Artist Profiles, Broadcasting, Music, Radio, Retro Rock, Virginia Artists

Tommy Holcomb: Roanoke’s Marvelous Music Man

All photos on this message are courtesy of Tommy Holcomb.

If you have lived in central or southwestern Virginia over the past 50 plus years, chances are you have heard music written by Tommy Holcomb. The Roanoke, Virginia native has created hundreds of musical TV/radio commercials, which have been aired throughout Roanoke/Lynchburg media markets, as owner of Tommy Holcomb Productions.

Holcomb musical talent is much more than just creating ads for clients. He is also a founding member of two successful Roanoke pop/rock/folk bands during the 60s, 70s and 80s: The Vikings and Woodsmoke.  Holcomb’s journey creating music is renowned among those associated with history of the rich Roanoke music scene.

Tommy Holcomb performing in Atlanta, Georgia 1975
When Glen Campbell came to Roanoke. From left: Tommy Holcomb, Rita Matthews, Glen Campbell, Nancy Holcomb Fisher and Jack Fisher.

I had an opportunity to conduct a phone interview with Holcomb earlier this month, as we discussed a musical career spanning over 60 years. I have known Tommy since 1975.  We first met at WROV 1240 AM Roanoke, when Holcomb was delivering a commercial that he produced to the radio station where I was employed.

Vikings cover of Simon & Garfunkel song, “Keep the Customer Satisfied.”

Holcomb’s musical roots started the summer before his senior year at Patrick Henry High School in 1961. Tommy started a band named the Vikings, along with his fellow classmates Allen Nelms and Lane Craig.

The Vikings band as a trio. Sometime in early 60s.

After Nelms and Holcomb graduated from high school, the young adults left Roanoke to attend the University of Virginia (UVA). The Vikings occasionally played gigs together, when Nelms and Holcomb were in college at UVA between 1962 and 1966.

Vikings cover of Linda Ronstadt & Stone Poneys song, “Some of Shelly’s Blues.”

Upon graduation from college in 1966, Holcomb and Nelms returned to Roanoke and resurrected their Vikings band. One of the guys joining this new version of the band was the legendary WROV 1240 AM DJ Fred Frelantz.  Another prominent person that was added to the Vikings was Joy Ellis in 1969.

The Vikings Band in 1972.

For the next 7 years, the Vikings became the house band for the historic Coffee Pot Roadhouse restaurant and concert venue.  The band signed a recording contract with London records during 1967.

During the early 70s, Holcomb’s Vikings band recorded a couple of albums before the group broke up in 1975.  Forward to 1982, the Vikings came back together again and held a series of reunion concerts at Caesar’s Club in Roanoke. After the success of those shows, the band decided to resume performing live concerts.

Vikings band continued playing shows during the mid 80s, and the group changed their name to “Roanoke” when they signed a record contract in 1984.  The following year, two singles were released but received limit airplay locally on the biggest Top 40 station in the Roanoke Lynchburg market: K92 FM 92.3. Consequently, these songs did not chart nationally.

The Vikings band at Caesar’s Reunion 1982

The final ending for the band became reality in 1986, with the tragic, untimely death of group member Fred Frelantz.  For a complete history of the Vikings band, I am providing a link to an article that Holcomb wrote for the Roanoker Magazine in 2006, that is reprinted via the WROV History Online Website.

Fred Frelantz and the Vikings: Mr. Bojangles (Video produced after his death)
Woodsmoke band during mid 70s.
Medley of Woodsmoke songs.

The other band that Holcomb was associated with during the 70s is Woodsmoke. Along with Joy Ellis, the band was formed in 1975 and attracted a younger audience than patrons who came to attend Holcomb’s original Vikings band shows.

The Vikings performing at Festival in the Park concert, Downtown Roanoke.

While Holcomb is known for his singing and playing in Roanoke bands since the 60s, he is not just a one trick pony.  Equally as impressive is his creative talent writing music with Tommy Holcomb Productions.

Vikings cover of Kingston Trio song, “Scotch and Soda.”

In the field of advertising, Tommy has created hundreds of commercials featuring his musical genius. Before starting his own ad agency, Holcomb joined fellow Vikings band member Fred Frelantz, to work at Creative Advertising in Roanoke.

During his time at Creative, Holcomb wrote a musical jingle for Smartwear clothing store. Tommy enlisted his Vikings bandmates playing music and utilized Joy Ellis on vocals for the spot.

Smartwear music jingle ad 1971

Much to the surprise of Holcomb, his Smartwear commercial actually won a national ad agency award in 1971.  After his multiple success writing musical spots at Creative, Holcomb decided to launch out with his own ad agency.

Over the years, Holcomb has created many wonderful, catchy musical ads.  Below is a Roanoke jingle medley, a compilation of various musical ads that Holcomb has produced.

Roanoke Jingle Medley of Tommy Holcomb created musical ads.

