The Most Important Drum Set in Country On Display At Cash Museum
Since the Johnny Cash Museum opened in downtown Nashville in May 2013, it has become one of Music City’s must-see spots and an international destination point for country music fans and Johnny Cash fans alike. Barely a year has passed since its initial opening and the museum is already tackling its first new addition. On August 15th, the museum will unveil its “Legends of Sun Records” exhibit celebrating the legendary Memphis studio that gave rise to Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and of course, The Man in Black himself.
“Johnny Cash began his musical career at Sun Records,” says Johnny Cash Museum Founder Bill Miller. “Sun was the launch pad for several young men whose music would forever impact the world. Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Johnny came from similar backgrounds and humble beginnings. Once they walked through the door at the Memphis Recording Service, their lives would never be the same. We are proud to showcase Johnny’s labelmates from this historic period in rock and roll history.”
The Legends of Sun Records exhibit will showcase many artifacts and much information about the original class of Sun Records stars, but one man, and one particular piece of memorabilia might be worth paying a little bit of extra attention to.
W.S. “Fluke” Holland is not a name that is as familiar to music fans as the other big Sun Recordings stars, but his significance to early country and rock & roll cannot be overstated.
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” officially became the “Tennessee Three,” 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 Sun Records’ go-to session drummers.
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. It’s said that Bob at one point said, “Move those things out on stage!” and the drums made a quick and controversial appearance, barring Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys from the Opry for life. But the set owned by W.S. “Fluke” Holland, and the set that is on display as part of the Johnny Cash Museum’s “Legends of Sun Records” is 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.
The quaint, four-piece drum set on display at the Johnny Cash Museum could be considered the most important drum set in this history of country music—and rock and roll music for that matter, or American music in general. Along with all the other important artifacts that make up the “Legends of Sun Records” exhibit, it makes this new museum addition a worthy visit for music fans of all stripes.
W.S. “Fluke” Holland still plays drums and tours today in his W.S. Holland Band.
Photos by Jarrett Gaza
August 11, 2014 @ 7:46 pm
We just got to check this out in person as we are in nashville for vacation. The museum was amazing. Even though it’s just a suit, or hand written Lyrics to a song or other personal items that by themselves don’t have the huge impact, but as they are displayed it makes you feel like he is right there with you narrating the story personally. It’s hard to explain until your there. Other than the cost of parking and museum fees can be quit substantial by the time you throw in the country music hall of fame and willie Nelson’s museum which also has some pretty cool stuff from past and present, it still is something everybody should go see at least once.
August 12, 2014 @ 5:59 am
Luther Perkins guitar and amp, now this. Get to this museum ASAP.
August 12, 2014 @ 8:42 am
I love that place.That is where we are hosting the official after party for our new festival, The Nashville Boogie Weekender and Car Show. The main festival is at the Opryland Hotel Resort May 1-2, 2015. Then we have the entire Johnny Cash Museum to ourselves Sunday night. It’s so damn cool.
August 12, 2014 @ 8:43 am
Great article, but just wanted to comment on the age of this kit, it is not old enough to have been on any Sun recordings from the 50’s. Blue Agate Pearl was introduced as a finish in 1964, and the Set O Matic double tom holder was introduced in 1968. I also found an article from 2009 that states that it was actually a Gretsch kit that was the first full set to grace the stage of the Grand Old Opry.
August 12, 2014 @ 10:20 am
Thanks for the info.
All I can tell you is that tracking down information about this drum set, and information about who truly had the first drummer and drum set on the Grand Ole Opry has been very tricky. Since I was not there at these events myself, I have to trust the word of others.
W.S. Holland says himself about the set, and I quote:
“The drums that are currently on display in the Johnny Cash Museum are the same set that recorded ”˜Blue Suede Shoes”™ and the Million Dollar Quartet. They were also the first ever full drum set to play the Grand Ole Opry.”
I double confirmed this morning with the museum that the drums in the pictures are indeed the drums that they say were played in the Sun Records recordings and The Grand Ole Opry. They also told me that it is the same drum set that has already been in the museum, so it is not an issue with two separate sets getting confused by the museum in pictures.
Also, the picture behind the display on the drums in the museum seems to clearly say “Slingland” across the front of the bass drum face. The drum set in the 2009 story you linked to appears to be much lighter in shade. Not sure if there are two drums sets that are getting confused here, if somehow wires got crossed over time, or how to explain the discrepancy.
Maybe the tom holder was added later. Maybe at some point the drums were re-skinned. I really have no idea. I’ll continue to try and track down info about it, but in the meantime, I have no other choice but to go by the museum’s word. They would definitely be the authority on this matter.
August 12, 2014 @ 12:42 pm
I think someone must have the kits confused, it is highly improbable that late 60’s Slingerland kit was used in the 50’s. They would not only have to have refinished it and installed new tom mounts, but also switched all the lugs, hoops and other hardware too. Also, a twin tom set up was rare in the 50’s.
W.S. Holland himself said at his clinic at the 2009 Chicago Drum Show, that the kit on Blue Suede Shoes and the first on stage at the Opry, is that 50’s Gretsch kit pictured in the article I posted. He brought it to that show. Maybe Holland is confused, I don’t know. I think the Slingerland kit is just a later kit he used with Johnny Cash.
August 12, 2014 @ 4:36 pm
Still doing more research, but this is the drumset that was used on the Sun recordings: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152459562061133&set=a.97963346132.122636.694646132&type=1&theater
August 14, 2014 @ 11:23 pm
I was at the museum last October, it is something to see.
The original fireplace mantle and some furniture that survived the fire are there and it’s downright spooky.
It’s all well don and worth a visit for sure.
August 17, 2014 @ 4:53 am
We visited right as they opened in May, 2013 on our 30th Wedding Anniversary. We had Always wanted to go to Nashville, so it was Awesome! Of course, this was a Must stop, arranged by our daughter! I remember those drums! It was the Nicest Museum, housing the most ‘come to life’ articles that did put together a story. Theme of Johnny’s life. Very nice set up! We learned a LOT about the life of, and who Johnny Cash was. We asked the Employees where all the stuff came from and we were told by a young man that the owner “Bill” was a long time fan of Johnny’s, and that Johnny would run into him a lot and he began to talk to him and liked him, and use to give him items….. “Bill would collect the items, and I guess he also struck up a close friendship with Johnny, who really was a kind hearted man. He collected, and continued to collect. But, he got the good things, as in, it is worth going to see it all! Well, that was the story. We enjoyed our trip and I would have hated if we would have missed it! Hubby will be 90 soon, and he just drank it all in. He has some tales to tell about seeing some of the Artist when they played smaller bars…..Hubby loved that music All his life and still plays his Lead guitar EVERY single Night! It is his Joy!! Would Love to bring him back this year, we didn’t have time to see it all! I’m entering every Free Trip to Nashville that I can!! Time is of the Essence though, 🙂 Have Fun in. Nashville!
August 18, 2014 @ 5:57 am
Elvis recorded “Blue Suede Shoes” on RCA. I believe that Mr. Holland is referring to Carl Perkins original version on Sun.
February 9, 2015 @ 5:05 pm
This is a great article. I have to say, March 10, 1990, I went to see the highway
men in Ames, Iowa. W.S. Was not the drummer, I was lucky enough to get to
visit with him after the show. I asked him why he didn’t play, he said Chips Momon
was in charge of the tour, and thought it would be better to have a ‘road band’ instead
of everyone bringing their own band members. I do know Mickey Raphel was on
stage, and Reggie Young was the band leader.