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Howard Leese #2

Heart And Solo:
The (Second) Howard Leese Interview

by Scott "Dr. Music" Itter
       with additional material contributed by Lizzy Evans

Howard Leese is about to unload a set of songs that shall act as a personal adventure for this journeyman. After spending almost half of his Earthly existence with Heart, and the past 9 or 10 years as guitarist and musical director for The Paul Rodgers Band, Leese is looking to share a piece of his soul with this first solo effort. This is an album that is coming from a very personal place; a place with roads that have not yet been traveled.

On August 24th, 2007, I talked with Leese at length about his upcoming solo debut which, at the time of this writing, had yet to be titled. But he told me what to look forward to upon its release. After describing the way he mixed a beautiful Classical acoustic guitar piece with a heavy Robin Trower-like guitar explosion in his song “The South Summit,” he expressed his desires to use “atypical song forms.” As he states, “I don’t want everything to be verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus.” He went on, “I’m not really looking for most of this stuff to be all that radio friendly. I want it to be a little challenging to the listener, and I don’t want to dilute it at all to make it easily understandable.”

In the following text you’ll hear Leese talk about everything from the step-by-step construction of the album to his affection for videogames and mountain climbing. You will also hear some great stories about many of the brilliant guest artists that appear on the record.

We start off the conversation with a few leftover questions from the first interview…..

Dr. Music: On the current Paul Rodgers tour, how is the set list determined for each show? Is there generally input from anyone other than Paul?
Howard Leese: “Well….yeah. Paul and I kinda discuss it. He usually calls me before the weekend shows. He’ll call me at home, like on Thursday or before we travel, and we’ll go over the set list a little bit and ask me what I think. And, he’s always throwing new stuff at us. We’re always learning new songs. That’s one of the things that makes it cool and makes it real rock and roll is that that’s very fluid. The set list changes. It even changes once it’s already printed out and we’re on stage, it still changes. So, that’s kinda cool. It keeps it breathing a little bit. You don’t want to do the exact same show every single night. When we went to Norway, we were at a Blues festival, we did an all Blues set. A lot of that had never been played before, it was all first time. Things everybody knew but we had never done them together, so that was kinda fun. You never know. It changes from place to place. In England we do more Free, in America we do a little bit more Bad Company stuff.”  

DM: I gotta ask you….have you heard the Fergie cover of Barracuda? What do you think?HL: “Right, I read about it. I guess it’s in “Shrek 3.” My kids saw it. They went to see the movie and they come home and go, ‘Dad, your song’s in Shrek’ What?! (laughs) I had heard about it, but that seemed an unlikely cover, but God bless her. I haven’t heard it yet, I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m sure I’ll see it when the DVD comes out.

The version that was good for me was at the VH1 Rock Honors. Alice In Chains did it with Gretchen Wilson. It was great because the week before the show I got a call from Jerry Cantrell, and he said that Alice is gonna play Barracuda at the show. Killer. So he wanted to come over and just get my take on the song and play it with me and dink around with it a little bit. So he came over one afternoon and we played Barracuda for a couple of hours. I gave him a flanger so he could get the sound right. And they did a great job, I thought. The tricky part is for the drummer because there’s some real crazy math in that song; a lot of bars of funny time signatures - 7...9...5..., light bars of 7, I mean there’s a lot of math in there. So I just wanted to make sure that Jerry knew all of the numbers so he could run it by his drummer and make sure, because I’ve taught it to a number of drummers and it’s fairly complicated. Michael Derosier, very creative guy, and came up with a lot of odd beats for that.”

DM: “Barracuda” is going to be included in the Guitar Hero III videogame. Have you ever played the game?
HL: (Laughs) “I’ve not played it, but I know what it is. I’m a big videogamer and I have two sons, 6 and 7, and they’re playing right this minute.”

 

DM: What do you think about "Barracuda" being on there? Is that a fun thing for you?HL: “Perfect, because how good is your right hand? It’s not easy on the right hand. It’s a lot of notes there and you gotta be pretty precise. That’s a cool little rhythm to get good at, so I think it’ll be challenging for most guys. I think it’s great.”

