An Interview with
Musical Director for 'Raiding The Rock Vault' at The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NV, USA; Lead Guitarist of Bad Company & The Paul Rodgers Band as well as former member of Heart (1975-1997) that took place on 6th September, 2017.
Interviewed by Glenn Milligan.
Glenn: Hi Howard, it's Glenn, how are you doing?
Howard: Good. How are you?
Glenn: I'm doing good. Just chilling out at the moment. I've been checking all the stuff out regarding Hurricane Irma. It's a bit scary.
Hpward: Oh man. It's the biggest storm ever in the Atlantic Ocean. It's huge. It's giant. It's going to wreak havoc.
Glenn: I know. It's the size of Florida State! Holy Sh*t!
Howard: Yeah it's giant and God forbid if it takes a left turn and gets into the Gulf Of Mexico. The warmer's much warmer. It will gain strength and hit Texas again. This will be devastating. It looks like it's going to go up the coast of Florida. Whatever it does, it's going to destroy stuff. We're having a rough time with the weather here. We keep hearing that Global warming is just a theory. Well it looks pretty real to me.
Glenn: How's your weather in Vegas right now? Is it just rainy or are you seeing any effects of it.
Howard: Not really. It's been over 100 for a couple of months. Finally yesterday it moved underground 100 degrees. It's been pretty warm and it's just starting to cool off. It's going to be fall here soon and we'll be into the nicer weather. In the middle of the Summer it's really hot here. It's crazy hot. It was a hundred in my house in Malibu the other day.
Howard: It gets warm in this part of the Summer but then the rest of the year it's beautiful. I like it.
Glenn: Yeah that's cool. I remember how hot it was when I came over to see you guys. It was your birthday. It was 105 degrees. The highest it got to was 117.
Howard: It was the all time record.
Glenn: Wow! I was there for that!
Howard: You were there! The highest temp ever. That's a little tough when it gets that high.
Glenn: That's not bad. I made your birthday and the highest temperature on record in Vegas.
Glenn: That's not a bad score that.
Glenn: Yeah! Excellent! How have the recent 'Raiding The Rock Vault' shows gone?
Howard: It's been great this week. Dave Amato from REO Speedwagon is in on the other side. It's been full every night. We're having a really good time. August is so hot that it's kind of quiet. I took three weeks off. In August I stayed home with my family. It's real slow here in August. As soon as September comes it seems to pick back up. The kids are back at school. People start coming out. This week's been really full every night. We're doing good.
Howard: it got good lately. It's seasonal. It's got its high season and its low season. We've got to truck through the quiet parts. The bigger days are coming.
Glenn: What would you say your favourite parts of the show are and why?
Howard: Well I enjoy doing the show. The show's a lot of fun. We have a good bunch of guys. Part of the fun of it is just the camaraderie that we have between the players. The other part is playing some of the great music. I do the Hendrix song. Just playing all these classic songs. There's a lot of juicy bits to play that are a lot of fun to play. The fact that we've been going now... next month we are going to play our 1000th show.
Howard: Keeping something going that long in Vegas is not that easy. Most shows never last that long. That's something that we're proud of. We've been here four years and coming up on a thousand shows so it's good.
Glenn: That's great. I guess as well because you've switched to The Vinyl Room so it's still making it viable as well.
Howard: It's a little different for us and the room is smaller but the people love it. People that have seen us enough in bigger venues like this the best because they're so up close.
Howard: That makes it a bit more of a Rock 'N' Roll setting than a big theatre setting. It's close. The fans love it in there.
Glenn: It's like having a load of rock stars in your front room almost because you are quite literally on the stage right in front of us.
Howard: We make it into a concert venue. We have the big video screen and lasers. We've got our whole production in there. You're never going to see a production that big in a club generally. That makes it fun and the same experience. People are right up close to us.
Glenn: The lighting is brilliant. The shots I managed to get that night are just second to none. The show is an experience isn't it?
Howard: Yeah. We try and make it immersive and generate memories for people – where they were when they first heard these songs. We try to be faithful to how the songs sound. We try to portray Classic Rock from the 60's to the end of the 80's.
Glenn: What certain songs for you take you back in time that you play on that stage?
Howard: Well let's pick one: The Doors song. I learned that song when I was 15. When that song first came out in LA, I used to see The Doors. They were the house band at The Whisky A Go-Go. I used to see them there and they'd play a love-in. That hit personal because it was something that I learned back then. When it came to the time to play it, I thought, 'I know this.' It's been a little while since I played it but I learned this years ago. That was fun to go back into the mental files and pull out. Some of the other stuff I had to learn. What's interesting about these classic songs is you think you know it because you've heard it a thousand times. You think you know it until you actually go to learn to play it.
You say, “Hmmm, this is tricky. This is great”, and you can see why it's a classic song. Those are the parts that once you learn them you really appreciate them even more. It's been fun for me because I've never been in a band that plays other people's stuff. When I was in Heart it was all original stuff. With Paul Rodgers and Bad Company, I played all those songs. One of the songs we do in the Rock Vault I heard live but I've never actually played it. That was fun to go in and figure out 'Hotel California' and some other songs. It's great.
Glenn: That makes sense.
Howard: With the Queen song, until you actually play that, you don't realise how elegantly Brian's guitar work is on that. It's fantastic.
Glenn: I guess some of the songs even for someone of your standard must have too quite a but of learning?
