A short true story by Tod Howarth
Ants are territorial. Or at least they would appear to be. As I sit here at the flat headstone of my paternal Grandparents re-painting the engraved lettering, they run around as if announcing my arrival and intrusion. Hence the random, sporadic "attack". Still, I paint. Minding them not so much until, they too, become part of the pigmentation. On my last solo CD "WEST OF EIGHT" I wrote a song called "Painting Spiders" and yes, the lyrics came from this very same death wish. Activity, challenge, then die. I find myself vastly becoming like a mirror in the sense that I'm trying to reflect more and more lately on all the significant "musical" times in my life, not because it's over or anything, but for times just like right now. Your reading pleasures.
While I outline my Grandfather's name, Thomas W. Howarth, and memories of him blend in and out, I drift back to the time when I penned the song "It's Over Now". Imagine a fast forward recollection of any given memory of your own and you could picture how quickly of a reverie it just may have been. However, I back it up without the aid of a remote control. This painting task proves to be more lengthy than previously thought, so I allow myself more time to digress. I wrote that song originally for Cheap Trick, but they declined. I remembered letting Bun E. Carlos listen to it, he offered a few suggestions (I ignored most) and said, "Not bad, but don't give them (Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander) so much. They like a tune unfinished" Jeeez, I wonder why? I also remember their manager at the time hearing it, and later asking me if they liked the song. Funny that I actually had to tell him! I guess that he had hoped they would hear the same promise that he heard, who knows. Anyhow, I kept the song close to my heart because I thought that maybe some day it could surface again - and I believed that if given the right push, it could really go far. Mind you, this was the times of the power ballad, or perhaps the waning times because "Grunge" was on our unsuspecting asses before we knew it, killing off the late 80's. The actual demise of my song would prove to be a stretch of the truth later on, but those of you who know that part of the story, don't have to be told...
The white paint starts to flow very slow in the pleasant heat of this California day, San Diego to be geographically correct, so I have to close the little can up and shake the hell out of it. This rejuvenates the mixture and mysteriously gets rid of the "protective coating" that coagulates, forming the inanimate hymen that challenges me along with the ants that are still running amuck. All is going well, as long as I can dodge the sprinklers that the head greenskeeper keeps trying to turn on. I settle back into the pace again, this time on my stomach, lying on a large beach towel. As I reflect again my mind skips way forward to New York. Winter of 1988 I believe.
I like winter. I never grew up in the snow having to shovel it everyday just to get in - out - here or there - so excuse me for not being too sympathetic, although I know I should be. I associate the white powder with the winter sports that I enjoy, namely snowboarding and skiing - YEAH! A fireplace and a cocktail afterword, the proverbial beautiful woman right next to you, the light of the fire dancing over the horizontal silhouette of shapely bare skin... But wait...I was in the studio...
John Regan, the bass player for the Comet (and for quite a few other great, well known artists) and I are busy preparing the basic track for "It's Over Now". When the Comet tracked a tune it was usually done three piece. At that time there was the Ace tracking procedure for his tunes, and then the Tod tracking. It may sound odd, but it helped to expedite things and in the studio the all mighty dollar ruled. During the recording of "Second Sighting" Ace was sick a lot. Respiratory problems I recall, so he wasn't always there on time or sometimes not at all. We tracked "It's Over Now" with just me on piano, Jamie Oldaker on drums and John of course on bass. I now vividly remember all of this. The power in the tune, unmixed with just the three instruments was overwhelming. I still have some cassette tapes of these kind of "mixes" and to this day, I wondered what happened to the final album mix because it just doesn't sound the same. After cutting about three tracks, we settled upon one to build from. Next I tracked the rhythm guitar with my red Steinberger. The sound was powerful and sweet. I added some additional "axe" frosting on the cake, to enhance some passing notes and my guitar work was pretty much done. All except the finishing touch (for guitar) - the lead! Ace was still absent from the studio that day, and most of the next. In following our progress charts that we had up on the wall in the console room, I believe I then moved on to do the keyboard, string orchestrations which lasted until the session finished. I felt extremely satisfied by the end of that night - but I also hoped that I would be able to do lead on the track, as I already had a few notes and melody in mind.
