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Debby Holiday: Rock star, dance diva, she's 'Free2B'

You can see Debby Holiday live for "FREE2B” (CD release party) at Martinis Above Fourth on Thursday, April 26, 2018, at  8 pm.
Photo credit:
Duff Images

Although it wasn’t her first career choice, Debby Holiday has become a famous name in the music industry. It runs in her blood. Her father Jimmy Holiday composed the classic song “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” and R&B legends Etta James and Ray Charles were close friends of her family.

Like any artist growing up with a dream, especially one with an industry legend for a father, she had many talents. She tells me her father was demanding, but his words helped forge an ethic she adheres to today. “I learned to give it 110%, including with music - early on,” she explains. “Then again, I also learned to care about what I’m creating. To keep writing ... keep growing.” 

That growth began while she was living in Los Angeles as a young lady with dreams of becoming a dancer. Debby took jazz, ballet, and tap classes. Her dedication would eventually lead to being offered a spot at The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in The Big Apple.

“I couldn't afford to relocate to New York, so I found myself picking up a guitar, and ... the songwriting ‘high’ began,” she says, adding that if it weren’t for music she would have most likely become a grade school teacher. “Something about the joy of children learning and being any small part of their journey to discover life makes my heart happy.”

Alvin Ailey and the kids would have to make their journeys without Debby. She embraced her vocal talent which will be front and center at Martinis Above Fourth this Thursday. Whether its the rock-infused power of "Soul Revolution," or the banging modern LGBT anthem "Waiting for a Lifetime" on her latest album, Debby refuses to be known for just one genre. I asked her to best describe her musical style.

“That's a tough one,” she laughs. “I guess the closest would be Rock n' Soul - I love heavy rock. I love a great dance beat.”

That dance beat in conjunction with her vocal range would bring her the greatest success. Some of the most talented DJs would re-work her tracks and catapult them to the top. Debby is grateful to these digital artists and says she is in awe of their talent.

“To take someone's work and make it shine in a completely new way ... that's musical wizardry,” she says.

It’s not Etta James who she rubs elbows with any more, it's the modern conjurers of infectious grooves from their mixing boards, the most iconic in the industry, “I have been so blessed by the producers I've worked with: Chris Cox, Scotty K. (Scott Icenogle), Scott Anderson, Dirty Disco, Phil B, Wayne G & Tony Moran to name only a few - are all my friends now. That's some damn fine talented company.”

Chris Cox was actually the very first person to mix her dance club anthem “Dive” which became a club staple in 2004, and even today is still radio-worthy. The LGBT community takes their music seriously especially when in comes to the soundtrack of their weekend and “Dive” is one of the best.

I asked Debby why she thinks that song in particular was so popular. She says it all comes down what we all need and want: positivity and confidence, “to get out on the floor, or out into life, ‘diving in’ - with confidence and certainty that we are enough, more than enough.” That message is abundantly clear in Chris Cox’s original mix she says.

Now, many hits later and sought after in venues across America, Debby has made her most ambitious album to date called Free2B. This one is very special because it encompasses everything Debby truly believes in. And it’s not only something she takes to heart, it is also an offering for people who may second-guess who they are because of labels.

“Being half black and female - I cannot tell you how many times I get the ‘tilted puppy head huh?’ when I say I sing heavy rock. Or that I also love dance music.

She adds: "There are those who love sticking us in confined little boxes where most of us just don't fit. We are all so beautifully multi-dimensional in our likes, dislikes, joys, and fears. And, that - is what makes life so F'n gorgeous; our uniqueness.

"We must be Free2B – all of it! So yes, my double album is half rock/half dance - 26 songs in all. Including two versions of my dad's mega-hit "Put A Little Love In Your Heart" - an acoustic version and an almost bizarre rock version - cuz ... well - as many times as that song has been recorded - I've never heard a left of center version. And - I'm a fan of left of center,” she laughs.  

Her performance at Martinis this Thursday will contain big, passionate vocals she says, with “three bad to the bone musicians": Bryon Holley on drums and percussions; Jeff Fedak; her co-writer and guitarist, and "keyboardist extraordinaire" Cori Jacobs.

There are a few other things on the evening's playlist she adds, “Laugher-honey, I tell some stories. And joy, 'cause live music is supposed to get to ya ... in the best of ways.”

This rock star isn’t slowing down any time soon either. Now with the big album finished and released, Debby says she is doing a lot of traveling and along the way promoting her next dance single on the album titled, “Waiting for a Lifetime” which was actually written for friends waiting to get married in their state before the Supreme Court ruling in 2016.

I guess we can all be thankful that Debby didn’t go to New York to dance in her youth, or confine herself to the halls of energetic sixth graders. Or for that matter confine herself to just one musical genre, otherwise, the community would have lost an important musical ally. She is using what God gave her to make a stand through a song like "Waiting for a Lifetime" with its message only enhanced by lasers, smoke, and a packed dance floor on a cool Saturday night. 

"With everything going on in our country and world at the moment," Debby says of the dance track, "I have realized it's a protest song ... A 'loving protest' for anyone who's felt they have spent their lifetime - waiting ... and care not ... to wait ... any longer."

Debby Holiday is a powerhouse performer with a voice as fierce and powerful as the songs she sings.

You can see Debby Holiday live for "FREE2B” (CD release party) at Martinis Above Fourth on Thursday, April 26, 2018, at  8 pm.

Martinis Above Fourth is located at 3940 4th Ave, Second Floor, San Diego, 92103.