Behind the Song: ‘Abraham, Martin and John’


By Dave Paulson

 “Has anybody here seen my old friend Bobby/ Can you tell me where he’s gone/ I thought I saw him walkin’ up over the hill/ With Abraham, Martin and John.”

 On June 5, 1968, songwriter Dick Holler was in New York City working on a new album with the Royal Guardsmen when Robert Kennedy was assassinated. It had been just two months since the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.

 Holler headed home to Florida, where in just 10 minutes, he wrote a poignant song, connecting the murders to those of John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln. Holler told the Story Behind the Song to Bart Herbison of Nashville Songwriters Association International.

 Bart Herbison: (This is) one of the most iconic songs we’ve done in the history of Story Behind the Song: “Abraham, Martin and John.” The songwriter is Dick Holler. He was working with the Royal Guardsmen on another famous song he wrote, which was “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron.” They’re up in a studio in New York and they’re having fun when Bobby Kennedy gets assassinated.

 Dick Holler: I was with my partner, Phil Gernhard. I was his chief writer and associate producer, and we were in NYC actually doing an album with the Royal Guardsmen, their third album. I was in the hotel room sleeping. Gernhard was out partying, as he usually did late at night, and he came in at 2 or 3 in the morning and said, “Wake up! Wake up! They just shot Bobby Kennedy!” We got up and watched TV all night. We canceled the sessions we had coming up because we just didn’t feel like working. We went home to St. Petersburg, Florida. Phil said, “What shall we do?” I said, “Well, we should probably go into the office. There will be a lot of phone calls and stuff.” I went in there and our music group was in the back, and I went back there and wrote “Abraham, Martin and John.” I played him the song. We thought about changing it around, retitling it, but it pretty much stayed the way I wrote it.

 BH: Did it happen quickly?

 DH: Yeah, about 10 minutes. I wasn’t thinking much. I just turned on the tape recorder, which was always right there by the piano, and started the song.

 BH: Did any of the families ever talk to you about it? Any of the Kennedys, Coretta Scott King? You had to have heard from some of them, I’m guessing?

 DH: No, I heard from the press. I heard from the writers and the TV people. Direct contact with any of the members of the Kennedy family, I don’t think so.

 BH: There were a lot of versions of that song. ... Moms Mabley had done a version of this. That was really a good version. Dion had the version I recognized coming up. I think people have stolen your song because there are versions out there on the internet that have other political leaders in it. What is the most moving thing someone has said to you about that song? We all cried (when we heard it). I still get emotional when I hear that song, Dick.


DH: I’ve had several people write some nice things about it. I appreciate that very much. I’m fortunate to have written that song, but I am sorry that the circumstances arose to let me write it.

 BH: Did it get out pretty quickly? From the writing to the record?

 DH: No. I wrote the song with the Kingston Trio in mind, or Peter, Paul and Mary in mind. In the background, I wasn’t really thinking about who could record this the best. So, we tried a lot of people. I’m not a great singer. I’m average. We tried a lot of singers and it wasn’t working out, so we went to Hialeah, Florida, where I met Dion for the first time. He was just coming off of his drug problems. Actually, we were looking at him to see if he would be suitable. You never know.

 BH: Having said that, you can’t have someone record this that has so many distractions going on that would overshadow the theme of this song. You can’t do that.

 DH: Sure, and we wanted to make sure that whoever did it, did it properly and respectfully. We turned down a few parodies because of that. Dion was fine. He cut it in New York. It took off kind of slowly and then the Smothers Brothers put it on their TV show. It was the show where the musicians were on strike.

 BH: I remember that.

 DH: They did a very nice acoustic version of it. A lot of people were affected by the song because Dion wasn’t singing with that orchestra behind him.

 BH: Did it surprise you? This is a weird question and I’ve never asked it in all these episodes, but did it surprise you how good it was when you heard somebody else sing this thing?

 DH: I was very flattered and pleased that so many different artists interpreted it differently. Andy Williams did it with one guitar. A very meaningful version. Kenny Rogers did it somewhat like that. Smokey Robinson did it as a gospel song. That was a great record. He premiered it on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” They got so many letters on it that they released it as a single. It wasn’t going to be a single, but he released it as a tribute. Then Tom Clay did it in a medley with “What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love.” Emmylou Harris did it in a medley with “It’s a Hard Life.” She sang it in a medley with that. It’s been performed in many different ways.

 BH: Your son David has joined us. David, anything you would like to add to the importance of the song?

