Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2008 | 2 a.m.
W.S. “Fluke” Holland didn’t know one end of a drumstick from the other when he began his career, performing with pal Carl Perkins for an audition at Sun Records in 1954.
Holland wound up keeping time for Johnny Cash from 1960 until 1997, recording such classics as “Folsom Prison Blues,” “A Boy Named Sue” and “Ring of Fire.”
Holland will be a special guest Saturday at Santa Fe Station with Cash tribute artist Shawn Barker.
“Until late 1954 I was working for a friend of mine, learning the air conditioning business,” Holland, 72, says from his home in Jackson, Tenn.
He was friends with Perkins, also from Tennessee, and often went to bars where Perkins and his brothers were playing Hank Williams tunes.
“I’d walk up when they were playing an up-temp song and I’d keep time by beating on the curvature of the upright bass,” Holland says. “It kind of sounded like a drum.”
When Perkins got an audition with Sam Phillips at Sun in Memphis he asked Holland to come along.
“He told me to borrow some drums and go with them,” Holland says. “I remember saying, ‘Carl, I can’t play drums.” He said, ‘You keep time on the bass, you can play drums.’ ”
So Holland borrowed a set of drums but didn’t know how to set them up. “That’s why my drum sets were backward from most drummers. I’d never seen a drum set set up before.”
He took the drums to the Cotton Bowl, a club south of Jackson, and figured out how the drums worked.
“Then on Thursday morning we got up, loaded everything into my car and drove over to Memphis and played for Sam Phillips,” Holland says. “Later everyone joked that the only reason Carl invited me to go with them was that I was the only person who had a car he thought would make it to Memphis.”
Phillips liked the audition and signed Perkins and his band. Their first recording was “Movie Magg.” The following year they recorded “Blue Suede Shoes.”
LAS VEGAS SHOWS
“The Man in Black,” starring Shawn Barker 7 and 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Santa Fe Station; $10; 658-4900. Former Johnny Cash drummer W.S. “Fluke” Holland will appear Saturday.
“A Tribute to the Life and Legend of Johnny Cash & June Carter,” starring Jimmy Ray and Cyndi Cantrell; dinner shows at 7 and 9 p.m. Jan. 25; HB’s Restaurant, 6820 W. Flamingo Road; $7.99 for the rib special; 221-8884
A Birthday Tribute to Johnny Cash 3 p.m. Feb. 24; Summerlin’s Starbright Theater; $13-$15; 240-1301
Holland was the drummer on the Million Dollar Quartet recording of an impromptu jam session by Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Perkins and Cash in 1956.
There’s a story that Holland got his nickname, Fluke, because of the way he got into the business.
“And I guess it fits, though it isn’t exactly true,” he says. “But John said never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
The truth, Holland says, is that he had the habit of calling things a “flukus” when he was a kid. “Look at the ‘flukus’ over there. What’s this ‘flukus’?” Holland said. “I guess I just thought it sounded cool to say ‘flukus.’”
Eventually people called him Flukus, which became Fluke.
Holland learned his craft quickly. Through the ’50s he toured extensively with Perkins and other Sun artists, including Roy Orbison, Presley, Lewis and Cash. He was also the first drummer to play a full set of drums on the Grand Ole Opry radio show.
In 1960 Cash invited Holland to join his band. “He wanted a bigger sound. I was his first drummer.”
In 1962, Cash and his band became the first country act to play Carnegie Hall. “A guy from a little old town in Tennessee playing Carnegie Hall,” Holland says.
Holland played with Cash at Folsom Prison in California, where they recorded the “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison” album. Holland was scheduled to play at a 40th-anniversary concert inside Folsom Prison, but the concert fell apart.
Holland was disappointed but hopes they will have a 40th-anniversary concert for another prison show “Johnny Cash at San Quentin” (1969). “That was the place where we first did ‘A Boy Named Sue.’”
“Sue” was written by Shel Silverstein, who sent Cash a copy. “At the time it was a poem,” Holland says. “We didn’t even know it existed till during the show John got it out and started reading it and we just started playing something behind it. We didn’t know what to do. The audience was so loud we couldn’t hear what was going on so we just started playing something.
“Actually, the first time we heard it was when we got back to the studio, trying to get some kind of mix good enough for a release. It never was very good, but it made Johnny Cash a superstar.”