INTERVIEW WITH RETURN OF THE COMET AND FOUR BY FATE SINGER / GUITARIST / KEYBOARDIST TOD HOWARTH (PART 1 OF 2)
Date: Jan 29, 2019
Interviewer: Tyson Briden
AS WE VENTURE INTO ANOTHER INTERVIEW PRESENTED BY YOURS TRULY, HOW CAN I NOT FEEL SOMEWHAT NOSTALGIC? LATELY, IT SEEMS AS THOUGH I AM LIVING IN A TIME WARP. EVERYTHING IN 2019, FOR ME, SEEMS TO BE REVERTING ITSELF BACK TO THE LATE ’80S. I CAN’T SAY FOR SURE WHY, BUT POSSIBLY IT’S THE FACT THAT THINGS BACK THEN JUST SEEMED MUCH SIMPLER. THESE DAYS, I CAN’T EVEN BRING MYSELF TO PUTTING ON A CD. WE WON’T EVEN MENTION A DOWNLOAD. DOES THAT EVEN COUNT AS A REAL FORM? REGARDLESS, EVERYTHING I’M LISTENING TO THESE DAYS IS ON THE EVER SO BEAUTIFUL VINYL. I LOVE THE LOOK, THE FEEL, THE SMELL, ETC. I FIND MYSELF ONCE AGAIN, AS I DID IN 1988, PUTTING ON AN ALBUM AND GAZING AT THE ARTWORK AS I LISTEN. AS I SAY THAT, PLEASE REMEMBER AS I’VE GOTTEN OLDER, MY TASTES HAVE EXPANDED, SO YES SOME DAYS I LISTEN TO KISS OR MÖTLEY CRÜE, BUT ON OTHER OCCASIONS, I MAY BE PLAYING STEVE EARLE OR TOM PETTY.
AS I RECOLLECT — I STOP AND I THINK TO MYSELF — “TYSON, AM I OLD? AM I FAR TOO INVESTED INTO WHAT I’M DOING? WHY IS IT THAT OVER 30 YEARS LATER, I’M STILL TRAPPED IN THE MUSICAL MINDSET OF A 13 YEAR OLD?” HONESTLY THOUGH, WHEN THEY SAY MID-LIFE CRISIS, I GET WHAT THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT. MY KIDS ARE GETTING OLDER. MY PARENTS ARE NOT AS AGILE AS THEY ONCE WERE. I MYSELF AM FINDING IT HARDER TO MOVE CERTAIN PARTS OF MY BODY NO MATTER HOW HARD I WORK AT THE GYM.
WITH THAT SAID, IN TERMS OF THE MUSIC I LOVE, I STILL GET THAT SAME FEELING THAT I DID WHEN I PUT ON AN ALBUM 30 YEARS AGO. I GUESS I HAVEN’T REALLY CHANGED THAT MUCH. I KNOW MUSICALLY, I AM MUCH WISER. MY MUSICAL PLAYING KNOWLEDGE FAR EXCEEDS WHAT IT WAS BACK THEN, BUT ON THE OTHER HAND I AM STILL THAT OBSESSED TEENAGER WHO NEEDS TO KNOW MORE ABOUT MY FAVORITE BANDS. MAYBE THAT’S WHY I BECAME WHAT I AM NOW AND THAT’S SOMEWHAT OF A MUSIC JOURNALIST AND AFFICIANADO. YOU DECIDE!
SO, HERE WE ARE. THE NEXT OF INTERVIEWS WITH A MUSICAL INFLUENCE FROM MY PAST, MR. TOD HOWARTH, FORMER VOCALIST, KEYBOARDIST AND GUITARIST FOR NONE OTHER THEN FREHLEY’S COMET. AS IT IS STATED IN THE INTERVIEW BELOW, FREHLEY’S COMET WAS A BAND THAT MYSELF AND GOOD FRIEND ALLAN ANALYSED ON A DAILY BASIS FOR A FEW YEARS. THIS INTERVIEW FOR ME, WAS YET AGAIN ANOTHER EPIC ACCOMPLISHMENT IN MY NOSTALGIC ROCK N’ ROLL JOURNALISM ADVENTURE. SO PLEASE ENJOY. THANK YOU TOD HOWARTH!
Sleaze Roxx: Thank you so much for doing this interview. Very much appreciated.
Tod Howarth: Oh, you’re welcome. You’ll have to excuse me. Sometimes, I’m dead tired by the end of the day, but that’s just the nature of my beast.
