Saturday, 13 April 2013

Interview: Steve Howard (Wings/BGO)

#525: Hello ... Hello ... my old friends ... It's great to see you once again! Yours Truly KJS and ELO Beatles Forever (ELOBF) are pleased to publish this long-in-the-works exclusive interview with Steve Howard - former member of Wings - fresh from his work with Michael Laine Hildebrandt, the man behind Bubble Gum Orchestra (BGO) - for this long-distance interview carried out in person on behalf of ELOBF by Michael himself in Texas a few short days ago:

ELOBF: My first question has to be how did you become involved with Michael on his song: “Blowin’ Away”?
SH: Michael and I have mutual friends here in the area where we both live. I met Michael several years ago and he had this song that he felt like the trumpet would be good on and he called me up and said “Would you like to come and play on it?” ... I said “Sure!” and we got together and did it.
ELOBF: What was it like working with Michael on BGO II?
SH: Well, it was real easy. Michael had clear ideas about what he wanted for the song and we got together in his studio and ran through the stuff a couple of times and started recording. He was real easy to work with and it was really a good project. I think it came out pretty well.
ELOBF: You played the very same trumpet that you played on all those tours with ‘Wings’ ... So what is the story behind that famed trumpet?
SH: Well that’s a real long story but I'll try to shorten it a bit! I started playing that horn back when I was a school at North Texas State University. I loved the way it played and the sound it had. Then I went to New Orleans, travelled down there and started playing for Allen Toussaint, record producer, and used that same horn to record on Patti LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade” and Allen’s “Southern Nights” LP. It was also used on all the Wings stuff and then I also played it on a DVD of an Austin City Limits concert with Delbert McClinton. I used the horn all the time and I loved the horn except that the valves started kind of giving me some problems, so I went back to my old horn. My playing changed a bit when I went back to that original old horn, a Bach trumpet that I still play today. But I loved that old horn, it’s a great horn and we used it on Michael’s recording. 
ELOBF: Tell me about your career before you worked with Paul McCartney and ‘Wings’?
SH: Well, I was a dish washer at a local restaurant! Well, no actually I did do some dish washing and cooking back when I was a kid but before Paul McCartney and Wings! I guess the thing that launched me into the gig with them was that I had moved to New Orleans and was working for Allen Toussaint, record producer. I was pretty much his first call trumpet player at Sea-Saint Studio in the early seventies and when Paul McCartney came to town to record: “Venus and Mars”, they called me in to play on part of the session. I met McCartney and his arranger and trombonist Tony Dorsey, with whom we did the tours together. Tony wanted to hire me to play with the band, so that was it.
ELOBF: Steve, you toured extensively with the four piece brass section for both of the “Wings Over America” and “Wings Over Europe” tours. Who were your brass compatriots and what was life like on the road with them?
SH: Well, the other members of the horn section were Tony Dorsey, who was the arranger and the guy who initially got me hired on the gig through the connections at Sea-Saint. Tony played trombone, he had originally played with Joe Tex and the way that he got the gig with Wings was that Paul had heard some stuff that he had arranged on that Joe Tex album and had said: “I love that ... Get me ... find out who that guy is and get me in touch with him!”. So McCartney’s people tracked down Tony, he got hired and the rest is history with that! The other guys that were in the horn section were Thaddeus Richard, who was a friend of Tony’s and another Louisiana native. He’s from Thibodaux, Louisiana which is just outside of New Orleans. Thaddeus is an excellent musician, he’s a multi-instrumentalist, he plays bass and piano, an excellent piano player. He played the alto sax, the flute and the soprano sax on the tour. Thaddeus today (I still stay in touch with him), he lives in New Orleans and he’s most recently been seen in the: ‘Treme’ series on HBO and he’s the piano player in one of the bands that have been on there regularly. He’s had a reoccurring role and a couple of speaking roles actually in the film. You wouldn’t recognise him today because he’s been eating a lot of that good New Orleans food! And last but not least, is Howie Casey. Howie is the most famous of the Wings horns guys because he’s from Liverpool and he had a band called ‘Howie Casey and The Seniors’ which at one time was bigger than The Beatles ... and The Beatles actually opened for them! Howie is a dear friend and I stay in touch with him. He’s a great guy. We all had a lot of fun and we all got on real well ... so it was a lot of fun!
ELOBF: It must have been a tremendous time in your personal and musical life touring with Paul, Linda, Denny and the gang ... How did you end up in the ‘Wings’ set-up?
SH: Well, I pretty much covered that before how I wound up working for Wings through the New Orleans connection but yes it was a pretty interesting kind of a thing to go from playing in a little club on Bourbon Street, although I’d played in some pretty big concerts. I played at The Beacon Theatre and done some shows with Allen Toussaint for a few thousand people but I hadn’t played in front of a crowd of twenty or thirty or fifty or sixty thousand like we did with Wings. It was pretty different because I was only a young kid, about twenty five years old, when I was doing all that! It was pretty crazy but Paul and Linda and Denny and all the guys were real nice, easy people to be around. He included the horn section just like we were part of the family, so to speak. We travelled together and hung out together, went to their home and it was a lot of fun!
