Bad Company vocalist Brian Howe (1953-2020) remembered
AOR vocalist Brian Howe died of cardiac arrest while en route to a hospital in Florida on May 6th. Having sung for Shy (1979-80), White Spirit (1981), Ted Nugent (1984) and Bad Company (1986-94), Howe died aged 66. He had a history of heart illnesses, including a heart attack in 2017.
Brian Anthony Howe was born in Portsmouth, England, on July 22nd, 1953, and made his first recordings with the local pop band Shy. Portsmouth’s Shy should not to be confused with the Birmingham band of the same name that was fronted by Tony Mills. Shy released two 7″ singles with Brian Howe on the Gallery label: “Girl (It’s All I Have)” b/w “Hey, You” (1979) and “Be By My Side” b/w “Turnaround” (1980). Howe was co-credited as songwriter for all four songs.
Seeking a harder rock sound, Howe next replaced Bruce Ruff as singer in the NWOBHM group White Spirit. White Spirit, however, soon split later that same year, 1981, as their guitarist Janick Gers (later in Iron Maiden) accepted an offer to replace Bernie Torme in former Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan’s band Gillan. Sadly, White Spirit only recorded one song with Howe, “Watch Out”, first released by Neat Records in 1982 on the “60 Minute Plus Heavy Metal Compilation”. The excellent song was later included as a bonus track on a 2005 re-issue of the first and only self-titled White Spirit album.
Howe got hit break in 1984 when asked to sing on Ted Nugent’s album “Penetrator”, filling the shoes of Derek St. Holmes. Having a voice resembling Foreigner’s Lou Gramm, Howe made “Penetrator” a much better AOR record than the impression given by the Boris Vallejo cover. The contract was unfavorable, however, and Howe was denied writing credits for songs like “Tied Up In Love”.
Howe left Nugent soon after the album, with an intention to pursue a solo career. Having earlier tried to work with Mick Jones of Foreigner, a call from Jones was what got Howe in contact with Mick Ralphs (ex-Mott The Hoople) and Simon Kirke (ex-Free) of Bad Company.
Following the commercial failure of 1982’s “Rough Diamonds”, the original super group (having stuck together since forming in 1973 with former King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell) had split up, with Paul Rodgers (ex-Free) going on to record his 1983 solo debut “Cut Loose”. Having played drums with Rodgers in both Free and Bad Company, Simon Kirke next joined the band Wildlife. Kirke appeared on their second and final album, a self-titled record released in 1983 on Led Zeppelin’s label Swan Song Records. The “Wildlife” album was produced by Kirke’s Bad Company bandmate Mick Ralphs. Having toured in support of the Michael Schenker Group, the band disbanded soon after the album. Wildlife’s core members, brothers Chris and Steve Overland, would go on to greater success with the band FM, making their album debut with the AOR classic “Indiscreet” in 1986. Simon Kirke, meanwhile, played drums on Mick Ralph’s first solo album, 1984’s “Take This!”.
When Ralphs and Kirke decided to regroup for a new project in 1986, Atlantic Records insisted that they should resume under the name Bad Company. Paul Rodgers, however, had two years earlier struck up a partnership with guitarist Jimmy Page (ex-Led Zeppelin, The Yardbirds) as The Firm, releasing two albums in 1985-86. Page would then make his first and only proper solo album, “Outrider” (1988) while Rodgers recorded one album with Kenney Jones (ex-The Who, Faces) as The Law in 1991. Anyway, Paul Rodgers wasn’t available in ’86 and this is how Howe got the nearly impossible job to replace him in a new “Bad Company”.
Working with Foreigner producer Keith Olsen, the new line-up’s initial album, 1986’s “Fame and Fortune” reflected the musical style of the mid-1980s and was laden with keyboards. Foreigner’s Mick Jones served as executive producer and co-writer of two tracks, “Burning Up” and “Hold on My Heart”. Howe himself co-wrote all but two tracks, including lead single “This Love”.
The “Fame and Fortune” album proved only modestly commercially successful. Former Uriah Heep keyboard player (1980-81) Gregg Dechert was dropped from the line-up in 1987 as Bad Company decided not to play up the keyboards in their sound as much. They toured that year supporting Deep Purple before going on to make 1988’s “Dangerous Age” with producer Terry Thomas. Regaining a more guitar-driven sound, “Dangerous Age” fared better than its predecessor, spawning the MTV hits “No Smoke Without a Fire”, “One Night” and “Shake It Up”.