Sleaze Roxx: It’s very nice to talk to you. My admiration for your work goes back to the late ’80s with Frehley’s Comet. I’ll start by asking about the recent announcement of yourself, John Regan, Richie Scarlet and Steve “Budgie” Warner doing shows as Return Of The Comet. Of course, yourself and John have been playing in Four By Fate the last few years, but how did this all come together?
Tod Howarth: Well, first off, thank you for being a fan since back in the late ’80s. Here we are 30 years later and that’s like, “Wow!” Anyways, I’m honoured. I’m flattered that a lot of people are still listening. I mean I was on my way to retirement pretty much, but what happened was with Four By Fate, John and I had talked over the years, probably at least once or twice every year, just on what was going on ’cause he went on to play with — after doing a couple things with Ace — he went to play with Peter Frampton. Five, six years ago John had said, “Why don’t we try to get Ace to do a 25th year anniversary show for the Comet?” He said, “Would you do that?” I said, “Yeah, of course I’d do it! It’d be kind of fun for the fans.” So we kept pestering. Well, not pestering. We kept trying to get a hold of him because we don’t really talk to him that much at all, if any. We kept approaching him through different avenues, saying, “Hey, you wanna do this?” We kept getting non-committal answers. Finally he said, “No, I’m not interested! I’m doing my own thing!” So that’s when we started Four By Fate. So Four By Fate had a good run. The band is still together, it’s just on the back burner at this point because you just can’t force a lot of people to like a band and get a lot of hype going.
At the end of this last year, I started working on my book, my autobiography. Then three solo CDs which I’m still working on right now. John called me up and said, “Hey!” There’s this guy. He says a name, “Tommy Higgins.” I go, “Tommy Higgins? Why does that sound so familiar?” He goes, “He’s the guy from Aerosmith that called you like 15 years ago.” I went, “Oh yeah, yeah! How do you know his name?” John says, “Well he just called me! He’s got an idea to put together this band called Return of the Comet”. He mentioned Richie Scarlet of course, John and me. Another drummer, I think Billy Ward or Sandy Slaven, who were actually a couple of the drummers. I thought well, “You know that’s not a bad idea. There’s a couple things we have to work out and I’ll talk about it!” As it turned out, John and I had spoken about this possibility a few years back. Wouldn’t it be funny if all of a sudden we start playing with Richie Scarlet and start doing [an] ‘everybody but Ace tour.’ That’s kind of what this thing is like — but here’s the thing, Tommy Higgins had called me 15 years ago about a thing involving me as the keyboard player for Aerosmith. Well, it didn’t come to pass for many different reasons, but he always kept his finger on the pole. He’s a fan of Frehley’s Comet, John Regan and me. So he is doing this thing. It’s like a booking manager / agent I guess. An all-inclusive, too many hats — he managed to organize six shows. We haven’t even played together yet [laughs]. As a matter of a fact, I have to go over some songs tonight. We’ve got a few months before we do our first show, but in the meantime I’ve got to fly back to get with Richie and go over some guitar parts. Just kind of polish it down. So we’re not unorganized when we get onstage.
Sleaze Roxx: In terms of Richie, he was originally in Frehley’s Comet, then you joined, Richie was out. Was Richie at the KISS Convention last year [at the 2018 Indianapolis KISS Fan Expo on May 13, 2018] that you guys all played at with Ace [Frehley]?
Tod Howarth: You know I don’t know if he was there or not. He did the show with Ace in New York where we got up and did a couple songs. It’s funny, I never met Richie until — this I remember, 10 years after I was out of Frehley’s Comet. I was only in the Comet for a year and a half or two years technically — ’87, ’88 and I never got a chance to talk to Richie. When I did meet him, it was at a KISS Convention. I believe it was one of the first places I started selling one of my solo CDs, ‘Silhouette.’ I met him and I don’t know if it was his wife at that time or not, but what a sweetheart. Richie was cool. We had no problem despite what a lot of people might think, say or have read rumors about. Richie and I were never battled about it. He went in a different way and so did I. Then he came back. He’d been playing with Ace for a long time.
Sleaze Roxx: So I guess technically you haven’t done a lot together then.
Tod Howarth: No, I’ve never. Well, Richie and John have played with Steve Warner — “Budgie” — but I have not. I don’t really know anything about him. Based on what John and Richie say, he’s the guy to go to. I said fine, I trust them. John and I are really heavy rhythmic players. We play deep in the back beat, very Zeppelin-esque. We are very fat feeling. I’m principally a rhythm player, songwriter. I play leads. I don’t play a lot of leads ’cause I really don’t care, but I’m pretty much a heavy, fat rhythm player. If John says a drummer is good or will work, then I’ve got to believe him.