Howard: Yeah. Some of them. We try and arrange them in a special way. Preferably when we first started I wanted to divide the guitar solos so everybody had a few good showcases during this show. When we started to show at the rehearsals, we would have all of our singers sing the song and we would try to decide which guys voice was most appropriate to a particular song. That's part of figuring out how to do this properly.
Glenn: How long did it take from when you first had the idea to put the songs in to actually get to what it is now. It's utter perfection. It's so slick. What did you find the toughest parts were? There must have been so much happened during pre-production rehearsals and everything that the public have got no idea about.
Howard: Right! A lot of work did go into doing our very first show back in L.A. There was pre-production and video stuff that was put together. Then the band came in and we rehearsed for three weeks. At the end of the rehearsal period on the last day we still hadn't played the show all the way through.
Howard: We were still working it out. So the first time we played the whole show was the first night we did the show in a theatre in Los Angeles. We did a showcase and we filmed it. That's what we used to shop the show around to see if we could get in a hotel. The video that we shot is actually the first time we played the whole show. It worked. We got a deal and we went into the LVH – The Las Vegas Hilton.
We were there for almost two years. There is a lot of work. We still rehearse different things. If somebody new is coming in to take the place and be a substitute for one of our players, we'll get together during the day and run through some on the songs, make sure they are comfortable.
Next Saturday night, my friend Billy Hinsche – he plays with The Beach Boys – he lives here in Las Vegas – he's a good friend of mine. He's gonna come up when I do the Hendrix song. He's going to come up and play the Dave Mason part – the 12 string part. Just as a guest and just for fun. Something he wants to do. We'll get together that day before the show and we'll rehearse that to make sure he's comfortable and he's got it sounding the way he wants it to sound. We're not lazy about it. We put a lot of work into it.
Glenn: I know Michael (T Ross) and Robin (McCauley) love it the way they've talked about it. You're definitely doing something right.
Howard: You know Robin and Michael and spoke to them about it?
Glenn: Yeah! I have interviewed them both and it was good to hear their side of it. Keith St. John talked about it first as well about when he did his guest spot.
Howard: Yeah he's in now and then. He sings Robin's part sometimes when Robin is out with Michael Schenker. He will come in and fill his role.
Glenn: I'm guessing that Keith will be there when Robin is out on the Michael Schenker Fest because he plays over here in November with Graham and Gary.
Howard: Right. That's right. He'll be out for a little while but I have Bad Company shows coming up. I pop in and out when I have touring to do.
Glenn: Yeah. It's good to have a regular stable show there. You don't have to worry about getting to other shows in other venues all over. You go in, play your show and you've got your stability there as well.
Howard: The best thing about it for a lot of us who travel all the time and tour all the time – this show you don't have to travel. There's no flying. The show's in the same place all the time. I live in Malibu so I can drive home. We have two days off a week. Tomorrow morning I will get up and I will drive home for a couple of days and then I drive back out. There's no aeroplanes or airports. It's all really about the performances. We play a lot. We play five nights a week. We don't have all that travel. That's really what breaks you down as far as fun. It's all the travelling that makes you tired. For me, it's a perfect gig because I can just come in and out, play the shows – it's great that way.
Glenn: Awesome! I remember back in February time. I was sat on the tour bus with the LA Guns guys. I remember Tracii was telling me that you had him sit down and you said to him, “Look you need to put the work in, this is how do to do 'Stairway To Heaven' ”, and you taught him how to go on with it. He wanted to go out for a hamburger or something and you said, “No! Sit down and you're going to learn this properly”.
Howard: Yeah! (Laughs) Tracii was the very first guy. He was the original guy. He was in all those long rehearrsals and they were long! There was a lot of work to do. A lot of stuff to learn. I'm the Musical Director so I have to assert some level of discipline.(We laugh). It's like hurting cats but we got it down. We've got guys that have a lot of personality. We didn't want any divas. We didn't want any guys who were going to be a pain in the ass somewhere down the line. There was a certain criteria that you had to do. You had to learn all that along with all the parts quickly. That's just being a professional.
Glenn: Yeah. Very much, “Leave your ego at home. We've got no time for it here”.
Howard: Exactly. (We laugh)
Glenn: How long have you been a Musical Director? Were you one before 'Raiding The Rock Vault'? Or have you just learned how to do it because of all the experience you've had over the years in Heart, Bad Company or with Paul? Or even being in the studio before you joint Heart?
Howard: Well I've always been the MD in every band I've been in. I was the Musical Director in Heart. I think really by virtue of me being a music major in college. The only one that could read and write. I would write the violin and the orchestra charts for the early records when we used a real orchestra. I did it with Heart and now I go out with Paul Rodgers. I've been his Musical Director for 19 years now.
Howard: I do it for Bad Company as well but mainly for Paul's solo band. When I came into this thing, I was thinking, 'Oh this is great, I won't have to be the MD on this, I will just be the guitar player and it will be easy for me.' But then when I got there to the first band rehearsal, nobody knew any of the songs we had. I made little charts of the chords so remember them. Then I could learn the stuff more quickly. When I realised that no-one else had figured out most of thee songs, I just made copies of them and passed my charts around so we could all learn them more easily. Ever since then, people looked at me to be the one who is on top of it musically. I fell into it again.
Glenn: You are like the Mentor Grand Daddy or the MD in this respect aren't you?
