Brian Howe first made his mark as the lead vocalist for Ted Nugent on the “Penetrator” album and subsequent tour. In 1984 he filled Paul Rodgers shoes as the lead singer of Bad Company. Looking back, it was a move that a lot of singers may have not had the courage to pursue but Howe eased into his role with Bad Company and became an integral part of the band for the next ten years.
In 1997 How released his debut solo album “Tangled In Blue” and now, over a decade later and still in fighting form Howe returns with a new solo album “Circus Bar”. The album, written and inspired by a trip to Guatemala, boasts a collection of new songs written over a three day period and two newly recorded Bad Company songs “How ‘Bout That” and “Holy Water”.
I recently had a chance to chat with Brian about his new album and his storied career on the eve of his departure to entertain our troops in the Middle East.
Interviewed by: Roger Scales
Circus Bar (2010) is your second solo effort following Tangled in Blue (1997). Are the songs on the new album a collection of tracks written over those subsequent years or where they written you entered the studio?
Well other than the Bad Company remakes the remaining tracks were all written within a 3 to 4 day period at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, which is a place I have gone to in the past to find inspiration for writing. I had my producer with me (Brooks Paschal) and after the songs were finished we decided that the name of the album should be named after this great bar we had our fun at night called The Circus Bar. It just seemed right after the countless hours spent eating, drinking and taking in the local music scene. I was very pleased on how quickly things fell into place.
Do you plan on touring to support Circus Bar?
I have been touring pretty much every summer since leaving Bad Company (1994) but this year will be a little different because we now have a full album of new tracks. I’m also very excited about my trip coming up to entertain the troops overseas. We have 4 March concerts that are scheduled for Kuwait and Iraq and one is a “command performance” for the historic “Change of Command Ceremony” in Baghdad on March 12. This mini tour is being funded (and supported) by the U.S. forces’ Iraq entertainment branch. This all sort of came out-of-the-blue and my agent was contacted for this “command performance” for the troops and it was an honor that we did not expect. The boys and girls in uniform have been there for awhile without any real rock and roll that I know of. I could not pass up the chance of doing these concerts in Iraq. Even with the new record coming out at pretty much the same time we leave.
Do you think you be playing a lot of the new material on this tour?
Well I think we will play 2-3 new tracks off of Circus Bar plus a lot of the classic material my audience expects. Will it be called The Circus Bar tour? I don’t really know. If the album takes off then yes but as of right now my history is a lot stronger than my direction. I can’t play for 3 hours a night so we will see how it goes as the album gets heard by more and more people. It’s difficult for an audience that may not have heard the new material to learn on the fly and I think that could lead to a confused audience. I want folks to sing along and have a good time I don’t want to educate them.
Upon joining Bad Company in 1984 did you feel any pressure stepping into a situation that already had a great deal of success?
Well I knew that I would be having to prove myself and that struggle was a bit daunting. I knew that I was going to be compared with the previous singer (Paul Rodgers) who happened to be one of the greatest singers to ever walk the planet. I just knew that if I turned it down I would have never known if I could have done it or not. It was kind of strange in many ways because I was fearful yet excited at the same time. I did want to prove to myself that I could hang with the big dogs.
Also during that period when you joined Bad Company the musical climate was changing and the band became more of a commercial arena rock band and less of a blues outfit.
Very true. I’m not a big fan of the blues which is what Bad Company used to be. I didn’t think (and still believe) that style of music is valid anymore. I don’t think white people should be singing the blues. I don’t think white people have any concept of the Blues. I don’t think that white people have any type of spirituality that the things which caused the blues to come to fruition. I don’t want to make people feel depressed when I sing. I want people to be happy and sing along. Even now the band (reunited once again with original singer Paul Rodgers) wants to return to their blues material which I think will put people to sleep. Leave the blues to Muddy Waters who’s real life experiences made what he did so incredible. We as white people have never been downtrodden particularly. We helped create the blues by oppressing black people.
