The Cream Puff Interview with Peter Holsapple
by Dan Reeves
When, where, and what age did you get the inclination that music would be such a major part of your life?
Eight years old, Ed Sullivan, the Beatles, just like everyone else my age. It was a done deal even then. My big brother was a church organist and classical pianist. He, my band director and my choir director all helped facilitate my musical needs and desires.
What bands were making the biggest impression on you and your musical tastes?
Beatles, Kinks, Lovin’ Spoonful, Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band, Koerner, Ray & Glover (thanks to my brother), Beach Boys, Turtles, Cowsills, Association, Byrds. Didn't care for the Stones or Rascals, particularly.
One of your first bands was Rittenhouse Square, with Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter. How did the three of you decide to form the band?
Chris and Mitch were best friends growing up. Mitch turned pro at about age twelve, playing in a supper club band as well as having rock bands. He began writing early, too. When Chris picked up the bass, he was a hot commodity, even without having been in a band. He knew music, and he was starting, like Mitch, to record stuff. So Chris and I had a band together called Ice for a few months. We got tapped to join Mitch and Bobby Locke in the third incarnation of Rittenhouse Square in Winston-Salem, around 1971or 1972. We worked up four Wishbone Ash songs, they sounded good and we went from there. We recorded a six-song album and tried to get signed to a label. Pretty heady for a high school sophomore.
Tell me how Arrogance influenced you as an up and coming artist? I know the age difference wasn't that much, but what did you see and hear them doing as a band that influenced your development?
Arrogance played the same coffeehouse circuit in Winston Salem as we did, so I thought they were from Winston. They were slightly older and played really heavy rock. Mike Greer had picked up the first Black Sabbath album months before it was released in the US, and they worked the whole thing up. They were wonderful. They also brought Rittenhouse Square to Chapel Hill for a gig once.
What was your relationship with The Fabulous Knobs?
None whatsoever. They were a band after we’d all left for NYC. I didn't know Terry [Anderson, drummer] personally until I moved back to North Carolina in 2006 or so.
Th’ Cigaretz were contemporaries of the H-Bombs, my band in 1977 with Mitch, Chris Chamis and Robert Keely from Chapel Hill. We played shows with them and tried to extend the reach of punk and new wave through the Raleigh/Chapel Hill area. Sweet guys.
What other bands made up your group of North Carolina contemporaries back in those days when The dB’s were a New York band?
Technically, despite all hailing from Winston-Salem, The dB’s were never a “North Carolina band,” as we’d formed in New York. By the time groups like the Knobs were playing, we had already left North Carolina.
Can you share your thoughts on what was happening musically in North Carolina that was different from anywhere else in the country?
I think what was happening in this state was exactly what was happening in places like Boston and Minneapolis and Austin, just on a somewhat smaller scale. More like Memphis. Bands that didn’t play Southern Rock or heavy rock gravitated together and became friends and drank each other’s beer and went to each other’s shows. So I would disagree with the premise that it was different—it was right in line with what communities all over America were doing, I think.
Given that The dB’s formation was in New York, what was it like coming back home revered as such an acclaimed band?
Again, I don’t know that we felt particularly revered. The dB’s’ hope was that, by moving to NY, we could help point people toward worthy stuff coming out of North Carolina by association. We were really busy trying to be a band in New York but girls found our accents charming.
Godfrey Cheshire once wrote in reference to your albums Stands for Decibels and Repercussion, "It was as if Forsyth County had produced its own Revolver and Sgt Pepper." At the time, were you fully aware of the impact yours and other bands’ music had on "the North Carolina music scene?"
No, I think we were pretty absorbed in trying to write and record and play, and we didn’t have a lot of time to spend considering things like that. It’s a lot easier to look at it that way with a couple decades having passed, especially if you weren't in the band. I hope that makes sense -it's really for others to judge your content.
Would you agree that the term "NC Music Scene" came out of that time period of '77-'83?
There have always been great bands in North Carolina, but I think that period of time produced a lot of really significant ones, partially because of the DIY ethic of the era. I mean, how many decades prior had great bands existed that just didn’t get to make records?
And what would you say defines today's scene?
