Tod Howarth is an awesome musician and one of the nicest guys in the biz you will ever meet. He’s been making great albums and playing great shows for decades with everyone from 707 to Cheap Trick to his new band Cocoa Blue. We talked to Tod about Ace Frehley, Cheap Trick and a lot more but we could have kept talking forever…..Read on
Q: Hi Tod, its been awhile since we have heard from you. Can you let us know what you’re currently up to/ promoting?
A: Well, wow, yes you are right, MANY years since I spent a lot of time in your area Rockford, at first hotels, then Rick Nielsen’s Condo above his folks music store – where I penned the song ‘It’s Over Now’ for Cheap Trick to record (which didn’t happen but ended up being used by Ace) and then a lot of time at Rick’s house with his great family, wife Karen.
Last year I released my fifth solo CD titled ‘OPPOSITE GODS’. It has done okay but it’s a different music world out there now. I’m working on more new material for another acoustic-ish CD and I’ve teamed up with my old band mates from my first top forty group here in San Diego, ‘COCOA BLUE’ A tremendous band of five who have gone on to some fame and then regular life for a couple of guys who still play very well. The bass player is Jason Scheff, who is my cousin by marriage and the lead signer/bass player for ‘CHICAGO’
We (Cocoa Blue) just went into the studio to track – for fun – some top forty songs from our set list back in 1977. We had a blast and now are in the process of doing the overdubs when we can with modern technology.
Q: I know that we saw you tearing it up in these parts with Ace during the Frehley’s Comet days (hell, you recorded Live +1 at the Aragon Ballroom)…way before your most recent stint with Cheap Trick. How did you end up landing such a life changing gig with Ace and what memories do you have of the Comet grazing the Midwest?
A: When I was playing with CHEAP TRICK we did a tour with John Waite and I used to watch their sound checks. I was very impressed with the rhythm section and introduced myself to the drummer, Frankie LaRocca (sp?) and bassist John Regan. John had noticed that I was doing a lot of vocal work with Robin and thought it very cool. We ended up talking about more music and I told him that I also sing lead, write songs and play a lot of guitar. What I didn’t know was that he was in the infant stages of Ace’s solo band ‘THE COMET’ and had an idea. He didn’t say anything about it then but we exchanged numbers and at the end of the tour he did say that he was working on something that might be of interest to me. He called me about six months later to tell me of the Ace project. I flew out to NY twice to ‘audition’ while either on my way to a ‘TRICK tour or off one. I ended my playing with TRICK in Dec 1986 and joined the Comet in the studio in Jan 1987. Touring the Midwest with the COMET was just great as I ran into fans from my stint with the TED NUGENT BAND, 707, and of course CHEAP TRICK. I was very fortunate to bring my songs to these people/fans and have been forever grateful ever since – what some 24 years later! The faces and the shout outs from fans in the audience, so very cool. I’ve never had it so good in my professional career. I still cherish it today and I will be trying to get ACE to do a 25 year anniversary tour, with shows next year but that’s up to ACE.
Q: All Kiss fans are aware that Ace was always more comfortable playing than fronting a band and yet he’s often been pushed into that exact role. As an outsider it appears he has finally settled into a comfort zone. Back in the day how much of the material you contributed was worked on with the idea that you would be the one who ended up singing it?
A: True, good observation really John, although I don’t know how comfortable he is right now. I did have in mind, while I wrote songs, of whom might sing it. I thought some of my songs were more appropriate for Ace to sing, or us to share, and then the obvious tunes that I only ‘could’ sing. Ace told me that he was not a singer per se so I thought of songs that would suite his voice – and I had more ideas for him, however that never came to pass. Ace had his KISS tunes that he penned and he should sing for the fans – and they loved it, but he wanted to balance it out with some one who could sing and write as well too.
Q: I was so happy to see you wind up back with the Cheap Trick guys after the whole hullabaloo with Megaforce and the last Ace “Trouble Walking” LP……As a fan of your work I felt vindicated AND Cheap Trick is my favorite band after KISS! How did you end up playing with our beloved hometown heroes?
A: Yes.. thank you! And it was fun again, I really did enjoy them. I still respect the band and I think that they are one of the most underrated American rock bands ever. As it turned out after my local solo band got signed to the Gene Simmons label (Simmons/RCA) in the early 90’s everything fell through shortly thereafter….damn!!..however Gene’s assistant had run into the ‘TRICK camp and my name came up so they called me again.
Q: I would be a fool not to ask…. Given your time with Cheap Trick and your unique position onstage during performances, did you ever get to see some funny stuff from your vantage point that we couldn’t see as audiences?
