Former Shalamar Singer Reflects On His Career

Monday, April 9, 2012 8:35

An Interview with Howard Hewett

By: Casey Pukl

Howard Hewett may be best known for his time with the group Shalamar and his string of solo hits including, “Say Amen”, but his career reaches back over a full decade before he appeared on Soul Train.

Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with Hewett to find out what he has been up to this year as well as what’s on the agenda for the coming months. Read on to find out where you can see a chronicle of Howard’s career and how a skycap at LAX helped him pen his greatest hit.

CP: What have you been up to in 2011 and 2012?

HH: I would say about 80% of my situation right now is about my personal appearances. The whole recording situation was bleak and really not something I wanted to be that involved in because of the way things were going as far as major record companies were concerned. As far as the independents were concerned, independents weren’t like they are now. So my whole thing was thinking hey, there are a lot of different aspects of my career. I told my manager I wanted to concentrate on my personal appearances and getting back in front of my audience. That’s something that’s always been fun for me. I’ve been a performing artist since I was 10 years old. I can’t see ever not performing at some point in my life. Some of my heroes are Tony Bennett, Smokey Robinson, people like that who have just been reinventing themselves through the years. They really have fun with their careers. That’s how I am, and that’s what I like to do.

For the last ten years or so, I’ve really been hitting the domestic personal appearance situation, then some overseas in Africa, the UK, throughout Europe and Asia.

CP: I’m curious to get your opinion on this. You’ve been in the music business for so many years now, so between technological innovations and the economic situation, what have you done to continue to be successful in this business? I know you touched on making more personal appearances, so has that been the main change?

HH:  For the last 10-13 years or so, that really has been my main thing. During that time, I did my inspirational album called, “The Journey”. Then I did another R&B album called, “If Only”, and then I’ve also done a ton of other stuff with different people like George Duke, Brian Culbertson. I’ve done a whole bunch of different projects with them.

As far as the recording situation now, it’s really funny. The state that it’s in now is one that I really dig; I really like it. I dig the fact that you can control your own product. I like the fact that you don’t have to put out a total complete album before you can put anything out. If I’m working on something and I think it’s hot and I think the public and my fans will dig it, then we can put a single out there on iTunes and Amazon. Get a good digital distribution company behind you, and then just put it out there. Get someone that’s really into the whole internet situation— YouTube, Facebook, all that. Put together a nice little package, and you’re set. When you do videos nowadays, it’s not made for the big screen anymore like it was with Michael and all those people back in the day. Now it’s made for this little iPhone that I’m talking on right now. Someone can do an internet campaign and a YouTube campaign and get some buzz going.

With the recording industry right now, you don’t really make records to make money. I’m not going to make a lot of money on $.99 per track. But if you make a lot of noise, and people out there start acknowledging it, you can do it.

One thing about me is that I always know where I am in my career and in certain aspects of it.  Right now, commercial radio and Howard Hewett, we’re not bedfellows, you know what I mean? There were times when we were, times when we weren’t, times when we were again, and times when we weren’t. The whole thing is how you deal with the ebbs and flows of your career. When you put out a project now, it’s not really to make money from it always; it’s meant to fuel the peripherals like your appearances and other things you want to get into, some other branding situations.

I love the way the business is now. I absolutely love it. You just have so much more control.

CP: I saw a tweet from you a few weeks ago that you mentioned working in your home studio. Are you self-producing and recording everything from your house these days?

HH: I have a work studio at the house where I work on ideas and stuff. If I was to bring in someone that would deal with the equipment that I had, like an engineer or something, I could probably do some good projects here. Basically I put something together here and then go into the studio and do it.

CP: Do you still write a good majority of your own material?

HH: I write a lot of it. I never say that I only do my own material because you never know where a hit song or a great song is going to come from. For example, I always use that song I did back in the day, “Once, Twice, Three Times”. I got the track for that song from this guy named Kenny Aubrey who was a skycap at LAX!

CP: (Laughs) Now how did that happen?

HH: I would fly in and out of LAX all the time, and I would see this guy all the time. He used to say, “Howard, I got this track for you!” It was just a rough track of an idea he had. And now, this will tell you how far back it was, but I told him to put it on a cassette for me (laughs).

Finally one day I flew in, and I saw him, and sure enough he had that cassette! So I took it from him and listened to it at Hancock Park. It was a real rough track— it sounded like he did it on a four track or something. But I could hear where the music was going. It put me in the mind of one of those slow grind songs. So I called my band, and we tweaked and rerecorded everything, and I wrote the lyrics and the melody to it.

