Jim Howell remembers his first drum set, a Mickey Mouse & Friends kit picked out of the front window of the Chicago Store. Just four years old, Howell pounded on that kit for months until it was demolished.
From there, Howell would take lessons playing piano and cello before falling in love with the electric guitar, playing AC/DC-inspired rock in high school. But soon he found his way back to the drums, first on his brother's kit and then in college he'd eat, sleep and breathe drums.
"I dropped out of school to play drums basically. I couldn't go to class and work a part time job and play drums for as many hours as I wanted to," Howell says.
From there, Howell drummed with anybody he could, working in country, rock, jam and R&B bands, including The Wyatts, Rich Hopkins & Luminarios, The Mission Creeps and Troy Olsen. He worked as a music teacher as well, instructing drum students at his home studio.
But after a decade of steady work, Howell started feeling like he could put the drums aside once in a while and he started picking up the guitar and piano again. Then, in about 2009, he got the idea to start his own band, not as the drummer but as the guitarist and singer. Howell put together a working band that built up a library of some 200 songs, playing as a live karaoke band. But it wasn't until he sat down with a batch of his own songs that Howell felt like he'd come into his own.
"I'd sort of always done the songwriting thing, but I was either the side guy in bands or in my band we just played working gigs, so I never had the chance to sit down and finish a bulk of material and put it out," Howell says. "I sort of got the itch to do that and it started with one song and that led to another and another."
With all the musical versatility in his background, Howell says country music fits as a catch-all category for his blend of roots, rock, R&B and Phil Spector-influenced pop styles on Silver Clouds, the debut album he put out this year.
"Being a kid who grew up in Arizona listening to a lot of different styles of music, country was a natural culmination of all that, of my experience as a person," Howell says. "I listen to a lot of stuff that sort of is in the same vein of what I'm doing that only recently I'm starting to see having success doing the same thing."
Howell points to artists like Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton as a new wave of musicians who are creating a new blend of different American styles under the banner of country music.
"There's a movement of that going on. You can't really divorce Memphis and Stax Records and Motown from Nashville. You can't separate those things in those guys' music and that's where I feel I fit in too," he says.