Tod Howarth – The KISS Asylum Interview

Former Frehley’s Comet singer, song writer and guitarist Tod Howarth has graciously taken time out of his incredibly busy schedule to do an interview with KISS ASYLUM. In addition to discussing Frehley’s Comet (including his take on the “revolving drummer” situation and Anton’s Letterman gig), Tod also talks about his experiences with 707, Ted Nugent and Cheap Trick (including the recent 25 Year Cheap Trick Celebration).

Tod also discusses his solo career, including his first two albums Silhouette and Cobalt Parlor, as well as his forthcoming album, West of Eight. From the internet and his website, to his opinion on Gordon Gebert’s KISS ‘N Tell books, to the story of him and Ace and “Superdog,” this is certainly an interview you won’t want to miss!

KA: Why don’t you begin by telling everyone a little bit more about your website, Camp Todd, and you venturing out into the online world.

TH: Well, I had figured for a long time that I was going to be falling into the computer world a little bit late because not only are my hands, my plate as it were, completely full, I just didn’t want to take the time to learn another medium. Let’s put it this way, it was tough as it was writing and recording songs, trying to put a band together, playing in another band (Cheap Trick), I just didn’t have the desire to do the website thing. But about half a year ago I decided to get a computer so I bought one, had it custom made to my desires, and I spent probably a solid month every night going through the books, figuring out some shortcuts and exactly how to build a website. Clumsily, I did build one, and I think it came out alright.

I think the best thing about it, why I wanted to make it myself, is that I wanted to have the fans have direct access on how I felt or how I would say things. I wanted to be able to control it in the fact that I didn’t have to get a hold of someone who designed it and say please add this or please add that. I wanted to be able to sit down at night and do it when I wanted to. Because I am new and not that well versed at computer things, it kind of comes off clumsily. But I have gotten a lot of comments, positive ones, about the fact that is has a very personal level effect to it which they like. As I go on with educating myself more about websites, I will polish it up somewhat. But for now it gives the kids a chance to listen to some of the music, see some pictures, and informs them of things that are coming up as well.

KA: Great. You have two albums out already, Silhouette and Cobalt Parlor. Why don’t you tell people who might not be as familiar with those projects a little about them and how they can get copies of them.

TH: Sure. The Silhouette record I had started to do when I was still playing with Cheap Trick, and it is a compilation of older styled tunes that I had recorded back in the early 90’s. The material, I feel now, is fairly dated, but a lot of the fans like that type of material because it is kind of related to some of the stuff I did with the Comet. The album production wise is not that terrific because it was my first shot in my home studio that I was still building at the time. Plus, I was touring, writing songs or finishing songs on the road, coming home and recording a little bit, going back on the road with Cheap Trick… I finally got to the point where it was a finished product. I did not play real drums on it because I did not have a drum set. I used my big keyboard, which is an incredible keyboard, and programed the drums as best I could. There again, I was taking on the average 40 hours a song to get the drum sounding as close to real life as possible. Some people still don’t even know it is a drum machine, but it came off alright. The production is nothing like Cobalt Parlor by any stretch, but it has some songs on there that a lot of fans do like. I only have a limited amount of CDs left and I don’t think I will be pressing them again. I think the best thing I like about it is the actual CD itself, which looks just like the cover of the CD. It’s fantastic. It came out great.

KA: It absolutely is! The music is obviously worth checking out, but the cover art and CD are also pieces of art as well.

