like that. You went in. People were seated or standing up. There wasn't any great big fanfare or any big roar. There weren't any Disco lights flashing. You just went out there and performed and that was it.
Q - Why did you settle on the state of Delaware to live?
A - (laughs). Well, I went to Michigan and we were out there with a group and I met my wife out there in Muskegon, Michigan and we came back here and we just decided, and I was born and raised right here where I'm located right now, so we just came back here and we got married and we decided to stay right here.
Q - Did you by chance ever meet or play with any of the '60s Rock musicians?
A - My group was in New York once in a place on 48th St. called The Peppermint Lounge. This was big because
Joey Dee had a group, The Starlighters. They were working there and this was when The Twist was huge. We were working there. They had two bands a week. This one time we were doing a two-week stint there. It was us and of course the headliner was Joey Dee. But at the end of the night they would always have both bands on the stage at the same time. Of course, I didn't know that at the time, but I spoke to Joey Dee five or six years ago; he played at the State Fair here and we went backstage. He said, "You may not realize this, but a couple of guys in my band, do you know who the bass player was?" I said, "No, not really." He said, "Well, my bass player was Joe Pesci," the actor. Then he said, "I know you don't know who my guitar player was, the Black guy." I said, "No. I have no idea." Well, his guitar player was Jimi Hendrix. He still has that on his brochures. I didn't even know that at the time. I guess when we got up on the last set of the evening, I got to play with Joe Pesci and Jimi Hendrix. (Laughs).
Q - This name of yours, Honey...
A - It's been with me. I don't know how I ever got that. It's catchy. (Laughs).