An Interview with

Tod Howarth

Guitarist and Keyboard Player of Four By Fate & formerly of Frehley’s Comet

that took place on 14th July, 2014.

Interviewed by Glenn Milligan.

Glenn: What made you want to originally play Keyboards and Guitar?

Tod: The Beatles, well actually the Beatles made me want to sing and have all the girls chase me – HA! – The desire to learn Keyboards came from the love of music, all the sounds, ‘colors of chords that one could make with bass notes and right hand inversions etc. The guitar came later as my interest peaked with more rock bands as I got older. I think Black Sabbath was a big factor there for picking up the axe, and then Jeff Beck way down the road from that! Moreover I wanted to ‘write’ songs even way back then and the instruments of course were the windows to those goals.

Glenn: Which came first and why and where did you purchase them from and when?

Tod: The piano was first. When my father re-married back in 1966, my step mom had an upright piano – of which still sits up at their house in the very same place today. Every time that I would go to visit, and of course eventually live there, I would tinker on the piano. My step mom would listen to me plunk away and sing and she knew that I had ‘something’ so piano lessons were not too far away from there. My first real keyboard was a borrowed Wurlitzer electric and then I got a Fender Rhodes suitcase electric piano of my own. I loved that thing, satellite speakers, self powered…I got it either downtown San Diego or in a Claremont Music store (still San Diego) circa 1974. My first guitar was an SG copy ‘El Degas’ that I still have today, well my son has possession of it currently, and I bought that from a small music store in downtown San Diego as well. It’s brown and I got it because it reminded me of Tommy Iommi. It’s of course not a very good ‘copy’ but it served my purpose back then while I played it through this very loud PLUSH amplifier.

Glenn: Who were your influences and why?

Tod: I’ve mentioned of course the Beatles from the earliest years, but I can tell you that even today I listen, learn and like a lot of NEW bands, artists as I continue to grow musically. But coming back to my initial influences. T-Rex, Mark Bolan, because of the smoldering timbre in his vocals, pure sexy rock with the underlying energy that captivated many back then – and his way cool look with the Top hat, long before Slash of GNR made it cool again. Humble Pie, because of the raw, rocking, soulful delivery of heaviness with Peter Frampton’s fantastic guitar style blending in. Led Zeppelin, why? Ha! I don’t think anyone needs to know why but c’mon! Drums, Guitars, high vocals, orchestral brilliance. Jeff Beck - his unique leads, sounds, arrangements, phrasing…wow. These are a few of my earlier schoolings. My influences changed as I ‘grew’ and on what instrument I was shaping up on.

Glenn: What's the scene like in San Diego and how does it differ to other parts of California and other parts of the USA?

Tod: Now? I have very little idea of that fast moving train. I do believe that real rock is making a comeback from younger players who really wanna do just that, play! There are so very many up and coming bands & artists that are making a name for themselves locally that it’s hard to know who’s stayed and who’s left for another city/opportunity. The ‘differing’ part of the music scene from here in San Diego, to the rest of California and then other parts of the USA probably blend more now than perhaps they did back when I was first starting out in the late 70’s. Anyone can do anything from anywhere – if it catches on and the locals claim it be theirs an artist can go so very far. Of course there are genres that still differ greatly – and they’re always will be – but they might be generally more regional. There are some real cool new bands coming out of San Diego, and we have had that happening fore many years now.

Glenn: What notable solo work would you like to talk about that you are most happy with and why?

Tod: ‘COBALT PARLOR’ is probably my favorite heavy rock solo CD that I did. The reason being is that it was the first true solo effort where I played real drums along with my guitars, vocals, keyboards, everything. This would turn out to be a monumental task, as I had to ‘brush up’ on my drumming because there was no way that I would’ve ‘hired’ myself where I was to do as such! So I set up a borrowed kit back then and banged it out for about, I think three months to songs that I had written and was still writing…so that when the time came to track the drum basics, I knew what I wanted to play. All of this (it’s far more complicated that I’m eluding to here) on top of the fact that I was the producer, engineer, mixer and meager executive producer at first, to get the whole project onto a CD. The material on the CD is heartfelt, very important to me as it was about things that were true and happening to me at that time. A little dark as well but again, that’s where I was. Nothing menacing, just emotional.

Glenn: What were you up to before you made it to the professional leaguer of players and how did you make that leap to it?