ELOBF: I’m sure that there were many highlights and that there are many stories from those days ... Care to share any tales that absolutely stand out from that time?
SH: Well, probably not so much for legal reasons, but I’ll just say that there were some moments and I guess I can tell you about one story that was pretty interesting. We used to have a guy who did all the pyrotechnics. When they played: “Live And Let Die”, they had all these flash pots that went off. He liked to drink a bit - as a lot of those guys did ... well all of us did – and one time he set a flash pot on the stage. It was pretty close to my backside. I could feel the heat coming from that thing and I almost jumped off the front of the riser when it went off because I wasn’t expecting it! It was usually farther back from us and that was a memorable thing but there were a lot of others too! But that was just one of them!
ELOBF: I know that ELO and ‘Wings’ were in the studio concurrently when they were recording: “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Live And Let Die”. But did you ever cross paths with Jeff Lynne and ELO when you were recording or out on the road?
SH: No, I never did ... I didn’t record on the original: “Live And Let Die” ... just on the live versions of that but I never met those guys, we never crossed paths. But I would have liked to!
ELOBF: How did you get on personally with Paul and Linda?
SH: I got on real well with them. We had a nice relationship, I thought, during the time that I was with them. They were real easy people to be around. Paul wanted things to be right but as long as you did a good job, he was very easy to work with - and Linda was real nice. We had a good time!
ELOBF: You spent some time at Abbey Road Studios recording some of the most loved and remembered ‘Wings’ tracks. Please tell me about which songs you contributed to and which one was your favourite?
SH: Well, if I can remember correctly, I do of course remember; “Silly Love Songs” because that was the big single from the “Wings At The Speed Of Sound” LP and when we recorded those tracks, Paul didn’t have any parts written out. He just sat down at the piano and played things for us and then we would work them out with the section and decide who was going to play what. And then there were a couple of spots where he wanted us to come up with some little parts and I was actually able to contribute a couple of lines in that song. We just pretty much did what they call in the business as 'head arrangements'. And that was what we did. But I played on that, I played on: “Let ‘Em In” and I played on another tune called “San Ferry Ann” which just wound up being an album track that never really got much air play or anything I don’t think! That was probably my favourite because it had a pretty little melody and I got to play a flugelhorn solo in there. It kind of featured the horn section more and in rock and pop music, there’s not a lot of space for horn solos unless you’re a saxophone player. So it was nice to get a little spot there on the recording. I recorded: “Coming Up” but I didn’t record on the original because Paul did the original in the studio and he used synthesised horns. And then what happened was when we came over for the tour, he had already recorded it and released it as the single which, in my opinion, he should have waited for the horn section because it had a bunch of horns in it! But, it didn’t matter because then what happened was that we recorded a live version of it on the road and then that became the one that they played on the air because it was just better! To me, live horns are always better! I’m prejudiced as I’m a horn player but that’s it!
ELOBF: What did Steve Howard do after ‘Wings’? What other musicians and bands have you worked with in the three decades and more since?
SH: Well, I’ve worked with Michael Hildebrandt! And in addition to that, after Wings there was a period of time here I really didn’t play all that much but I did do some live recording and a DVD of Austin City Limits with Delbert McClinton. I’ve also worked with (and this isn’t concurrent time wise, it’s just that I’m reminiscing about the different people that I’ve played with) the blues guitar legend Albert Collins for three years before he died and I played on two or three records with him. And then I recorded a couple of albums with Edgar Winter, I went on and played with Ray Charles, I toured and did gigs with Boz Scaggs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Then I moved in the early nineties back to New Orleans and I was working extensively for Black Top Records and I couldn’t even name all the artistes that I recorded for - but I recorded on a lot of blues albums for Black Top Records ... Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown, Junior Wells (that featured Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana and a bunch of really cool people) and then I went to Germany and toured and recorded for four years with a German pop star named Peter Maffay. Currently, I’m the trumpet player for The Original Blues Brothers Band - that’s the guys who were in "The Blues Brothers" movie – the band members, but not Dan Ackroyd – Dan doesn’t come out and do the gigs anymore! But I play with them and we travel over to Europe and Asia, mostly in the summer, doing the festivals circuit and stuff like that. I also work locally in the Dallas and Fort Worth area just as a freelance musician and I have my own band called: The N’Awlins Gumbo Kings and if you want to find out about that, our web site is: ... and Hey! We got CD’s for sale!
ELOBF: I understand that you are involved in the much anticipated re-release of the “Wings Over America” live album set. That must be pretty exciting to re-visit those days. Can you give us a hint about your input and what we should expect from the project? Do you have an estimate of the release date?