The title track and “One Night” were written by Mick Ralphs and Terry Thomas while Brian Howe co-wrote all of the other songs on the album with Terry Thomas. Thomas had been founding member, lead singer and lead guitarist of the English rock band Charlie (1971-86). He’d recently co-written and produced Styx member Tommy Shaw’s album “Ambition” (1987) and he would later go on to co-produce and co-write many of the songs on Foreigner’s 1991 album “Unusual Heat”. The “Dangerous Age” album went gold and Bad Company was augmented on the following tour by Larry Oakes who’d also played with Foreigner around the same time.
“Holy Water” (1990), Bad Company’s third album with Brian Howe, featured eight songs co-written by Howe and Terry Thomas. The album went platinum as Bad Company toured the USA with Damn Yankees, the super group featuring Howe’s old employer Ted Nugent and Thomas’ collaborator Tommy Shaw. The title track “Holy Water” was a No. 1 Billboard Album Rock Track and further single hits were scored through “If You Needed Somebody”, “Boys Cry Tough”, “Stranger, Stranger” (co-credited with Simon Kirke) and “Walk Through Fire”.
Brian Howe was featured on backing vocals along with Jack Blades (ex-Rubicon, Night Ranger) of Damn Yankees on the track “Tear It Up” off 1991’s “Bone Against Steel”, the ninth studio album (featuring three songs co-written by Survivor’s Jim Peterik) by the southern rock band 38 Special.
The final Bad Company studio album of the Howe era, 1992’s “Here Comes Trouble”, featured the Top 40 hit “How About That” and “This Could Be the One”. Brian Howe and Terry Thomas co-wrote those and all but one of the other album tracks. Simon Kirke sings on his composition “My Only One” but Howe delivers the goods on songs such as “Little Angel” (co-written with Mick Ralphs) and the Bad English-sounding “Hold on to My Heart”.
The album went gold and the band toured with Lynyrd Skynyrd. Howe left the band in 1994 after having recorded the 1993 live album “What You Hear Is What You Get: The Best of Bad Company”.
Brian Howe released his first solo album in 1997, “Tangled in Blue”. The opening track was co-written by Mark Spiro while most other track were co-written by producer Terry Thomas. Howe’s former Bad Company companion Felix Krish played bass, keyboards and drums on the album while Foreigner’s Mick Jones could be heard playing guitar on the track “Don’t Ask Me Why”.
That same year also saw Howe co-write the song “I’ll Get Even” for Megadeth’s “Cryptic Writings”.
“Tangled in Blue” was re-released with a bonus track as “Touch” in 2003. “How It Could Have Been” was co-written by Brian Howe and Jeff Carlisi, founding member and guitarist of 38 Special between 1974 and 1996. Carlisi had first started playing with Donnie Van Zant (the younger brother of original Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant) in 1969, forming the band Sweet Rooster together.
Howe’s second proper solo album, “Circus Bar”, was released in 2010 and also featured “How It Could Have Been” along with remakes of Bad Company hits “How About That” and “Holy Water”. Wayne Nelson of Little River Band appears on the album and “My Town” features Pat Travers.
This followed on two collections of songs that were only available for download: the 5 track EP “Emotions” (2001) and the 14 track album “Diversity” (2007). A final self-titled album was self-released on CD in 2018 and sold signed through Howe’s own web site.
Brian Howe discography:
1979: Shy – Girl (It’s All I Have) b/w Hey, You (single)
1980: Shy – Be By My Side b/w Turnaround (single)
1984: Ted Nugent – Penetrator
1986: Bad Company – Fame and Fortune
1988: Bad Company – Dangerous Age
1990: Bad Company – Holy Water
1992: Bad Company – Here Comes Trouble
1993: Bad Company – What You Hear Is What You Get: The Best of Bad Company (live album)
1997: Brian Howe – Tangled in Blue (re-issued with bonus track as “Touch” in 2003)
2001: Brian Howe – Emotions (digital EP)
2007: Brian Howe – Diversity (digital album)
2010: Brian Howe – Circus Bar
2018: Brian Howe – Brian Howe