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The Hollies Biography

Bernie Calvert (bass; born September 16, 1943), Allan Clarke (vocals; born April 15, 1942), Bobby Elliott (drums; born December 8, 1942), Eric Haydock (bass; born February 3, 1943), Tony Hicks (guitar; born September 16, 1943), Graham Nash (vocals, guitar; born February 2, 1942), Terry Sylvester (vocals, guitar; born January 8, 1947)

 

The Hollies’ rich, multi-part harmonies – sung over consistently sharp, beat-group arrangements – made them one of the most musically appealing and popular bands of the British Invasion. Indeed, the Hollies charted more hits on Billboard’s Hot 100 from 1964 to 1975 than any other British band except for the Beatles, Dave Clark Five and the Rolling Stones. Their tally of 22 charting singles during that period bested even the Who!

 

The principal singers in the Hollies, Graham Nash and Allan Clarke, became school chums at the age of five in their hometown of Manchester, England. After a series of skiffle and show bands, Clarke and Nash – along with bassist Eric Haydock, drummer Don Rathbone and short-lived guitarist Vic Steele – debuted as the Hollies in December 1962. (In selecting “Hollies,” they reportedly derived more inspiration from the colorful bush associated with the Christmas season, during which they adopted the name change, than from Buddy Holly.) A month later, their performance at Liverpool’s Cavern Club – where the Beatles had their celebrated residency – resulted in an offer to audition for EMI’s Parlophone label. By the time the Hollies’ session at EMI’s Abbey Road studios rolled around, guitarist Tony Hicks had replaced Steele, and, in short order, Bobby Elliott replaced Rathbone on drums.

 

Clarke and Nash’s close harmonies bore obvious inspiration from the Everly Brothers. In fact, the Hollies would back up the Everly Brothers on two-thirds of Two Yanks Go to England, recorded in London in 1966. Harmony singing was the Hollies’ most striking asset, but the group possessed instrumental gifts as well. Hicks was a fine guitarist who added low harmony to the Hollies’ impressive vocal blend. Haydock played a six-string bass (unique for a rock group), and drummer Elliott was among the most spirited and accomplished timekeepers of the British Invasion.

 

The Hollies’ first two singles were covers of the Coasters’ songs “(Ain’t That) Just Like Me” and “Searchin’,” which went to Number 25 and Number 12, respectively, in their British homeland. Their versions of two more R&B songs, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs’ “Stay” and Doris Troy’s “Just One Look,” carried them into the U.K. Top 10, with the latter tune peaking at Number Two. “Just One Look” briefly sneaked onto the U.S. Hot 100, making it the group’s stateside chart debut.

 

Lightning struck again when the Hollies’ exuberant take on “Here I Go Again,” penned by legendary songwriters Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, went to Number Four on the British charts in early 1964. From this point on, the Hollies would largely leave the world of soul/R&B covers behind and emerge as strong songwriters and stylists in their own right. Their first two self-penned hits, “We’re Through” and “”Yes I Will,” made the U.K. Top 10. The Hollies’ songwriting troika of Clarke, Hicks and Nash initially used a pseudonym (“L. Ransford,” who was Graham Nash’s grandfather) before listing their own names on the songwriting credits.

 

“I’m Alive” became their first Number One hit at home in Britain, though it only “bubbled under” the U.S. Hot 100. The Hollies finally cracked the U.S. Top 40 at the end of 1965, when “Look Through Any Window” became a hit. The Hollies’ most successful years were 1966 and 1967, when they issued a run of singles that charted consistently high on both sides of the ocean: “I Can’t Let Go” (Number Two U.K., Number 42 U.S.), “Bus Stop” (Number Five U.K., Number Five U.S.), “Stop Stop Stop” (Number Two U.K., Number Seven U.S.), “On a Carousel” (Number Four U.K., Number 11 U.S.) and “Carrie-Anne” (Number Three U.K., Number Nine U.S.). These songs were irresistibly tuneful, with soaring harmonies – capped by Nash’s unmistakable voice on the high harmony – and energetic arrangements. The Hollies’ three-part vocals popped from the speakers whenever one of their songs was spun during the golden age of Top 40 radio. “Bus Stop,” with its amplified banjo, was the most distinctive of their Sixties hits, but even the Hollies’ B sides and album tracks exhibited their magic touch.

 

However, despite such excellent albums as Evolution and Butterfly (both from 1967), the Hollies were generally seen as a singles band. They were never taken as seriously by the public as the Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Who once the emphasis shifted from singles to albums and from pop to psychedelia. Graham Nash himself began losing patience with the Hollies’ emphasis on commercial pop and left the band in December 1968, hooking up with Stephen Stills and David Crosby in California the next year to form the singer/songwriter supergroup known as Crosby, Stills and Nash. His replacement in the Hollies was Terry Sylvester, formerly of the Escorts and the Swinging Blue Jeans. It was their second lineup change in that period, as bassist Eric Haydock left in 1966, after the recording of “I Can’t Let Go.” He was replaced by Bernie Calvert, who’d previously played with Hicks and Elliott in their pre-Hollies band, the Dolphins.

 

Some of the Hollies’ biggest hits came in the Seventies. “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” a message-oriented big ballad with a stately vocal arrangement, spent the month of March 1970 in the U.S. Top 10 and reached Number Three in Britain. "Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress),” one of the Hollies’ hardest-rocking numbers, nearly topped the U.S. chart, holding the Number Two spot for two weeks. By the time it hit the charts, vocalist Allan Clarke had left the band on what would turn out to be a year-long hiatus, during which he was replaced by Swedish singer Mikael Rikfors. Clarke’s return netted the Hollies one more big hit in 1974. ”The Air That I Breathe,” another gorgeous ballad in the vein of “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” reached Number Six in the U.S. and Number Two in the U.K.

 

This long-lived version of the Hollies – comprising Clarke, Hicks, Elliott, Calvert and Sylvester – lasted until 1981, when Calvert and Sylvester left. Nash rejoined Clarke, Hicks and Elliott in 1983 for a reunion album (What Goes Around) and tour. Their harmony-rich cover of the Supremes’ “Stop! In the Name of Love” became a Top 40 hit in the U.S. – the Hollies’ first in nearly a decade. Thereafter, core members Clarke, Hicks and Elliott continued to record and tour as the Hollies. A three-disc Hollies compilation, 30th Anniversary Collection, 1963-1993, included a few new tracks cut with old members Sylvester and Haydock.

 

The Hollies’ Greatest Hits, released to commemorate their 40th anniversary in 2003, placed well on the British charts. A six-disc set released that same year, entitled The Long Road Home, 1963-2003, offered an exhaustive overview of the British group’s deep catalog. In his review of the box, Goldmine’s Bruce Eder termed the Hollies “peers – at least on a creative and musical basis – of the Beatles or any other band of their era.” The Hollies – with guitarist Hicks and drummer Elliott, joined by bassist Ray Stiles and keyboardist Ian Parker – released Then, Now, Always in 2009.