One of the best of the hoarse voiced southern soul singers, Don Hollinger didn’t have a large number of records issued, but every one has something to commend it and a couple are out and out masterpieces. He was born September 7,1937 in Blakely, GA, but started his singing in church in Newark, NJ as a young boy where he was mainly brought up. Graduating to semi-pro status he may have sung with the Heavenly Lights, a group that also included Nappy Brown and Roy Hamilton at various times. There are rumours that he sang lead on the groups only Savoy 45 “Lord I’m In Your Hands” in 1954 but aurally it doesn't seem to be him. He also toured with Jimmy Outler’s Sensational Six before moving to Florida where he was encouraged to go secular by Sam Cooke, and where all his solo recordings were cut.
His first 45 for the tiny Kelane concern showed that he’d spent a considerable time listening to R & B as well as gospel as it was a straight ahead down home 12 bar blues. And of course his astonishingly grainy voice was ideally suited to the material. “I Had A Nightmare” continued that style, even including a blues harp in the instrumental line-up. His next release is the first of the great ones. “Until I Found You” is a monumental piece of deep soul emoting from Hollinger, his voice cracking with the strain as he ploughs his way through the back drop of guitar and horns. “Let Him Go” is almost in the same league, another dead stop ballad with a classic southern soul arrangement of arpeggio guitar and a big prominent horn section.
He joined Miami’s leading record man Henry Stone in 1972 cutting a session which resulted in 2 now very rare 45s for Dash. Although his version of BB King’s old warhorse “Rock Me Baby” isn’t up to much, the other sides which came out are of the highest possible quality. “I Found Out” is a slow, chugging southern groover of immense power, with Hollinger totally convincing as the wronged man. Can’t get enough of those horns either! “You Got Everything I Need”, an outstanding deep song features another astonishing vocal performance. They really don’t come much better than this.
Hollinger’s final 45 is the celebrated “Love On The Phone” on the Miami based Pandisc label, spread over both sides of the 45 and featuring a lengthy rap. But by this time his usual style of singing was completely unfashionable, and he adopts a smooth approach, and in doing so, sadly loses all his individuality. Listening blind, you’d never guess it was the same guy as cut “Until I Found You”. Naturally it was his best seller.
Don Hollinger didn’t make much money – if any at all – from his recordings, but made his living touring and as a songwriter. In the 70s he spent time with Swamp Dogg, writing for the likes of ZZ Hill and gigging with the likes of Doris Duke, as well as working with Betty Wright’s then husband King Sporty in Miami and around the Caribbean. Heart trouble stopped him working through most of the 70s and eventually caused his death in the next decade. We’re left with some wonderful music to celebrate his talent.
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