 David Holler: I’ve always asked the same question: Which versions are you most impressed with? One that he mentioned was Bob Dylan, just in the fact that Bob Dylan doesn’t do many cover songs. There was a release a couple years ago on a compilation, and on the back of the box, I was sharing this with Dad, it said, “All songs written by Bob Dylan except ‘Abraham, Martin and John,’ written by Dick Holler.” For a songwriter, it doesn’t get better than that.

DH: Yeah, that was quite a kick! It was the last song on the album.

BH: This message is to both sides of the political spectrum: It might do the world good to take a five-minute break and have the whole planet listen to that song right now because we are richer for it.

Laugh In


Dan Rowan of the comedy team Rowan & Martin who brought “Laugh In” to America, was a war hero. During World War II, Rowan flew Curtiss P-40N Warhawk 42-104949 currently recorded under N537BR and shot down two Japanese aircraft before he was downed and seriously wounded over New Guinea. His military decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Air Medal, and the Purple Heart.


September 24 1968, 14 men (including five priests and a minister) raided a federal office in downtown Milwaukee, took 10,000 draft cards, and set them on fire with homemade napalm in protest of the Vietnam War.


Tommy DeVito, founding member of The Four Seasons, dead at 92

 Tommy DeVito, one of the four original members of the band The Four Seasons, has died. He was 92.

 "My dear friend Tommy passed away in Las Vegas at 9:45 last night with deep regret I am writing this sitting in his living room," he wrote alongside a photo of the entertainer. "I was informed by his daughter Darcel there will be a service in New Jersey."

 DeVito's former bandmate Frankie Valli also wrote a post on Facebook on behalf of himself and band member singer-keyboardist Bob Gaudio.

 "We send our love to his family during this most difficult time," the post read. "He will be missed by all who loved him."

 DeVito, Valli, Gaudio and Nick Massi founded the American rock and pop band the Four Seasons in 1960 and went on to create such hit songs as "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Sherry" and "Walk Like a Man."

 The band inspired the 2005 Broadway musical "Jersey Boys." The musical eventually won a Tony Award for best musical, a Grammy Award for best cast album, and was made into a feature film.

 DeVito was a baritone vocalist and lead guitarist for the group. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Micky Dolenz recalls ill-fated Monkees tour with opening act Jimi Hendrix: ‘Yeah, it was kind of embarrassing’

 Lyndsey Parker

Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music


Fifty years ago, on Sept. 18, 1970, guitar legend Jimi Hendrix died of asphyxia while intoxicated. He was only 27 years old, and his stint as a superstar lasted less than five years, but he obviously made his indelible mark — being declared by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music” and by Rolling Stone as the greatest guitarist of all time.

And one of the first mainstream rock acts to recognize Hendrix’s greatness was the Monkees. Unfortunately, the Monkees’ young fans weren’t quite as enthusiastic when that TV band’s Micky Dolenz came up with the seemingly bizarre idea to hire Hendrix as the opening act for the Monkees’ first U.S. tour in 1967.

Hendrix ended up playing only seven of that tour’s 29 dates, dropping out after having to contend nightly with thousands of nasty, impatient, jeering teenyboppers. “Yeah, it was kind of embarrassing,” Dolenz admits to Yahoo Entertainment. “Jimi would go, ‘Purple haze!’ and the kids would be like, ‘We want Davy!’ He’d go, ‘Foxy lady!’ and they’d yell, ‘We. Want. The. Monkees! We. Want. The. Monkees!’ He was coming up against that very typical opening-act dilemma for anyone touring with a big headliner, really.”

The odd pairing might have been doomed from the start, given the two artists’ very different audiences. But Dolenz had been a fan of Hendrix since the guitar god was still known as “Jimmy James” and performing in Greenwich Village nightclubs with the Blue Flames. “It was 1966 or so, and the Monkees were in New York on a press junket,” he recalls of the first time he saw Hendrix live. “Someone said, ‘You gotta come down to the Village and check this cat out.’ The actual act was, I think, the John Hammond Band or something. But when we went down there, I remember sitting in the front row and there was this young kid, and he was playing guitar with his teeth! I didn't even know his name at the time. I don't even know if he was introduced, but he was going under the name Jimmy James at that point. He was just great.”

About a year later, Dolenz saw Hendrix again, at the Monterey Pop Festival. Much had changed, and this time, Dolenz was even more impressed: “Between that time, Jimi had gone to England and run into a guy named Chas Chandler, who was going to be his manager. And basically what Chas Chandler did, my understanding is, was he heard Jimi and then he put Jimi together with [bassist] Noel Redding and [drummer] Mitch Mitchell. And so ironically, I guess you can say that the Jimi Hendrix Experience was a ‘manufactured group’!”

