Holly Golightly has never had a hit record. Not even a nibble. Her closest brush with the mainstream came when she recorded a song with the White Stripes on the band’s “Elephant” album, which was going to be a massive success with or without her help. That was her blip-on-the-radar moment as far as the big picture goes.
And yet she has released 21 albums with her name on the cover, including live sets and compilations, and seven more as a member of Thee Headcoatees. It’s a deep, rich catalog of astounding consistency — a beginner could almost pick any album to start with — and it’s filled with tough soul, rhythm & blues, garage rock and juke-joint swagger.
That’s a lot of records for any musician, and a successful career by any measure. Golightly has managed to do it in an industry that’s notoriously fickle and, as a rule, unkind, so the obvious question is how has she survived when so many others can’t?
“I think by being entirely oblivious to the fact that the rest of the music industry exists, honestly,” said Golightly (her real name). “I’m not interested in what other people are doing, and I’m not really that interested in music as a business.
“But at the level that I do it, which is fairly small-fry, it’s not really a business at all. There’s never been any strategy, and I think that’s probably why I can still get away with it.”
Golightly performs Friday at Zazoo’s with her partner, Lawyer Dave. They call themselves Holly Golightly and The Brokeoffs, and their sound is buzz-saw country blues, the kind of stuff you might hear at an out-of-control barn dance. The latest album, “Sunday Run Over Me,” came out this week.
While the Brokeoffs’ five records have a different feel than do Golightly’s solo albums, which lean toward her version of Northern Soul, they all share Golightly’s aesthetic preference for spare, unadorned music built around a beat. It’s been that way from the beginning.
Thee Headcoatees, her first band, were an off-shoot of Billy Childish’s Thee Headcoats, and both were centered on the songwriting of Childish, who channeled early American garage rock. When Golightly began making solo albums in 1995, her own songs had a similar rawness but reflected her love of 1960s soul and R&B.
“First and foremost, I’m really into dancing,” she said. “I was into dancing long before I made music, specifically dancing to soul music, and I think you realize when you get really into dancing ... that the elements of it really come out.
“What you’re after is the beat, the thing that jumps out of the song and makes you want to dance. That’s what I ran with. It’s a very primitive thing. It’s nothing to do with production. It’s much more to do with delivery.”
Golightly, 46, was born in Sussex, England, and now lives on a few rural acres near Athens, Ga. She works part time at a feed and seed and raises a few horses, which have been a lifelong passion.
She wanted to be a jockey, in fact, and a career in music was never considered. But after she sang with Thee Headcoats one night, Childish asked her to join ranks and he soon created Thee Headcoatees, which was almost an all-girl version of the Thee Headcoats.
Nearly 30 albums later, she’s content working the margins of the music business, recording when she feels like it and touring for a loyal fan base.
“It’s all by happy accident,” she said. “I didn’t ever set out to do it, really, not on any grand scale. I had a go at it and thought, ‘This is easy! What’s all the fuss about?’ Anyone could do this, but I’m the one doing it.
“I’m very tongue in cheek about it, honestly. I can’t take it half as seriously as an awful lot of other people do, and that’s the joy of it for me. There’s a way of doing it where you can still have fun, but I never set out to do it this long.
“If someone had said to me 20 years ago that this is what I’d be doing, I’d have laughed. But here we are.”