TH: I was really flattered by the way it came out. It was tremendous. Even as self indulgent as it may seem, it looks great and it came out tremendous. Cobalt Parlor, again, I have a limited amount left. That, however, will be pressed again. It was a far better production and the artwork on there was done by a friend of mine Tim Gabor, another fellow gearhead. He did some tremendous artwork. The songs are deeper, bluer, a little darker maybe for some of the fans. But on the other hand, some fans have a little bit more of an open mind to listen in-depth musically and enjoy them immensely. I have gotten a lot of good letters back about the album from people that have purchased the record. I did play real drums on it, though I had to brush up about four months. It took me a while to finish the record because it just such a lengthy process to play everything yourself. This is the last one I wanted to do where I was doing everything myself because it was such a long process, but the production came out tremendous I thought. The lyrics are probably some of the best I have ever written. It had overtones of a lost relationship type bullshit thing. I guess that is not such a new theme, but I tried to put a little bit different twist on it than I have in the past and I think there are some strong songs. One of them, which I will be re-recording on the new record that I am working on now, is a song called Misgivings. It is a powerful tune and a lot of fans like it, even the ones that are heavy rockers. It is a heavy tune, but heavy modified rockers like this too because it has that type of feel to it. I re-recorded it for the new one I am doing.

KA: It is a cool track, actually one of my two favorites on the album. I also am partial to California Burns.

TH: Thank you. A lot of people love that. That is a great song live. The band, when I had the band together playing in here, that was the first song we worked on. It was so much fun to play, so powerful. It was like, gosh this is cool.

KA: It is a cool song, with a depth to it that you don’t get in many bands’ recordings these days. I guess that is a good segue into asking whether we can expect the same type of material on the next CD, West of Eight?

TH: Yeah, West of Eight. That was the name of the band I put together to support Cobalt Parlor. Unfortunately Shock Records, for whatever reason, had folded and I was left with a brand new band that was going, “What is going on?” So I said we can do a couple of things, we can either fold it up if you guys want to, or we can record some brand new material and go for another deal. Well that was the plan of action, and after about a year of doing that there was some increasing “displeasure” as to what was taking place. Well, only one individual really, but it was kind of the writing on the wall. I think that the whole band was kind of upset and disillusioned about the record industry as it was. And when the label had fallen apart, it boiled down to the fact that things weren’t going to happen as fast as they were looking for it to happen. So, the band disbanded. I had already recorded 13 songs with the band, so there is a real drummer on it and a guitar player….. a “real” drummer?! I mean a good drummer! He’s a great guy. And there’s another guitar player that played a lot of the stuff, and myself, and the ex-bass player. That was where the creative differences were so I re-recorded all of the bass tracks and re-sang all the backing vocals…. just erased him period.

It may sound a little egotistical, but it really had nothing to do with ego. It just had to do with the fact that I can. I can and I did. So, it is a solo record in the respect I wrote all of the songs, but there was a drummer, another guitar player, and it has some incredibly interesting tunes. The drummer, Dave Aaron, is phenomenal. He just recently moved to Los Angeles, but we are going to do some more stuff together. The CD should be ready, well I’m hoping within the next two months. I have had a lot of things to do. One of the major things was the celebration show with Cheap Trick, the 25 year celebration of the band that I went ahead and did, and that took up about three weeks of rehearsal, programing, traveling and actually doing the show. So it put me behind, but right now I am putting the lyrics up on the website. Hopefully I’ll get the record out in two months and try different types of mediums with them, MP3 or more of the like. I am not entirely sure. I will probably end up pressing a limited edition myself as well, but one way or another it will soon be available. I apologize to everybody for it taking so long. It’s just because I do everything, it just takes forever.

KA: Well, you just don’t want it out there until it is right.

TH: True, but unfortunately I keep polishing, polishing, polishing… pretty soon I’ll be tired of polishing and just put the damn thing out!

KA: Will you do any shows, even locally, to support it?

TH: I don’t know. It is very odd. Truthfully speaking, I’m least of all known here in San Diego. For me to put a band together here is just as hard as it is for any new band to put a band together here. It is like starting over again, and I don’t have a problem with that. I haven’t had a problem with that in a while. It is just a little disenchanting when you have to rebuild a following, spend enormous amounts of time and money and organization, assembling the right people. Right now, I don’t know if I am going to do any shows. I may do some acoustical shows here and there, and I may assemble a quick band somewhere to do a few shows, maybe somewhere else besides San Diego. Maybe New York or somewhere in the mid-west. Truthfully, that would be a far better following for me in these areas. A full tour? Not yet. It is just so expensive to tour. I am waiting for some type of album notoriety to take place, which I have an idea for by the way, but I think I already told you about that.