The next day started bright and early at around 11:00am, the proverbial rock star hours (I'm now often up at six, touring or not!) and somewhere in the first stages of recording I start to lay down my lead idea for the song. It sings of melody, state of the art chops, rhythm, echo and all. I do believe it to be one of my finest phrasing deliveries on a lead at that time - by far - if I can pat myself on the back here, and I've been fortunate enough to have fans write and e-mail me to say this much and more. KISS fans rule, they are loyal and I extend my thanks to the ones who have accepted me into the KISS family tree - YOU ALL ROCK! John Regan is in the studio also and tells me that the lead is fantastic. I'm hoping so. I'm also hoping that Ace, the man who was in control of the whole thing agrees and gives me this one to satisfy my selfish melodic needs! Any one musician who doesn't have a glimmer of this selfishness is most likely a liar, or a tremendous player who doesn't feed off of the recognition that we media hogs crave and need. This affliction, by the way, is a great percentage of the balls necessary to make it in this business. Somewhere in that mix is the other ingredient. TALENT!
Later that same day Ace arrives. We are genuinely happy to see that he is doing better in the health department, as he appears in the threshold of the doorway before us. Ace is in true form. No one can dress quite like him, I imagine some wouldn't want to! But there he is as big as life. The legend dons his cowboy boots of black and red variances, the skin tight, black spandex-style pants with the daggers pointing downward in a clearly spaced pattern (as if daggers would pattern!). The modified t-shirt, no sleeves - commemorating Elvis in the skinnier part of his life, surrounded by roses and thorns - and maybe babies breath? Hell, I don't remember everything! He also has on one of his custom-by-fan jackets of the new fall color - black. Adorned with lighting bolts in silver, and tassels or fringe depending on your definition. He stands on an ever present cant, giving the illusion that perhaps the floor is uneven, and checks his hair in a reflection that we can't see, all the while asking for a progress report. While we give him the low down on everything new, he listens, and we hear the sound of a lot of silver jewelery negotiating his arm's every move to ensure the perfect "do". When we come to the part about my solo, I said "I laid something down that I think you might be interested in hearing, wanna give it a listen?" He smiles shyly, chuckles and utters a very clear and optimistic "Sure!" We all clear the area in front of the recording console, leaving behind the producer's chair with the wheels on it - because that's the sweet spot for hearing everything back through the monitors. Now - I'm pretty sure that I've never seen Ace "sit" anywhere. He just kinda flops into the general area and hopes for the best. Usually his mark is dead on, sometimes not - making for more confusion but a great laugh for us all - including the ol' Ace himself. As he saunters over in his tradmark angled "sashay", he hits the chair like a man who's run a marathon and when he does the chair proceeds to roll. Unfortunately for everyone, not too far, so we"re denied our morning fix of gawfas (sic) - but for next time we can always hope! He pulls himself closer to the board and shouts out "Let it roll...GO!
We all sat or stood nearby, to see the reaction from the man whose name is part of the band's title, as he sat motionless throughout the entire song. As the tune faded he pushed himself slowly away from the mixing board, leaned over to his right where I was standing and said "What's wrong with it?" We all replied, "Nothing, just wanted you to hear it, see what you think?". I remember him looking briefly at me and everyone else. "It sounds great - LEAVE IT!". And he meant it...
Never before have I had so much admiration for an artist that I was working for or with as I did that day - that moment. To hear the unselfishness of a man who didn't have to be generous taught me a few lessons. I felt somewhat foolish too, ready for a let down that didn't happen to my ego and pride. But he gave it to me that day - and many other days to a smaller/larger scale - and I thank you Ace.
My thoughts return to the present. I'm now finishing off my Grandmother's name, Ramona V. Howarth ("V" for Valerie, same as my wife's) on the headstone and mentally reiterate the parallel, that sometimes, different types of people work very well together. Back in my Grandparent's day, an Englishman did not properly marry a Mexican/Cherokee with a last name of Gonzales. This union was shunned. But they did it - and many interesting and much loved people resulted from it. And as I clean up my paint brush, admiring the finishing touches that I've given to previously laid plans, I also realize that maybe, just maybe, I painted a little bit for Ace and the Comet that year, winter of 1988.