How would you describe the entire time that you spent in Bad Company?
Well it was really good for me because I had to drag the band back from being a small club band to an arena act and a top selling band again. Let me tell you it wasn’t easy. I couldn’t rely on any Mick Ralph songs or Simon Kirke songs so I had to do a lot of work in writing the songs and the direction the band took. I’m happy to say that it worked. We had huge sell out tours and sold millions of records. I was very proud of what I did professionally with Bad Company. Personally it was a nightmare with the 2 other guys (Mick Ralph and Simon Kirke) who did nothing but resent the fact that we were having success but it wasn’t with their songs. They grew more and more angry and ery jealous because they were so possessive about the band Bad Company and its legacy. Good luck to them.
Your first big career break came by singing with Ted Nugent on the Penetrator (1984) album and tour. How did that come about and what was the experience like?
I was sending demo tapes into Atlantic records every few weeks writing songs all original material dreaming of scoring a record contract. I used to get back letters and calls we like the voice but we don’t like the songs; we want you to write a hit single. I had to learn how to write singles and learn how to write commercial songs. Record company executives back in the day had to listen to 50 or 60 tapes a day and if you didn’t grab them within like 30 seconds it’s over. So one day one of these guys is listening to one of tapes and Ted Nugent’s manager is walking down the corridor at Atlantic Records and said who’s that singing? “I don’t know some Brian Howe guy from London.” Well what is he doing now for work? “I don’t know but I will find out for you.” Next think I know they offer me the gig. They offer me the Nugent job. So I packed my bags left London and ended up in NY arrived at a rehearsal studio with the wonderful Ted Nugent and we recorded the album right after that. It was all like a fantasy for me really. Now the tour was a very tight ship for sure. Ted does not tolerate anything less than perfection. It was run like a clock. You have to learn discipline. If you got drunk you were fired. If you did drugs you were fired. You had to learn that no matter how bad you may have been felling from the previous nights gig or just plain ill you still had to go out and perform for the folks that paid good money to see you. I still take that to every show I play even now.
Who were your vocal inspirations growing up?
I can tell you nobody in rock n roll. Cat Stevens I liked. But I can tell you had been a huge inspiration and friend to me over the years has been Mick Jones from Foreigner. We are from the same town (Portsmouth) and came up through the ranks sort of speak at roughly the same time. Lots of folks thought (at the time) that I sounded a bit like Lou (Gramm) I don’t know if I did but we certainly had a similar song writing style for sure. But in general I find most Rock singers quite boring actually. I find the bravado is a lot of bullshit and I don’t care for it at all. I like the solo singer/songwriters style more than anything else.
What do you think has been the biggest shift in the music industry between Tangled in Blue (your last solo effort) and your new release The Circus Bar?
I love the internet. I think we have gotten rid of the majority of idiots that called themselves record executives. I think we have gotten rid of A and R people that were dumber than dirt. I think music is much healthier than it has been in years. I love iTunes. I love to go digging on iTunes. The biggest problem I had with Record Executives is that they didn’t love music, they rarely found someone original and merely looked to find someone who sounded like someone else. They would try and jump on someone’s coattails as it were. All of these A and R people are probably working in Pubs now so good luck to them. Let the general public go on itunes and let them decide for themselves. I’m not a huge fan of modern radio because even now because it’s still run by idiots, still run by sheep. Local radio should facilitate local taste. I shouldn’t hear the same songs in New Orleans that I may hear in Miami yet that’s what happened with radio and that sucks. That’s also why radio is (by and large) very unsuccessful right now.
Brian we are really looking forward to seeing you here in New England on this tour. Any fond Boston memories that stand out for you?
I love Boston. A good friend of mine (Steve Nichol) is the Head Coach for The New England Revolution. So I’ve been to Foxboro and often like to take in games when I can and time permits me. We played the Boston Garden a few times in Bad Company great times playing for you mad fans. I miss you all and hope to see you all very soon.