DM: You mentioned that you will be marketing a flanger in the near future. Is it done?
HL: “I just got the final artwork the other day, it’s getting close. A lot of the components were already obsolete, they just don’t make them anymore, but they used modern equivalents, so it should sound the same just be a little bit quieter, which will be good. Any minute now.”

It was now time to begin talking about Leese’s upcoming solo debut. The following text has been edited from the original conversation, but the complete audio recording of the conversation can be heard below:
 

The following is the most up-to-date track list available for the record. As it is still a work in progress, please be aware that many details may change upon final release.

"Alive Again" (guest vocalist: Joe Lynn Turner)
"Hot To Cold" (guest vocalists: Joe Lynn Turner & Deanna Johnston)
"The South Summit" (guest vocalist: "Duke Fame")
"Heal The Broken Hearted" (guest vocalist: Paul Rodgers)
"Vermilion Border" (Instrumental)
"Somewhere" (Instrumental)
"I've Been Leavin' You" (guest vocalist: Andrew Black -
and featuring Lynn Sorensen on bass and Jeff Kathan on drums from The Paul Rodgers Band)
"The Vine" (guest vocalist: Jimi Jamison)
"33 West Street" (guest guitarist: Paul Reed Smith)
"The French Quarter" (Instrumental - guest keyboardist: Keith Emerson)
"Rada's Theme" (Instrumental)
"In These Eyes" (guest vocalist: Keith St. John)

As of this printing, there is a track that will have guest vocalist Bobby Kimball, but it is yet untitled.

DM: Let’s start with a question that somewhat parallels the upcoming release of your first solo record, and that is the release of Ann Wilson’s first solo record.
First off, what are your thoughts about Ann doing a solo record, and her approach of doing an album made entirely of cover songs?
HL: “Well….I’m glad she’s doing it, I mean, it’s long overdue. I thought that when we had the Ann Wilson Band there for a while, we had the big Funk band with horns and that whole solo thing we were doing, I thought that band should’ve made a record. That would’ve been cool.
I don’t know why she’s doing all covers. I have no idea. You’d think they’d have a bunch of songs. I know they always used to like to do their own songs, so, I have no idea. But, it’s probably gonna be great. She’s a force to be reckoned with. One of the great voices of all time. And she’ll probably pick cool songs, so that could be kinda cool.”

DM: Do you feel that releasing your album around the same time might possibly cause some friction, or possibly even some friendly conversation with Ann?
HL: “Well….I mean, it might be great because they can compare the work. And also, it will just bring more visibility to the Heart legacy. I don’t think we’re going to be directly competing. Mine’s more of a guitar record, although I do have eight vocals on there. It’s probably gonna be pretty different.”

DM: Do you feel that your release might gain in sales and popularity if it is released in close proximity to Ann’s record?
HL: “I doubt if it will have an effect one way or the other, really. My thing has to stand on its own merit.”

DM: Are sales and chart position of any importance to you?
HL: “You know….I’ve had number one records and platinum records and stuff like that, and that’s fantastic and a great thing to aspire to. And we used to make the records with the intent of making it number one. But now I feel like I’m more like a painter, at home, in my studio, making my work to my own satisfaction, to my own standards. And I’ll release it to the public, but thinking about the chart, that never really entered my mind. I just try to make the best work I can do.”

It was at this point in our conversation that Leese started to emphasize some of the elements that did matter to him while he was recording this solo effort. He goes on to discuss the importance of performing all of the instruments in only one pass, and the work ethic that he placed upon the many great singers that will appear on the record.

HL: “The standards that I personally have when I work alone here, are even higher than what I had in the studios “in the days.” My personal ethic now is to record everything; to actually record to document a performance. So I don’t punch in, I don’t do half of a solo and then do another half and put it together. If I can’t play it all the way through I keep practicing until I can. So all my solos are one pass. All the performances on the record, the piano part or whatever, it’s all one pass. There’s no editing, no punching, no correcting, no fixing nothing, no trickery, everything’s played by hand. And the singers - I even inflicted my standards on them. I told them, ‘You’re gonna come over. You’re gonna sing the song three times from start to finish, and then you’re gonna leave.’ That’s what Ann Wilson did. If she couldn’t find all the perfect pieces after three passes ……I mean, we always had more than enough. Joe Lynn was the same. He came over, sang it three times, and I could’ve made three different vocals that were all good. So, I took the best little bits from all three vocals. And that’s the only editing I did, was on some of the lead vocals.”