Three years ago, Holcomb was honored by the Roanoke chapter of the American Advertising Federation (AAF), with its Silver Medal Award.  This AAF 2019 achievement recognized Tommy’s “outstanding lifetime contributions to advertising furthering the industry’s standards, creative excellence, and responsibility in areas of social concern.”

An 11 minute mix of some of the jingles that Tommy Holcomb created over the years. Many aired in the region around Roanoke, Virginia, Tommy’s hometown.

Tommy Holcomb doesn’t just write music for advertising.  He also has written songs about and for the city of Roanoke.

Vikings cover of Nilsson song, “Without You.”

Roanoke’s centennial happened in 1982 and Holcomb was commissioned by the Virginia City to write a song for the 100-year celebration. The composition is called “Roanoke Shining Through.” A YouTube video of this tune features paintings by Eric Fitzpatrick and photographs by Terry Aldhizer.

Another excellent tribute to Roanoke is a song written and performed by Holcomb called “Looking Back.”  Tommy fondly remembers living in the “Star City of the South” during younger years.

During 2011, Holcomb tried his hand in radio and hosted a show called Retro Roanoke Radio (RRR) on Sunny FM 93.5. The format of the weekly program had Holcomb playing 60s/70s oldies, talking about Roanoke in the 20th Century, airing musical spots he created and interviewing pop/rock artists.

Some of the artists that Holcomb interviewed on RRR were Davy Jones, Melanie, Petula Clark, Anne Murray and Robbin Thompson.

Compilation of Retro Roanoke Radio Interviews by Tommy Holcomb 2011.

For the past 15 years, Holcomb has been the Music Producer for the Miss Virginia Pageant. Seven years ago, Tommy wrote an orchestra score for one of Virginia’s official state songs: “Our Great Virginia” written by Mike Greenly. Miss Virginia contestants performed this arrangement during the 2015 pageant.

Woodsmoke band in the mid 70s.

An excellent podcast I want to recommend is episode 3 of the Larry Dowdy Mic Side podcast, where the retired popular Roanoke area DJ interviews Holcomb.  There is superb interchange of information provided by Dowdy and Holcomb with this Mic Side episode.

Last official Vikings photo prior to Fred Frelantz death.

It is clear to me that Holcomb exemplifies humility, as he has woven an awe-inspiring tapestry of living experiences within the area of music.

Vikings cover of Tanya Tucker song, “Delta Dawn.”

As I reflect upon Holcomb’s music legacy, he has enriched the lives of countless Roanoke residents with musical magic. For over 60 years, Holcomb has continued to share his music talent with folks all across the Roanoke Valley and Southwestern Virginia.

Without a doubt, Roanoke continues to be blessed, receiving wonderful gifts of harmonies and melodies by this marvelous music man:  Tommy Holcomb.

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7 thoughts on “Tommy Holcomb: Roanoke’s Marvelous Music Man

  1. Laurie Russell says:

    This was a very interesting article. I am not familiar with Tommy Holcomb at all. While I did occasionally enjoyed going to the Coffee Pot, and am pretty sure I probably saw The Viking there, I was by no means a regular patron. Your wealth of knowledge on all things music related never ceases to amaze me!! Another interesting and informative article!

  2. bruce bias says:

    i, also do not know Tommy personally, however have many friends who do. had no idea his ad writing skills were so successful. great article Dave, it highlights another Roanoker who lived and worked what he loved to do.

  3. David Hardie says:

    Fabulous blog David. I had heard of the Vikings but never knew about the many different venues Tommy Holcomb was involved with. Obviously very talented and a true promoter of the star city. I was greatly shaken when I heard the news about Fred Frelentz. Thank you for sharing and congratulations Tommy on a fabulous career.

    • P A Fariss says:

      Awesome job Dave! So interesting listening to the songs & videos about Roanoke, i had never heard before. Had heard Tommy’s name & briefly met Freddie & remember the shock of his death but that was about it. 👍👍👍

  4. Paul says:

    Dave, as always , a really nice , informative blog. Always enjoy. Remember the Vikings and, of course, the Kings. Tommy Holcomb has been a major advertising contributor to the Roanoke Valley for decades. And Remember Fred Mugler (Frelantz) well with his distinctive, well known voice of the 60’s and 70’s. Was on Teen Town in 1967-68. Great read. Thanx again. .

  5. Bernard Johnson says:

    I am also not familiar with Mr. Holcomb. I left Roanoke in 71 as a 12 year old and don’t remember his works. By reading the blog, he was a talented musician, great producer and possessed a vast array of musical talents. Dave, you are a encyclopedia of musical knowledge in all arenas. If I had a fraction of your experience in music, I would be dangerous!

  6. Darlene Richardson says:

    Great article and resources, David! I remember hearing the Vikings being promoted at various venues, back in the day, but never had the pleasure of seeing them perform. There’s always been a lot of musical talent in this area and they were probably one of the most well known until the Royal Kings came onto the scene. Enjoyed learning more about Roanoke’s early folk music roots. Thanks for the time and effort in pulling this wonderful piece together and sharing it with us!

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