A conundrum is a mystery; a puzzle that makes you want to peel back layer after layer to get to the core of what someone is all about. Michael Howard rests exactly in that category.
On an intimate front porch, in the beautiful city of St. Augustine, Florida, we recently found ourselves sitting and having pizza and beer at one of the most amazing dining experiences in the entire city – Pizzalley’s. It is not an over-exaggeration to say that this is the place with the best Happy Hour in town. The ambiance, the continuity, and the truly unforgettable menu makes this THE place to eat.
But what’s even more exciting, is while we were there sitting back and relaxing, enjoying all that there was to enjoy, we also received a gift. The gift’s name was Michael Howard.
Michael Howard is a musician; he has been in the business for over thirty years and he’s that incredible conundrum you want to figure out. Hysterical and upbeat…for example, he likes to scream out, “Whoo-Hoo!” when he’s truly excited, and even breaks into ‘The Sound of Music’ to make a point. He has flair, intelligence and unique talent, with a back-story that involves everyone from Wolfman Jack to The Eagles. This is a man who has met all the ‘big’ names in the world of music. He’s jammed with them, he’s made his own music, and he’s had both sides of life – from the stellar music career to a wife and three children – and his music is literally unforgettable.
With a new CD out called “Greetings From Inconvenience,” Michael Howard is certainly a nominee for the ‘legendary’ category, and to be able to sit down and hear his story was an exciting honor. An honor we are about to share with you.
So for all you music fans out there – old and young – sit down with us and meet Michael Howard. You will be as awestruck and amazed as we were. And considering some of you readers may not know some of the big names we offer up here today, just look for the little * – and all will be uncovered. (But, no, I will not give you Bob Seger – you should all know him!)
So you play a great deal here at Pizzalley?
I do. I love this place. They keep a good, solid block of music going, and the ambiance changes almost every day because of having so many tourists. The great thing is that people fall in love with this particular place and they always come back. They look for you when they come, so that’s really a great thing.
The owners of this place had a vision and they’ve done an amazing job of putting all this together. It has truly become the best venue in town.
I agree. I have to say, we’ve gone to other establishments, but this is the one with a truly fantastic overall energy. And you’ve been here how long?
I’ve been here five years; I believe the place has been here six.
I’d like to begin with your time with Wolfman Jack, the famous American disc jockey in the 1970s and 80s?
Well…it was in 1973 that I met up with Wolfman Jack. I had a manager and was already touring around the country when I came back to NYC. Wolf and I met and hit it off really quickly after a couple of weeks of just hanging out. I did have a record ‘thing’ going, and had released a few, but he asked me to hang out…so I did.
Push comes to shove and Wolf tells me he got a new gig. At the time he was going through that radio thing* and asked me to come into NYC.
(*A huge advertising campaign was being run in local newspapers that the Wolfman would propel WNBC’s ratings over their main competitor, which was WABC . At the time, WABC had a talent named, “Cousin Brucie” (Bruce Morrow). The ads said, “Cousin Brucie’s Days Are Numbered,” and they issued thousands of small tombstone-shaped paperweights which read, “Cousin Brucie is going to be buried by Wolfman Jack.”)
This, Cousin Brucie, guy stayed in NY forever, so Wolfman and I went out to California for his new gig, and I truly began meeting everyone I ever wanted to meet.
And that was “Midnight Special?”
Yes. Wolf was doing “Midnight Special”* so we’d stop everything to fly out to California once a week to tape that, choreograph some things, etc. Some ‘items’ were a bit off-color, but it all worked.
(*The Midnight Special was an NBC musical variety series during the 1970s and early 1980s, created and produced by Burt Sugarman. The 90-minute program followed the Friday night edition of “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” and featured guest hosts. Wolfman Jack served as the announcer and a frequent guest host for the run of the show.”)
I never watched it, of course, because I was there while they did it. At that time I didn’t have a ‘home base,’ so to speak, because I was traveling all the time. So for a period, I stayed at Wolf’s house on Long Island. It was his ‘lair’ called, Casa de Lobo; translated, that means, “The House of Wolf.” .
What was he like on a personal level?
Wolf was a wonderful and talented man…he really was. At one time, before he passed away, I had a 20-acre place with horses located on the Eastern shore of Maryland and he was doing a radio show in DC, so we were able to get back together and see each other.
If you had to pick, who was the coolest person you met at that time?
Actually, there was one time when Wolf was working at WNBC in Rockefeller Plaza on fourth floor; up on the 6th floor they did a nationwide show in the 1970s, and every month Wolf would do a show for them. He had on Yoko Ono once and I got to meet her. She was very cool – a great lady, in fact. Wolf talked to her about Lennon, of course, and it was just wonderful to meet her – one of my favorite times.
There was a great deal of negativity against her then?
Oh, yeah. Everyone was talking about “The Beatles” – John and Paul, etc., but after meeting Yoko I can completely understand why John fell in love with her. I was very impressed.
What other musicians did you meet?
All kinds of guys, actually. When I lived in Boulder, Colorado, I met “Firefall.”* Tommy Bolin lived there, and I met Dan Fogelberg, who was definitely one of my favorites.
(*Firefall was a rock band formed in Boulder in 1974, founded by Rick Roberts and Jock Bartley, who had been Tommy Bolin’s replacement in the band, “Zephyr.”)
I also met Joe Walsh*.
(*Joe Walsh is the ultimate in classic rock, who lead the funk-rock power trio ‘James Gang.’ He was also a member of The Eagles during their 70s peak, and managed a handful of solo hit singles. His first-rate guitar ‘god’ antics set him apart from most of the pack, much like Todd Rundgren.)