Tod: I moved to Los Angeles in ’79 because that’s where you went (or at least thought you needed to go) to make it big. I had played in a few local cover bands in SD that did pretty well so I thought that IF I was to go for this whole music thing, I better go where the lights were the brightest or where they at least appeared to be. I worked a few day jobs in North Hollywood when I first got there and being young I could produce that energy needed back then. I made my first big break when a band that I had seen on the Sunset strip was looking for a replacement keyboardist/guitarist/songwriter and made it known. I pursued them and eventually joined the band, 707.

Glenn: How did you become a member of Cheap Trick what stands out to you about that period and why?

Tod: When I was first in Los Angeles and after playing with a band that comprised of some fellow San Diego musicians, I struck out to find new musical blood. In these adventures I ended up working with a few guys that had been from the ‘Chicago’ area of bands that had known and been around the clamor of CHEAP TRICK. Along with the musicians were a few industry people that were also working with these bands, so it all kind of tied in when two of these ‘dudes’ Pete Comita and Jon Brant went on to play with ‘TRICK sequentially after Tom Petersson ‘Left’.

What stands out about this very long venture is the brilliance of the band in total and Robin Zander’s underrated American rock and rock voice….I got to be a part of it, if only as a hired gun, but a gunslinger who treasures that experience that ran off and on for many years.

Glenn: You played on Ted Nugent's Penetrator album which had Brian Howe on vocals - what were the highlights of the album and working alongside such pedigree artists?

Tod: Yes, big fun really. My first big band, 707, was all but dead by then so here I was stuck in San Francisco and then asked by Ted and management to sing backups. This was the short part of the experience, the highlights wouldn’t come until I was asked to go out on tour and support this album…THAT was huge fun for me. Brian was a great singer with his own style and of course Ted was dead on Ted. We had the late Cliff Davies on drums from Ted’s earlier successes’ and then two bass players, Mark Boals followed by Dave Kiswiney. I learned one Hell of a lot from that half a year on tour, and the band sounded really tight like the record!

Glenn: What was Ace Frehley like to be around and work with?

Tod: Overall fantastic truly. When we first started to ramp up the Comet machine, he was positive, knew where he wanted to go, do. He was pragmatic and never short on a great joke or laugh to keep things lightened up. I marveled at his fans and how much they loved him and would learn later on just how dedicated that the KISS fans were – and still are to this day.

Glenn: What were your own personal highlights being a member ‘Frehley’s Comet’ with regard to writing, recording, touring and socializing?

Tod: I found it to be the ‘end of a quest’ for me in regards to finally being able to sing, play guitar, keys and write my own songs. For me there was no better highlight and I had hoped to keep that and the band going far beyond what we did. Penning ‘IT’S OVER NOW’ and playing the lead guitars was truly a peak as Ace let me do this without any reservations, and then being inducted into the KISS family tree by default – I got to enjoy most of the KISS fans.

Glenn: What do you personally miss about being in the band ‘Frehley’s Comet?

Tod: The energy and enjoyment that the fans and audience emitted and showed when we played. I LOVED that. Aimed mostly at Ace it was nice to be a part of that epic period of time, we all shared in what he had earned from his time with the ‘K’ band!

Glenn: What road stories can you recall from that glorious time period in the ‘Comet that you can legally tell?

Tod: Well there are many really… I’ve told them all so very many times over, they tend to be tedious…complete disclosure will be in my book!

Glenn: What are/were your favourite Frehley’s Comet songs to play and why?

Tod: Well this always sounds selfish when these questions are posed by I really liked playing and singing the songs that I sang on the album/CDs With my new band ‘FOUR BY FATE’ we (John Regan and I) finally get to play ‘IT’S OVER NOW’ but back then, ‘SOMETHING MOVED’ ‘TIME AIN’T RUNNIN’ OUT’ and ‘BREAKOUT’ always huge fun.

Glenn: Which proved to be the most intricate songs and for what reasons?

Tod: Hmmm, well the tunes that I wrote had more ‘strange chording’ in them as opposed to Ace’s songs. This was due to the fact that I first learned piano and had a habit of wanting to hear more notes in a chord construction – at first, and then to hear the overtones that it produces when picked a certain way through 100 watts of Marshall amplification…..Anyhow for me, ‘NEW KIND OF LOVER’ had some great intricate passages, ‘IT’S OVER NOW’ also had very different guitar work on it because the song was written on the keyboard first and then I added what was needed for the rhythm guitars. My later solo stuff had some very wild intricate tunes but we’re talking about the Comet here….