Frehley’s Comet reunion at the 2018 Indianapolis KISS Fan Expo on May 13, 2018:
Sleaze Roxx: I would take it Anton [Fig] didn’t want any part of this or he wasn’t able to?
Tod Howarth: I think he was thought of but again it’s problematic because he’s playing with Joe Bonamassa. That’s a good gig for him and for Joe. The same thing happened when Frehley’s Comet was recording then went out to tour. Anton started playing with David Letterman and Paul Schaeffer. There was no way — he would have been an idiot to give up that job ’cause that lasted him over 20-25 years.
Sleaze Roxx: What I find funny about that is my buddy and I, we were huge Frehley’s Comet fans, so we watched Letterman to watch Anton.
Tod Howarth: A lot of people did. Anton was a powerhouse. I remember when I was first doing some tracks in New York when I came back in January of ’87 to finish up the record that Ace and John had started. Playing with Anton was like, “Holy crap! The guy just pounds!” There have only been a few drummers that I’ve played with in my lifetime that do just that. They have that power and that drive. I’m very much — I play drums too. I’m nowhere like Anton or Rob Affuso. I’m a meat and potatoes player, but I like to feel that back beat, that heavy feel. When I hear that with people I play with, I just love it. Vinny Appice, which is Carmine’s little brother — I played with him when I first moved to L.A. in ’79. He was a monster. I’ve played with a few other guys over the years that were monsters, but Anton was definitely — he’s just a drum God!
Sleaze Roxx: That middle section in “Breakout” — my buddy was a drummer, this is going back when those Frehley’s Comet albums came out, the amount of times he would rewind the tape on that and make me listen to that part. He’d be saying, “We gotta listen to that again! Anton’s so awesome [laughs]!”
Tod Howarth: [Laughs] There is no method to that amount of madness. It used to drive some drummers nuts because they’d say, “I don’t know what the count is!” “There is no count! It’s all fucking feel. Just play it! Here’s where you come in, here’s where you gotta go out! Listen to the amount of measures!” If you listen to the live thing, it’s just a nightmare. It’s just such a fun live feel. There’s a lot of mistakes in it. It just plows through. It worked you know. It’s one hell of a song. Again, that’s part of Eric Carr and Richie Scarlet. They co-wrote that. It’s a signature tune for those guys.
Sleaze Roxx: I always found it funny also that there’s the version with Richie singing it on YouTube, which I discovered a few years ago and thought it was totally cool. I just always wondered why Ace never sang that one?
Tod Howarth: Well, Ace is not that kind of a singer. Ace is not a singer period. He would be the first to tell you that, but he can sing. It’s his own distinctive style, but he can sing. A lot of people want to hear him and he should. He’s not what you’d call an athletic singer by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not going to say he’s not good. He’s just not a singer. Bob Dylan can sing, but in my opinion, he wasn’t that good. It’s just that type of style. There’s guys that are unbelievable singers and have so much delivery, cadence, atomic ability and intonation. Then there are other guys that just flounder like a fish out of water. I can list a bunch of them but I’m not going to do that because I’m not slamming singers here. We’ll do that later [laughs]. Ace, he could have sung the song but then he wouldn’t have been able to play guitar. I can do it. I can play it and sing it at the same time, but it’s just more fun to not play and sing. It’s just not quite up to Ace’s style.
Sleaze Roxx: Stylistically, you’re right about Ace, but for me when I listen to the KISS records, the stuff he sang on, when he started singing, those are my favorite songs.
Tod Howarth: It’s an identity. It’s a character. That’s what works. It’s kind of like so many character singers back in the day that weren’t really good singers, but they have a timber in their voice that makes them pleasurable or fun to listen to because you know it’s that guy singing.
Sleaze Roxx: I laugh because in Peter Criss’s book, he more or less said Ace sucked. I was kind of insulted by that because I love Ace’s delivery and stylistically how he sings. That offended and bothered me. I was thinking, “Wait a second!”
Tod Howarth: And it will because a lot of fans, they idolize and treasure the contributions that these artists put forth. I get that, but from our perspective of being the ones playing with these people, I can see where Peter would say, “Yeah! He blows!” It’s just a style and a character that works for him. Vince Neil’s not a technical singer. He’s got a character. He can sing and I can’t tell you how many times he screams out these notes that have nothing to do with the key they’re playing in, but people love it. They like it and it works. He’s the multi-millionaire, not me. That’s how it works.
