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Bass Player: Doug Howard

Bands & Artists: Touch, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, Edgar Winter, SpoonBread, solo artist

Home: New York City

How have you been passing time during the lockdown?

Fortunately I remained busy writing and doing remote sessions with a variety of people, and working on the new Touch album. While I’ve had my moments of cabin fever, I’ve incorporated Zoom and Skype into my routine, and I’ve toyed with a couple of P2P applications for real time work. But nothing replaces having everyone together in the room or on the stage. Outside of that, it has been a lot of films and reading—and eating! But thanks to my better-half, Jan, I’ve shaved regularly and not gone completely feral. For all of us in the music business, I’m thankful that outfits like MusiCares, the SAG/AFTRA Foundation, the PRS, and others have created some very effective support systems. What the business will look like after this remains a big question mark, but undoubtedly there will always be music and people who want to hear it—so here’s to better days.

What have you been working on in terms of your bass practice routine?

When I’m not working on a project that has me playing every day, I try to get in at least a half hour for scales and hand exercises to keep my hands loose. I also try to seek out tracks from a wide variety of sources to play along with, or more importantly to improvise with, in order to keep the mojo going.

What music, songs, recordings, artists, bass players have you been listening to as a source of comfort and inspiration that you can recommend?

My roots are James Jamerson, Bernard Odum, John Entwistle, Chris Squire, Stanley Clarke, and Jaco, who’s work still boggles my mind. Lately I’ve been indulging in my rootsy rock go-to comfort food—particularly the Rolling Stones. I don’t know if people realize how good a bass player Bill Wyman is. With the Stones, Bill was brilliant from the perspective of doing the straight-up, no nonsense, but still unpredictable job of being the link between the drums and everything else that’s going on.

What bass gear have you been playing and trying out?

My rig preference is Gallien-Kuger or Ampeg, with a generous amount of headroom. I’m primarily a Fender Precision Bass purist, as I’ve got a few vintage and newer P-Basses strung with roundwounds, flatwounds, and even nylons. But my workhorse for the past few years has been a 5-string Warwick Streamer that I got from Framus. My pedalboard has a few fun toys, such as an Electro-Harmonix POG and BassBalls, and a BBE Mind Bender MB-2, but I don’t use them very often. Get me as direct as possible, with a smidge of compression and I’m pretty well set.

What non-music activities, books, shows, movies, or workout recommendations do you have?

Thanks to COVID I have now watched Peaky Blinders in its entirety three times. I think I have burned through the entirety of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, and I almost learned a passable Danish and a smattering of Swedish in watching Nordic crime dramas—having run out of the English speaking ones. Book-wise, I’m a murder mystery addict; Hilary Mantel and Paul Doherty in particular. I enjoy anything equestrian. Horses are my escape. I used to be a lot more daring in jumping, and I was doing hunts, but a couple of bad falls and obviously the pandemic have calmed down my adventures a bit.

What projects do you have coming up when the world gets going again?

The new Touch album, Tomorrow Never Comes—our first in 40 years. The idea came about when [keyboardist[ Mark Mangold reached out to the rest of us and said that a couple of labels had mentioned a Touch reunion album, as interest in the band had lingered. We got together in the studio, sang the chorus of “Don’t You Know What Love Is” a cappella and it sounded exactly the same, like we never stopped. Then we began dragging out old songs and we slipped right back into our method of working together. We made up a rule on the first day that everything and anything that we did was correct and nothing was “wrong,” which opened the floodgates to our trying new ideas. Needless to say we’re all very pleased with the result, and if the advance critic reviews and rock radio’s response to the first single, “Tomorrow Never Comes,” are any indication we didn’t do too bad a job of it. With the release getting closer, we’ve been getting calls asking if we’re available for shows when the doors of the world open again. In the meantime, the reunion has resulted in more writing on our part, collectively and individually. What that will turn into is too early to tell.

What advice can you offer fellow bassists for staying positive and keeping morale high?

This “hiatus” has provided us with a bit of a leap into the future of touring and earning. Most apparent is that we’re no longer limited to how many seats one can fill. Virtual shows for some have been simply a bookmark until things “get back to normal,” but for others live-streaming shows have actually boosted their careers. My old employer, Todd Rundgren embarked this year on an actual city by city tour to a very limited live audience in each theater, but wherein each show was live-streamed to his fans worldwide. It worked brilliantly for him. I see an opportunity for acts from local clubs to A-list mega-tours to finally open up the room to remote live ticket sales and click-to-buy links for music and merch. This is not a new idea, it’s simply gotten a kick into the mainstream. The big promoters and self-contained venues are already penning this into their contracts for shows coming later in 2021 and beyond. I suppose my best advice would be to add a couple of cameras and a devoted laptop and make live-streaming a part of your machine going forward. It’s here already. Get on it. When you think about it, there’s potentially a lot to look forward to.