Steve Holy sounds a tad whiplashed when CMT.com finally reaches him on his cell phone. That’s no surprise. There he was — stretched out in the “cold case” files one minute and the next catapulted to the top of the world.
Until “Brand New Girlfriend,” his current Top 5 single came along, Holy hadn’t been able to take a song higher than No. 26 on the Billboard charts during the past four years. That failure was especially galling when you consider that in 2001, his single “Good Morning Beautiful” not only surged to No. 1 but also stayed there for an astounding five weeks.
“It’s a good time for me to be back,” says Holy in one of the year’s great understatements. To add to his euphoria, Brand New Girlfriend — the album — was the second bestselling one in country music its first week out.
Suddenly, Holy is a very busy man. He had to cancel his first interview with CMT.com (which he did with great tact and courtesy) after a magazine photo shoot ran overtime. His concert bookings are going through the roof, and his resurgence has earned him a spot on the annual Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon on Sept. 3-4 in Las Vegas.
Holy still seems somewhat stunned that the momentum “Good Morning Beautiful” should have provided fizzled so quickly. “I think it was a matter of [the wrong] single selection,” he says. “We came with a really dark song called ‘I’m Not Breakin’.” It tanked at No. 27.
Over the next four years, Holy maintained a chart presence, albeit a very subdued one. “Rock-a-Bye Heart” peaked at No. 37 in 2003, “Put Your Best Dress On” at No. 26 in 2004 and “Go Home” at No. 49 in 2005. (None of these songs is on Holy’s first album, Blue Moon, nor have they been included in Brand New Girlfriend.)
“The way we do it at Curb Records,” Holy explains, “is that we wait until we have a song that we know is going Top 15 to help the sales of the album.” Once that’s achieved, the label quickly builds an album around the ascending hit — both by recording new material and by going into the artist’s catalog for songs already recorded but not yet released. Brand New Girlfriend, for example, contains two “bonus tracks” that Holy says he recorded “about three and a-half years ago.”
The first edition of Blue Moon, which Curb released in 2000, didn’t contain “Good Morning Beautiful,” according to Holy. When “The Hunger,” the third single from that album, stiffed at No. 24, record stores began returning Blue Moon, a common practice when an album fails to sell. Then Curb released “Good Morning Beautiful” as a single, and when it became clear it was going to be a hit, they added it to Blue Moon and redistributed the revised album.
Unfortunately, this retooling was an agonizingly slow process. As Holy recalls it, Curb couldn’t get the revised version back to record stores until “Good Morning Beautiful” was at its second week at No. 1. “So we lost several months of sales on that album,” he laments.
Holy can’t remember which pitch meeting he was at when he first heard “Brand New Girlfriend,” but he remembers he liked it instantly. “It could have been my life story,” he says. Then he amends the statement. “I won’t say it was my life story, but it had all my sarcasm. It was almost as if this song was written for me. When I heard it originally, I was like, ‘Man, this is it. This is a smash.'”
Holy says he recorded it within 10 days or so after first hearing it. Next, he tried it live. “I really felt like it was a hit. I didn’t know for sure. But when I played it on the road for about year, I saw the reaction. It’s kind of amazing to have a song that gets a bigger reaction than your five-week No. 1.”
Songwriter Lee Miller (“The Impossible,” “The World”) produced most of Brand New Girlfriend, including the title track. Doug Johnson also produced three cuts, and Mike Curb (Holy’s label chief) and Michael Lloyd produced three, among them the two bonus tracks.
One of those bonuses is “All for the Love Of Sunshine,” the breezy 1970 hit for Hank Williams Jr., which Curb co-wrote and which is, according to Holy, his grandmother’s favorite tune. The other, “What Could I Do Different Tonight,” was co-written by U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. Although Holy later met Hatch at a concert in Salt Lake City, he says he didn’t perform the song at that show. So the senator has yet to hear it live.
Holy says he’s booked heavily for the rest of the year. He continues to work from his native Dallas, where, one suspects, he continues to watch the charts with tightly crossed fingers.