There must be something in the wind of the Texas/Arkansas/Louisiana tri-state area that makes everyone from there wonderfully sentimental. The music and art from that region is steeped in tradition and plays out as if time has stood still for a century. Steve Howell and his quartet, The Mighty Men, are living embodiment of that charm and style of Texarkana, as they prefer to honor melody and lyricism over pyrotechnics and flashy instrumentation. Lead by Howell the group returns with their third album “Good As I Been To You,” along with special guest vocalist Katy Hobgood Ray, delivering further explorations of long-hidden gems from the great American songbook. The eleven tracks, a celebration of songwriting and storytelling from the masters, run the gamut of genres from roots to blues, country, gospel and work songs from well-known originators such Lead Belly and Memphis Minnie to lesser known ones such as Arthur “Blind” Blake, all of whom have been a lifelong influence on Howell and his passion.
The Mighty Men open the set with a slinky blues romp from the 1950’s, ‘Bacon Fat,’ that features some jaggedy lead from guitarist Chris Michaels and a Doodley Wop sing-along chorus. Katy Hobgood Ray then joins Howell for a duet rendition of ‘When I Was A Cowboy’ that was first recorded by Lead Belly in 1933 and is given full band electric roots rock treatment sounding like something from the Buffalo Springfield catalog. Katy Ray leads the band through a swinging cover of Memphis Minnie’s 1930’s ragtime ‘New Dirty Dozens.’
Howell goes on to celebrate the songwriters, who created the “Brill Building Sound,” where numerous teams of professional songwriters penned material for girl groups and teen idols in the early 1960s, by covering the bubble gum pop classic from 1964 ‘It Hurts To Be In Love.’ He then gets way low down for the downtempo spacious blues ‘Come Back Baby,’ and the slow rolling Texas finger-picking ramble ‘Blues In The Bottle.’ Katy Ray steps to the mic again for a lovely update of the timeless tune ‘Easy Rider,’ with a lilting vocal, Mark Knopfler like guitar work and a forward moving groove. Howell reveals more of his love for syrupy 60’s pop by covering the Frankie Valli hit and surely one of the saddest songs of all time ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.’ The crew lifts the mood with the inspired country blues from the Blind Lemon Jefferson archives ‘Bad Luck Blues.’ Jefferson, a fellow Texan, is considered by Howell to be “the greatest of all of the Texas blues singers.” Howell plays the role of the section boss, leading the Men though an acapella Gandy Dancer work song ‘Lining Track.’
Steve Howell is recognized as a world class blues finger style guitarist, and so pays tribute to Arthur “Blind” Blake by covering his 1927 ragtime ‘You Gonna Quit Me,’ thanking the man who inspired Howell to take up the mantle of this difficult technique and endeavoring to keep this blues alive.
Rick J Bowen – Five-time Blues Writer winner and KBA Award recipient from the Washington Blues Society
East Texan Steve Howell’s guitar playing and singing are very much rooted in the traditional jazz and rural acoustic blues genres born in the American South. His interpretations of tunes from these genres have been enjoyed by audiences in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Great Britain for over forty years and lauded by critics from the United States and Europe who have unanimously praised his unique approach to breathing new life into time-honored songs from days gone by and reintroducing little-known gems of American music to a whole new audience. He has released six CD’s and was the recipient of the Texas Music Academy’s 2011 Historical Significance Award. His recordings are in steady rotation on radio playlists in the United States, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Poland, Greece, Croatia, and Australia and on XM and WorldSpace satellite radio. A set of fifteen of his fingerstyle guitar arrangements of early jazz standards will be released by the Hal Leonard Corporation in the summer of 2018.
Chris Michaels cut his musical teeth in the late 80’s and early 90’s as a bass player in the Shreveport, LA area, including notable one nighters with Cab Calloway, Martha and the Vandellas, and Augie Myers and numerous gigs with local heroes such as The Deadbeats, Iraz Baz, The Cut, David Egan, and Buddy Flett. Later exploits included extensive touring with Beanland, a notorious jam-band from Oxford, MS. The mid-90’s were spent doing numerous recordings and live dates as a member of Boondogs in Little Rock, Arkansas. Other notable gigs that followed included recording dates and live shows with artists such as the late Jim Dickinson, Greg Spradlin, Isaac Alexander, Mulehead, Ho-Hum, Kami Lyle, Kevin Gordon, The Yellow Hope Project and Buddy Flett. Although primarily focusing on electric bass, upright bass, and guitars, Chris released a solo record of Americana inspired songs titled “Morning & Night” in 2009. Throughout it all Chris has maintained a musical kinship and friendship with Steve Howell, both in the studio and on the stage.
Dave Hoffpauir started playing professionally in 1982. He played around Shreveport for 10 years or so in bands such as the Psychobillies, the Native Sons, the Deadbeats (his first collaboration w/ Steve Howell) Dorothy Prime and the Housecats, Betty Lewis and the Executives, and in various house bands which backed artists like Jessie Thomas, Kenny Bill Stinson and Buddy Flett. In 1989, he formed the SugarKings (his first serious collaboration w/ Chris Michaels, and he also played in the Infidels in 1990 (his first serious collaboration w/ Jason Weinheimer.) After moving to Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1992, he continued playing with the SugarKings but also began playing in several Arkansas bands, including Ebo and the Tomcats (which backed Billy Lee Riley and Dale Hawkins on several occasions), the Skeeterhawks, the Cockleburrs and Mulehead. He and Kevin Kerby briefly tabled Mulehead and joined Ho-Hum in 1993. After recording several demos with various producers, including the legendary Jim Dickinson in 1994, they eventually signed a record deal with Universal Records in 1995. They had one major label release, Local, which came out in 1996. Hoffpauir joined the Boondogs in 1999 and again worked with Michaels, Weinheimer and Dickinson as they completed a project that was never released on Garageband.com Records. Michaels, Weinheimer and Hoffpauir have continued to play with Steve Howell for over 30 years while pursuing their other musical interests and have formed a very creative bond that has yielded some fine recordings.
Jason Weinheimer owns and operates Fellowship Hall Sound in Little Rock, AR. In addition to producing and engineering, he plays in the Boondogs, Love Ghost, The Libras and with songwriter Isaac Alexander. He also played with the late great Jim Dickinson, who served as his studio mentor and musical guide for many years. Jason is the owner/operator of Fellowship Hall Sound recording studio in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he has played on, produced, and engineered many significant recordings by artists including Steve Howell & The Mighty Men, Jim Mize, Isaac Alexander, Boondogs, The Yellow Hope Project, Greg Spradlin & Band of Imperials, and Buddy Flett.
Katy Hobgood Ray is a singer-songwriter, children’s author, the host, director and producer of Confetti Park, a kid-friendly radio show and podcast featuring music and children’s stories from Louisiana. Born in Bogalusa, Louisiana, raised in Shreveport, she has lived in New Orleans for the past several years, and is now located in Memphis, Tennessee. Katy has been chronicling Louisiana arts and culture since 2000, when she launched an online North Louisiana music zine called NeonBridge (now in archive). As a writer, she’s contributed to SB Magazine, VisitSouth.com, New Wave, Tulane Magazine, Jazz Archivist, and more, and worked as a radio host and content producer for NPR’s Red River Radio. Her new CD release, Louisiana Oranges, is currently gaining widespread critical favor.