I also met Bob Seger and “The Silver Bullet Band.” At that time they were there and you could just sit and have a beer with them.
So were those guys your influence?
No, I can’t say that, because I’m the same age, or a year or two younger as these guys. I’m 62.
Oh, I thought you were 40-something?
Oops. Yes, that’s right. I was born in 62. (Whoo-Hoo!)
So who were your idols?
“The Beatles” were absolutely pivotal; the launch pad for me. I met John once and, as I said, Yoko – and “The Beatles” music was just awe-inspiring.
Any other favorites?
One of my absolute favorites will always be Richie Havens.* I met him at Woodstock when I was only 19 and it was beyond cool.
(*Richie Havens is a folk singer and guitarist best known for his intense, rhythmic guitar style, soulful pop and folk songs, and his unforgettable opening performance at the 1969 Woodstock Festival.)
Years later in NYC, my manager and I ended up at Dr. Generosity’s on East 73rd. This was the type of place with sawdust and peanuts on the floor, good beer, and a little music in the corner. Richie was there. I saw him, we started talking and then we started to play. It was awesome.
I have to tell you, there is no place like NYC. It was far more than I had pictured back then – the skyscrapers, the energy – it was amazing!
I would assume the music business in NYC is all-encompassing?
At that point it was.
Where to then?
From NYC I went back to Boulder and hooked up with Michael John Bowen – who was the manager involved with Crosby, Stills & Nash – and he just kind of guided me for a while which was very cool. I ended up doing opening acts for Fogelberg, and all kinds of people. I really liked that.
I got married in there had three kids, and ended up in Woodstock. We stayed in one of Albert Grossman’s* houses, and my wife worked at the ‘Little Bear,’ which was one of Albert‘s restaurants.
(*Albert Grossman was an entrepreneur and manager in the American folk music and rock-n-roll scenes. He was best known as being the manager of Bob Dylan between 1962 and 1970. He now rests in peace behind the ‘Bearsville Theater’ near Woodstock, New York. The ‘Little Bear’ is part of the Bearsville compound which is a complex designed and financed by this industry giant.)
He owned ‘Bearsville Records,’ as well, which is how I met Todd Rundgren – and it was a whole new chapter in my life. I got to hang out with Paul Butterfield and Rick Danko, too. We got together one night at the Little Bear. Danko was on one stool, Butter on the other, and I was the thorn in the middle. They said: “What do you do?” I replied: “I’m a singer and guitar guy.” The next thing I know we went back to Butter’s place and did some singing and picking – Butter brought out the harmonica, and Rick, by the way, was a great singer!
I never played with Todd Rundgren, but I met him once. My wife was at the ‘Little Bear’ as a waitress where he used to come in a lot, so she met him all the time.
Sounds like that little area was a hub for musicians?
Well, Bearsville, NY, which is like from here to that wall, was right next door to Woodstock, so it was a serious hub for music at that time.
But you loved Boulder as well?
Oh, yes. My oldest daughter was born in Boulder. There was an amazing music store run by ‘Nick the Greek‘ at that time and that‘s where everybody would come – Dan Fogelberg, “The Eagles,” Chris Hillman (a member of “The Byrds,” as well as other bands in his career), and more.
What was that like?
When I came into town we all would get together, like a rehearsal, and rented one of the back rooms at the music store. It was cool. I knew Chris Hillman and Michael Clark from California years before. We put a little band together…it was good.
So, after Bearsville, you went back West?
Yup. Went through Boulder, ended up in Las Vegas where I did a couple of hotel gigs. I just kept going and going, like a rolling stone, doing opening acts, etc. But that’s when the kids were getting bigger and I really wanted to switch gears. I believe you have to give your energy to the kids because if you don’t, they lose out. So it was really time for them. I thought, at that point, I’d worked 25-30 years doing all this and it was time to chill.
That was really cool. I like fatherhood. And I also liked to sit back. I didn’t have to impress myself or anyone else, I could just do what I wanted to do and enjoy the family…it was a great time. That’s how I ended up here.
And now you have a new CD?
Oh, yes. I’m not retired. The new CD is out, and I have a couple other projects in mind for the future.
Tell us about the CD.
The CD is, “Greetings From Inconvenience.” The actual theme is really a Florida thing. There are towns here called Lovetown and Hurtsville: one of the songs is actually called ‘Lovetown,’ and is a ‘mythical’ type of thing. The overall theme came from a variety of ‘silly’ things – from the South’s deep love and obsession for football to the ‘odd’ Moms who really have that obsession to dress up their little girl’s as prom queens and take them to all these shows and competitions. Just general craziness.
Now, the cover of the CD is really cool!
A friend of mine did the cover. I love it. Me in the boat, the alligator, and the UFO in the sky. The UFO is actually sucking up Flagler College students. (LOL.) It’s really out there and fun. Again, general craziness.
Strange things happen in very calm towns…
Oh, yes. they do. By far. (A few bars of ‘The Sound of Music’ comes forth and a great big “Whoo-Hoo!”)
In the end – as you can see – Michael Howard is one of those incredible people who have that ‘story’ – the one that should be in print, allowing music lovers to go back in time to amazing locations and sit with musicians that were THE names in the music world for decades.
The CD, “Greetings from Inconvenience,” truly shows the fantastic mystery that Michael represents. Through his music and his storytelling, fans and listeners are given what they want – something that hasn’t been around for far too long – compelling, fun and true entertainment. If you haven’t purchased the CD yet, get it!
And if you’re lucky enough to be in St. Augustine, stop by Pizzalley’s and listen to a man who definitely has the ability to inspire one and all.