George Howard And The Roadhouse Hounds Ride The Range With A New Partner.
By Jennifer Murphy
GEORGE HOWARD AND the Roadhouse Hounds have spent a lot of time on the road over the last two and a half years, touring regionally and, more recently, promoting their album Great American Blues You Can Use, which was released last October.
Howard took the tape back to the Midwest where he still has a lot of friends from the days when he toured with John Lee Hooker. There he sought the advice of a select group of heavy hitters in the blues arena before pressing the album: Buddy Guy, Jimmy Thackery, Phil Johnson and Ronnie Baker all listened to his tape and gave him a solid thumbs-up on the project.
"I fine-tuned some of the songs after that," Howard tells me over the phone from his busy photography studio, "but they all gave me the go-ahead."
At the time, Mike Dunlap happened to be in town working on a Pepsi commercial and asked around for a good place to hear some live music.
"Someone suggested he come down and hear us because we're different from most other blues bands. Dunlap happened into the bar and heard the band. He told me who he was and we talked about some things and I told him that I was producing my fifth album and he asked me to send him a copy when it came out."
Six months later, Howard sent a CD to Dunlap, who responded positively, adding that he had some projects in the works and wondered if Howard would be interested in working with him.
"I would have been a fool to say no. He's co-produced with Quincy Jones, worked with Prince--he's got a Grammy, an Emmy and an Academy Award for some of his songs," Howard says with a chuckle. "He's no schlep."
Dunlap had produced some country albums for a friend and thought that would be a direction he'd like to try himself. Howard was game. Although closely associated with the blues, Howard was familiar with the genre.
"Before I got into the blues thing, I started playing country when I was getting back into the scene. I used to sub for Frank and Woody and Bob Meighan. The Eagles and Marshall Tucker came out around that time and I was playing that," he says. "It's not at all foreign to me."
Howard tosses out a few morsels regarding the album: "It's the same band only with pedal steel and a violin instead of a trumpet and sax. I've even co-written a line dance which was basically a blues song called 'Catch-22 Blues.' Mike liked the rhythm of it and we threw some country on it."
He admits to having fun exploring country but maintains he's still a blues purist at heart and heeds the wisdom shared with him by Albert Collins, a man Howard toured with and refers to as his second father.
"He told me to take it to the next step. 'Don't emulate somebody for 15 years--I've already played it.' (He told me to) look for what you can do to keep it alive," Howard recalls with reverence.
The Roadhouse Hounds, bass player Jeff Masterson, pianist Richard Gomez, guitarist Brian Dean, with Bill Cann on trumpet and harmonica and Cidney George on tenor and alto sax, join drummer Howard in challenging themselves to that end.
"Mainly the band is developing more of a contemporary style. I mean if you really listen to our music, we're playing everything, but it's a blues foundation. That's where I came from and have spent most of my life playing. Brian never plays the same licks. You can hear jazz and everything coming from him."
Dunlap has been added as a guitar player. His years of producing have brought a set of experienced and talented ears to the band, helping them shape their sound toward achieving a broader commercial appeal.
"Whatever ingredients need to be added, tweaked or whatever, he's been around the block enough to say as producer, let's add this. Such little things make such a completely different song. It's really interesting and I feel really fortunate to be able to work with somebody like that.
"Mike's adding a little bit more of an R&B blues sound. Now when you hear the band it's like Stevie Ray Vaughan meets B.B. King meets Robert Johnson at times. He's adding funk as well, so it's another dimension that's really in the positive for us. There are some really good things that we've been working on as a team, resulting in some good opportunities. So, we're just working hard writing now," Howard says.
He is quick to underscore that the two projects and the regrouping have only served to enhance the dynamics of what was already there, and that everything is well in hand.
"Basically, he's in my band, the Roadhouse Hounds, and that's a direction we're sticking with. It's like when he needs us, we're there and when we need him, he's there. We're one entity but with two different directions right now," Howard explains of the two simultaneous projects.
As if that weren't enough to keep everyone busy well into the next century, the two musicians have a larger artistic blueprint for the future, as a production company:
"We're going to try to produce a lot of people out of Tucson and we're looking to hear as many people and different types of music as possible. There is an incredible amount of talent here. There are people who have done things internationally that a lot of people don't know about," Howard reflects on the local music scene, espousing a broader interest in bringing new music to a hungry populace. Is there anything this blues hound isn't doing? Somebody toss him a Scooby snack.
George Howard and the Roadhouse Hounds will be appearing Friday and Saturday, April 19 and 20, at the grand opening of Schucker's Port, 375 S. Stone Ave. There will be no cover charge either night. Call 882-8908 for information.
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