J. Scotty Howard is the leader and founding member of the rollicking country/rock band Tramps & Thieves, who, in addition to touring Germany in 2015, have shared stages with Jason Isbell, Blackberry Smoke and The Gin Blossoms, to name a few. As a solo performer Scotty strips down the many songs he’s written, both in and out of the band, but also pays homage to his diverse influences with riveting, finger picked guitar, harmonica and vocal renditions of tunes ranging from Motown hits to Texas Troubadour classics.
J. Scotty Howard came to the guitar late. He was in the Air Force, 20 years old, 1990; at least, that's when he stopped looking at it and really started trying to figure it out. He began strumming the basic chords, like most beginners. But it was at that time that he and a buddy became enthralled with what's called "country blues." This is acoustic music, usually performed by one person, singing and picking the guitar with the fingers (not strumming.) This is the music of rural Mississippi, Texas, the South. While Scotty has strayed from that genre to write his own music, he's never shaken the idea that the test of whether a song is any good is if it can be played solo, solidly and unadorned; like Robert Johnson or Lightnin Hopkins did it. And moving off that, like The Rolling Stones or The Allman Brothers, Scotty let the blues take him along for the ride and through many twists and turns this led him to country music. It wasn't until moving to Arizona, from his home state of Michigan, in 1997 that it got a hold of him. I must clarify, when I say "country" music I mean "classic country," from Bill Monroe up through Dwight Yoakam. Again, it was the songs, the simplicity and the craft that held all of the allure for Scotty. He astutely ascertained that if somebody asks you to play something for them on the guitar what they really want is ...drumroll...a song! (Okay, sometimes they want to hear the riff from Metallica's "Enter Sandman," I digress.) With this focus, Scotty set out to learn how to play songs beginning to end. This meant remembering words and playing the guitar and singing all at the same time. Big job! Now, if you want to do all that who are you going to study, Florida Georgia Line (were they around then?) Uhhh, NO, and certainly not while in the midst of a "real" country music binge of Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, George Jones, Merle Haggard!
He set out to play lots of coffee house open mic nights. Part of it, he muses, was training to get comfortable just being in front of people! Then he started playing open mic nights at bars and soon discovered that a beer or two really helps settle the stomach! His confidence grew and he quickly started writing good songs of his own; songs that he actually wanted/needed people to hear. Scotty recently recognized that his own father played a big part in sparking his burgeoning creativity. "When we were kids Dad would strum his guitar and improvise words to songs about me and my sister. We loved it, we'd perform to them, bouncing on imaginary galloping horses, strumming air guitars, like kids do." That magic seed was planted. Later, Scotty wanted to be a "magician" too. J. Scotty Howard met fellow Michigander Emmett DeGuvera in 1999 and they started the rollicking, rockin' country band Tramps & Thieves the following year. Scotty says, "Emmett and I balanced each other out real good: him being a natural entertainer, me being more of a 'songster.' Over time we've intertwined those skills to good effect, if I don't say so myself." In addition to having songs in a few movies (Sex Drive, 2008, the comedy, being the biggest), playing gigs all over the Southwest, opening for Blackberry Smoke, Jason Isbell, the Gin Blossoms etc; and a few jaunts to the Midwest, Tramps & Thieves also toured Germany in 2015. The band's slowed down considerably since DeGuvera moved back to Michigan. Now, Scotty's acoustic-life has come to the fore again and just like he's been doing to a lesser degree all along, he's solo, all over the Valley; playing the many, many tunes he's written, only now there's more, more, more. And he's still drawing inspiration from all of those mentioned above...and Cash, Petty, Dylan, Seger, Motown, Springsteen, Gillian Welch, Gram Parsons, Jeff Tweedy etc. Each time he plays, he says, he's paying tribute to his teachers, his heroes.
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