Chris Holmes: "I don't know any other guitarist on this planet that plays the way I do"

Chris Holmes onstage
(Image credit: Markéta Kolínská)

Notorious for a regrettable drunken soliloquy on an inflatable mattress in the film The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II, Chris Holmes was the lead guitarist in W.A.S.P. between 1984 to 1990 and again from 1995 to 2001. 

These days he fronts his own solo band, who visit the UK and Ireland this month. If you happen to bump into him, just don’t mention Blackie Lawless.


You had throat cancer. Are you now on the road to recovery? 

I had radiation treatment but right now I’m doing good. I couldn’t taste any food for over a year, but over the past couple of weeks my buds are returning. 

The documentary Mean Man, which can be seen on Netflix, paints you as pretty much a happy-go-lucky kinda guy. 

That’s how I’ve always been. The documentary is like me as a musician – no backing tracks or lies. It is what it is. I’m really happy with Mean Man. It shows how we go on tour with a car with a trailer. That doesn’t bother me. I don’t need that other crap any more. I just like to play. 

For independent performers, times are pretty hard these days. 

Right now I’d rather work that way and be around people that make me happy than do what I did with W.A.S.P. That made me miserable. Miserable. Miserable. Do you know any narcissists? 

Yeah, one or two. 

When you join W.A.S.P. the deal is that after the first day you go home and throw away your dictionaries and encyclopaedias because Blackie Lawless always knows best. There’s not a thing you can tell him that he doesn’t know. Putting up with that – twice! – tells you how badly I wanted to play.

As part of this tour, titled 65, on June 23 you play a birthday party at a gig in Northampton. 

Yeah. That’s gonna be fun. I’m with the guys from the band Wicked Jackals, who I usually play with, and also from my previous band that I’ve played with in Canada. It’s a great way to celebrate my birthday. 

What does your set-list look like? 

I will always play the songs I wrote from the first two albums [W.A.S.P. in 1984 and the following year’s The Last Command], but I don’t like too much off the third one [Inside The Electric Circus, 1986]. Not at all… bleurgh. The fourth album [The Headless Children, 1989] I would, but without samples it’s hard to do live. And of course some songs from my previous solo albums and the Mean Man band. It’s maybe a fifty-fifty split. 

How do you like being a lead vocalist? 

I used to like jumping around and going wherever I wanted as a guitar player, but when you sing you’ve got to be at the mic. That’s kind of a drag. 

Do you consider yourself a good singer? 

No. To me it sounds in tune, but some people absolutely hate my voice. Hey, at least I don’t scream! 

How long have you been sober now? 

My last drink was February 6, 1996. If I still did what I did back then I’d be dead. I would burn the candle at both ends and in the middle.

Given that that admission, does the infamous vodka-swigging scene in Decline Of Western Civilisation make you feel ashamed now? 

No. When I see it now… [pauses] I was a youngster then, a dumb party animal. It was a long time ago. Like I said in the movie, I was hiding a lot of things back then. I was an alcoholic, but I never drank before a show. I could go months without a drink, but I really loved getting wasted and losing control. I wish I’d paid more attention to business. I was gullible. 

That you signed away your publishing comes up several times in the documentary

I’ve got dyslexia and can’t read big words. People knew that I didn’t understand contracts, and because of that I got screwed. 

Tell us about the day in 2001 that you left W.A.S.P.? 

Blackie confronted me with something I’d said in an interview, and I admitted it. There was a little bit of a confrontation, and as he started to walk out of the room I asked about something he’d done to me – something so bad I wouldn’t have done it to anybody. I wanted to know the reason why. His response of “Because I was jealous” blew my mind. 

Once he said that, everything to do with the way I was treated in W.A.S.P. fell into place. Blackie once said: “Any bands of note have a one-two punch: Jagger and Richards with the Stones, Lennon and McCartney in The Beatles and Page and Plant with Led Zeppelin. In W.A.S.P. it’s myself and Chris.” 

Do you feel under-appreciated? 

Look… take Tony Iommi out of Black Sabbath and put in Michael Schenker, who’s an equally good player, and it’s going to suck. It won’t be Sabbath. Take Jimmy Page out of Zeppelin… it’s the same with Chris Holmes and W.A.S.P. I don’t know any other guitarist on this planet that plays the way I do.

Chris Holmes' UK tour starts this week - dates below

Chris Holmes UK tour 2023

Jun 16: Newport The Patriot [Tickets]
Jun 17: Buckley 2023 Tivoli [Tickets]
Jun 18: Edinburgh Bannerman’s [Tickets]
Jun 22: Newcastle Trillian’s [Tickets]
Jun 23: Northampton The Black Prince [Tickets] [Birthday Party VIP tickets]
Jun 24: London Boston Music Room [Tickets]
Jun 25: Blackpool The Waterloo Music Bar [Tickets]

Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.