Glenn: You've played in various venues over the years but which ones have meant the most to you and why and also had the biggest impact on you?

Tod: The American ‘summerfest’ shows that I had done earlier in my music career because I was young and they were huge back then, they were the thing to go to seemingly more often than perhaps now. The Hammersmith in London is probably the most important and memorable venue as I’ve played there with most every band that I’ve been in – with exception to 707. I’m hoping to get there with FOUR BY FATE in the future as well! I also remember a show in Canada when I was with Cheap Trick and we were doing a few shows with HEART. They had the audience wrapped around their fingers back then – it was so very loud when HEART took the stage, I thought that that was very fitting for such a great band.

Glenn: What went through your mind when John Regan talked to you about working on the re-recording of the song 'Breakout' that eventually let to the formation of 'Four By Fate'?

Tod: Ha! good one, I was thinking, ‘okay, now about Ace’s solos….’ Everything else – with exception to getting the drum parts slammin’ - thank you Kevin Valentine – would be fine as with slight mods here and there I knew what to play as did John Regan. I grappled with doing my own solo efforts – a different style of course – and then just imitating Ace’s brilliant work. THAT proved to be very daunting, and fun, and one day I’ll get it right! FOUR BY FATE plays the song and I get to do the solos so hopefully they’ll get better with time. I didn’t want to piss off the fans by doing something different but then I probably pissed off some die hard Ace fans anyway by trying to duplicate his style, leads etc…
Oh well.

Glenn: How was it for you working and performing with John again after all those years and what have been the highlight so far and why?

Tod: Heaven. The first time that John and I got to ‘lock’ up on stage with Sean and Stet – man, that was just great truly. We have the same type of feel for the rhythm foundation and it shows. He’s solid as can be and it’s one of the reasons that I met him way back – I thought that the sound that he had and the rock solid bottom was just killer from this ‘gentleman’ appearing rocker! Playing ‘IT’S OVER NOW’ with John is just plain huge! Besides the fact that I just respect him so very much and that we have the same mindset on many things. A true friend.

Glenn: What memorable moments have there been for you since the incarnation of the band, ‘Four By Fate’ and why do they particularly stand out?

Tod: Well it’s a brand new band with only two shows and a live radio broadcast under our belt ha! But you’re right in thinking that there just may be some ‘moments’ there for us…. I think the best parts were of John and I not only playing together again but getting to know Sean and Stet. Doing a quick study on their characters and then performing with them, learning their dynamics is fun most every time that we get together. The very last show that we did, at The Chance in Poughkeepsie New York, Stet finally did a drum solo that was so much fun for all of us to watch let alone the audience – AND he did this with an injured wrist, and a case of pneumonia! He is a character anyhow with a lot to say during his time at the mic and this again, is a highlight. Sean simply amazes us with his talent, delivery and ability – we are very lucky to have him in the band as well.

Glenn: What songs do you have currently ready for 'Four By Fate' that you can tell us about?

Tod: John has worked with a friend and prolific songwriter that has penned a song that just might work for us – in fact we’re playing it now live titled ‘FOLLOW ME’ a great number for our debut shows as of late. I personally have six ideas that I’m demo-ing up as we type here and I believe that at least four will make it to the band. My tunes are heavy melodic, with one being an acoustical startup that powers out ala GNR style if I had to coin the initial attitude of it. Sean is writing and co-writing when he can as is John with Pat Gasperini – writer of ‘Follow Me’ What we’ll do is come up with many songs from every one and decide collectively which ones we all feel will represent FOUR BY FATE.

Glenn: What songs in the ‘Four By Fate’ give you the most joy and what particular memories come flooding back when you hear and play them?

Tod: Playing ‘IT’S OVER NOW’ currently does that for me, I mean The Comet never got to play it live, let alone learn it so when I start it and the fans recognize the piano riff, that’s big…if only to me – and I think for John too as he really supported the idea of cutting that tune when he first heard it while we mixed the first album and I was playing it on a grand piano in the studio….

Most all of the Comet tunes that we do as FXF is fun for John and me – and then the ‘Heritage’ part where we all play, sing songs from our past big bands…THAT’S fun too. The images that in fact do come ‘flooding’ back when playing any of our old stuff is so very voluminous that I can easily forget where I am in a song while reminiscing of times gone by.

