Rewind - Larry Howard

Devlin Donaldson
There was a time, in the not so distant past, when Christians thought that it was wrong to play rock and roll. And this applied not just to the heavy metal rock, but almost anything that used drums. And until even more recently, this seemed to apply to the blues, the concentrated, emotion laden music born in America that gave birth to rock and roll.

The blues, as a musical form, has experienced real trouble finding an audience in Christian music. This is on the one hand understandable as the blues lovers represent a much smaller part of the mainstream music buying community. On the other hand it seems to have been artificially stymied in acceptance for other, dubious theological reasons. The blues are rooted in the trials and pain of life, so the thinking goes, it isn't appropriate for Christians who have found hope.

But {{Larry Howard}} is one Christian artist who has made it a point to show the blues is a viable, as well as exciting, musical form that can express aspects of the Christian faith in ways more authentic than other musical genre's. He spent his early career playing authentic blues, and has spent the last part singing his "sanctified blues."

Now celebrating his 30th anniversary in the recording business, Howard is working his most personal and passionate records ever, American Roots. While celebrating the blues, American Roots touches on the gamut of styles that Howard has worked with throughout his career. Everyone knows records this good don't happen by accident. They come from years of hard work, playing anywhere, focus, playing everywhere and surviving the long and lonely roads of the rock and roll life.

From The Beginning

Larry Howard's life has been spent learning, playing and recording music. Beginning his recording career in 1967, Larry Howard is the rare rock artist who has logged over 30 years as an active professional musician. Yet, his lifetime of music began long before he entered his first recording studio. "In my early years I played a lot of big band swing music," Howard says recounting his early years. "When I was 14 I had the opportunity to play with Count Basie at music school for six weeks. I love that style of music."

"I did my first recording for a production company in 1967," Howard continues. "Then I did some regional stuff in Florida. Then I hooked up with Drew Lombar (guitar and vocals), Joe Dan Petty (bass) and Ricky Burnett (drums). Together we formed Grinderswitch. We were a southern rock band and we toured with most if not all the great southern rock bands, Lynryd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, Charlie Daniels Band, Marshall Tucker, and many more."

"We signed with Capricorn Records in 1972," Howard says recalling his history. "We did 6 records before we broke up in 1979. Most of the Grinderswitch albums were with Capricorn but some were with Atlantic Records."

In 1979 Grinderswitch had run their course and the members we off in separate directions. "In 1980 I became a Christian," Howard states matter-of-factly. "I came off the road for four years and worked a job. I devoted my time to being in church and being under sound preaching and studying the word. People kept telling me I needed to record an album but I kept telling them what I needed to do was get my family and my life together."

In 1984 Howard had the chance to meet Christian Music pioneers Bob MacKenzie and Ray Nenow who owned Refuge Records. "Bob heard a song I had written called 'I Gave Jesus My Blues.' Bob said, 'Anyone who can use the words Jesus and blues in the same sentence is going to do a record for me.'"

"In 1984 I started recording again," Howard continues. "I did two records with Refuge Records, Shout and Sanctified Blues. Radio stations are still playing a song off Sanctified Blues called 'Cool Rain.' That came out in 1986."

From 1987 until 1995 Howard released six albums. The first, Into The Light ended up being a European only release. Then Howard signed to Forefront and released the studio album Redeemed, followed by a live album, Larry Howard's Cornerstone Blues Jam. In the mix during this time were two blues albums made with two Christian music veterans Glenn Kaiser (Rez Band) and Darrell Mansfield. Howard finished up his time with Forefront with the release of Bright Side of The Blues.

All of the work, the ups and down, the good times and the bad times have paid off in numerous ways, not the least of which is a recent honor bestowed on Howard. "The Georgia Music Hall of Fame was just built here," Howard explains. "It opened in 1996." One thing that I am proud of is that they featured not only Grinderswitch in the museum, which is an honor to me, but also my solo projects. There, featured in the Gospel section, are Redeemed and Sanctified Blues. We had a private reception there after the release of American Roots and they had it included in the exhibit. They also did a 90-minute interview with me, that has been placed in their archives there, which deals with my past musical career and my present musical career and the contrast between them. That means a lot to me."
American Roots

"When I started recording this record (American Roots) I was trying to intentionally go back to a more rootsy sound, musically," Howard explains. "Ron Griffin (the album's producer) and I were sitting in the studio one night and I asked him, 'Ron, what kind of music is this we are doing?' Because it wasn't exactly southern rock and it wasn't exactly blues. It wasn't exactly anything. It was a combination of several different things. He said, 'Really, it roots music.' And I said, 'Well, then that's the name of the new album then, 'American Roots.'"

"American Roots" is comprised of what Howard feels have been the roots of his musical career. "I think it has a lot of Southern influence in it," Howard offers. "It's mixed with a combination of blues and delta sounding stuff and some country influence. And it is primarily a guitar album, which again, goes back to the roots of the earlier recordings I made. I tried to get back to just a band type of sound instead of a big production type sound."

Players included on the album are people with whom Howard has long history, many spanning 25 years. "I went back and got all the guys I grew up playing with," Howard says. "So literally, I too, went back to my roots. That makes it very special. When we started Ron (Griffin) asked me; 'If you could have anyone you wanted to play on this record who would it be?' I answered Charlie Daniels Band and Jimmy Nalls because I know they know what it is I am gettin' at. Ron simply said, 'Call them and ask them.' So I called Charlie first. I asked him if it would be all right if I used his band on the album. He said, 'Not only would it be all right, I think they'd love to do it and I think it would be a good experience for them. And if you want me, I'll play on it too.'"

The First Step

"I figured if this music is a gift to me then we should make this record a gift to the world as well," Howard states with barely containable enthusiasm. So he has instituted the First Step program.

"We want to help people take the first step in evangelism," explains Howard. "So we are selling the tapes of American Roots basically at cost, $2.50 apiece in our concerts. They can buy as many of them as they want and take them and give them to people in their families. They can pass the cassettes along to unsaved people in their families or at their jobs or wherever they know people are hurting. Or they can carry the tapes with them and give them out as the Lord leads."

"Some businessmen sponsored tapes. They bought 'x' number of tapes and then shared with me where they want them distributed. We are distributing them as we go along for missionaries to take to different countries. We are distributing them through the Indian Nations and we are distributing them through Prison Fellowship."

"We sent tapes to Mexico," Howard continues with hardly a moment to take a breath. "We took several hundred into Russia with us. We have a distributor in Europe."

Other outlets for the project have already begun to take shape. "Larry Mize took 50 of the American Roots tapes to the PGA Bible study and gave the tapes away," Howard explains.


"I have been an ordained minister for years now," reveals Howard with an edge of determination in his voice. "That is my calling: To minister the gospel. That is what I do. That is why I continue to make records. It doesn't have anything to do with record sales or fame or fortune. It has to do with the calling of God on my life to encourage the Body of Christ and proclaim the gospel to those who haven't yet received it. It's a gift."