Legendary Johnny Cash Drummer W.S. “Fluke” Holland Dies At 85

W.S. Holland. Photo: Eddie Michel Azoulay

Longtime Johnny Cash sideman W.S. “Fluke” Holland passed away on Wednesday (Sept. 23) in Jackson, Tennessee, at age 85.

Holland was the superstar’s only drummer throughout his career. He joined Cash’s The Tennessee Two in 1960, which prompted the group’s renaming to The Tennessee Three. He played on all of Cash’s hits thereafter, remaining by his side until Cash retired from the road in 1997.

Born in Saltello, Tennessee in 1935, Holland graduated from high school in Jackson in 1953. He began working with fellow Jackson resident Carl Perkins the following year. When Perkins went to Sun Records in Memphis, Holland accompanied him.

He played on all of the classic Perkins Sun Records sides, including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Honey Don’t,” “Boppin’ the Blues,” “Glad All Over,” “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” and “Matchbox” in 1956-59. He also played on records by various other Sun artists, including Roy Orbison, Carl Mann and Billy Lee Riley.

He was present at the famed late-1956 Million Dollar Quartet session at Sun, which joined the forces of Perkins, Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.

Perkins’ increased drinking, a serious automobile accident and waning disc success led to Holland leaving his band in 1959. The following year, Cash hired him to join bassist Marshall Grant and lead guitarist Luther Perkins in his band. Holland’s “train-like” rhythm subsequently became one of the distinguishing elements of Cash’s sound.

His drumming can be heard on “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town,” “Five Feet High and Rising,” “I Got Stripes,” “Ring of Fire,” “Understand Your Man,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Daddy Sang Bass,” “A Boy Named Sue,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” “Man in Black,” “One Piece at a Time” and many more Johnny Cash singles. In addition, Holland is on the landmark Cash LPs Live at Folsom Prison (1968) and Live at San Quentin (1969).

He was also on the 1969 Bob Dylan album Nashville Skyline, alongside Cash. Other stars who recorded with Holland include Dale Watson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Western, Marty Stuart, Johnny Horton, Steve Goodman and George Jones.

After 1997, the drummer toured with his own W.S. Holland Band, extending his career as a working musician to seven decades. He was a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He has been called the most important drummer in country-music history.

In 2019, Holland published his autobiography, entitled Behind The Man in Black: The WS Holland Story. He died of congestive heart failure.

W.S. Fluke Holland is survived by his wife Joyce Lindsey Holland, daughters Kim Holland Lovelace and Krista Holland. The family will receive friends for a visitation on Saturday at West Jackson Baptist Church from 10 a.m. until noon with the funeral beginning at noon. He will be buried at Ridgecrest Cemetery.

Memorial donations can be made in his honor to either West Jackson’s Hartland Ministry or YouthTown of Tennessee.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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