Glenn: “I'm not on this bit. I'll Ask Howard. He'll know.”
Howard: That's why I wear that big knife by my side. We don't have any arguments.
Glenn: 'Call that a knife, that's a knife' (done in Australian Accent)
Howard: That's a Knife. (we laugh)
Glenn: Your birthday show. Was that a complete surprise all that when they brought the cake out?
Howard: Yeah. I've had so many birthdays I've tried to keep it quiet and try to let it pass by without anybody noticing, I thought I was going to get away with it this year. I didn't talk about it to anybody and it didn't seem much that anybody was mentioning it. There you go! They were plotting behind my back all the time. (We laugh)
Glenn: I think you told me it was your birthday and I got to say 'Happy Birthday Howard' when we had the photo took next to the placard for the show.
Howard: That cake was really good too.
Glenn: Sweet! At they did something good and not shoved it in your face. Sorry I couldn't resist that (I laugh).
Glenn: I know you play quite a few different instruments such as keyboards and mandolin (as well as guitar). What turned you onto playing them?
Howard: When I was nine years old I took piano lessons for a couple of years. I wasn't really crazy about it. I liked the music but I wasn't crazy about my teacher. She just wanted me to learn these pieces so I could show off to my relatives. It wasn't really teaching me to play the instrument other than a few songs. When I was 11 I started playing guitar and pretty soon I was playing guitar full- time. When I joined Heart I replaced the keyboard player. I played the guitar parts on the record but when I actually joined the band live I was going to be replacing the keyboard guy.
I said, “ I can play a little bit of keyboards. I play in the studio but I'm mainly a guitar player. I can learn the keyboard parts”. So I did. In Heart I played a lot of keyboards earlier on. I developed it a little bit by necessity. It came with my territory. It was my job when there was a keyboard needed – that was me. I had to get a little better at the keyboards but eventually I grew to really enjoy it. I like synthesizers, the science of it, making the sounds. I enjoy playing the keyboards but I'm more proficient on the guitar I would say. The keyboards are good. I taught my Sons to play a little bit too.
Glenn: Awesome. I guess the mandolin is- just another stretch of the guitar but a bit smaller.
Howard: Yeah! That one was Nancy. She played the mandolin. Roger played the mandolin. When Roger left I thought I should learn to play it because we had a couple of songs that had two mandolins. The problem with the mandolin is aside that it's really tiny and the frets are very close together, it's tuned like a violin. It's not tune like a guitar. All the chord shapes that you know on the guitar won't help you. It's completely different and you have to start completely over.
Over the years though, I've really grown to love the mandolin. I play it with Bad Company when we do 'Feel Like Making Love'. I do part of it on the mandolin . Paul (Rodgers) loves the mandolin. He has me play usually one song somewhere in the set every year. I enjoy that. It's an unexpected sound at a big heavy guitar rock show. To have little delicate sounding mandolin. It's quite a juxtaposition – quite a contrast. We like it for that.
Glenn: A bit like what Brian May used to do in Queen when they played 'Bring Back Leroy Brown' in the early days?
Glenn: You were in Heart for 22 years. You saw it go from the 70's band right through the 80's decade. What do you personally look back on and think, 'I love that particular moment in time in Heart'? What really stands out to you from that period of 22 years? I could probably fill 10 tapes of information on this one (I joke).
Howard: Yeah that's a long one. I think early on when you first realise 'Wow this is really catching fire. We're gonna make it'. We had a sense of that in our first year of touring when we left the clubs. In Seattle we started touring and opening for ZZ Top and Jefferson Airplane – all these different bands. You can kind of feel it growing. The acceptance and people started playing our records on the radio.
That moment when you realise that it's actually going to happen. It's pretty fantastic when you get your first gold record – it's a great moment. Heart was a really good band. We could play live. We sounded just like our records live. There was a certain pride of getting up each night in front of a big crowd and being good – being excellent at what you do. There's something special about that – going out and trying to surpass peoples expectations of you. They have a certain idea of how you're going to be or how crappy and you're better than that. Things like that.
We played some gigantic shows – Cal. Jam 2 was huge with over half a million people. Getting to go to Europe for the first time. I'm a big Anglophile and my favourite bands are British. I always wanted to play in a British band. The first time we went to England it seemed more do-able. That kind of thing especially you remember all your life. Here I am in Bad Company! I mean really! (Laughs in surprise)
Glenn: I know. It's crazy isn't it. A big Kossoff fan and you're taking that part on.
Glenn: That must have been very, very surreal. You must have been thinking, 'Did this really happen?'
Howard: I know. Free was my favourite band. Even to this day once in a while we'll be playing something like Mr. Big, I'll look around and there's Simon (Kirk) back there. I look over and there's Paul. I think, 'How did I get here? What am I doing here?' But that's my style. I play British Classic Rock. That's my style. I fit in musically. It just seems funny to me that I ended up being in my favourite band all these years later. It is a bit surreal.
Glenn: A sort of soul, rock, blues, meat and potatoes sound. Then throw in a bit of slickness over the top, so to speak.
Glenn: It's that sort of style.
Howard: Yep. I'm able to make an elucid solo and play with feeling. I mean, Kossoff – just the amount of feeling that he got when he got when he played is still hard to match. Not many guys can get that kind of emotion when they play. They didn't play a lot. The thing about Free is that they played very economically. No-one overplayed and they left a lot of air and a lot of holes. That's huge to be a good player. I love playing with Simon Kirke. He's just got the groove. He plays god, solid grooves. We have a good singer too.