SH: I don’t have an estimate of the release date just yet but before I talk about that, let me back up to the last question, I left out one of the most important people that I worked for and have continued to have a friendship with and that is: Dr. John ‘Mac’ Rebennack from New Orleans, who has been in the Ringo Starr All Starr Band and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame. Great guy! He actually performed a couple of tunes on our second CD "UFO Saloon" and you can, again, see about that on The Gumbo Kings website. But with regards to the “Wings Over America” LP, my involvement was that I got a 'phone call from the McCartney office, they said that they were going to re-release it and that they were going to put a booklet inside that was going to include interviews with all of the people that were involved in the project. And so David Fricke, who is Associate Editor of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine, called me and we did a 'phone interview. I haven’t seen any of it yet, don’t really know anything about it really other than it is going to come out, there’s going to be a booklet, I’m going to be in it and I’m excited to kind of re-visit it! It’s very strange to look back and realise that it’s a piece of musical history and that I was a part of it! And it’s even stranger when I look at pictures of myself and I realise that I was a young man and now I’m an old man!
ELOBF: Please tell us about: The N'Awlins Gumbo Kings? What other projects is Steve Howard involved in, here and now in Yours Truly 2013? Will you work with BGO again on the future?
SH: Now I’ve already mentioned something about The Gumbo Kings ... we’re a group of guys who live in the Dallas and Fort Worth area, who are either from New Orleans or have spent time in New Orleans, playing – more or less – music that is based in traditional New Orleans style, an example being Dixieland, New Orleans funk music and second line brass band sounding stuff. It’s instrumentation is a horn section which is a clarinet tenor guy, me on trumpet and a trombonist and then a rhythm section – piano, bass and drums. Our drummer is from New Orleans, plays the authentic second line beat and we have quite a bit of original stuff on our records too so it’s not just Dixieland – a lot of people get us confused because we can play one song that sounds like pure Dixieland and then we can play another song that sounds like a pop funk thing or something so it’s kind of a hybrid, as I call it, but it’s all with a New Orleans flavour. You can check us out on YouTube and you can check us out at our web site, where there is a YouTube link as well. I have also assumed the role of the trumpet player with The Original Blues Brothers Band. I’m going to be in Europe in 2013, I’ll actually be in London on 29th June playing a concert. I can’t tell you where it’s going to be yet but we will be doing a concert in London in June and I am the new trumpet player with The Blues Brothers Band with the sax player Blue Lou Marini, who was in the movie, is an old friend of mine from North Texas State University. And when the original trumpeter Alan Rubin, who was an unbelievable musician and a great trumpet player, became ill, I started filling in for him and, about a year and a half ago, he died so they called me to go ahead and take his place so I’ve been doing that for a while. So, I'm working with them; The Gumbo Kings and, Yes, I am doing another project with Michael! He’s currently talking with me and we’re getting ready to do another recording and put some trumpet on the next Bubble Gum Orchestra project in 2013!
ELOBF: Now finally, here is the question that I always ask next when interviewing for ELOBF: What are your personal favourite ELO, Paul McCartney and Beatles tracks, and why?
SH: Well, I didn’t really listen back then to ELO so I don’t really have a personal favourite. I thought that they were a good band but I wasn’t really into them, being a horn player. But I did like “Boy Blue” a lot ... especially that intro! I was more into bands that had a lot of horns and stuff. So, as far as The Beatles go, I always enjoyed the songs with brass in them. I liked “Got To Get You Into My Life” and “Penny Lane” was exceptional. I don’t know who played the piccolo trumpet on that song but it was absolutely one of my favourites. Back in the Wings days, I spoke to Paul about doing that song live. I do remember telling Paul that if we were going to do it, I would need quite a bit of time to rehearse. I would have had to get a Piccolo trumpet and learn all those very intricate parts. But as it turns out, of course, that song never materialised into our live set. It’s a classic of course as all The Beatles stuff is and as for the Paul McCartney stuff goes, in my opinion Paul wrote some really good songs and he’s like all great songwriters in that even the really great songwriters don’t always write songs that are just ‘the best’. But he had a lot of good songs and I guess the ones which involved the brass were the ones that I liked best.

I would like to extend my personal appreciation and thanks to both Steve Howard and Michael Laine Hildebrandt for participating in this interview for ELO Beatles Forever (ELOBF).

ELO Beatles Forever (ELOBF) recommends The Original Blues Brothers BandThe Gumbo Kings and Bubble Gum Orchestra (BGO) to the folks who enjoy the music of ELO/Jeff LynneRoy WoodThe Move'Brum Beat'The Beatles and related artistes.

Until next "Time" in the ELO (and related) Universe ... KJS ... 13-Apr-2013


  1. Very insightful! Thank you for the opportunity to participate. I had a great time interviewing Mr. Howard.

  2. Great Interview Very Enjoyable Cheers from Liverpool , BIG fans of both ELO /Beatles and have Been Enjoying ELOs Wembley Gig and Also Jeff L in the Amazing Roy Orbison documentary Both on T/V , repeated here this week.

  3. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this.Thanks for sharing

  4. Hi,
    David Barard told me that you played for Toussaint on a concert i Philladephia 1975, which resulted in a superb live recording, released by Warner. Do recall the rest of the guys and poss the specific date. Little Feat was the other band. Very best wishes Per Oldaeus, Stocholm.