Young Holt Unlimited had a song titled "Ain’t
There Something Money Can’t Buy," but they should have written one called "Ain’t There Something We Can’t Do" - a bold
statement of their effortless versatility. Bassist/Cellist Eldee Young and omni-percussionist Isaac "Red" Holt parlayed
years of experience, study and pop/jazz stardom as founding members of The Ramsey Lewis Trio into a franchise of their
own – a people pleasing sound with "legitimate" music roots. They entertained their way into hearts around the globe
with infectious hits and down home live shows. They may as well have cut their name down to YHU because they gave master
classes in groove…night after night, song after song.
Both Eldee Young and Isaac Holt studied at Chicago’s American Conservatory of Music.
Eldee began his professional career as a guitarist, later switching to upright bass yet gaining his widest renown for
introducing bowed cello to the sound of soul music. Relatively small in height yet with Olympian skills and a blindingly
bright personality (and smile), Mr. Young was sometimes referred to as "the diminutive string man."
Isaac first flexed his percussive talents into early gigs with jazz sax giants such as Lester Young and James Moody.
Known to make music out of everything INCLUDING the kitchen sink, Mr. Holt never settled for a drummer’s "place" in the
shadows. He was strictly foreground, making any music that he played a part in leap to life.
The friends met in the early '50s in Chicago and first worked together in a seven-piece band called The Westside Cleffs,
a group that briefly included a young pianist named Ramsey Lewis. But the members were split up with the advent of the
Korean War. Later, Ramsey got back together with Eldee and Red, forming a trio first known as the Gentlemen of Swing and
eventually settling on The Ramsey Lewis Trio. In 1956, they began recording for Chicago's legendary Chess Records' jazz
subsidiary, Argo, later switching over to its Cadet imprint. Over the next 10 years, the team recorded almost twice as
many albums with varying themes, from their cherished Sounds of Christmas LPs to the revealingly titled Bach to the
The Ramsey Lewis Trio hit its commercial peak in 1965 with the release of the album The In Crowd, the title track of
which was a cover of the Dobie Gray party hit. The trio's instrumental rendition debuted on August 21st, soared to the
#2 position on Billboard's R&B chart where it sat for three weeks straight, and went to #5 on the Pop chart. The album,
recorded live at the Bohemian Caverns in Washington, D.C., stayed on the charts for 47 weeks, peaking at #2. Both single
and album were certified Gold-sellers and The Ramsey Lewis Trio won a Grammy for the single the next year in the
category Best Instrumental Jazz Performance-Small Group.
Following this triumph, Ramsey decided he wanted the terms of the trio's partnership to change, acknowledging him as the
leader with Red and Eldee as working under him. The duo frowned on this, resulting in a parting of the ways. Red and
Eldee marched across town to Nat Tarnopol’s Brunswick Records with a demo of their own Young Holt Trio, which originally
included Evanston, Illinois-native Hysear Don Walker on piano. Walker had studied music at Northeastern University and
accompanied jazz vocalists Bill Henderson, Joe Williams and Mose Allison.
Though their first album contained covers of middle of the road material such as Bobby Hebb’s "Sunny" and Sinatra’s
"Strangers In The Night," The Young Holt Trio knocked one out of the park their first time at bat with a simple audience
participation number called "Wack Wack," a ditty that - like magic - turned ladies' mini-skirts into salt shakers. With
"Wack Wack," the group grooved its way from jazz spots to hipper dance clubs like Los Angeles' Whiskey A Go Go. The trio
hit upon a fun formula that they further exploited in their Return to Wack Wack Pond, "Funky Duck," and the single-only
release "Give It Up" (a 12-bar blues cocktail of Mongo Santamaria's Latin Jazz vibe stone cold filtered through The
Beatles' "Day Tripper" and The Capitols' "Cool Jerk").
Their next album returned them to the Bohemian Caverns for On Stage, a glance back at their golden past with Ramsey
Lewis. But looking ahead, it was on this album that Isaac and Eldee changed their name to Young-Holt Unlimited, hinting
at the expansive sound of things to come.
Their third album The Beat Goes On also ran the gamut of covers, only this time the group escorted the originals into
some far more original territory. For "Listen Here," a million-seller for innovative Chicago sax legend Eddie Harris,
YHU flip the script into a sunglasses-at-night, outer space groove, phase-shifting the emphasis to Red on drums and
tambourine. And with the organ handling the hypnotic melody and groovin’ bass line, Eldee gets a chance to pick a bit of
guitar. For The Beach Boys’ peachy keen "Good Vibrations," they chose to mystify it with a Chinese gong, a Chi-town
backbeat and Eldee’s patented tandem singing/arco bass bowing.
