Some sad news to report today: We've received word that bluesman Creighton Holley passed away yesterday. The news is devastating to the scene, in general, but particularly for the blues community, which is still grieving the loss of John-Alex Mason, who passed away this past fall at the tragically young age of 35.
While Holley, who just turned 65 last month, had some health concerns related to his heart, he died from a blood-borne form of cancer. Over the summer, Holley was involved in a car accident that damaged a pacemaker that had been installed in his heart the previous year.
Just before the holidays, during a routine checkup to monitor his recovery from that accident, doctors discovered the cancer. And while they made efforts to treat it through medicinal means rather than through radiation, those efforts ultimately proved to be unsuccessful, and Holley ended up passing away yesterday.
Holley, a beloved and longtime member of the local blues community, leaves behind two daughters and a slew of admirers. From his time fronting the Creighton Holley Band and performing with AOA to collaborating with Dan Treanor and hosting Herb's Hideout's famed Monday-night jams, Holley was a highly active member of the scene. For a time, he was also a member of the Rhythm Kings out of Chicago. Beyond bolstering his pedigree, his time with that act proved to be a significant part of his legacy.
"When he joined the Rhythm Kings, at that time people from Colorado just were not taken seriously as blues artists," notes Kai Turner, local blues aficionado and longtime host of Strictly Blues on 103.5/The Fox. "And here comes Creighton Holley, walking into a band that, really, was one of the premier backing bands in Chicago, featuring people like Gene Barge, who just had an incredible blues lineage. These were people who had backed some of the biggest names in Chicago, and they asked Creighton to be their lead singer. So it was sort of a real acknowledgement of the charisma and power that he had."
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"Since he's been sick," says Turner, "he hasn't played much, but he's always been one of the great local blues players. His album, Survivor, really sort of set the standard as to what blues from Colorado was supposed to sound like. He was always an energetic and compassionate man, and he always put on a great show.
"He had a very energetic feel for the way that he did his music, and he kind of lived it," Turner goes on. "You know, Survivor was sort of biographical in the sense that that's what he did. He did what he had to do in order to keep playing that music, even if it meant working a 5 a.m. shift at UPS and then doing gigs until three in the morning. He was a hard worker and a great blues artist."
"Hands down, he was the most talented singer/guitar player I've worked with," says drummer Kyle Borthick (aka Kyle Roberts), who played with Holley off and on for more than a decade. "I really can't say enough about his talent. I mean, the guy was astoundingly good. His ear for harmony -- if you were singing a song, you couldn't ask for a better person to back you up, as far as coming up with great parts. His own original material was really, really good. The guy was just a fountain of creativity and great ideas."
"One of the beautiful songs he wrote is called 'Day In, Day Out' -- it's on his solo CD," Borthick recalls. "I remember when he got the idea for it. We were riding around in his car, and he had this old Buick or Oldsmobile, and the turn signal made this kind of metallic sound, like dink-dank-dink-dank -- something like that, you know -- and he goes, 'Wow,' and then he starts humming to himself. And he ended up writing this beautiful song, 'Day In, Day Out,' which is like a Marvin Gaye-style love ballad, based on the idea that he got from hearing the two notes this funky little turn signal made. That's the kind of creativity we're talking about.
"I did the booking for the Creighton Holley Band in the '90s, and when I'd be talking to club owners, telling them about what kind of music it was, I'd describe it like, 'Well, it's like George Benson meets James Brown with a little B.B. King thrown on top of it,'" Borthick continues. "He was as good -- I mean, James Brown is kind of a phenomenon as a performer -- but Creighton's ideas and the horn parts he would come up with were on that caliber. And his guitar playing? He could stand toe-to-toe with anybody. And his soulfulness...not just single-note stuff, but he could play chord solos and he could scat sing-a-long with his single-note stuff in harmony. And he was totally self-taught. He was just one of those phenomenal talents that you don't meet every day. It's a big loss, for sure."
"I think he's influenced just about everybody who's ever seen him," Turner concludes. "Musically, I think, his guitar-playing style was just a very powerful, clean style. And he influenced a lot of guitar players. I think anybody who started playing blues or was introduced to playing blues, especially in the 1990s, was most definitely influenced by Creighton Holly."
As far as we know, no services for Holley are planned at this time. If that changes, we'll certainly let you know. In the meantime, this Sunday, January 8, at 5 p.m., Herb's Hideout is hosting a celebration of his life, which will include an open jam. Players are invited to bring their instruments and a side dish. Clearly he'll be solely missed. "Many of us have lost a very valued friend," says Chris Kresge, host of the Colorado Sound, "and a brilliantly accomplished musician in our community."
We've reached out to several friends of Creighton for more reflections, and we'll be adding those as we get them. Also, please feel free to offer your condolences or share your favorite memory of Creighton in the comments section below. In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers go out to Creighton's friends and family.
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