Martin Hollis – Down County Boys Pioneer
Thank you to Mick Cooper for passing on the following words by Mike Rodgers.
Martin Hollis, a founder member of the Down County Boys and a wonderful lead and harmony singer from the early days of bluegrass in this country has died in Connecticut, after a short illness.
A long time ago, bluegrass was a musical genre that very few people in England had even heard of, let alone heard! In the early sixties, when most of their contemporaries were busy buying winkle picker shoes and trying to play rock’n’roll, 4 guys from Coventry formed a bluegrass band which they called The Down County Boys. At that time, there were maybe two or three other bluegrass bands in the whole country!
The line up was Ken Harris (guitar), Andy Smith (banjo), Mike Rodgers (mandolin) and Martin Hollis (guitar). From the outset, the band concentrated on its vocal sound which Martin and Ken handled to perfection. Martin had a good voice with a strong tenor that was ideally suited to the type of bluegrass music that the band was performing in those early days; not only songs from the first generation of US bluegrass bands but also ‘deep catalogue’ songs from artists such as the Louvin Brothers. Ken and Martin were producing harmonies that few others in British bluegrass were doing at that time. Their version of the Stanley Brothers’ ‘Another Night’ was a particular stand out moment from a Folk Voice concert in London in the sixties.
Martin left the Down County Boys to help form the famous ‘Playboys’ country band with Patsy Powell before emigrating to the USA, where he married Terri in 1973. Martin put together several modern country bands over the next twenty years or so and consistently won awards from the New England Country Music Association. Over the past few years he returned to his first love, bluegrass, and was playing guitar and some fiddle and singing bluegrass in his local area.
The Down County Boys, as Britain’s longest running bluegrass band, have been producing top quality bluegrass with an emphasis on their vocal sound for almost 50 years and, although Martin was with the band for a relatively short time, his effect on the development of that vocal style was very important.
He will be sorely missed by all those who remember those exciting early days of British bluegrass music. He is survived by his wife Terri, their son Jason and their daughter Sinead.