Glenn: Yeah just a bit. I think he's one of the best that's come out of this country. We've got two or three but most of the best ones came out about the same time. We've got Glenn (Hughes), Robert (Plant) and obviously Paul.
Howard: Frankie Miller, Steve Marriott.
Glenn: Yeah I am going to see Steve's Daughter, Mollie Marriott in November. Steve Marriott is my favourite singer of all time. I bought all the stuff and even the box sets.
Howard: There's a good story that Mick Ralphs tells. He said, “One day they were in the studio working on something with early Bad Company and Steve Marriott drops by to say hello. Before you know it they're jamming”. He said, “Steve Marriott and Paul Rodgers stood face to face / toe to toe and tried to outdo each other”. He said, “It was the most amazing display of 'British Soul Singing' that he's ever seen”. No-one had a camera, no-one filmed it, it just happened. He said, “Man, if they would have had footage of that. It would be priceless because it was two of the top guys going at it. Something spectacular”.
Glenn: I can imagine. Pretty incredible.
Glenn: I remember seeing you with Bad Company. You played Sheffield City Hall. Myself and my other mate, Glenn Ashley, we had a photo-pass each and we were at the front getting the shots. It was phenomenal. Such a good gig. I know it's just one of those shows in the leg of a tour but do you remember much about playing that Sheffield show or was it just another blur in the leg of gigs.
Howard: You know what, I particularly like Sheffield. I think Sheffield is a fun place for kids. They go out at the weekend and get all dressed up. They go out and get properly drunk and have a great time. I always go to this little store I know where I buy a knife in Sheffield because the Sheffield steel is the best for knives in the world. I have a number of them every time I go through Sheffield. I stop and buy a knife.
We've been there a number of times. I can see now in my minds eye that the part where our hotel is in the downtown area. I know my way around there pretty well to walk around Sheffield. I know my way around a little bit. It's just a fun place. I remember it. Like I told you, playing in England is special to me. What I do is soak it up – I get up and walk around. I try to feel it.
Glenn: Awesome! It's always nice to speak to someone and they know your area and we kind of know yours as well. That makes it cool and more one to one'ish. That's great!
Glenn: I've been to Malibu before. That's beautiful. What can you say?
Howard: It is beautiful.
Glenn: I was looking at your Facebook not long back and I saw that staircase at your house. That is beautiful. I bet so many people comment on that as well.
Glenn: Very impressive.
Glenn: Have you been in Malibu quite a bit?
Howard: We moved there in the millennium – January 1st, 2000. We've been there 17 years now.
Glenn: Nice. Not been there for a while but it's a beautiful are. Definitely.
Howard: It is indeed.
Glenn: Going back to Heart, how was it supporting ZZ Top. They are one of my favourite bands as well.
Howard: Love those guys. Couldn't wait to meet them. It was funny. We were on a tour in Canada. It was right after we first really made it and we were the new Canadian band. It was us and Rush around at the same time. We went out and we were doing these shows, starting in the middle of Canada and working back towards Vancouver. By the time we get to Vancouver we were the conquering heroes. We were the returning victorious, biggest band that has ever come out of Vancouver. We played our set. We went over like a bomb! We just killed the place. We were hard to follow that night.
ZZ Top are one of the greatest bands of all time. Probably one of my favourite American bands. They had a hard time following us that night. Then they realised Vancouver was our hometown. It was our first time back since we were in the clubs. We did a little bit too well that evening and they fired us off the tour. (I laugh) Billy and I over the years have become good friends. We still laugh about that and he is a great man. A very smart guy. He knows a lot about a lot of subjects. He is a fascinating guy to talk to and a hell of a guitar player.
Glenn: Totally! I've been a fan for since 1984.
Howard: He's a really a smart guy. He makes this thing about the little ole band from Texas but he is well-educated, comes from a family of amazing people. His Uncle worked in the movies. He was the set designer in all 'The Marx Brothers' movies.
Glenn: Wow! I didn't know that.
Glenn: That's really cool.
Howard: He comes from an interesting family. I think his Dad was a surgeon in Houston. Billy's a great man.
Glenn: You have a band called 'The Brigade' and I saw you play the Ronnie Montrose Reunion where you had Robin McCauley (Vocals) and James Kottack (Drums). How did that band come about?
Howard: It goes back to a time where Robin knows a guy from about 20 years ago – Jason Boyleston – a bass player who is my sub in the Rock Vault. He is a guitar player but when we do 'The Brigade' he is the bass player. I did 'The Brigade' in Seattle just for fun. We had a friend of ours from Florida, Kevin Neil who used to play with Pat Travers – he was the drummer. We were playing clubs in Seattle just for the hell of it. We played heavy 70's guitar records. We'd do a lot of Free, a bunch of 'Purple and a lot of Robin Trower. We just played for the heck of it.
We got spotted one night in Seattle by Paul Rodger's Manager. The next thing you knew, we're the Paul Rodgers band. 'The Brigade' became 'The Paul Rodgers Band'. We did that for many, many, many years. Just recently Jason called me up and said, “You know, we should do The Brigade again and do some of these charity shows, private shows and different things”. I said, “It sounds like fun, let's get Robin to be the singer because he's around and on the same schedule”.
