SONG PREMIERE: James “Jimmy Soul” Holvay Recalls the Glory Days of Windy City Soul with “Working On It”

After four decades out of the music limelight, singer-songwriter-guitarist James Holvay makes his return with a vital five-song slab of authentic Chicago-style soul music, Sweet Soul Song, on his Mob Town Records imprint and set for release on April 16th.

The collection is a vibrant tip of the hat to the music Holvay witnessed and then played in during its 1960s flowering, when such hometown stars – all saluted on its title track – as Curtis Mayfield (lead singer-guitarist-songwriter of the Impressions), Major Lance (whose “The Monkey Time” was one of several smashes penned by Mayfield), and Gene Chandler (nationally known for “The Duke of Earl”) ruled the R&B roost in America.

The Holvay originals on Sweet Soul Song, which range from up-tempo stompers like “Working On It” and “Talking About” to the lush, horn- and string-decorated ballad “Still the Fool,” recall the glory days of Windy City soul, an era that Holvay was able to experience first-hand as an aspiring adolescent guitarist and songwriter.

Barely in his teens, Holvay joined the hordes of cleffers peddling their numbers door-to-door on Chicago’s South Michigan Avenue, where such storied record labels as Chess and Vee-Jay observed something like an open-door policy in a competitive hunt for hits. One stop earned him an audience with Calvin Carter, brother of Vivian Carter, one of Vee-Jay’s partners, and the label’s top A&R man and producer.

With a group of like-minded teenagers, Holvay co-founded a group with a name drawn from a movie title that reflected Chicago’s colorful gangland history: the MOB. The act ultimately became a flashy octet that would have a marked influence on the band Chicago (whose producer-manager James William Guercio played in an embryonic lineup of the MOB).

However, it was another local act that ended up taking Holvay to the apex of the national charts – as a songwriter. After authoring tunes for such artists as Brian Hyland (whom he supported as a guitarist on Dick Clark’s national Caravan of Stars tour) and Dee Clark, he passed one of his compositions, “Kind of a Drag,” to Carl Bonafede, manager of a Chicago group called the Buckinghams.

Signed to U.S.A. Records – an imprint operated by local record wholesaler All State Distributing – the Buckinghams scored an immense hit in Chicago with “Kind of a Drag,” which soared to No. 1 on the city’s 50,000-watt rock ‘n’ roll giant WLS. It ultimately reached the pinnacle of the American singles chart in 1966 as well. Picked up by Columbia Records, the group released three more national hits authored by Holvay in 1967: “Don’t You Care” (No. 6), “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song)” (No. 12), and “Susan” (No. 11).

Riding high with these major hits under his belt, Holvay devoted his energy to the Mob. Through the early ‘80s, the band toured regularly and issued several singles and LPs on Colossus, Private Stock, and other indie labels. But, after 15 years on the road, the act disbanded after a New Year’s Eve 1980-81 date in Los Angeles.

Holvay went into sales, but for him music remained an itch that eventually would have to get scratched. Holvay set about recording his new material with a group of seasoned working musicians drawn from the Southern California live music scene.

Every aspect of Sweet Soul Song was designed for maximum authenticity, right down to the last detail on the record’s cover art, a careful recreation of the LP jacket for Gene Chandler’s 1964 Constellation Records title Just Be True. Crafted with care and played and sung with punch, James Holvay’s debut recording in his own name is sure to delight the most ardent soul music fans.

Today Glide is excited to premiere “Working On It,” an upbeat soul song that recalls the more doo-wop-oriented soul music of the 60s and 70s. Holvay sings with a cool smoothness that makes you wonder if he ever actually did take a break from making music. Backed by a tight band that includes brassy flourishes and plenty of feisty guitar playing. though the tune clearly takes its sound from old school soul music, there is also a fresh vibrancy to the music that will make you grateful to hear Holvay back in the music game. 

James “Jimmy Soul” Holvay describes the inspiration and story behind the tune:

“I worked at an office equipment company as a sales rep for years, selling copiers and mailing equipment. The Manager that I worked for, if anyone approached him with a problem, his usual response was, “I’m workin’ on it.” I thought that was a great title for a song.

Lyrically I didn’t want to apply the phrase to work experience… Customer deliveries and billing issues. One night I was thinking about some of the relationships that I had messed up.

So, I wrote the lyric about a fella trying to save his relationship. Having a lot of experience in that area the lyrics just flowed.

The song seemed to fit in a Tyrone Davis groove and that’s where I put it. Duane Benjamin did a great horn arrangement. Towards the middle of the song, I felt this Aretha Franklin type break down. “Ya know I been to church last Sunday and I got down on my knees and prayed…”

The horns were written from the very beginning of the song. It was torture but I held them back until after that break down. I wanted to build the song so that it went out with a bang and it did.”


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