You never know where you’re going to get a hit song. When I say I write most of my stuff, ok, I wrote “Say Amen”, “I’m For Real”, but those things were collaborations. I wrote, “I’m For Real” with Stanley Clarke! We produced that one together. I write a lot of my stuff, but I don’t limit myself to that.

CP: What’s usually your jumping off point for a song?

HH: It’s a lot of different things. The majority of it has to do with inspiration for me anyway. But a lot of times I get a track from somebody or a keyboard player or a guitar player, and then I sit down and put some scraps together. There’s a lot of different ways to get to the main thing, which is a good solid song! I’ve always been about solid songs. It’s really hard for me to write a nonsense song that doesn’t really mean anything. Like I said, there’s different ways that I come to that one common place.

On my album “If Only” there’s a tune called “Enough”. I had the hook of that song:

“Was I there enough/ Did we share enough/ Was there times when we made love and chilled in the tub enough/ Is it fair enough to say in the end it really wasn’t real enough/ Did we feel enough/ Was our commitment to honesty enough to say that enough is enough?”

I had that floating around in my head for about 2 years before Mickey Howard’s son, Brandon Howard, who I’ve known since he was like 5 years old used to come and run around at gigs that Mickey and I used to do back in the day. Now he’s in his late twenties or something, and he’s a great writer and producer. He brought me this track that was perfect for the mood of the thing. So I finished the rest of the song, and then I took it to George Duke and he and I produced it together.

In that case, the inspiration was the lyric and hook I already had before I wrote the rest of the song.

CP: Looking back on your career, you’ve had a ton of accomplishments, and you’ve really been an iconic voice of contemporary R&B.

HH: I’ll tell you one of the things that has happened, and you’re the first person I’ll say this to because I haven’t sent all of the materials to them yet, but I’ve had something that made me sit down and think about it and really look at my whole career come up recently. As you’re going, you’re just going. You’re just doing your thing working your butt off, resting, having fun, then working your butt off, resting, and having more fun (laughs). But a few months ago, I got a letter from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. and they’re building a wing for the history of black music. They got in touch with me wanting me to be a part of that whole thing and send something in that really chronicles my entire career.

CP: Wow, that’s an honor!

HH: Yes. And when we talk about Howard Hewett and the recording stage of the whole thing, there was a whole other part before that. I started recording when I was twenty-two or so. I was twenty-three when I first got with Shalamar. But I’ve been singing professionally since I was 10 years old. So now they want me to span all the way from 10 years old to now. That made me kind of sit down and take pause for a minute and praise the Lord because I’m still viable in this thing. That’s a long long time, and it’s something I’m very proud of.

When I first got into this, my first thing was asking myself how I could achieve longevity in this thing.  This is a business that I love; it’s a business that I respect. It wasn’t like I wanted to get in, make a bunch of money, and get out. I am a musician, a vocal musician. Even when I was a kid, I wanted to develop a style. I wanted to sound like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, and then when I looked at what made them unique, I realized that they were just unique. When you hear Marvin, you know it’s Marvin. When you hear Stevie or Donnie Hathaway, you know it’s them. My thing was always for people to say, “Oh, I know this is Howard Hewett.” So I had to take my foundation, my influences, and then roll them up and put my own thing on top of there that would become a unique sound. That was one of my goals at 14 or 15 years old.

CP: Well congratulations! Looks like you nailed it!

HH: Thank you.

CP: Tell me a little about your upcoming show at Anthology!

HH: We’re going to have a lot of fun! I’m doing this show with a partner of mine who has been my musical director on and off for years. We wrote “Say Amen” together. His name is Monty Seward. He’s going to be there with me, and he may do a song during the course of the show. But the other really exciting part of the show is that I’m doing this one with my son, Christopher. He’s played guitar since he was 5, he’s got an incredible voice, and I’ve taken him out on the road with me periodically over the last few years. He’s 22 now, and that’s just really exciting to me. We’ll probably do an acoustic version of “Enough”, so it’ll be really nice.

I want this to be a really nice laid back show. The club really lends itself to that. I played there with Brian Culbertson a few years ago, and so it really lends itself to that intimacy. I want everyone to have a good time and have fun!

Special thanks to Howard for his time! Be sure to come on out, and get ready for some romance!

Howard Hewett on Spotify

WHAT: This is for the Lover in You featuring Howard Hewett
WHEN: Saturday, April 21, 7:30 & 9:30 pm
TICKETS: $13-$46 Buy Tickets
MORE INFO: Artist Profile