Dave Holden photo courtesy of the family
BY PAUL DE BARROS
Dave Holden, a Seattle jazz and rock keyboard player known for his distinctive sound on the Organo electric keyboard, died March 19, 2023, from side effects of vascular dementia. Holden was 85.
“Music was his whole life,” said Holden’s wife of 38 years, Angie Holden. “That was his heartbeat.”
Holden was the son of foundational Emerald City pianist and clarinetist Oscar Holden. In an oral history interview, the younger Holden recalled a childhood filled with music. “There was a baby grand piano in the front room,” he remembered. “Sometimes there would be eight or ten musicians stacked all around the piano – horn players, bass player, everything. I remember Louis Armstrong being at our house.”
Holden was drawn to sports first, playing varsity basketball at Garfield High School and earning a basketball scholarship to Everett Community College, as well as the coveted spotlight as drum major of the marching band. As a sophomore, Holden was recruited by saxophonist Billy Tolles, who later hired him to play for the college dance crowd at Dave’s Fifth Avenue, across the street from Seattle Center. “Every night, we’d see them working on the Space Needle and it would be a little higher,” he remembered.
Holden went on the road with Tolles to California, where a glamorous gig in San Francisco at the lounge of the Booker T. Washington Hotel, in 1959, prompted Holden to leave school behind. The Tolles trio enjoyed success in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, but in 1960, Holden joined his brother Ron, who was touring on all-star rock’n’roll shows, thanks to his Top Ten hit, “Love You So.” Dave said he even impersonated his brother a few times on the “chitlins circuit” when Ron was ill.
Returning to Seattle, Holden worked with ace drummer Gerald Frank at the Down Beat (later known as the Pink Pussycat), in Pioneer Square, as well as the Embers, in West Seattle, playing a “souped up” Organo with Leslie B-3 speakers. “From that point on is where I started playing the blues and funk,” said Holden.
Starting in 1966, Holden made Los Angeles home base with runouts to Seattle, Las Vegas, Japan, England, Alaska, and Hawaii. During this period, Holden worked mainly as a single in hotels and country clubs, often stacking keyboards and drum machines for a full-band effect. Around 1999, he returned to Seattle, where he performed at El Gaucho and on a reunion with Tolles at a 2002 Earshot concert at MoPOP (then Experience Music Project). He had not been active musically for several years before he passed.
Holden is survived by his sister Leila (the last of Oscar Holden’s seven children); Angie Holden; his first wife, Sandra L. Browne; four children from his marriage to Browne – bassist/vocalist Dave Holden, Jr., Linda Holden Givens, Deborah K. Holden Davis, and Joan M. Holden Davis; two children born to other mothers, vocalist Darelle Holden and Eric Hatcher; 12 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren.
A memorial will be held at 1pm on May 7 at Aurora Borealis (16708 Aurora Ave N, Shoreline). Seating is limited. If you plan to attend, please contact Angie Holden (206-771-3823 or [email protected]).