A: Let’s see, there were a few women but that’s nothing new….ah….the swearing and yelling when the monitors weren’t right, Rick coming over to my keyboards and yelling….. ‘THANKS A LOT FOR SINGING OVER ROBIN!!!” or ‘SINGING OVER MY PART’ which was my job….the over reaction all just an act…just Rick doing his thing.
Tom would come up and try to reset my keyboard presets before and during songs just to fuck with me…we got a long very well through the years. Nothing else at the moment that I can think of…
Q: How much time did Rick and the band need you to spend here in lovely Rockford and what did you enjoy/not enjoy while you kicked it around here?
A: Not much really at first, I never rehearsed with them when I first stated playing with the band back in 1985. I worked on stuff at home for a few weeks off of their live show cassette tapes and records – yes, vinyl records! From there I slipped right into a live show after watching them for a few nights with the guy I replaced, who I believe is back with them now Magic Christianson (sp?) He’s a great vocalist and keyboardist.
Q: You played with Cheap Trick at two different points in their career including the era when Tom had come back to the band and they scored big success again. Are you still following what the guys have been up to since you’ve gone on to other things, will you catch a Dream Police Symphony show if they tour it near you?
A: I’ve played with them on and off since 2000 when I did the ‘SILVER’ DVD and then some other shows….Jerry Lewis telethon, Don Imus show – right before his infamous comment that got him fired! The last time I played with them was in Japan for the 30 year anniversary concert DVD LIVE at Budokan. I may go to the show if it comes here… it’s gotta be great, as I’ve always loved their older ( and some newer) music.
Q: You are personally associated with two of the most world famous snubs in the history of rock and roll as neither Ace/KISS nor Cheap Trick is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Do you think they deserve to be in, do you think they’ll get in?
A: Ace would probably be lumped in with KISS as it only makes sense, and CHEAP TRICK should definitely be in there and I’ve been really annoyed that they haven’t gotten as much respect as they should. We had our differences while I played with them over the years about little stuff but they were my bosses and I truly respected them for what they had done, and again, for American rock. They were the shit! They should be inducted.
Q: I still have my Frehley’s Comet and Cheap Trick trinkets you’ve signed for me, but that hardly ranks as extreme dedication….in your days of gigging, promo appearances and Krazy KISS conventions what are some of the coolest expressions of love you’ve seen from fans and where did they come from?
A: I….AM…. FLATTERED!!!! Thanks…I’ve had hand painted sweat shirts, airbrushed sweat shirts, paintings, drawings, some have even asked me to sign their kids! Letters of love and devotion about my singing, songs and accessibility to the fans. “IT’S OVER NOW” has been played at MANY weddings and I’ve been told about it over and over..WAY cool. I’ve had many women tell me about how my songs, lyrics, voice have moved them in so many ways, and then guys who would flip out at my guitar work, rockin’ vocals, songs – which gave rise to their aspirations of playing more, better etc…..that’s flat out emotional!!!
Q: quickie word association…… what comes to mind when I say
Anton Fig = Stellar, unstoppable power talent, one of the best I’ve ever played with.
707 = My first recording act that holds a special first experience place in my heart that can’t be duplicated ever.
Megaforce the movie = Worst movie ever.
Bun E Carlos = beat backbone and unbelievable talent for Cheap Trick and the memory of an elephant
Miles Nielsen = A great kid (now adult) who came to see things the way I did in later years (we spent some time talking in Japan ’08)
Vinnie Vincent = Don’t know him…..I remember the color pink though!!
“Dolls” = furthest most thing I’d ever write about, unless they were trying to kill you at night
“Budokan” = Classic, played there 3 times with Trick
12 string bass guitars = Tom! Got one he gave me, brilliant invention
That cool little pin you all wore on the back cover of Frehley’s Comet = A regular pin with black tape on it and lightening rod cut out taped to that,,Ace said, “Watch how this will grow!’
Q: I could never live if I didn’t ask about one of my other favorite bands…..you worked with Loudness and legendary producer Eddie Kramer…..What do you remember about that experience?
A: Fun really, great band live..wow! I was thankful for Eddie getting me in there and of course Eddie Kramer….. the legend….
Q: Lucky question number 13. Do you have any last words or plugs to send out ?
A: Thank you so very much for being there for me, I miss the tours at the moment so very much. I miss the people’s faces and enthusiasm when I played with the various BIG bands. I gotta a lot of warmth from them and I wish to send it back. Keep an ear out for my next projects and check out the COCOA BLUE page on Facebook..as we do these recordings of cover tunes…BIG fun time we’re having and that’s where all this music career started from right? Having fun and sharing it. I hope to share more soon.
Much love, and thank you..