The first man to ever play a full drum set at the Grand Ole Opry has died, but W.S. “Fluke” Holland was more famously known as Johnny Cash‘s drummer for nearly four decades.
Cash called him the “Father of the Drums” and relied on his rhythm and guidance through most of his career. In addition to being the Man in Black’s drummer, Holland was also his road manager for 37 years.
The opportunity was a “fluke”: Per the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Holland joined longtime Cash bandmates Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant for a two-week tour with the singer and simply never left. Prior to joining Cash and company, he’d worked significantly with Carl Perkins, even playing drums on Perkins’ famous recording of “Blue Suede Shoes.” Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis are three more stars with whom Holland recorded at Memphis Recording Service; the At Folsom Prison and At San Quentin albums are two he played on.
Holland’s career with the Perkins Brothers Band started one year after he graduated high school, in 1954. He was born in Saltillo, Tenn., a small town south and west of Nashville, closer to Jackson.
Early performances with Perkins found Holland making rhythm on an upright bass, but during a recording session, famed Sun Records owner Sam Phillips made him an accidental drummer. “My nickname is ‘Fluke’ because everything I ever did seemed like a fluke,” he told the Jackson Sun in 2016.
The newspaper also reported the story of how Holland got that job with Perkins in the first place: “I asked Carl Perkins once why he picked me to play drums,” Holland said. “He told me I was the only one he knew who had a Cadillac. He said that he had always wanted to drive up to Sun Studios to play music for Sam Phillips in a Cadillac. So that was another fluke.”
Holland was the only drummer Cash ever had, but the singer credited finances with never hiring one sooner; he simply couldn’t afford it. The arrangement worked out for both men and the Tennessee Three, or various reconfigurations that formed late in Cash’s career. Holland retired in 1997 but still entertained and stayed involved in the business until 2019.
Holland’s death on Wednesday (Sept. 23) came after a short illness. The 85-year-old leaves behind a wife of 60 years named Joyce and two daughters, Kim and Krista. An obituary notes that he’ll be buried with family and loved ones in attendance on Saturday (Sept. 26).