So we got Robin and we heard from James Kottack. He'd stopped working with Scorpions and was looking for something to do. We got together, rehearsed a couple of times, went out and did that show for Ronnie because I was connected to Ronnie through Denny Carmassi, the drummer in Mindfields from Saint Hartford for a few years. I have a soft spot for that guy. We got together and we haven't done it since.
We are looking at doing it again in the future. It will be something to do for fun on the side for charity gigs or private gigs – whatever we can do. We don't really want to take it public too much. But yeah, it's a lot of fun. That was fierce to Kottack. It was great man. Great in The Brigade. I glad you got to see that.
Glenn: Yeah it was great. I really enjoyed it. How was the actual, entire gig for you because I remember it being so bloody long? It was about 5 hours. A case of when is it going to end? How was it for you though?
Howard: Well it was horribly disorganised. Not put together very well. There was a lot of waiting. 50 fifty people were going to play. It wasn't like a regular show. It was kind of a mess. It just wasn't organised very well. I think he learned a lot from that night for future things. Those thing are generally going to be a little bit disorganised than an actual show.
Glenn: Yeah it was a good show but very bloody long. I'm glad I had a seat upstairs now and again.
Howard: It was a good hang though. Everybody was there. It was a good hang to see everybody but yeah, it was a bit of a beating.
Glenn: Can you ever see 'The Brigade' recording some new stuff or going out anytime. Even just as a one-off and release an album signed to someone like Frontiers?
Howard: That's funny you mention that because we did that one show, that Ronnie Montrose Show, some video of that got on the web and people started seeing it. The next thing you know, I got a call from New York from the guy who does the American part of Frontiers. He said, “I want to sign you guys. I want you guys to make an album”. I said, “Wait a minute. We don't even have any songs yet.”
He said, “Okay, well write some songs and we'll sign you guys! You guys were really, really good”. There you have it, that one gig generated a record offer and deal offer”. I'm excited. We've been looking at it a little bit. I think Robin and I will together, write some songs and see what happens with it then. You know, the record business is not what it used to be. You've got to be super-motivated about that. But it'd be fun to do it.
Glenn: Oh I know. I agree.
Howard: If we put out an E.P. Or something like that, get out on tour opening for Aerosmith or somebody like that – that'd be fun. I think that would be good.
Glenn: I guess it's in the downtime when you invite Robin over and say, “Let's try this song... let's work on this bit while we've got a few hours spare before we go down to the show”?
Howard: Yeah. It's nice. We're around together and working on some new stuff would be fun.
Glenn: Yeah! Excellent!
Howard: I really love Robin. I think he is a fantastic singer. A really talented singer. It's just getting around to doing that.
Glenn: He's such a nice guy as well. He's a laugh a minute.
Howard: He is. He is great. He's a Dubliner and those guys are funny. (We laugh)
Glenn: It's the best way because it's hard work. It's good that you've got that light hearted humour as well between each other rather than it being serious work, work, work and no happiness since you spend so much time around each other.
Howard: Well if it's not fun it's not really Rock 'N' Roll. Above all else it's got to be fun.
Howard: That's the thing that we love about our show at the Rock Vault. It's fun. People have so much fun with a huge show. When they see the show they said, “Man, I've never had that much fun. It's the most fun that I've had in years”. That's part of it. I told the guys on the very first day. I said, “We're going to make this so it's fun for us because it's fun to see people having fun”.
Glenn: Yeah! I agree!
Howard: If it looks like we're having fun on stage it'll be fun to watch. People will enjoy seeing us up there having a good time and it's contagious. We've always tried to make it musically and wherever we try and make it so it's fun for us – that makes it fun for the audience.
Glenn: Yeah! There's nothing worse than going to a show and they look f*ck*ng miserable on stage and they're not even dressed up or anything. I think, 'Why did I bother coming? I'd sooner stop at home than watch this!'
Howard: Yeah. Some of the bands that hate each other so much that the only time they see each other is on the stage. You can feel that it's just not a happy camp. I don't like that either. Life's too short. It's not good. You've gotta have fun!
Glenn: Where they don't even enter each others space or look or talk to each other. It's just like, “Oh do I really have to introduce him?” it's a bit like that. Anyway, you've also been involved in charity shows and other benefit shows. What got you interested in the 'K9 Crusade' that you are involved with?
Howard: I just love dogs basically. I have two rescue dogs of our own. My buddy, Bobby Kimball and his Wife are the ones that are behind that whole thing. He asked me if I would come down and play and the proceeds will go to help the dogs. I said, “Yeah! How could I not do that?” All I have to do is play my guitar and I like to do that. That's easy. If you can make the world a better place – even just a little bit. If you can play your guitar – that's a no-brainer. It's easy.
Glenn: Awesome! Yeah I knew they had a dog charity and I wondered if it was the same one.
Howard: Yeah. They brought me in on that and I was happy to do it. Any little thing you can do. The animals have it tough. They can't help themselves. Humans can help themselves but animals are kind of stuck wherever and however we treat them. You try and make it a little easier for some of them.
Glenn: Yeah! And why not? It also says a lot about a person on how they treat their animals. That's what we say here. You probably say it there as well?
Howard: Yeah. They say never trust a person that dogs don't like.
Howard: They have a certain sense about that.
