Thursday, January 14, 2016

Fort Thomas Basement Features Incredible Instruments and a Family Band

Justin Holton (keyboards) and his father, Darrell Holton (drums), jam together most Saturdays in Darrell Holton's Fort Thomas basement.

The basement playroom or bar abounds in Fort Thomas. So, too, do the woodworking shops, artist studios, writer studios, a space where molten pewter becomes mini figurines. So much beauty is created in space surrounded by soil and stone foundations, tucked away for upstairs space saving and, perhaps, safekeeping, yet shared with loved ones and friends.

Such is true in the Holton residence. In this Fort Thomas basement the art created is music, and the beauty achieved is song along with the gathering of family—again and again.


Darrell Holton's first concert was at the age of 10.  He strung out some fishing string and played "The Little Black Egg" to the delight of his younger sisters. What he learned was this: "It's the most amazing thing to get a reaction from people in that way." In 1962, at the age of 12, he bought his first set of drums—which he played for 16 years.

The Holton basement is covered with albums of influence and pictures from long-time-ago gigs.

Throughout the years Darrell Holton was in several local bands, including White Wolf, Ambush, and The Garage Band. He's played nightclubs and benefits, on top of concession stand roofs at drive-in movie theaters and at funerals, and many colleges. "I've played more for free than I ever got paid," he says. It's always been for the love of it.

And it still is.

Justin Holton plays guitar while Carrie Horton sings. Kids often join in.

Today Darrell Holton plays with his sons, Justin Holton and Andy Holton. Darrell plays drums, Justin plays guitar and keyboard, Andy plays bass. Justin's girlfriend, Carrie Horton, often sings. Together they simply jam, playing garage rock. It's bare bones, not punk. Simple but energetic, influenced by Neil Young, Pink Floyd, The Who, Lloyd Zeppelin and many others. They play simple songs, experimenting with the chords, singing when words come. It's raw. They let the music carry the song. They call themselves 3 Legged Dog. And their space for jamming? Incredible.

Justin Holton plays guitar in the background.

The quality of instruments rivals any touring band.

Their current band is called 3 Legged Dog.

Tucked away in Darrell's basement is a setup both he and Justin Holton have collected and built over the years. It includes a gorgeous 1967 Ludwig drum set, a 1964 Fender Deluxe amp, a Les Paul Tribute Gibson, a Line 6 guitar, and a 1982 Ovation 12 String guitar, with gold plating and mother-of-pearl inlay.

They have a Marshall amp, an Ampeg amp, a Fender amp and a custom-built Reverb amp (which Justin made). Keyboards include a Minimoog Voyager, a Dave Smith Poly Evolver, and Nord Stage. Several Christmases ago Justin gifted his father, Darrell, with handmade LP Palladium Giovanni Wood Congas.

Darrell Holton behind his drums. Note the small TV—he's created a bit of a surround-sound experience around his drum set so that he can come downstairs solo, turn on music and jam.

There are four microphones, with more stored away, and the ability to record everything digitally, which they do. Because they often improvise on the go, they record to catch those moments of magic—to go back, relisten, play again. "When we're in the groove, no matter what we do we can't hit a wrong note," Darrell says. The groove doesn't always happen but when it does, Darrell says the high can last for weeks. They have hours, days, weeks worth of recordings. Weeks.

Some of these recordings are available to the public. You can listen to them here. About 10 years ago Justin uploaded one of Darrell's songs to the then-new MP3.com's Folk Rock radio chart. For a small moment in time Darrell's song was listed at No. 2—just behind Bruce Springsteen.

Justin began playing keyboard in 1999, when he was 18 years old. At the time Darrell was working third shift. One night Justin taught himself Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond." He played it for his father upon his return from work and that was it—Darrell's band, then The Garage Band, needed a keyboardist. Justin was in. In total, The Garage Band played for more than 35 years.

The grandchildren are now involved—their band is called The Cousins and they even write their own music.

Today, 3 Legged Dog plays most Saturdays, in Darrell's basement. Audience members most often include Darrell's wife, Teresa, their daughter, Karlissa Holton Stepner, and their granddaughters, Addyson, Saryn and Lavin. And for summer parties, holiday parties or just because, more family comes, including the cousins—so many cousins. In fact, the children have formed their own band called, The Cousins. Karlissa laughs, remembering how as children they weren't allowed to touch her father's equipment. But now that Darrell's a grandfather, it's all free game.

Addyson Stepner sings at the keyboards.

Karlissa Holton Stepner and her daughters, Addyson, Lavin and Saryn, often come down to listen—and play.

Darrell says he loves to see his grandchildren play and notices any shyness simply leave them—both when they're up at the microphone and then later, out in life.

Justin Holton, self-taught like his father, plays guitar and keyboards.

In part, Justin loves to play because "it brings people joy doing something you simply enjoy doing." 


For Darrell Holton, music is life.

And joy it brings, to everyone involved. "I have the best life in the world," Darrell says.

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