DM: And let’s end the Heart-related questions right here by asking you just one more...
Did you ever think about asking Ann or Nancy to guest on the record?
How about any other former members like Roger Fisher, Derosier, Andes or Carmassi?
HL: “Yeah, absolutely! I had one song that I wrote in kind of the 70’s Heart style. And I emailed it to Ann, but I never got a response. I don’t know if she got it or not. I ran into Nancy at the NAMM show and told her what I was doing. She volunteered to play on it, but that was a couple of years ago. I’ve been working this thing for a while. We just never got around to it, but yeah, she volunteered to play on it. I ran into Roger (Fisher). I was gonna ask him to play on something, but he just moved to Prague. There is no other musicians on it but me and the drummer, the great Mark Schulman, except one song is a Blues song that has The Paul Rodgers Band. We cut that one in my house in Seattle, sort of as a live three piece. It’s like a raw Blues….you can tell it’s live in my living room.”

Leese went on to talk about some other guest musicians that appear on the record.

HL: "(There’s) one song that Paul Reed Smith plays guitar on. He’s a good friend of mine. Everybody knows what amazing guitars he makes, but people don’t realize what a good player he is. He’s a real good player.

And I have a little tiny interlude in between songs. It’s just me on Hammond organ, and its got this jazzy piano thing, and that’s Keith Emerson."

DM: Do you have a title for the record yet?
HL: “Well….I’m narrowing it down. What do you think of ‘Brainstorm?’”

DM: “Yeah. I do like it.”
HL: “My wife came up with that, because she goes, ‘You’re always into your brainstorming,’ and I thought ‘Wow. That’s actually a pretty good name.’”

DM: What about ‘Secret Weapon?’”
HL: “‘Secret Weapon’ we like too. That’s the one that’s been the working title for a little while here. Those two are probably the top two. She likes that one too.”

DM: I really like that. There’s a story behind it and it sums up the whole thing. I think it really does.
HL: “I’m glad to hear that. I like that one too.”

DM: How many tracks will be on the record?
HL: “I have twelve tracks; eleven of those are all done. I have a bonus track for Japan. Which is like a Latin number; like a nylon string instrumental. And then I have another track that’s gonna be a hidden track. The title probably won’t even show up on the artwork, but it’s this guitar solo that I did when I was 17; 1968, for a film soundtrack, and it’s really crazy. So really there’s fourteen pieces that I have ready to go.”

DM: Tell me what’s happening with Black Star Records at this point. There was talk of selling the label a while back. Will the record be released through Black Star Records?
HL: “We’re working on a really big deal right now, and if the deal gets signed it won’t be on Black Star. We’re trying to take over Sun Records, Elvis’s label. We’re working on a deal right now, I don’t want to jinx it or talk too much about it, but we’re trying to put that together. But if that happens, my record will be on Sun; be the first release on the new Sun Records.”

DM: On this record you have a number of great vocalists. Do you see any disadvantages to having different singers on the album, and did you ever consider having one person front the band?HL: “Well, you know, that’s something that I may wanna do at some point, but for this project it worked out kind of beautifully because my idea was to write the music and to have like a pretty firm arrangement of how the music will be, and then I would give that to the vocalist and require that he would write the words and the melody to basically fit the template of the music as it existed. And that worked out really good. And it was just like being in a band, but with different people. Like when Joe Lynn and I worked together, you know, it’s pretty natural, it was just like we were both in Rainbow or whatever for a few weeks."

