Holly Beth Vincent is probably best known as the “Holly” in Holly and the Italians, but there’s so much more to her than that…
Born in 1956 in Chicago Illinois, Holly Beth Vincent started learning both drums and guitar at the age of 10. After her family moved to Los Angeles, a teenage Holly toured with bar bands, spent time as the drummer in a Rockabilly outfit, and by 1977 had joined an all female band where she took up guitar duties. In 1978 she formed Holly and the Italians, and inspired by the UKs Punk scene decamped to London, “That’s the time I see my life beginning” she told Record magazine in 1983 “If anything of California seeps into my music it’s an accident, I’ve been trying not to think about it for years”. In December 1979 the band released the HBV penned song “Tell That Girl to Shut Up”, on DJ Charlie Gillet’s Oval record label, and Holly found herself on the front cover of the Melody Maker more than once, before the record was even released. Opening up for Blondie alongside ska band The Selecter at the Hammersmith Odeon in January 1980, led to the band joining the stable of manager Gary Kurfirst alongside Blondie, Talking Heads, and the B-52s. The single wasn’t a big hit, but the future was looking bright and on the back of their live appearances they eventually signed a two album deal with Virgin. In a 2015 interview with riceburnerfm Holly refers to London’s Punk scene; “I was inspired by the minimalism, directness and accessibility of the music. Also by the humor, the wit of it. In Los Angeles the punk scene was very artistic but not gender conscious. In London I just did what I was already doing musically. I was successful very quickly, within a few months I was offered label deals by most everyone. I like the gloom of London and perhaps the climate helped. I lived there before and had always liked it”. Holly returned to the US to begin work on the debut album “The Right to be Italian” with 60s girl group producer Shadow Morton at the desk. Shadow was eventually replaced by producer Richard Gottehrer who started the whole process again from scratch. The album was ambitious and expensive, involving many extra musicians, and took over a year to complete. When it was eventually released in February 1981 it became clear that the initial enthusiasm for the band had been lost, and post-punk had moved on. The album incidentally was more pop than punk, less Joan Jett, more Kim Wilde…only much darker.
Vincent returned to the studio in December to record the Sonny & Cher song “I Got You Babe” with pal Joey Ramone.
The second Holly & The Italians LP was recorded with session musicians and featured a cover of “For What It’s Worth” that coupled HBV’s heavily fuzzed guitar, (practically to JAMC levels), with an assault course of 1980s drums, as Holly Beth’s deadpan vocal delivery dispensed entirely with the original Springfield’s versions lighter, groovier swagger. The four singles taken from the album failed to chart and by the end of the year the band had split up. In an interview with Record magazine Holly recalls manager Gary dismissing the finished product as “suicide music”. We can’t imagine why, but the accompanying video took espionage, surveillance and authoritarianism as its themes.
Whilst the album was still in production the British authorities labelled Holly as an “undesirable alien” for her reckless behaviour during her stay in the country, which legend has it included trashing a BBC dressing room, that made her return to the UK impossible. Virgin didn’t renew her contract, and so while living in New York City she even joined The Waitresses for a few weeks, after the departure and before the return, of lead singer Patty Donahue.
In 1990 Holly relocated back to LA where she formed The Oblivious where she wrote, recorded and produced the album America (1993 Daemon records) from which she not only garnered good reviews, but also won album of the year in San Francisco Weekly. Far from toning herself down or adjusting her natural leanings, The Oblivious were a vehicle for Holly Beth’s irrepressible urge to punk rock out, albeit with a softer vocal delivery.
In 1995, Vincent acted as both drummer, guitarist and vocalist alongside Johanette Napolitano from Concrete Blonde to produce an album Vowel Movement for Mammoth Records, which was recorded in six days – which is at least 359 days faster than that first Holly & The Italians album. More recently Vincent has played and produced tracks for a solo album Super Rocket Star with influences that range from pop to electronica, and would give any indie singer songwriter a run for their money. If you need any more convincing as to how written-off and under-rated Holly Beth Vincent has been, take a listen to this track Hey Christine from HBV’s excellent Demos Federico.
“Tell That Girl to Shut Up” was covered by Transvision Vamp in March 1988 where it reached number 45 on the singles chart.
The Right To Be Italian is name-checked in vulture.com’s 60 Great albums you probably haven’t heard
HBV seems to have taken down her twitter and instagram accounts, but you can still find her on bandcamp.