John Savage Witham, a.k.a. Hollerin’ Man, passed away last week at the age of 55 in his home in Biddeford. The cause was complications from the liver transplant he received in the fall of 2006 and the hepatitis that necessitated the procedure.
I learned of his death last Sunday, and was preparing an obit when I received the following remembrance from Gwynne Williams, a close friend and one-time bandmate of Witham’s. Gwynne said it better than I could. Rest in peace, old friend.
— Chris Busby
Johnny “Hollerin’ Man” Witham departed this world on Feb 3. His strong and gentle soul will be missed by scores of friends and fans. He sang like an ole lonesome train, jammed liked a mofo, and melted hearts with a grin that was both sweet and sly.
In the years that Johnny suffered from hepatitis and a subsequent liver transplant (which he felt blessed and grateful for), he stayed positive, upbeat and mellow in sobriety — writing and performing new and old songs, and eating healthy.
He played for so many years: from punk with the Blackouts; rock ‘n’ roll with Bates Motel; reefer reggae-rock with Active Culture; the getting-going of Go Button; country-fried tunes with the Bigs; the seminal, true-to-heart Tombstone Territory; and gigs at every club in town with the old-style, real deal of his Hollerin’ Man solo shows. As fellow guitarist and close friend Dave Conley says, “People came from miles around to hear Hollerin’ Man’s latest.”
His voice was like moss on the bark of an ancient tree. And man, could he jam that guitar! He played with everyone, as long as it was all about the music, the song — just keeping the music down to the real deal. He represented, like Dick Curliss before him, “the genuine voice of Maine,” said Bart Joy, another former bandmate and running buddy. He was more than a fixture on the local music scene — he was part of the foundation.
He was a big drunk, and then he wasn’t. He was alive, and then he wasn’t. Bandmate and friend Lenny Smith says he’s moseying off to that last tombstone territory. But he will always be the one and only Hollerin’ Man.
— Gwynne Williams