DM: On the current Paul Rodgers tour, the band sometimes performs a song from the album called “The South Summit,” which we’ll talk more about in a second, but why isn’t it “Heal The Broken Hearted?” You have Paul right there. That would be the obvious choice to do.
HL: “Yeah, but see, he likes to have a little break there in the middle. When he first called me, before the whole year started, he goes, ‘I want you to do a track somewhere so I can take my little break.’ So we went over the ones we could do, and that one did come up, and he goes, ‘Yeah, but then I don’t get my break.’
The other thing is…..like the first half of the song he’s singing quite low, and then he jumps up an octave and sings really high and he really tears it up. He said the high part’s not that hard, he says live on stage the low stuff is actually kinda harder because you have to sing soft. And then the big stadium thing that we do, you know, that it’s hard to sing low. But mainly, he just wants to take a break.” 

DM: Well, let’s talk about “The South Summit.” I must tell you that I find the track to be my favorite out of the seven that I have heard so far. Tell me about the singer on this track. I know he has a “Spinal Tap” connection!
HL: "Okay….(laughs)…that’s Duke Fame. You know the scene where Spinal Tap, they get into the town, and they go to the hotel, and their reservations have fallen through, then the manager comes up and tells them the gig has been cancelled. Right when they couldn’t get any lower, in through the lobby sweeps Duke Fame and his entourage. He’s their former singer. He’s in town to play the Enormodome. That guy." (laughs)

DM: Where did you come up with the title “The South Summit?”
HL: “Duke Fame was just real good at that James Dewar; that big, chesty voice. He was just riffing the words off the top of his head, and he said, ‘The mountain is high,’ and that’s all he had to say because I’m a big fan of the mountain climbing books and the Mount Everest, and all those guys. I live near Mount Rainier in Seattle, and I like to go up there a lot. So I thought, ‘Ahhh….I gotta write a song about a guy stuck high up on Everest.’ So the South Summit is that little ridge right before the real summit. I lot of guys turn around there and live, a lot of guys don’t turn around there because it looks like it’s so close, but it’s not that close. (“The South Summit”) is based on Mount Everest.”

DM: There is a large part of the song that has a Robin Trower sound embedded into it. That was intentional?
HL: “Yeah….yeah. There’s a certain thing you can get if you’re in the right key, if you’re in C# minor on the guitar. Hendrix did it, and Trower did it some more, because he was a big influence by Hendrix guy. So it’s just sort of that style; the big, heavy 3-piece in C#. It’s sort of how you sound when you play in that key and you put a flanger on."

DM: And Trower was an influence on you as a guitar player?
HL: "Yeah, I saw him in Seattle at the Coliseum, and besides being a nice, peaceful player, he had a great sound. The start sounded really good. The Brigade opened some Trower shows when we first got started, and he got mad at me because I had more Marshalls than he did. (laughs) But yeah, Trower’s great, man. The guy can really play, and he really defined a sound.”

DM: Is there a specific guitar that is used throughout the entire album? I know you have the Eagle.... 
HL: “I did use the Eagle. The Golden Eagle is on there. (Editor Note: “The Golden Eagle” is a vintage Paul Reed Smith guitar) The song that Paul Reed Smith plays on is called ‘33 West Street’; that’s the address of his original workshop where the Eagle was built. So that song is all PRS guitars. The bass on the entire record is a real early handmade PRS bass that I got way back when that he made for Mark Andes. I got it in a trade.
And, the other main guitar is a 1957 Les Paul Gold Top with P.A.F.'s; that one I use for most of the rock stuff.
(Editor Note: “P.A.F.'s“ are a type of guitar pickup. 1957 was the first year that this particular pickup was made, and as Leese put it, “they‘re especially stinky.”)
The clean stuff is a ‘61 Mary Kay Strat, and then my HML guitars that I build myself are on a lot of it.”

DM: Now I know you love to use the backward guitar effect. Can we expect to hear a lot of it on the record?
HL: “Yeah…..probably too much. (Laughs) I used it a lot. I love going backwards. I mean, the first sound you hear on the first song on the first Heart album, the very first thing you hear, intro to ‘Magic Man,’ that’s me being backwards. I just love backwards, and there’s backwards on every record.”

DM: I also know that you love to work in the studio, and you like to do it in more of an “old school” fashion. How much of the latest technology did you use, or are you still flipping analog tape over?
HL: “No….I’m not recording on tape, per se, so there’s nothing to turn around, but I do have a machine that flips my guitar around backwards. It’s digital, called the ‘Boomerang‘.”

