US drummer and percussionist extraordinaire, ISAAC “REDD” HOLT died on Tuesday, May 23rd,. He was aged 91 and had been battling cancer for 12 months. He passed away at his Chicago home surrounded by family.  Holt will be forever remembered for his work with the Ramsey Lewis Trio and as one half of Young-Holt Unlimited. However, he was an also known  for his educational work, his humanitarian projects and as a Chicago business entrepreneur.

Born in Mississippi in 1932 he drummed as part of his high school group, an ensemble that also included Ramsey Lewis and bassist Eldee Young. After a spell in the army and now living in Chicago, he teamed up once again with Lewis and Young to form the Ransey Lewis Trio.

Signed to Chess/Cadet, the group debuted on record in 1956 and soon became mainstays on the Chicago  jazz circuit. They broke through in 1965 when their version of Dobie Gray’s ‘The In Crowd’ became a pop hit. That hit and the follow ups, versions of ‘Hang On Sloopy’ and ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (like ‘The In Crowd’, all recorded live in concert at the Bohemian Caverns jazz club in Washington) turned the trio  into a reluctant pop stars while ‘The In Crowd’ won Holt a Grammy Award.

Holt and Young broke away  from Lewis in 1966 to from Young-Holt Unlimited and working with various piano players (most notably, Don Walker) they enjoyed success with catchy jazz-based soul grooves – most famously the still relevant ‘Soulful Strut’ and the mod favourite ‘California Montage’. The band though could also deliver jazz-funk  – things like ‘Wack Wack’ and more serious jazz  tunes  like ‘Yon Gimme Thum’ and the mystical ‘Orient’.

Young and Holt parted company in 1974 with the drummer carrying on working as Redd Holt Unlimited. In the 1990s he moved into  jazz education and he’d earlier founded the Gumption Artist Workshop. For many years he played with a trio in the Chicago clubs; fast forward to 2018 when he recorded an album , ‘It’s A Take’ – a collection of  some of his favourite tracks.

In a long and distinguished career, Redd Holt helped lay the foundations of jazz fusion and in the 60s, along with Ramsey Lewis and Eldee Young he did sterling work to bring jazz to a larger audience. He’s  survived by his three children, Isaac Lamont, Ivan Damoune and Reginald Lamar. Eldee Young died in 2007. He suffered a heart attack in Bangok. He was aged 71.