Glenn: What does the name itself ‘Four By Fate’ conjured up to you personally and why?

Tod: Our Co-manager/handler Danny Stanton came up with the name. I had different ideas for us at first but the guys all liked the name and it stuck. It does represent how we came about though so it is in fact very aropos. An idea had been put forth for some musical tracks composition by John Regan, he brought me into it, then by some fate that is very in-depth we wound up with Sean Kelly and Stet Howland…Hence the name!

Glenn: What is it like for you personally having Stet and Sean in the band and what are your views of them as performers people overall and for what reasons?

Tod: John Regan and I are no day at the beach when auditioning musicians. Not that we auditioned Stet and Sean because they were already accepted based not only on their resume but by virtue of the word of those involved who helped put this band together. I won’t speak for John but I can say that I’m a bit easier on players when I’m trying to get them to fit my style or project. Without sounding pretentious, I can be very hard on musicians who may not add up – BUT I too have been judged by projects that I was not right for and did not make so that circle goes all the way around as it should. Personally, I do not believe that we could have two better suited, mature, like minded, accomplished players than Stet and Sean. Their talents tower.

From a friendship perspective it’s fantastic to have them around. There is NO ego, no trippin’ and no spoiled little starf*ck making life miserable for others and that’s precisely what John and I had hoped to have. Being that John and I have worked for many other big bands and personalities it would only make sense to limit that type of musician to be around and luckily enough, Sean and Stet have had to deal with the very same thing! In this band, we’re all equal, everyone’s opinion matters and taken into consideration. Of course it won’t always balance out meaning someone may end up short on the final decision stick but you give, you take.

Glenn: What are you looking forward to with regard to Four By Fate and also as a solo artist in the future?

Tod: I hope to take FOUR BY FATE as far as we can, where we’ll all enjoy the rewards of our very own band – as we all have played and play in ‘someone else’s project….It’s nice to have a greater decision in a future but of course with that comes the gamble of chance. Solo, I can do that forever really, I’ll rock as long as I can, but because of piano, I can perform my haunting adult contemporary style far into the future where I may not even remember my own name anymore!

Glenn: Where would you like to see Four By Fate play if you guys got the chance to perform at and why

Tod: Hammersmith in London like I said before, because it seems like a great finish line –BUT at the same time a new beginning. Perhaps in New York city too as the roots for John and me lie there.

Glenn: How would you describe the guitar and keyboard playing styles of Tod Howarth and why?

Tod: For guitar, I’m just a solid songwriting rhythm player with interesting inversions that generate intriguing overtones all the while playing the heavy back beat, I can play leads but it’s all a melody to me. Keyboards, I’m a songwriter first, nothing fancy, a parts player if you will whereupon once I lay my fingers on the keys I think about what tune I could create at that very moment as opposed to ‘how can I shred’ because I don’t care about that, never did on any instrument…It’s all about the songs for me.

Glenn: What would you like to say to the fans out there who have read this Interview?

Tod: How do I thank you for still being there? How can I express my gratitude for you waiting, listening and writing to me even when I can’t reply to each and every one of you? I thank you on my solo CD'S in the liner notes – and I really mean that. I rise and fall with my music, appear and fade with it too but the feeling never escapes me when I sit down to write and think, just maybe this song will reach some one that gets it – like when I wrote ‘IT’S OVER NOW’ At that time I had just hoped that someone would just get it and enjoy for what it was. And so I thank you again, now and for the future. I will always write and sing.

Glenn: What do you enjoy doing outside of music and how did you discover these things?

Tod: I am all about off-road activities. When I was younger, I had mini-bikes, go-carts – anything with an engine and so this has been a passion since I was about 7 years old. If one was to check my website, they would see the links to these activities. I also do acrylic paintings of classic cars, chrome etc. I was drawing, painting long before I started to sing and aspire to music so this ‘passion’ still lives today.

Glenn: What are you most proud of so far in your career and in life overall and why?

Tod: I am so very proud of the Comet because that is the pinnacle of my career from a popular view – although I spent so much more time in other bands, I feel that this one is reflective of what I wanted to accomplish, and where I wanted to go…
In life, I am proud of my work ethic, because had I not aspired to at least TRY and have limited success in this volatile vocation, I may have well drown in the deception of it.

Thanks for the Excellent In-depth Answers Tod!