DM: “Hot To Cold,” which pairs Joe Lynn Turner with Deanna Johnston from the RockStar INXS show. Tell me how that pairing happened.
HL: “The duet was funny because I had never even met her. She had been working with Joe Lynn a little bit, and Stuart (Smith) called me and said, ‘Do you have any tracks that you’re not using? This girl is just a really good writer, and she’d like to listen to a track and see if she can write something. And I really didn’t have anything. I had this one track that I really didn’t think was gonna make the cut. So I sent that to her in an email. And when Joe Lynn came over the day to sing “Alive Again” he brought her along and he goes, ‘Listen to this,’ and we put on the CD. She had done a little demo at home over my track, and she had written that whole song, and it was a great rock song. She just kinda got herself a spot on the record by writing to one of my tracks.”

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The following questions were submitted by Lizzy Evans, who is a loyal reader of the Dr. Music website, and a great fan of Howard Leese.

DM: I was contacted by a huge fan of yours by the name of Lizzy Evans in New York. She loved the review I wrote of the Milwaukee show in April, and she mentioned coming down to Wisconsin for the July 27th show, and I offered her a ride. She said, “Sure.” Now I know she’s a big theater buff living close to Broadway in New York, so I decided to get her opinion on “Somewhere.” You do ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story, and I decided to play it for her in the car on the way up to the show. She loved it, and she had all of these questions about ‘Somewhere’ for you.
HL: "Okay."

DM: How did you go about picking that particular song – is there a personal memory attached to “Somewhere?”
HL: “Well, I love the whole score to ‘West Side Story.’ I think it’s the best writing of the 20th century. It’s a pretty amazing score. I grew up with that music; I was like 10 years old when that came out. So we’ve always loved it. Ann and Nancy as well - they love the score. We’ve watched that movie together. They can sing quite a few of those songs. Just always loved that. Kind of always played around with it.
One day I was showing it, it was on TV, and my kids were playing near the TV but they weren’t paying any attention to the movie. But whenever a song would come on they would stop playing and they’d watch the movie, then once the song would be over they’d go back to playing. And when ‘Somewhere’ came on, they really did, they stopped, and I went, ‘Man, I gotta do one of these songs! Even children can tell it’s hip.’
I thought ‘Somewhere’ would be great because it’s so melodic, it’ll be fine without the words. So I picked up the guitar….started playing it…and it’s in E flat - hmm…E flat, pretty tricky key. So I decided that I could play the entire melody with harmonics, play the entire melody in harmonics, but I couldn’t do it in E flat, there‘s no way. So, I learned it in D and I tuned my guitar up a half step. So it’s in the right key as the score. The right arrangement, the same arrangement as the score. It’s just done with harmonics on the guitar.”

DM: What do you feel you brought to this song not found in previous recordings?
HL: “Well, the original version is a waltz - it’s a 3/4 time; my version is in 4/4 time, so the feel of it is different. The sound of it is different. Some people don’t even know exactly what it is - they don’t know that it’s a guitar because of the way it sounds.”

DM: Do you have any favorite theatrical composers - like Sondheim, Rodgers & Hammerstein, etc.?
HM: “No. Basically I think most show music is junk. And I don’t want to tell you all the guys that I think are horrible, but Leonard Bernstein is another cat, that’s completely different. He was a Classical guy. So, no, there‘s not a chance there‘ll be another show tune on the next record, unless it‘s another piece from ‘West Side Story’.”

DM: Many Rock and Pop musicians have taken the leap into musical theater - Duncan Sheik, Elton John, Phil Collins, Pete Townshend. Have you thought about composing for musical theater, or perhaps more soundtrack work?
HL: “Yeah. Probably more soundtrack work. I have an offer to do a horror movie coming up here pretty soon that I might want to do. I think I can be pretty scary. I’ve always been playing for a band or been playing for some project, now I’m just recording what I wanna do for me, so I think I’m just going to continue doing that for a little while.”