Glenn: I guess when you audition people, you will take your dog? (We both laugh)
Howard: That and the first question: Do you have a dog? Is it a rescue dog? (We laugh)
Glenn: Right I am just going to flip over to side 2! It's the easiest way to work and you don't lose anything.
Howard: I'm the same way. When I record, I don't record on Pro-tools or digital. I do it the old way, the way I've always done it. I find it sounds better and it's more satisfying. I don't like the machine help me fix mistakes. That's cheating in my opinion.
Glenn: Oh yeah! I mean, when you guys first started or when everyone started, there was none of that! There was no punch in here, punch in there, fix this, fix that.
Glenn: You could either do it or you couldn't.
Glenn: I think that's what sets a lot of you guys at the top high standard because you had to do that.
Howard: In fact, my own personal recording ethic – it's not something I have to do but it's something I like to do. I don't punch in. I won't take half of this solo and half of this solo. I have to play all the way through. If I can't get it all the way through, I go back and practise it until I can. I wanted to actually record a performance and be able to say, “This is how I played that day with no trickery”. It's a way for me to push myself to get better.
If I'm playing a long piano part on a track on a five minute song and I get to 4:50 and I make a mistake, I start over. I say to myself, “I can get through this, all the way through it without a mistake. I just have to keep trying”. So that's how I do it. I want to continue to improve and keep pushing myself. So I wont punch in.
Glenn: Scuse the pun but you are literally part of the old school 'Brigade' aren't you? You are the real deal, this is how you should do it, this is how we've always done it?
Howard: Yeah. That's why so many acts today, they get in the studio and they use all the tricks and their record sounds pretty good. Then they get out on stage and they're terrible. People say, “Wait a minute, what's going on here?” because there are so many ways you can make it easier and make it sound good even if its not authentic.
Yeah, we grew up recording that way where everybody has to play well, to play together. There's no fixing anything. What you get is what you play, it's what you are going to hear. You've got to play better.
Glenn: Exactly. What are your thoughts to the music business now compare to when you had Mushroom Records in the early 70's when you first started up in your studio?
Howard: Well we were lucky with Mushroom Records because it was really one of the first independent labels. We tried to sign Heart. We made the record and we tried to sign it to all the major labels and nobody would have us. We got turned down by all the major American labels. We said, “Well. We'll just do it on our own label”.
We had it on Mushroom in Canada and the record was starting to do pretty well there. We believed in it but we couldn't find any Executives that did. So we did it ourselves. It took a year but we opened up all those shows I was talking about – playing with ZZ Top and everybody. We went town to town trying to get the record played and eventually it did pretty well and sold 4 million copies – our very first record.
Now I feel bad. My Son is a player. He's called Michael Leese. He's in a band with the Kronin twins – Kevin Cronin's sons (the frontman of REO Speedwagon). They have a band called The Vinyls. They are doing well. They are playing gigs but it's tough because there's really no record business anymore. You can't go in there and sell a few million records to help finance your tour. Basically your tour has to finance everything else.
Glenn: It's crazy!
Howard: It's a tough time for young artists. There are a lot of really, really good artists working now but you don't really hear them on the radio. The radio is kind of shot now too. It's really tough, especially for Rock. A lot of music here is either pop or hip-hop. With Rock music you have to look and find it. There's a lot of great music if you look a little bit. It's got to be tough for young bands these days. It's a whole different system. It's too bad.
Glenn: I mean, there's the internet which is a double-edged sword because there's so much out there to check out but it makes people have such a short span of time. They are thinking, 'I've seen or heard enough of that, I'll just jump onto something else'. They're not listening to full albums. They are just picking a song from here and a song from there.
They just forget about people half an hour later. It's like 'Oh look a bridge with a fish who has a 7 second memory' or something like that. It's a weird one but it also helps on the promotional side of things if you get noticed enough to be able to push it that way.
Howard: Right. So you must be able to remember back in the day when one of your favourite bands put out a new album. You'd go down to the shop and get the album. You'd take it home. That was your whole afternoon.
Glenn: Yeah! It was!
Howard: After you'd play the album three or four times, read the artwork, read the liner notes. You would really immerse yourself in it as a piece of art. It's hard to get people to sit down for 45 minutes anymore and listen to a whole piece of art. People aren't even releasing albums. They are just putting out E.P's or a song here and a song there. It's really sad about the attention spans. It's very short these days.
Glenn: Yeah. I'm 43 now and coming up to 44 in January. When I was about 12 to 15, 16 or more I would save it all for records. I'd get about £2 a week pocket money from my Mum and dad. When I got to £4, I'd ring Berry's Music in Worksop and order an album and tell them I'd pick it up next week, 7 days later, you've got your album that you were looking forward to.
Then you'd be sat in the back of the car or whatever, looking at it, reading it all, lyric sheet – you name it, looking at the record catalogue numbers – all sorts of stuff. You'd know things about your record back to front before you'd even got it home, took it out the sleeve and dropped it on. You know? It's all gone! Unless you're into record fayres and buying vinyl. I mean, vinyl's got so expensive now brand new. For me, it's not really worth anything. It's all reissued stuff.
Howard: It's crazy.
Glenn: Yeah, I agree.
Howard: Nowadays people who still make records, they have no budgets from the record companies. So you spend your own money, spend all your time, you put your record out and the next day it's on some Russian website for a penny a song. You don't even get the penny. You get nothing. People steal your work and it makes it tough to spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours making a piece of work that you're proud of and have it disappear in the ether!