KA: The infamous video.

TH: Yes, the video!

KA: The underground, borderline, don’t let your children see video.

TH: Yes. Let’s plant a couple of seeds! Some of the songs on the new CD are have a rough and tumble type of sexual overtone, which I am thinking of putting into some underground, hard to get type video which will prove to have some full nudity of yours truly.

KA: You are a proud man after all.

TH: I am a proud man (both laughing). I have to do it before I get too much older. More on the video down the road.

KA: As far as maybe doing some acoustic type shows, would you be interested in going to any of the KISS expos with the new material?

TH: Well, I have done about three or four of them. As a matter of fact, the last one that I was supposed to go to in New York to sell Cobalt Parlor I was lined up to do a couple of acoustic tunes. That was just before Shock Records folded, and when that happened it was so close to the show that I couldn’t scramble to get the tickets and get out there. Besides, though I love the KISS fans and the Frehley’s Comet fans and I think they have a tremendous amount of support and offering, I also think in the big picture it’s important that I work on demographics that are a little bit bigger by virtue of the MP3, the advertisements, and other nationally syndicated forums that would be beneficial for me.

KA: I guess if you do the Expo thing you are going to be “playing” to the choir in a sense if you go that route.

TH: Yeah. And to be totally honest I am not so sure they want to hear it anymore. It is a nice thing, but most people now what I am about. It is just not cost effective for all of us, and I think I can say that without insulting the fans. Most of the fans have matured to the point that they know a lot of things about what is going on, what is not going on and I get a lot of email about that. I will leave you at that because they know who they are.

KA: O.K. Why don’t we get back into some of the things you did prior to going solo, and we can start with the Cheap Trick 25 year celebration as a shoehorn into that.

TH: Well, I played with Cheap Trick in 1985-1986, and then 1992 and 1995. I know the guys real well, of course, and they asked me to come back this last August 28th to do a celebration show with them in their hometown of Rockford, Illinois. I agreed to do it, and it took some time to refresh on all of the songs and to reprogram them on my big keyboard, which is quite the undertaking. I can program it to where it is touch sensitive or velocity sensitive, I have several different sounds on the same keyboard in several different areas of the keyboard, and I had to learn how to play the different fields and sing backup at the same time. That took a solid three weeks out of my life to do that. It was a lot of fun. We did the show and Slash came on stage and did a song, Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins came up, a quartet and some choralists from Robin Zander’s old high school came up and sang. It was a pretty festive deal. It was a lot of fun playing with them, but I am glad to be back doing my own stuff again, because I think that is still very much important in my life.

Prior to Cheap Trick, one of the first recording bands I played with was the band called 707. By the way, there’s a possible new 707 record being put out. I’m doing some major helping and writing with the original guitar player Kevin Russell. We are in the works right now, talking about the possibilities of recording a new 707 record, which won’t be as heavy as some of the stuff I am doing now, but might be a fun endeavor. I am capable of doing some fairly heavy, dark stuff. That is what is so confusing to me, how some of the Frehley’s Comet fans didn’t think I was heavy enough. I was like, “What? Not heavy enough!? Jeez, I can be balls out, what do you mean I am not heavy enough?!” I actually had to lighten up for the Comet! That’s the way I felt about the thing.