It’s city-to-city, really. Strong band scenes in towns like Asheville, Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Durham. A lot is determined by what sort of venues are around, especially in a day and age when it’s cheaper to get a DJ.
Will you tell me a bit about playing shows at places like The Pier, The Frog & Nightgown, and Cat's Cradle? Who was in the audience? College kids? Punks?
We played at every incarnation of the Cradle, I think. It was mostly college kids. There were some punks, but I don’t think we really spoke to them. The Pier was fun. I don’t think we did The Frog & Nightgown. That was more of a jazz place. In Winston, when we’d come back, we played The Forum (the old Parkway Cinema) and Casablanca. Fridays in Greensboro was cool too.
What venues in NC were best suited for The dB’s and what national bands were playing with you on the Southeastern tour circuit during that time?
Well, probably the Cradle was the best. Other bands that we knew who were touring were groups like the Bush Tetras, the Raybeats, the Bongos so I’d wager they came down to North Carolina. I really couldn’t tell you—Frank Heath would know.
In the early 1990s, you joined the Continental Drifters. How did that come about?
I lived in LA and knew Carlo Nuccio, the drummer and de facto leader of the band. He asked me to sub on guitar one night when Ray Ganucheau couldn’t play, so I learned a bunch of songs and played alongside Dave Catching (Eagles of Death Metal), subbing for Ray. It was big fun, but I didn’t want to join. I offered to produce a demo, which turned into an album and eventually they wore my resistance down and I ended up in the band’s ranks.
I get the impression that you have managed purposefully to stay away from what some would call the dark side of the music business. Were you or any of your musical projects burned or manipulated by a record company?
I managed never to get a contract with a major label, so that may have helped protect me. I did have one album I produced get canned by the record company, and I produced another album for a different band whose leader never turned it in to their record company. But yeah, otherwise, I’ve gotten to play with great people and make cool records. I just don’t produce other artists anymore.
Around the same time you were playing the Continental Drifters, you reunited with Chris Stamey for Mavericks. How was that experience compared to The dB’s earliest days and when you all got back together to record Falling Off the Sky?
Chris and I have been friends since grade school and bandmates since we were early teens. Even when we weren't playing together regularly, we were still in touch. We pretty much know how each other works, and we always focus on getting the best out of each other. Mavericks was a lovely experience that is documented in that sweet and sentimental record that cost not a lot to make and sounded like a million bucks. Falling Off the Sky was done differently, and it took a longer time. It’s a great record as well, but very different as much was done independently of being together for all of the recording sessions.
What NC bands are you currently digging?
The Forryst Bruthers are a cool Durham band who I’ve gotten to play with. They have so much talent amongst them, it’s almost criminal. There are tremendous songwriters like Brett Harris, Skylar Gudasz and B.J. Barham (from American Aquarium) who have raised the bar significantly for everyone else. And Chris Stamey continues to release fantastic records.
Do you see any rising stars?
There is a teenage band from Wake Forest called URMom who are going to go places if they continue on the path they’re on.
What is your opinion on the state of music today versus the late 70's and early 80's?
I’m grateful that there are still bands that want to rock. One could surmise that rock bands are an artifact from a bygone era, considering what today’s teens are smitten with (I’m the father of one, so I am well aware). But, like I say, groups like URMom want to rock, so it’s not dead.
What, in your opinion, has rock and roll become as a musical genre and a state of mind?
I think rock and roll is definitely fighting for its own survival. Being as its premise is a well-mined landscape, it’s not exactly surprising, I guess. Two guitars, bass, and drums only have x amount of variations available, but Television didn’t sound like the Beatles or Metallica, so maybe there’s something in the offing that’s going to reset the boundaries yet again.
What's on the horizon for you now? What are you working on and who are you working with?
The dB’s have been doing some benefit shows for Stand Against HB2 here in North Carolina, but we don’t really have any plans to make another record. My high school band Little Diesel (the state’s first punk band) also performed at the Winston-Salem Stand Against HB2 show, our first gig in 40+ years. I have a 45 coming out sometime soon, in vague anticipation of a possible solo album. And I’m playing piano and tambourine and singing in a Kinks’ cover band called the Well Respected Men.