Retrocon 2024

Interview with Derek Holt, formerly of The Climax Blues Band

(This interview was originally published March 13, 2015 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)

When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the '80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.

This time that awesomeness is Derek Holt. He was a founding member of The Climax Blues Band and wrote as well as performed their 1981 hit single "I Love You" (which I have always personally adored). Find out a little about him, that beautiful song and more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Derek Holt...

Q: When and how did you get your own start in the music industry? Please tell us a little about your earlier career and how the Climax Blues Band came together.
Derek: I first started playing guitar when I was eight years old. My brother was eight years older than me and was playing 50s skiffle. I took it more seriously when at school and around the age of 16 was already going out and doing gigs with local bands. I was playing guitar and also singing. It all came natural to me though I couldn't read music, just had a good ear for it, I guess. When I left school, I went to work in a local grinding wheel factory as a laboratory assistant and attending college for a degree in Chemistry.

Colin Cooper [another founding member of Climax Blues Band who passed away in 2008] also worked there as a metallurgist so that's how we met. He had already discovered a young Pete Haycock and had wanted to put a blues band together. He was already gigging with a jazz band on clarinet. We started doing local gigs with local drummer George Newsome and a keyboard player named Arthur Wood who at the time was a school teacher. Our bass player then was Richard Jones, who also knew Pete from Grammar School. I was rhythm guitarist. While playing local gigs we were "discovered" by a scout for the new EMI label Parlaphone who was on the look out for a young blues/rock outfit for their label. We signed up for two albums with them though we still had day jobs so had to take time off work to go and record in London. Our first album was recorded over two days in the infamous Abbey Road Studios in 1968. We were in Studio 1, The Beatles were in Studio 2 and Pink Floyd in studio 3! I was just 19 years of age.

We will fast forward to the '80s. By 1980, Derek Holt, Colin Cooper and Pete Haycock were the only original members left in Climax Blues Band. The band had released 11 albums up to that point and their biggest hit single was 1976's "Couldn't Get It Right". In 1980, they released their twelfth album, Flying the Flag, which included a little gem simply titled "I Love You" which was written by Holt who also performed lead vocals.

Q: Please take us back to when you wrote "I Love You". What is the back story about how that song was conceived and written? Inspiration? How did it come together and how long did it take to write?
Derek: Who knows where songs come from? This was at the time when we had a four album deal with Warner Brothers. Everyone was writing songs to try and get theirs on. I had a little studio set up. When I say little, I mean one corner of a bedroom with a Fender Rhodes [electric piano], a 4-track recorder, a very small drum kit, a few guitars and one microphone. I remember one night just going in there, I sat down at the piano, set the recorder and just started playing the intro and chords to "I Love You". I wrote the whole structure of the song in a couple of takes including the key change to the solo which I thought was quite clever how it came back to the bridge. I then played a rough feel on my very basic drum kit. Next I added the guitar solo which just seemed naturally what would fit. I played it by bending the strings, it wasn't a slide guitar, put the bass on, then sat down and out poured the lyrics, from nowhere. I then sang it and did all the harmonies myself. I would say it was a pretty divine moment and one I can't explain.

Q: Did you have any feeling that "I Love You" was going to be something special when you wrote it? I read that it almost was not recorded for the album. How and why did "I Love You" go from being off to being on the Flying the Flag album? How did that all go down?
Derek: The irony of "I Love You" is that I played it to the band but they didn't like it. I thought it was the best and most complete song I'd ever written. We had a producer [John Ryan] come to England from L.A. to run through the tracks for our next album. He was sent to pre-produce our songs and asked us if anyone had any more songs. I said, "I have this one but the band doesn't like it." I played my cassette recording for him and he loved it, even said he thought it was a hit.

Q: How did the song evolve during production? I like the use of strings on the track. Any other interesting details about creating this beautiful song? What were your feelings when you heard your final recorded version of "I Love You"?
Derek: We arrived in L.A. to record the album at Sound City Studios. When it came to "I Love You", our producer got Nicky Hopkins to play the grand piano. So it was me at the Fender Rhodes, Nicky by my side at the grand and John Cuffley on drums. The three of us laid down the basic track. I then put on the bass, sang it and did all the harmonies, Pete [Haycock] played my guitar solo, Colin Cooper wasn't even on the track. Then the producer decided to get a "real" string section on the track which was the icing on the cake. Warner Brothers came to the album launch at the studio for the execs to have a listen. They all raved about "I Love You", they got behind it and it became a hit. Personally, I thought it just sounded incredible.

"I Love You" was a single from the 1980 Climax Blues Band album Flying the Flag and has gone on to be one of the band's most prolific hits. The song about a woman coming into a man's life changing it for the better entered the U.S. pop chart in February of 1981. It went on to peak at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June of that year and spent 27 weeks in the top 100. Here is a video of "I Love You" by Climax Blues Band...

Q: Why did the rest of the band not like the song and why did it never get played in live shows? Most Climax Blues Band songs seem to be credited as written by the entire band. Was it unusual that you received solo credit for writing "I Love You"?
Derek: Up until the 'Flying the Flag' album, we used to split songwriting royalties four equal ways as we were all credited with writing songs. For this album, we had a meeting to discuss starting to have songwriting credit split separately. I lost the argument to keep it all the same as before and ended up gaining 100% of my own song. Ironic!