Sleaze Roxx: Growing up I was also a huge Mötley Crüe fan. I’ve seen the band 15 times in my life. You’re right, it works. It’s just that sound.
Tod Howarth: My wife is a perfect thing. She likes all the ’80s hair rock. She loves it to death. I’ll be 62 and she’ll be 60 this year, but she doesn’t look it because she lives a pretty clean life. She loves rock n’ roll, the Harleys, the fast cars and all that kind of stuff! It’s funny because she loves to listen to all the ’80s stuff and she likes to listen to Poison and Ratt. All that stuff. Mötley Crüe. I’ll point out the certain bands and go, “Yeah but babe, he really doesn’t sing that well!” She says, “Who cares! He’s got pretty blue eyes [laughs]!” There it is and I say, “Okay, I don’t have pretty blue eyes because I’m part Mexican! Mine are green!”
Sleaze Roxx: For me, when I discovered Mötley Crüe, I was 10 years old.
Tod Howarth: Yeah, the indelible impression. I mean you were hooked.
Sleaze Roxx: Exactly. That’s what was going on at the time.
Tod Howarth: Mötley Crüe is a smokin’ band. We’ve toured with them or actually I toured with them with Cheap Trick. They used to come to our shows here and there as well. I’m not slamming Vince. He’s a great frontman and he sang a style. He was into Robin Zander when he was doing Top 40 bands. That’s kind of where he got a little bit of his styling and he’s a nice guy. I know him as well over the years, but together it just worked. Their image worked. You can’t beat that. You can say, “Well, KISS isn’t a bunch of great musicians!” Actually, they’re pretty damn good! What’s better than their musicianship is their showmanship and what they built. How they branded themselves. That’s brilliance.
Sleaze Roxx: I’m a huge KISS fan too, but it worked.
Tod Howarth: Exactly. In the business of music, that’s what works. I also like Sting and Phil Collins because they’re brilliant songwriters and singers, but it’s a whole different genre especially now that they’re old farts. The theatrics — the first theatrical concert I ever went to was Alice Cooper. That was big for me. “School’s Out” — what a great song that was. I wore that thing out on a record back when I was a teenager — ’75, ’76 or whenever the hell it was. 1974? It was just something that I really liked in that time because it was what I thought to be slamming rock.
Sleaze Roxx: I love Alice Cooper too. I’m with you on the Sting and Phil Collins thing as well because I don’t strictly listen to just ’80s hair rock anymore. That was when I was younger. I listen to a wide spectrum of music now.
Tod Howarth: Yeah, your tastes have probably broadened. Some people’s tastes don’t. If they want to live in that area 30 years ago, that’s fine. You can’t force people, nor would I want to, but for me as a writer and singer — I also play many instruments. I’m constantly trying to learn and grow. So even after the Comet, I kept learning and growing on stuff that I really liked and admired because I got stale and bored with my own crap. I don’t want to keep playing around, writing the same stuff because that’s not helping anybody, especially me. I kept moving on and moving on, but because I learned on piano first at seven years old, I’ve always been into orchestrations, melodies and dynamics. That type of stuff from the songwriting aspect. I was into Steely Dan when I was younger too. I thought that was one of the greatest bands ever because of their writing ability. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker wrote just amazing stuff.
Sleaze Roxx: As I’ve gotten older, the songs that I thought were the greatest on a certain album, they’re not those songs that I love anymore. I listen to an album now and think how did I not appreciate this song back then, and what was it about this other song I loved because now I think it’s the weakest song on the album.
Tod Howarth: It’s wild. It’s like when you listen to early Van Halen records, they’re just slamming, but you here all the mistakes in there. That’s what made it. The energy was power. It was a new character. Some people grow into a different — they can appreciate the stuff they used to be into, but if I never had to hear another Who tune, I’d be very happy [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] I agree with you man!
Tod Howarth: Great. Good stuff. Had enough you know!
Sleaze Roxx: Our one radio station up here in Toronto, Q107, which has been around forever — everybody always jokes that they always play the same format all the time. This was for a long time. Now it’s funny, classic rock on that station is now Nirvana.
Tod Howarth: Yeah. Isn’t that wild?
Sleaze Roxx: It’s just bizarre to me, but it was just one of those things, they would play The Who all the time. You’d just be sick of it right?