Anyway, I played with 707 from 1980 to 1983. One of the warm up tours that we did, we played with a lot of bands back then, but one of the biggest warm up tours that we played was REO Speedwagon on the High Infidelity Tour. The smallest venue was 8000, the biggest venue was 50,000! It was an amazing tour. After 707 I went on to play with Ted Nugent for about a year. We had met on one of the tours back in the 707 band when we were touring with some other bands. I ended up playing keyboard, guitars and backing vocals for the Nugent Penetrator tour. I stared out playing less guitar, more keyboard and then by the end of tour they had me playing more guitar than keyboard. We had a lot of fun, a lot of fun. We did France, Germany, Spain, England…. I can’t even remember all of the places! A lot of places in Europe as well as the States. That was a lot of fun. It was very much a learning experience. After Nugent it was Cheap Trick for a couple of years, and after the Cheap Trick deal I played with Ace Frehley.

When I was playing with Cheap Trick, John Waite was touring with us. I used to watch John Waite’s sound checks because I loved the way the band sounded, it was so solid. The bass player was John Regan at the time. He was also playing with Ace, doing some recording here and there with the original Comet even before the records. Anyhow, we got to talking and he was a real nice guy, as he still is today. He discovered that I could play guitar and I was a song writer and lead singer as well as keyboardist, so he brought that to Ace’s attention. John was talking about the fact that they were doing something and I said I would be interested in doing something with them. John took my number and address to get in touch with me in case he could utilize me in future projects, being with Ace or anybody else at that time. Anyhow, I enjoyed the rest of the tour and watching John’s band play, and six months later John just gave me a call and said can you just come and audition? So I flew out to New York in the middle of a tour with Cheap Trick and played, and it went ok. I think that Ace enjoyed it, but I don’t think Ace was as gung-ho as the rest of the band was. So I came out one more time and played again with some songs. I had also sent some songs to them, and it clicked the second time. I realized, “This is happening” so I quit Cheap Trick in December of ’86 and I was in the studio finishing up the Frehley’s Comet first record in late December ’86 or January of ’87. And that is how that took place.

KA: Did you read either of Gordon’s KISS ‘N Tell books?

TH; I have the book. Gordon gave me one. I think it was last Christmas that I went to him and nagged him about “Where is my book?” and he finally gave me one. I think it is kind of like this, simple economics. If there is a demand for it, it is gonna sell. So, if you don’t like the program you change the channel. Because it was put out and it sold, or sold to whatever degree it did, there was obviously a demand for it. However, if it is made available and bought up you can’t…. it is silly, I think, to buy it and then condemn it. If you buy it and read it, take it for what it is, make up in your own mind what you think is right and what is not right, and then leave it alone! It falls under the line of being an entertainment source. I guess it is like reading the tabloids. You can believe what you want to believe, or a percentage of it, but all the hoopla about it has done nothing but add to the salability of it. It is just really silly. I haven’t read the book all the way through, I read a couple parts. I think it referenced someplace the fact that the second Comet record was really the “Tod Howarth solo record.” Well, not really. I only wrote half the songs. I did have material for a full record ready, but the fact of the matter was when we came to record I was the only one who had a bunch of songs ready to go. So, we needed to record the record and that is why it ended up with so many of my tunes on it. It needed to have some more interaction, I think, with Ace in the song writing department in the eyes of the fans. But that wasn’t to be for that reason alone. The fact of the matter is, the book is there and it is only going to continue to get popular by the virtue of people who buy it and then denounce it.

KA: Fair enough. As far as the days with the Comet go, did it ever hamper the ability of the band to do what it needed to do given the revolving drummer situation?.

TH: No, I don’t think that really upset the band. I have to admit that Anton was the best for what that music was. He was slammin’! It was so much fun for John and Anton and I to jam. I am not saying it wasn’t fun for Ace to play, it was a lot of fun. But you look at Anton as a figure unto his own, a tremendous player who has brains. He knew that when he first got the Letterman gig that was a pretty solid future. And guess where he is today? With Letterman. And he has made a lot of money. Not to say that that is always the right motivation, but come on folks, we gotta be realistic here. You can’t jump up and down about how you played with Ace Frehley when you don’t have a current job, it doesn’t make any sense. I love all the people I have played with, but I need to make a realistic choice as he did in the past. And his was the right choice, I believe. I would have loved to have had him continue to play, but in his mind he made the right choice for what he needed to do.