When Dolenz witnessed Hendrix’s iconic performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, he recalls, “All of a sudden this act comes on, not very well known yet, but very flamboyant — the clothes, the music. And I said, ‘Hey, that's the guy that plays guitar with his teeth!’ I recognized him. And so simultaneously, just by coincidence really, we were looking for an opening act for our first tour. So, I suggested the Jimi Hendrix Experience to our producers, because obviously it was incredible music, but also very theatrical. And the Monkees were a theatrical act, if you really examine it. I guess that's why it made sense to me. I just thought it would make a great mix.”

Apparently the admiration wasn’t mutual at first, as Hendrix had previously blasted the Monkees in the U.K. press, describing their music to Melody Maker as “dishwater” and saying, “Oh God, I hate them!” But once the Monkees’ “people went to his people,” says Dolenz, “Chas Chandler and everyone thought it was a good idea.” And so, on July 8 — less than a month after Hendrix had been the breakout star of Monterey Pop — the Jimi Hendrix Experience joined the Monkees for their first joint tour date in Jacksonville, Fla.

While the audience was vicious and unwelcoming, Dolenz was too wrapped up in watching Hendrix’s electric stage show to actually notice what was transpiring in the venue. “I didn’t even pay attention to what the audience reaction was, because I was just mesmerized by Jimi and his art,” he confesses. “We were just blown away by him every night — I know Nez [the Monkees’ Mike Nesmith] especially was. We would just stand in the wings in awe. I was fascinated by Jimi’s showmanship, by his persona. All I knew was, I liked it. And to this day, I don't care much what people thought.”

Hendrix apparently did care what people thought, as he decided to quit the Monkees’ tour just eight days later, after dates in Miami, North Carolina, and a three-night run at New York City’s Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. Later, a seemingly bitter Hendrix told British music paper the NME that he’d been replaced by “Mickey Mouse.” Dolenz can neither deny nor confirm the longstanding rumor that Hendrix flipped the bird at the combative crowd during that final NYC show, though he quips, “I've never seen evidence of that rumor, but if it's true, he certainly ain’t the first person to flip off an audience.”

In retrospect, Dolenz says he “wasn't totally surprised” that the Monkees/Hendrix tour didn’t work out. “It was just night and day,” he admits of their clashing musical styles. “And we all knew, because he was fairly unknown at the time, that those thousands and thousands of kids were there to see the Monkees. Jimi knew that too.” As for whether he thinks the negative reaction Hendrix received had anything to do with racism, he insists, “No, it had to do with the fact that these fans had spent so much of their money to see the headliners. And if fans like that are really, really anxious and passionate, they'll make their feelings known.”

Despite Hendrix’s poor reception, reservations about joining the tour in the first place, and that NME shade, he and the Monkees did hit it off, getting up to all sorts of rock ‘n’ roll adventures during their week on the road. “We spent a lot of time together. We went to clubs and wandered around aimlessly, and sometimes non-aimlessly,” says Dolenz fondly. “We got along great and had a great time. We partied; we hung around in the hotel rooms jamming and just singing, having little aftershow parties. I remember once we went to the Electric Circus in New York, a very famous psychedelic place back then.

“He was a lovely man, though very different from his persona onstage. He was very quiet — I don't want to say naive, but just a real nice, real quiet guy. But then, of course, he would launch into this incredible persona onstage, which was just phenomenal. We partied, and he partied just as good as anybody else, but it wasn't like he always had to be the life of the party and always have the attention. That's probably the reason why we got along, because I’m the same way: I get fulfillment onstage, and when I'm offstage, I want to be left alone.”

Though Dolenz and the rest of the Monkees were saddened when Hendrix suddenly quit, he admits, “Frankly, I didn't feel that bad. I'd like to think that the tour gave him some sort of a little shot, some more people knowing his name. I'm sure that some of those Monkees fans went on to be Hendrix fans.” So, in the end, the Monkees — who’d often caught flak for being a “manufactured group” — were vindicated for championing Hendrix so early on. (They were also early supporters of Frank Zappa, Tim Buckley, and Harry Nilsson, who all appeared on or wrote music for The Monkees sitcom.) But, Dolenz stresses, “We didn't run around tooting our horn to the NBC press department, saying, ‘Oh look, the Monkees like Jimi Hendrix! Aren't they cool?’ … And let me make it very clear, on the record: Jimi Hendrix would have done very well without us.”