Tod Howarth: Yeah, it just gets overplayed. When I was playing in Top 40 bands, oh my God, if I had to play “Freebird” one more time, I was going to throw up. Or “Stairway to Heaven”. I love Zeppelin, but there’s just some songs that don’t need to ever be played again. So, when I left the Comet, I put together my solo band and I even got signed to Gene Simmons’ label for a very short period of time before the likes of Nirvana came along and kicked everybody’s ass. The funny thing is because I always like to hear new fresh stuff — some of my favorite bands came from that era after the Comet — for me, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden and even Nirvana. There’s a lot of stuff I like about those fresh groups that came out with new challenging, heavy rock. A lot of my fans hated — they couldn’t stand that stuff. I get it you know. You have an allegiance to a certain style of music or a band, you don’t want to hear this other crap that just took out the band that you liked, but there was a lot of influences that I kept on gleaming from!
Sleaze Roxx: Those bands you mentioned — I love Alice In Chains. I love Pearl Jam. I was at the record store and I had to find Pearl Jam’s ‘Ten’ on vinyl just for the simple fact that I wanted to hear what in sounded like on that format. In some ways I kind of wish that there was — in the ’70s, there was so much different music. It didn’t matter what it sounded like. Then we got into this format where it was one format, than the next thing came along. If you played this style of music, it couldn’t co-exist with that style of music. Which is very unfortunate because everything should just be rock n’ roll.
Tod Howarth: Yeah, the problem was that the field got so crowded, so what happens is when you’re younger, you like Elton John or you like Led Zeppelin. “You better not like Elton John or I’ll kick your ass!” There were less bands to pick from back then. There were a lot of bands, but there [were] less bands that had the notoriety, airplay or press. So then people were trying to find their own little, personal private band that they love before they got big, but then again with all these bands back in the day, all these new, young, aspiring musicians come out there and they start bringing in new music. All of a sudden, you’re flooding the market with so much music, so much talent and so many songs that the formats start getting tighter and tighter. Then all of a sudden, it’s a pay to play thing. It’s illegal, but it happens anyways. You only hear the songs that the machines paying for. The machines educate you to what you’re going to like. There’s always been a rebellion about that with pirate radio and that type of stuff. There’s just so much out there. That really started into the late ’80s into the ’90s of course with the advent of grunge, which a lot of it I really like. There’s some crap that I didn’t care for but if it had a sweet new melody and harmonies, or just a power driving rhythm section like “Wow! What is this?” Like when I heard Stone Temple Pilots for the first time, it was like, “This is great stuff!”
Sleaze Roxx: Going into the late ’90s too, there were a lot of bands that I actually liked because I thought that the songwriting — it was kind of pop orientated, but some of the bands were going back to — a band like Tonic for instance was using slide guitar and a lot of acoustic guitar, so I was really liking that style. Then that all died too!
Tod Howarth: Yep! It depends on the band or who wants to listen to it. I always said there’s going to be a new young rock band that’s gonna kick ass. Greta Van Fleet? The young kids with the three brothers and the one friend that just have that real Zeppelin sound — now when they first came out, I heard them and said, “Damn, these kids are great!” I still think they’re good. I heard a couple songs they played on Saturday Night Live a couple weekends ago and you know, it was okay! It didn’t strike me as it did initially, but you know, there’s gonna be new bands coming to take the old styles and bring them back, hopefully for their generation to listen to, which is Zeppelin, Humble Pie, etc. It’ll morph back into the glam rock all over again. There is only so many genres of things you can play before it recycles after 30 years.
Sleaze Roxx: Exactly! The glam thing was recycled from the glam thing in the ’70s.
Tod Howarth: Exactly! Yep, yep!
Sleaze Roxx: To be honest, I love the possibility of hearing all the Tod Howarth / Frehley’s Comet material consecutively. What I’m getting at is — hearing some tracks I may not have heard live back in the ’80s with you on vocals. Hearing “Breakout” into “Fallen Angel”, then “Calling On You” — some of these you did perform live. With it being Ace’s name and band in Frehley’s Comet, some of those songs didn’t get played live because you had to throw in the KISS songs he did as well. I have the VHS of ‘Live +4’ in my hands, there’s “Cold Gin”, “Shock Me” and “Rocket Ride.” There’s only two of your songs on there. I am sure the show may have been longer than what’s on the video.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Sleaze Roxx’s interview with Tod Howarth.