Glenn: Exactly. It would be like you guys at 'Raiding The Rock Vault' saying it's free for everyone to see every single night. It's the same thing isn't it? It'd be crazy!
Glenn: You've got to make money because that much money goes into things. I don't know! This generation or the generation after, they don't seem to appreciate that. You don't work for a company four or five days a week and then come home with no money. It's the same thing.
Howard: Yes. It's hard.
Glenn: We've got to make a living. It's crazy! I dread to think what it's going to be like in a few years.
Howard: You've got to do it for the love of it if you love music. You've got to do it because you have to do it. It's compelled. That's how my Son is. I keep telling him. I say, “Michael, you're not going to make any money. You guys are going to work really hard and you're not going to see any money. You're gonna get laid like Frank Sinatra but you probably won't get rich”. But he's just got to do it. It's in his blood so he won't take 'No' for an answer. (I laugh) I tried to tell him.
Glenn: It's like, “Listen to your Dad”.. but then again...
Howard: There are much easier businesses to work in where you'll do really well. With music, you're either going to starve 99% or you're going to do really, really well. It's even wearier than it was when I came out.
Glenn: Definitely. Even your Rod Stewart's or your Elton John's and such like, they'd have no chance now because if their album or even their first single don't sell, they're off the label – they are kicked off. Whereas some of them guys, they didn't make it and/or get noticed (in their own right) fully until they got to their 3rd albums at least.
Howard: That's right. That's the thing. Labels used to invest in a band and support them. They would know that the first album may go by and no-one would notice it. The second record – a little bit. Then finally they would nurture an artist, let them blossom and then become a major artist. Like you say, you don't get that chance anymore. It's one and done.
Glenn: It's just a meat market. It's like a supermarket out there. It's like another can of beans (Howard laughs) that are going to go through the cash register.
Glenn: It's very sad but that's how it seems to be and I hate it but there you go. Outside music because we've talked music, music, music like the old Kings X song, what do you like to do outside music?
Howard: I'm a voracious reader. I read lots of books. I keep up on the news and the political situation here in America because it's crucial and in a really bad place right now. That's interesting. My wife and I, when I'm home, we walk our dogs. We walk about two miles over the hills where we live. I swim every day. I got to the gym every day. I swim every day when I'm here in Vegas.
I have a regular routine here where everything builds up to doing the show. My schedule is timed out. I work out and swim at this time of day. Then I eat something. I just make the day work around the performance so you are in your best place while you are playing the show.
We love to go to Hawaii and Mexico. We have a place down in Cabo. We'll be going to it in a while. I can vacation quite well. I work so much man! I'm very happy to take time off. I love to. I'm good with that too. When I'm not working I usually just stay home because I'm not at home all the time. I just had three weeks off and it was fantastic to be home with my kids and my wife, my dogs – it's nice.
Glenn: Because you work in Vegas, you see it day in, day out unless you are at home in Malibu, what would you say you like and dislike about Vegas yourself? Or just that area as such?
Howard: It's great here. The food here is really good. A lot of the worlds best chefs work here. There's some really good places to eat. Most of the year the weather is really good. It's not hot here all the time – well three or four months in the Summer. The rest of the year it's nice here. I like that. Most of the people who live here don't really go out on the strip very much. They tend to avoid that part of town.
I live about 10 minutes away over by a golf course. I have my own apartment here. Everything is cool. The community has artists that work here. Everybody knows everybody in all the other shows. If you are appearing at one show you can go to any of the other shows for free. We go over and see the 'Circus De Soleil'. It's a small co-vibrant community of artists that make it kinda cool here.
Glenn: Excellent. And when you are home, you are home – you can just chill out. That's kind of when you are vacation when you are at home.
Glenn: It's amazing.
Howard: Some people say to me, “Where do you go on vacation?” and I say, “I live where people come for vacation”. I just stay there unless we are going to Hawaii or somewhere. We stay around where we live. It's like a vacation where I live.
Glenn: Exactly. I was thinking that actually. (I laugh) You mentioned you like reading. What are you reading at the moment? Do you read certain books or autobiographies as well?
Howard: Right now I'm reading an acquired (Clive) Cussler adventure book. I've read every word that Steven King has written. I've read all the Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child books. I read adventure, science books. I read a number of magazines every month. I like astronomy. I read Scientific American sometimes. All kinds of things. I read a book every ten days or so – something like that.
Glenn: Wow! Myself I'm just getting towards the end of the Chuck Berry Autobiography. That's a pretty interesting read.
Howard: Is it?
Glenn: Yeah! I didn't realise he'd been in jail two or three times. Talking of autobiographies, can you see yourself writing one some time or do you leave that for other people to do? (We both laugh)
Howard: I could write a 'Must Not Tell All' book but I'm not going to. There's lot of stories but I would have to betray confidences and tell secrets. So if I wrote a book it's only going to be one page long and it's going to be called 'None Of Your Fucking Business'.
Glenn: (I laugh) In a way, it's the best way.
Howard: That's the end of it.
Glenn: Otherwise you'd end up with a thousand lawsuits on your back.
Howard: I love autobiographies. I love reading the Rock 'N' Roll Biographies. I mean, the Keith Richards book 'Life'...
Glenn: Yeah it's a good book isn't it?
