Making a Scene Presents an interview with Indie Blues Artist Steve Howell
When Steve Howell first heard Mississippi John Hurt’s happy style of fingerpicking country blues in 1965 at the age of thirteen, he immediately knew that the tame, folky style of strumming the guitar was a thing of the past for him. This revelation opened the door to a new musical universe for him. As his journey progressed, Mississippi John Hurt begat Blind Willie McTell and Leadbelly. They in turn begat Robert Johnson, Son House, Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Blake and a host of other black acoustic guitar players and vocalists.
His interest in rural, folk-blues styles and the history of the music led him to learn more about how this music came to town and melded with the horn-oriented bands prevalent in the cities, creating a strong affinity for him with the traditional jazz and New Orleans music of the first half of the twentieth century. This led to a journey through music which, of course, included the pop, country, rock and blues music of the times, as well as the music of Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Lester Young, Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Art Tatum, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Chet Atkins, Johnny Smith, Wes Montgomery, Bucky Pizzarelli, Joe Pass, George Van Eps, Lenny Breau, and many other great jazz artists. Although very interested in many other music styles (bebop, rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues, and others), the heart of his playing and singing is very much rooted in the rural acoustic blues and traditional jazz genres born in the American South.
Born in Marshall, Texas, Steve lived in Kilgore, Texas, until the age of seventeen, when his family moved to Shreveport, Louisiana. Upon Steve’s graduation from Captain Shreve High School in Shreveport, he lived in Dallas, Arlington, Austin, and spent some time in Pennsylvania during 1972-1973. Late 1973 brought the beginning of a hitch in the U.S. Navy which took him to Key West, Florida, and then to Havorfordwest, South Wales, for 3 1/2 years. During this time, he played folk clubs in South Wales, as well as in the South of England with his partner, fingerstyle and slide guitarist and mandolinist, Arnie Cottrell. They also played several folk music gatherings including the Pembroke Castle Folk Festival in the spring of 1976.
Upon his return to the United States in 1977 and his return to Shreveport, Louisiana, he attended Louisiana State University in Shreveport and graduated in 1980 with a degree in Communications. During this time he played on the Shreveport club scene through the late seventies and the eighties, with numerous gigs around East Texas, initially as a duo with guitarist David Dodson in 1977 and then with his partner, Shreveport restauranteur Jim Caskey, beginning in 1978. Steve and Jim have been regular performers at Shreveport’s Red River Revel Arts Festival, having played the festival every year, except three, since its inception. Their duo, Howell & Caskey, has opened for Country Joe and the Fish, Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets, Bugs Henderson, Ponty Bone and the Squeezetones, and shared the stage with blues legend Brownie McGee. They have also played together in rock ‘n’ roll and blues bands over the years, most notably The Deadbeats and The Movers, with musicians from the Shreveport and the Ark-La-Tex area such as Dave Hoffpauir, Mark Roberts, Chris Michaels, Steve Ramey, and Randy Guynes. They also played traditional jazz and blues as a trio with Kathryn Hobgood singing and playing mandolin for about two years.
Steve currently lives in Marshall, Texas, with Leigh, his wife of 32 years, and their sons, Sam and Ben. He is an independent oil and gas producer with business interests in fuel sales and in the abstract and title industries. He has served on the Cypress Valley HUD Corporation Board, the Marshall Regional Arts Council, the Central East Texas Fair Board, and other civic boards. He is also past chairman and a current board member of the Red River Radio (NPR) – KDAQ Advisory Board, serves on the Building Committee and chaired the Five-Year Plan Subcommittee for KDAQ in Shreveport, Louisiana.