More of Eldee in this mode is found on his original "Yum Yum," while he lets his fingers do the walkin’ on "Doin’ the
Thing." The entire group settles into a groove on "Baby Your Light Is Out," a cool-daddy-kickin’-his-woman-to-the-curb
blues in a Ray Charles Wurlitzer bag.
The hands-down coolest of all YHU originals, though, is "Dig Her Walk," the supreme girl watcher's soundtrack. Over the
bouncin’ organ vamp, the fellas carry on like Lincoln Park Looney Toons! When Red hits that floor tom tom at the end of
each verse, you can picture eyes poppin’ out of their sockets. Red rips it up behind his custom Ludwig drums, loaded
down with an arsenal of cowbell, woodblock, splash cymbals and tambourine. They all came in handy as he tapped out a
percussive portrait of bouncing breasts and boogalooing bottoms sashaying by on a summer day.
Young-Holt Unlimited left its biggest impression with "Soulful Strut," the title track of their fourth album from late
'68. It was originally the instrumental track for a song by label mate Barbara Acklin titled "Am I The Same Girl,"
written by the Chi-Lites’ Eugene Record and arranger Sonny Sanders. But the music alone was so outta sight, Brunswick
released it as a single in November, three months before Acklin's vocal version debuted in February of '69. Chicago
studio cat Floyd Morris was the pianist on this session. On the road, Ken Chaney was Young Holt Unlimited's steady
pianist, followed later by a young Bobby Lyle. "Soulful Strut" touched a sentimental chord in listeners with its wistful
melody, sailing to #3 on both Billboard's Hot 100 pop and soul charts. The album spent 30 weeks on the charts, too,
peaking at #9.
"Soulful Strut" spurned sequels such as "Soulful Samba," not to mention the delightfully horn-fortified "Just a Melody"
and "Young and Holtful," both beach music staples to this day.
Young-Holt Unlimited recorded two more albums for Brunswick: Funky But! and Just A Melody. Their rendition of L.A.
rockers The Doors’ classic "Light My Fire" finds Red and Eldee chiseling out a groove so skin tight that, two decades
later, it was sampled by loopy rap trio De La Soul for their single "A Rollerskating Jam Named Saturdays." A bit of
James Brown’s drum syncopation sets "Funky Is As Funky Does" apart. However, for genius, it is impossible to top "Orient
East." This alternately serene and soulful piece did much to cultivate the loyal following they enjoy to this very day
in that part of the globe.
Finally, for a taste of the personable side that endeared YHU to folks back in the hood, check them jive talkin’ and
tale-spinnin’ about a legend (in his own mind) they call "Country Slicker Joe," and the spoken word rant "Horoscope,"
which sounds like Melvin Van Peebles busting into the middle of a set to give a surreal editorial after "experiencing"
the rock musical Hair! And here’s something Young-Holt fans never expected…a previously unreleased recording that Red
calls "You Gotta, I Gotta," perhaps a big city blues nod to trumpet great Clark Terry and his signature hit, "Mumbles."
At the top of the '70s, "Redd" (who added an extra "D" to his nickname as a result of numerology and as an homage to
longtime friend, comic Redd Foxx) and Eldee moved on to the Ronn/Paula and Cotillion labels. They continued to
experiment, waxing an album inspired by ubiquitous Chicago homeboy Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly soundtrack, but never
again captured that elusive butterfly identified as a hit. Occasionally, they reunite with Ramsey Lewis, documented in
1983 for a Columbia Records album titled Reunion. More importantly, they've toured the world and remain honorary
favorite sons of audiences in London, Tokyo and Singapore.
Isaac "Redd" Holt and Eldee Young are ambassadors of the Happy Hour that lasts all night long, 100 proof of which is
contained in this 20-song set from their six `60s Brunswick albums.
by A. Scott Galloway
All Music Guide
Ain't No Mountain High Enough
Baby Your Light Is Out
Be By My Side
Beat Goes On, The
By The Time I Get To Phoenix
Country Slicker Joe
Doin' The Thing
Give It Away
Give It Up
I Heard It Through The Grapevine
I Wish You Love
I've Got To Find Me A Lover
Just A Melody
Just Ain't No Love
Light My Fire
Little Green Apples
Look Of Love, The
Love Makes A Woman
My Whole World Ended
Please Sunrise, Please
Shadow Of My Smile
Valley Of The Dolls
When I'm Not Around
Who's Making Love
Yon Gimme Thum
You Know That I Love You
Young And Holtful
Live At The
Washington D.C. 1968
The In Crowd
Wade In The Water
Ain’t There Something Money
Yon Gimme Thum
Be My Love