DM: What do you find is the biggest challenge to your sense of self expression - is it the writing, the performing, or the producing?
HL: "No, those are no problem. I knew I could write it. I knew I could play it. To produce it is just a matter of your tastes. The thing I worried about was the engineering, because I’ve never really been an engineer, we’ve always had great engineers. But I think it’s come out great.”

DM: Were the songs for the solo CD written specifically for the project, or were there any songs left over or written for other projects, even Heart songs, that you had in mind that never saw the light of day?
HL: “I wanted to write everything fresh because I thought it’d be ‘hipper’ to take a snapshot of where I am exactly right now. A couple of exceptions are the Classical part on ‘The South Summit’ - I probably wrote that ten years ago, and the other one is the little interlude - the Keith Emerson piano piece."

DM: How do you feel writing for a solo project differs from writing for a group, other than the fact that you have complete autonomy?
HL: “Well…..I don’t know that it’s too different. My technique is easy. I have a 1959 blonde Gibson 330 - little guitar, kinda semi-hollow so you can hear it without plugging it in - I sit on the porch…..with a strong cup of coffee….and I just start playing until something sounds good.”

DM: Do you find it easier to write / produce tracks for yourself or for others?
HL: “It is easier because I know what I want it to be like, and I know that I can do it. Sometimes when you‘re producing you have an idea but the artist is incapable of doing it, or doesn‘t want to do it that way, or whatever. Where this is pretty much what I think is good.”

DM: Is there a song in popular music that you wish you would’ve written?
HL: “Oh man………sure, hundreds of them. Anything by Peter Gabriel - great music, great words, everything all at once. Umm….what’s that song that song that Sting sings where ’if I cannot build a bridge then I’ll build a chasm?’ Any song with the word ‘chasm’ in it. That’s a literate cat right there. I like Sting. That kind of thing, where the words are literate and the music is sophisticated, but it still rocks. It‘s gotta rock.”

DM: What song on the album is closest to your heart, musically or lyrically, and why?
HL: “I like the one you like, ‘The South Summit,’ a lot because that’s a piece that’s been close to my heart for a number of years, so I have a little nostalgia for that piece. I’m glad it’s finally gonna get played.”

DM: What song on the album was the easiest to write for you?
HL: “That’s an easy one; that would be ‘The Vine.’ Jamie Kyle is a writer from Nashville. She wrote the song 'Stranded' for Heart. One day she was out in L.A. and she came over, and she said, ‘I have this poem.’ This song was written completely different from all the rest of the record. She had a poem of lyrics, and I just turned on the piano and started playing it, and it just came right out of me. And so, I wrote that in about 25-30 minutes.”

Special thanks to Lizzy Evans for her wonderful contribution.

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DM: The song “Alive Again,” with the great Joe Lynn Turner on vocals, has a great opening song feel to it. Will this, in fact, be the first track on the album?
HL: “I think so. It just kinda puts you in the right mood. It’s got those two big chords in the front, which I really didn’t even intend to be part of the song, I just put those on so I could tune. I put a chord to tune to, but by the time I layered all the instruments on being in tune I went, ’Wow! That sounds kinda great!’”

DM: Was breaking out on your own and doing the solo album the inspiration for “Alive Again?”
HL: “Nah….those are Joe’s words. I don‘t mean any of that stuff.” (Laughs)

DM: Oh, that’s right!
HL: “Actually, it ironically is pretty appropriate for the whole project, because I’ve never done a solo project. This is really the first time I’ve done something with my name on it, besides my stamp musically on it. So, in a way, it’s appropriate there.”

DM: The effect at the beginning of “Alive Again”……is that a backward guitar effect?HL: “Backwards.You know, that‘s how I walk in the door these days. I turn around and walk in backwards.” (Laughs)

   At this point in our conversation, we kind of strayed from the beaten path and started to discuss fans and the effect that Leese’s past work has had on so many people. Leese also informed me that former Queensryche guitarist Chris DeGarmo has been previewing tracks from the solo album, and sending concise commentary on each of them. He also spoke of revitalizing the Howard Leese website (www.HowardLeese.com) and his plans on taking over his MySpace page and being available to directly answer emails once the album is completed.

