Bringing Music Forward

George Howard joins the Tucson Music Hall of Fame

You'd be hard pressed to find a local musician who has played more frequently or performed in more musical styles than drummer George Howard.

A veteran of legendary local combos such as the Statesboro Blues Band, the Blue Lizards, and George Howard and the Roadhouse Hounds, Howard currently leads three active bands--an R&B show band, the Louisiana-flavored Dr. Mojo and the Zydeco Cannibals and the George Howard Jazz Trio.

He's steeped in the blues, well-versed in Motown, adept at Texas swing and grew up playing gospel.

Howard has been inducted into the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame. He plays--usually an average of four times a week--at resorts, casinos, nightclubs, corporate affairs, private parties and good old concerts.

He also performs one-off gigs with a variety of others. Lately, he and pianist Arthur Migliazza have been doing duo concerts.

"I've always tried to bring different types of music forward, music that I would like to hear, and that maybe you don't get to hear as often in Tucson as you would in bigger cities," he says. "They are all different and unique in their own ways."

Although he has played professionally for 35 years, Howard also maintains a thriving business as a commercial and fine-art photographer.

"I make a living as a photographer; music has always been more of a fun pastime," he says.

For a pastime, Howard boasts a pretty impressive résumé. He's recorded with or played with such artists as

Albert Collins, Kenny Neal, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Syl Johnson, Johnny Lang, Charlie Musselwhite, Jimmy Thackery, Willie Nelson, Debbie Davies and James Brown.

The latest addition to his list of accomplishments is being chosen as this year's honoree for the Tucson Area Music Awards (TAMMIES) Hall of Fame. Howard and friends were slated to perform at the June 28 TAMMIES award ceremony at the Rialto Theatre.

Born in Asbury Park, N.J., in 1951, Howard's parents moved to Douglas when he was about 2 years old.

He spent his formative years being "held hostage" in Sierra Vista before coming to Tucson to study at the UA. He majored photojournalism with a minor in business, graduating in 1974.

Howard's mother encouraged him to play the piano from an early age, but he didn't really enjoy it. When he discovered the drums, he found his calling.

"She was very religious," Howard recalls, "and she really wanted me to play gospel. I did, but when I heard the blues, it hit home. I knew then and there that I would always play the blues."

Howard was 9 years old when a boyhood friend played him his first blues records, obtained through a music-club membership. The blues became all young George wanted to hear--including Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Leadbelly and Robert Johnson.

For the most part, he didn't care for the music on the radio, not even the Beatles. He just didn't get it. "I didn't like to listen to pop until I heard the (Rolling) Stones, because they were playing the blues."

Throughout middle and high school, he played in marching bands and orchestras, honing his chops. His first Tucson gig came in 1971. He's been playing continuously since then, performing with bands such as Flow, the Breeze band and the Subterranean Blues Band (which also featured future Tucson legend Al Perry).

He spent the 1980s behind the drums for Statesboro, a potent, longstanding blues force in Tucson, a group that has lured such great vocalists as Sam Taylor and Leon Kittrell to the Old Pueblo to play with it.

After he left that band in 1991, Howard formed the Roadhouse Hounds, playing a rocking version of the blues.

Howard took a lengthy hiatus after his mother died about eight years ago. He says he hardly played at all for three years.

"I took a lot of time off and was with my dad; we were both in mourning together. I took him around the country--Florida, New Jersey, New Orleans--and we visited with his relatives and old friends, and just went through a lot of healing together."

Howard's father is still alive at 95 and living in Sierra Vista.

Howard is serenely modest when asked about his years entertaining audiences.

"I'm just the messenger. That's all I am, nothing else. I happen to be fortunate enough that people want to listen to what I am doing. If not for the fans and the people who come to hear us, we musicians would be worthless."

As hokey as it might appear in print, for Howard, it's all about the love. And you can believe it, coming from him.

"It's that love and appreciation from the listeners that goes a long way to help musicians keep going. I feel very humbled that I have been able to give so much music to the community, and that it has given so much back to me. There are a lot of very talented people here, and that kind of atmosphere only makes me want to be better."

Howard can't stop talking about the talent pool of musicians in Tucson, but he recognizes that the musical community here faces an uphill battle. "There are a lot of heavy people here. Unfortunately, there are not that many places to play. But it's getting better."

Apparently, there are still some good gigs left. Howard's upcoming performances include a gig with Arthur Migliazza (playing ragtime and New Orleans-style jazz), Friday, June 30, at Bluefin; and with Dr. Mojo and the Zydeco Cannibals, Saturday, July 1, at the French Quarter.