Segueing off that into the Billy Ward situation, Billy Ward was a phenomenal drummer. He had a Jazz background and just incredible control of a lot of his footwork. Unfortunately, he did not keep it smooth and simple enough for a band like the Comet and John, because John had to hit with him on the bass. Friction occurred, and that resulted in the fact that since John and Ace built the band Billy was going to have to exit. Billy is a nice guy. I got a long just fine with him. Then we got Jamie Oldaker. Of course, he was friends and had played with John Regan. Oldaker was not the fire that Anton was, but also, Oldaker had an amazing snare and kick. That is why he played with Eric Clapton. He did not have all the chops and the fire that Anton had, or the technical ability that Billy Ward had, but still an amazing player. So, I guess the only hampering it probably did was with the fans, because fans really don’t like too much change. They want to see the original band. So that probably was the worst part of it.

KA: Are you still in touch with Ace?

TH: I have not talked to Ace since 1996.

KA: The Reunion.

TH: Yeah. On the Reunion Tour when he came through San Diego I went backstage. As a matter of fact, I just walked over because my studio is real close to the Sports Arena. I walked over and I was with my then girlfriend and I ran into my old guitar tech from Nugent who was working with Ace. So we went and watched the show, and after the show I was the only one who came back stage with my girlfriend, they didn’t let anybody else back there. They were all there and, oddly enough, Paul was trying to pick up on my girlfriend, can you imagine that? I spent a long time talking to Gene. Gene felt slighted because I wasn’t jumping up and down — they seated me off to the side and he could see me real well with my long, blond, flowing hair — and he thought that I didn’t make enough noise and yelling and jumping up and down. I said, “Gene, I have done this before, why do I have to do it again?” It was kind of a playful banter. I spoke to Ace and Ace said he wasn’t feeling to good at the time so we just talked about a little things. But it was weird because we didn’t speak that much. I spoke to Paul and Gene, and I said hi to Peter. I think Peter was pretty well exhausted at that point. He wasn’t too coherent as far as responses to people after the show, which is par for the course.

KA: Any interesting, lesser known Ace stories you care to share in closing?

TH: One time when Ace and I were in his apartment in New York he had his estranged wife’s dog with him. Well, we were goofing off and Ace wasn’t drinking, he was pretty sober. Even in our sobriety we were having a good time, just goofing off and talking about stuff we had done in the past and kind of getting to know each other. The dog was running around and we were throwing something and the dog was retrieving it. Well, there was a sliding glass door and we were about 17 stories up, ungodly high, and we started kidding that maybe we could get rid of this annoying dog by just throwing this little toy over the edge and watch him go zipping over the side! And then we started laughing over the corrupt sense of humor that Ace has and that I equally share. And Ace has that contagious laugh, so it just got to be hilarious. And then we started elaborating on the visuals of the dog going over the side and we decided before we threw the toy over we should tie a little red cape to his neck and let him go flying over like Superdog on the way down! With that we laughed another hour and a half probably about the fact that the people looking out the window enjoying a nice New York night would see a little dog with a red cape falling down from the sky. We just thought that was too funny. That’s a story I don’t think a lot of people know!

KA: That’s great! What a way to end an interview… Superdog! Tod, thanks so much for taking the time to catch all the fans up on what’s been happening with you.

TH: No problem. It was fun.

Note: This interview was originally posted on the website KISS Asylum, which I was co-owner/content manager of from 1997-2004. Additionally, some of the photographs that originally accompanied the interview have been replaced with more recent images, as the originals were no longer available.

May 1, 2010 Update: Tod’s newest CD, Opposite Gods, was completed in April of 2010 and is available for ordering on his website.

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