DM: You mentioned that a singer by the name of Andrew Black might appear on the album. Can we expect to hear him? 
HL: “Introducing Andrew Black! I wanted to do a straight Blues song, and Lucy Piller, head of the Paul Rodgers Fan Club, goes ‘You gotta hear this guy, this local guy, he’s got a great voice.’ And she knows. She’s a big Paul Rodgers fan. She sent me a couple tracks of this guy and it’s like, ‘Oh my God! Why have I never even heard of this guy before?!’ The guy’s phenomenal! So I sent him the Blues track that we cut up in Seattle, and he comes back with a killer vocal. This guy’s a great singer, and I wanted to have a couple of guys on here who were unknowns. Everybody expected there would be a few name singers, but I want to kinda introduce a couple guys too. So Andrew is one of those, and he‘s a really good Blues singer. I played it for Paul Rodgers, he says, ‘Man! He reminds me of me!’
DM: Wow! That’s the ultimate compliment there!


DM: Let’s wind up with “The Vine.” You have a song called “The Vine” recorded with Jimi Jamison doing the vocal parts. I feel that this is the most radio friendly of all the songs that I’ve heard. You mentioned trying to get Steve Perry to sing it for the final recording. Will we hear Steve Perry on this track?
HL: He (Jimi Jamison) heard the demo of it and he really loved the song. I said, 'Well, I want to send this song to Steve Perry. That's who I have in mind to do this. But I don't know if he'll do it, and I don't know if I can get a hold of him. But go ahead and try it. Here's the money for the studio time. Go ahead and throw a vocal on there if you love it so much, and grab yourself a spot. Kick my ass enough and you can sing it.' So, that's what he did. He sang it great! I haven't sent it to Steve Perry. If the guy loves it this much, and did this good of a job on it, it'd kind of be funky now for me to take it away from him. He pretty much claimed it. So, that's probably how that's gonna go."

DM: Let’s talk hypothetically.….

The solo album sells very well. “The Vine” is a number one hit. The sales reach double platinum status and there’s pressure to tour. Is a tour something that you might consider in an extreme case?
HL: "Doing this music, I wasn't thinking about doing it live when I did it, or I wouldn't have made it quite so complicated. So, in order for me to do it would require a pretty good size band and maybe a little bit of an orchestra, or at least a couple of real good keyboard players. So I could do it live, but it would take a bit of a production to do the music properly. If it went double platinum and there was that kind of budget to do something like that, that would be fun to do, but I'm not really planning on doing it live."

DM: Paul and Brian are doing the Queen thing and they ask you to open a few shows.....
Is that an option?
HL: "Well........aah.......(long pause)........(laughs) ......I'll have my people call your people."

   Doing this lengthy interview once again confirmed my thought that Howard Leese is one of the most special people that inhabits our planet. I informed Howard about a fan that I encountered on a MySpace page that just adores him. She has things like "Howard Leese ROCKS" on her page, and has his name as the person she would most like to meet. His response to this was one of complete jubilation and heartfelt thanks. He said, "Isn't that nice? It's just such great validation. Just makes you feel so good that people enjoy your work." He went on to say, "It's just so nice to know that what you do has a positive impact and makes the world a little bit of a better place. It's nice that you can go out there and people feel better for it. It's awesome."
   As we hung up the phone, he told me how touching it was to meet my kids and see the excitement on their faces at a recent Paul Rodgers gig. He said, "For me, that's one of the biggest rewards." Yeah, a rock star that has been playing commercially for over 40 years told me how it was a reward for him to meet my kids! It's abundantly clear to me that Howard Leese is a fountain of rewards for all of those that he touches in his daily life, both musically and emotionally. This solo album is the most recent gift that he's giving, and its one that's sure to touch the Heart of everyone who hears it.

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Special thanks to Lucy Piller for her kindness and dedication, Lizzy Evans for her friendship and insightful questions, and Kristy at Black Star for making it all happen.
And, Extra Special Thanks to Howard Leese for being more than a great musician and a timeless rock legend. Thank you for being a friend, and being endlessly dedicated to your fans and your family. The world truly is a better place because of you.

 

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