Howard: A fantastic book. I read all those Rock 'N' Roll Biographies. I think they are fascinating. You can relate and go, “Shit, that happened to us too”. It's interesting to see the different people and their past. The success - some people are happy and well adjusted and other people are miserable or made miserable by their success. That's another fascinating genre that I enjoy reading about.
Glenn: Yeah! I've got a book cabinet full of them. I've got a big box in the garage that's got crammed out with those sorts of books as well. I have so many. Looking round I have got Alan Sugar, John Lydon, Dave Mustaine, Peter Criss – these I have not read yet! They are all ready for me to read. Eventually I get time for them. Then I go and buy some more. I never get to the end of it.
Howard: They are writing them faster than you can read 'em.
Howard: Jimmy Page's book 'Light And Shade' is great. Robert Plant's book is fantastic 'Flashes'. Duff McKagan – I haven't read the new one but I read the first one. I e-mailed Duff after I finished it. I wrote, “Duff, dude what a story, I can't believe it”. He wrote back "Thanks Man!” he was very happy to hear from me about that. But yeah, Graham Nash's book is very interesting.
Glenn: I've got that but not read it yet. Then there's all these people who have worked with the big bands such as Janis Joplin's roadie and people like that. It's never ending.
Howard: The inside look.
Howard: I'm gonna keep all those secrets secret. I don't really see the reason to do that. Anyway, that's my own personal thought.
Glenn: Exactly. I can't fault you. You are playing it safe and you are not upsetting anybody.
Howard: I tell people, “If you are successful in this business, you give so much of your life and your time to the public”. Basically working for your audience and you really give and give and give a lot. Whatever bit of privacy that you can retain, you should cover that because you are not going to have much of it – especially if you get really famous. I try to keep my private life private so that's why I won't be sharing. That's giving even more to the audience. I don't think that's necessary at all. I've given enough.
Glenn: I mean, you'd be TMZ'd to hell – it's not worth it.
Glenn: You don't want the press around your door all the time. You can't live can you?
Howard: Right. I agree.
Glenn: We've covered a lot. I guess I could ask 'What are your favourite Spinal Tap moments?' but I guess we'll be here forever?
Howard: Well I have a classic Spinal Tap moment. I actually played with Spinal Tap.
Glenn: That's perfect!
Howard: We were in Seattle on the 'Break Like The Wind Tour'. They invited us to come up and jam. So the song 'Break Like The Wind' has solos on it by Jeff Beck, Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa. It has a number of guest guitar players. So myself and Jerry Cantrell worked up the solos and came to the Paramount Theatre in Seattle to play with Spinal Tap.
No-one had ever played on stage with them before. It was quite a moment. I'll never forget Nigel's face when we all came in on this giant F-Chord, part-way through the song where the big chord comes in. They didn't soundcheck with us. They're actors! But when Jerry and I hit that big F-chord, Nigel turns around and looks at us. He gave us that little head shake that he does in the movie, as though to say, “Yeah, that's how it's supposed to sound! I wish I could get it to sound like that”. It was huge. That was a lot of fun to actually play with Spinal Tap.
Glenn: I'm glad I brought that up now.
Howard: That's my Spinal Tap phase!
Glenn: Literally! Brilliant! We've talked about a lot of things. Is there anything you'd like to talk about that we've not talked about yet?
Howard: Well I'll just tell you that I really, talking about our privacy, that I really don't do interviews really anymore. I'll talk to a guitar magazine but when It comes to the Rock Vault, I leave that to Paul Shortino and Robin McCauley. They love to talk to journalists. I really don't do it that much. I'm glad. I know who you were, I remember you. I'm glad we were able to talk here. Hopefully it will be a rare get for you. I don't really talk to anybody anymore.
Glenn: Cool. I feel very privileged now.
Howard: Also, you're British – you get extra points. I'll talk to the British Press. (We laugh)
Howard: Because I'm in a British Band.
Glenn: Yeah exactly – The Paul Rodgers Band and Bad Company.
Glenn: Any idea when you are going to be back out again?
Howard: In about two weeks. We do some Paul Rodgers solo shows and back to the Vault for two weeks. Then we have a run of Bad Company shows here in the States. Actually, one of them is in Cancun, Mexico. That should be pretty nice. It's pretty plush.
Howard: Yeah! I'll be popping in and out the next few months here. I play with Paul. Then by November I come back and get back to work (at The Rock Vault).
Glenn: Sounds perfect man! It sounds perfect!
Glenn: Great. I'll let you get off. This has been a pleasure. I've really enjoyed talking to you.
Howard: Likewise speaking with you. It's been good talking to you and I'll speak to you soon.
Glenn: You will do. Take care Howard and thanks again. Have a good show tonight.
Howard: Bye Bye. Thank you.
Photographs of The Brigade taken at The Yost Theater, Santa Ana, California, USA have been supplied and used with Full Permission of Ron Lyon Photography.
Opening Photograph of Howard Leese & Glenn Milligan by Robert Kelly (aka Uncle Bob / Beach Boy Bob)
Special thanks go to Sir Harry Cowell, Michael T. Ross, Robin McCauley and all the other performers & staff at Raiding The Rock Vault, The Vinyl Room & The Hard Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NV, USA overall.
Be sure to catch Howard Leese on Tour with The Paul Rodgers Band as well as Bad Company and definitely when he plays 'Raiding The Rock Vault' @ Las Vegas!