It has been a long time since we’ve heard from Bad Company’s ex-frontman, Brian Howe (who was with the band from 1986-1995). After catapulting Bad Company to multi-platinum record sales in the late ’80s and early ’90s, with smash hits like “Holy Water”, “If You Needed Somebody”, and “How ‘Bout That”, Howe released a matured and underrated solo album called “Tangled In Blue” (1997). Thirteen years later and his new record, “Circus Bar,” has arrived. The album is one of the shiniest jewels in his rock and roll crown and Brian recently took some time to chat with us about the new release.
Q: “Circus Bar” is terrific and I can’t think of a better way to start the new record than with a song called “I’m Back”. How does it feel to be back with a new record after over a decade?
A: It’s actually pretty cool to be back in the saddle. Thirteen years is a long time to be away from a recording career and it feels good to be accepted again.
Q: To my ears, “Circus Bar” sounds like a proper follow up to 1992’s “Here Comes Trouble” –what was your vision for this album?
A: I never write or record with a preconception. I don’t actually write songs; I write feelings and put tunes to them. “Here Comes Trouble” I thought was a well-balanced CD for Bad Company, but the founding members wanted to go back and live and record in 1974 again so, we had to part ways.
I thought the band could have been much bigger than they were, but the other guys were so resentful of the success achieved with my songs. They really hated the fact that the hit songs were now mine and they were being [in their mind] cut out of songwriting. You only have to look at what they have written in the years since to know that they simply had run their course as songwriters.
Q: “Circus Bar” also has new renditions of two hits you recorded with Bad Company; “Holy Water” and “How ‘Bout That”. What was the impetus for re-recording these tunes?
A: I simply thought it would be fun; that’s all. I had always thought that “How ‘Bout That“ was a little long so, I trimmed the arrangement a little. With “Holy Water,” that song developed a whole new mood on its own and we went with it. The signature guitar intro has gone and it seemed to breathe a lot better without it. It grew into a very emotional piece of work that I am extremely proud of.
Q: I read that the title of the record comes from a Guatemalan bar where you hung out while writing the record: how did that atmosphere affect the songwriting and mood of the record?
A: The actual Circus Bar is situated in Panajachel, Guatemala. It’s a wonderful place with great food and live local bands every night. It is owned and run by circus people so, it is a great place for entertainers to relax. I had worked with a couple of clowns for ten years so I really felt at home there. I went there with my producer [Brooks Paschal] to write maybe three songs for the CD, but within a few days we realized that we had actually got twelve songs pretty much done. It was an incredibly lucrative writing session.
Q: Brooks Paschal, formerly of the modern rock band Sullivan, contributed to the songwriting this time around: how did you two hook up and how do you function as a team?
A: I had met Brooks through my guitar player [Dean Aicher] a couple of years ago. I was impressed with his talent and attitude: he lives and breathes music and is a multi-instrumentalist. He was a huge fan of what I had done in Bad Company and his all time fave song is “If You Needed Somebody!” [So] when Serafino from Frontiers Records called out of the blue and asked me to make a record, I thought of Brooks and called him. He actually is a lot younger than me, but we have very similar tastes in music and the magic was there in the writing. He also produced and played several instruments.
We discuss everything and then we do it my way; it seems to work! [laughs].
Q: Many people may not realize that your first big gig was singing on Ted Nugent’s “Penetrator” back in 1984. What was it like to work with the Nuge back in the day?
A: Back in 1984, it seems like yesterday, that was an amazing time. I had been sending songs to Atlantic Records in London to try to get a deal and they would write back that they didn’t hear a single, but they liked my voice. One day, Ashley Howe was walking down the corridor of Atlantic’s offices and heard my voice. He had been looking for a singer for the next Ted Nugent album and thought that I fitted the bill.
So, there I am in NYC for the first time in my life and meeting with Ted Nugent at the Gramercy Park Hotel. There was another singer being auditioned too, [Marc Boals], who went on to be with Yngwie Malmsteen. I agreed to work cheaper so got the job. Funny how economics works sometimes!
Working with Ted was great. Always the total professional; he taught me a lot about stage craft and attitude. Though I think I might have earned more working at McDonald’s! [laughs].
A: That came about because I knew Mick Jones from Foreigner. He was good friends of Simon Kirke and knew they were looking to get a band together and were looking for a singer. Mick actually called me at Ted’s house and convinced me to join up with the Bad Company boys and all along I was just praying that Ted wasn’t on an extension.
Q: You have been touring lately in the Middle East: how was that experience?
A: I got asked to tour Kuwait and Iraq and go support the troops: that in itself was an honor. I heard about several other artists that didn’t want to go because of the inherent danger, but I thought it would be an exciting thing to do. That was until I got the forms to fill out: I was totally responsible for the transportation of my body home if the worst happened! That brought it home to me what I had signed up to do: a real war zone with real bullets!
Q: What are your plans for the near and distant future? And please don’t tell me we’ll have to wait another thirteen years for your next album!
A: My first plan is to have a distant future. The rest should have fallen in place for that to be achieved.
Seriously though, I am not a guy who writes songs all the time: I store ideas and when the time is right they pop out. I want to make my best record next time out. That’s my aim: to make a Brian Howe definitive CD where people say, “Wow, he is actually pretty good!” I will try to achieve that in the next couple of years.
My other aim is simply to be around to walk through the park with my granddaughter Izabella. She thinks I am truly great [and] I am trying to live up to that.