When the song became a hit (also it was the start of me then becoming a lead singer which worried the others), we had a major U.S. tour booked but both Colin and Pete didn't want to "go on the road to promote my career". So even with a song high up on the U.S. charts, they actually chose not to back me up instead of just being grateful for another hit. I never got to tour and sing the song live so I feel slightly cheated out of performing it. But it became a really popular radio song and of course a lot of people fell in love because of it. I also get emails from people who actually got married because of it even having it played as their "first dance" at their reception.

Q: What are your sentiments regarding "I Love You" over 30 years later?
Derek: It's so satisfying to know the the song touched so many people in so many different ways. The song still lives on 30 years later! Occasionally, I get asked if it can be used in a film or for a jingle, so that's great. When I go out gigging, people still ask for it and I'll sing it. It would have been great though to perform it in front of thousands in the USA when we were at our peak. I recently did some shows in Toronto, Canada and people just loved to hear the song live. It will probably live on forever. I hope so. I guess I made my mark!

I have always loved this song. From the moment I hear Derek sing that first line, it gets me every time. The melody, his vocals, the lyrics. Everything combines to make one very special song in my opinion. Here are those lyrics to "I Love You" as written by Derek Holt...

When I was younger man I hadn't a care
Foolin' around, hitting the town, growing my hair
You came along and stole my heart when you entered my life
Ooh babe you got what it takes so I made you my wife

Since then I never looked back
It's almost like living a dream
And ooh I love you

You came along from far away and found me here
I was playin' around, feeling down, hittin' the beer
You picked me up from off the floor and gave me a smile
You said you're much too young, your life ain't begun, let's walk for awhile

And as my head was spinnin' 'round
I gazed into your eyes
And thought ooh I want you

Thank you babe for being a friend
And shinin' your light in my life
'cause ooh I need you

As my head was comin' round
I gazed into your eyes
And thought ooh I want you

Thanks again for being my friend
And straightenin' out my life
'cause ooh I need you

Since then I never looked back
It's almost like livin' a dream
Ooh I got you

If ever a man had it all
It would have to be me
And ooh I love you

Q: In 1983, what caused you to leave Climax Blues Band, a band you helped found? It seems you rejoined the band for a short period of time in the late '80s. What caused you to come back and why did you leave again?
Derek: I left the band due to the guys not supporting me. It was probably the worst decision I could have made. We all make mistakes in life. I went on to form a band with Roye Albrighton, the guitarist from Nektar. We did two albums for A&M and toured Europe and the U.S. only it was like starting all over again. It was tough driving the thousands of miles between gigs. I'd already done this with Climax and I just felt it was like worthless exercise. So we split and I went into studio management for a while. I guess I fell out of love with the daily grind of touring for a while. It can get to you.

After I left, Pete and Colin carried on. Then they themselves split leaving Colin to carry on as The Climax Blues Band with some local musicians. I was approached to rejoin to do some European tours which I did more for the love of playing than anything else, but I was hired as a backing musician so got paid by the gig as a hired hand. This didn't sit well with me and so i left again. I was also going through some difficult times at home and my heart just wasn't into slogging around the world on the road again especially traveling in a van for thousands of miles. America was where we should have been but we lost that chance the first time around.

Q: How did you end up collaborating with Stewart Copeland to create the music used in the Star Wars animated Droids cartoon series? What can you tell us about Copeland and your experience working with him?
Derek: I'd known Stewart Copeland for many years. His brother, Miles, managed us for a few good years. He got in touch with me about collaborating on Lucasfilm's animated shows. He'd already had success writing the music for 'The Equalizer' [1985-1989 TV series] and 'Rumble Fish' [1983 film], so was well respected. I really enjoyed working with Stewart. He had a great studio. 

Derek Holt and Stewart Copeland collaborated to write and record music for the Star Wars animated television shows that aired from 1985-1986 including the opening theme for Droids titled "In Trouble Again"...

Q: Please tell us a little about where your career has taken you since the '80s. What are some of your proudest professional accomplishments?
Derek: I joined the "Night Of The Guitars" tour [1990] playing bass for Alvin Lee, Leslie West, Steve Howe, Wishbone Ash, Robbie Krieger, Randy California, Jan Akkerman and Phil Manzanera to name a few. I was invited to meet up again at Miles Copeland's chateau retreat in France where musicians and songwriters would gather to write songs in various groups. I was there with people like Jeff Beck, Timothy B. Schmit, Lisa Loeb and Chas Sandford among others. A truly great experience to be collaborating with some great writers. I also played bass for Chuck Berry in Spain. All of these great experiences to be remembered.

Q: What else is Derek Holt up to nowadays? Musically and otherwise?
Derek: I decided to have a go at running my own live music venue in Stafford, England, my home town. So I bought a pub called "The Grapes." We were there for 12 years, had some great fun, saw some incredible acts. I was playing in there three nights a week, but eventually we ran out of steam and gave it up for a quieter life.

I still play and go out with different musicians up and down the country. I'm currently writing a book on my life called Almost Like Living a Dream (from a line in "I Love You"). It's been a great, bumpy ride so far. Long may it continue.

I am so pleased that Derek was able to take some time to answer some questions so I could share them with you here. To find out more about Derek Holt and keep up with everything he has going, please visit his official website. I want to take this occasion to again thank Derek Holt for his contributions to '80s pop culture especially through "I Love You" and, even more, for going back to that awesome decade with us here for a little while as well.

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