Legend & Johnny Cash Drummer W. S. “Fluke” Holland Has Died

photo: Kevin Smith

Legendary American music drummer W.S. “Fluke” Holland has died. A titan and founder of drumming in popular music, he died at his home in Jackson, Tennessee on Wednesday, September 23rd following a short illness. He was 85-years-old.

W.S. Holland was Johnny Cash’s drummer for 40 years, and is considered by many as the “Father of the Drums.” When he joined Johnny Cash’s band in 1960, the famous Tennessee Two with guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant officially became the Tennessee Three. He was also Cash’s road manager up until the late 90’s. But it was a fluke the drummer joined the band at all, leading to his now inseparable nickname.

W.S. Holland never intended to be a drummer. He was raised in Bemis, TN and worked for an air conditioning company after high school. He was a big music fan, and would go out after work to see Carl Perkins play with his two brothers at a local bar. Holland used to beat his hands on the side of the upright bass to the rhythm of music, and on a whim the Perkins clan invited Holland on a trip to Sun Records, and told him to borrow a drum set to play. One thing led to another, and W.S. Holland became one of the go-to session drummers for Sun Records, playing on sessions for Roy Orbison, Billy Lee Riley, Carl Mann, and others.

W.S. Holland was the drummer for the famous “Million Dollar Quartet” session that matched up Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis (he got paid $11.50 for the gig—union scale at the time). He played on many other famous Sun Records recordings, including Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and “Ring of Fire,” not as a member of Johnny’s band, but as a session player. Holland also played on many other famous Sun recordings, including “Blue Suede Shoes.”

Later W.S. Holland would take the same drum set used in many of those famous Sun Studios sessions, and they would become the first full drum set ever used on The Grand Ole Opry. Though Bob Wills back in 1945 brought his Texas Playboys to the Ryman, including their full-time drummer, The Opry forbade Bob from playing the drum set on stage. An argument ensued, and eventually The Opry caved and allowed the drummer to play a partial set behind a curtain. But the set owned by W.S. “Fluke” Holland was the first full drum set, and the first officially approved set to ever grace The Grand Ole Opry’s hallowed stage.

The biggest “fluke” occurred for W.S. “Fluke” Holland when he was hired by Johnny Cash to play a quick two week run of shows in New York and Atlantic City. That two weeks lasted 40 years in Johnny Cash’s band, and the rest is history. Later when Johnny Cash formed The Highwaymen with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson, W.S. “Fluke” was the supergroup’s full-time drummer. “Fluke” also played on Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, played on the Live at Folsom Prison and Live at San Quentin albums, and was also the session player for Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline record.

A strong case can be made that W.S. Holland was the most important drummer in country music history, and one of the most important in the history of American music. Holland was honored with the inaugural Founder of the Sound Award by the Ameripolitan Awards in 2014. He often was seen wearing sunglasses day or night, not just to be cool, but because he suffered from Strabismus, or cross-eyed-ness.

Holland is survived by his wife Joyce Lindsey Holland, daughters Kim Holland Lovelace and Krista Holland. 

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