Photo courtesy of Bernard Fowler and Jonnie Miles.
Bernard Fowler – MAKING A SOUND LIVING “It’s Only Rock ’N Roll” But I Like It!
By Lori Baldassi
Sooo you want to be in the music business. Great! (Insert applause . . . ) You’ve got the looks, mastered your instrument, hold a library of well crafted songs, the equipment and you are ready to take that centre stage. How can you lose? You sell out locally and you’ve won every competition you’ve entered.
PUMP YOUR BRAKES. The reality of your goal is this — the music industry is a BUSINESS — a tough one at that.
Do you know what a record label “360 deal” is? That is if you’re lucky enough to have a record label offer you one! Do you really need a label these days? Joe Bonamassa (blues singer) and Amanda Palmer (American singer/songwriter) among many others, sell out arenas around the world with no record label and no radio play — is that your road?
What do you know about publishing, SOCAN; incorporating yourself or your band; registering your music; copywriting; FACTOR; tour support; distribution of music or lawyers, accountants and managers who all play an important part to sustain your life in the music industry?
Don’t forget your social media platforms: You Tube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. This online presence is now more powerful than any other avenue to get to the masses.
Radio has been scaled down to its bare bones and few break new music, so where do you get played? Where do you play live? Let’s talk about you or you and your band. Is it your band? Do you speak for all members or just yourself? If there’s a question, it’s time for the suits (lawyers).
My name is Lori Baldassi and welcome to my new column about the music biz. I will be interviewing industry professionals to ask the most important questions to help get you on that centre stage.Let’s kick start my first column into high gear with a Q&A interview now. Any guesses who it is after you read the next paragraph?
He was asked to perform at the celebration of David Bowie’s life in a special concert in Los Angeles by Sting. His soulful musical signature can be found on the records of music luminaries such as Herbie Hancock, Ryuichi Sakamoto, John Mayer, Rod Stewart, Robert Plant, Duran Duran, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Michael Hutchence (INXS), Michael Buble, Philip Glass, Yoko Ono, Alice Cooper and Bootsy Collins to name a few. He is best known for the last 30 years as a backup singer with Lisa Fisher on tour and in the studio with “the world’s greatest rock band” (insert drum roll), The Rolling Stones. His name is Bernard Fowler.
Fowler is an accomplished Musician, Producer, Songwriter and Actor. His vocal versatility and stage presences have added the right spice to the hard-hitting experience of a Stones’ show. A solo release of “Friends with Privileges in 2006” received critical acclaim for Fowler and it took until 2015 for him to find time to get back to his second solo project (found on iTunes) “The Bura.” Friends like Rock and Roll Hall of famer Chuck D rapping on “Can’t you hear me knocking”; Will Calhoun of Living Color; David Goodstien, (resume includes working with Ricky Martin, Jackson Browne, Edgar Winter, Joe Perry); Phil X, (Bon Jovi); and the legendary dynamics of Slash, Waddy Wachtel and Lenny Castro, all contributed to the record.
Fowler is very proud of “The Bura,” not only as a labour of love with friends/musicians, but, financially it was all on his own dime. He points out this CD has a marking on it that states, “NO Pro tools were used in the making of this music.” Meaning, it was done old school with two inch tape in a recording studio, as he said all music should be made.
He believes you can record in your house, but there is a reason recording studios are built. There’s a reason mastering facilities exist, pointing out another buddy by the name of Jack White who just opened a mastering studio in Detroit. Fowler says the resurgence of vinyl is great because it’s the best way to hear music.
The first time I heard the solo work of Bernard Fowler was on The Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts Quintet video, “I have a Crush On You”, (video below) and although it was a big band song, his smooth martini voice reminded me of David Ruffin of the Temptations.
I caught up with Bernard Fowler (BF) and asked him a few questions about his experiences in the music business.
Biz X: How did you come to meet The Rolling Stones?
BF: I met Mick (Jagger) first through producer Bill Lazlo. Mick was producing his first solo record (“She’s The Boss”) and I was on tour with Herbie Hancock. I had 10 days off and Bill called and asked me to come to London and when I got to London he introduced me to Mick and I did the vocal arrangements. A year later I was living in London with a band called Tack Head and Mick called and said “I’ve been looking for you!” The Stones are going to record a new album and I would like your help with some of the new stuff. That’s when I met the rest of them and have been with them ever since — that was 30 years ago.
Biz X:What have you learned in all these years in the music industry?
BF: Always have a lawyer, and management doesn’t hurt either. Don’t sign anything until it’s been looked at. Something that I learned very early on that I learned from old-timers was KEEP YOUR PUBLISHING. Some pretty unsavoury things can happen, so at all cost I make sure I keep my publishing of the songs that I write.
Biz X: Management is really important. How do choose a lawyer and management?
BF: It works all kinds of ways. I’ve approached people. I’ve had people approach me. It can work both ways.
Biz X:How do you choose the distribution of your music?
BF: iTunes was picked because that was the avenue available to go down. I’m not signed to a major label. I’m not signed to any label at all.
Biz X: Is that a good thing?
BF: Yes and no. I don’t have the machine of a label that does a lot of work. I think labels are more interested in someone really young that they can manipulate. They can tell the artist what song to do, who to use blah, blah . . . I’m past that stage. People like me and Waddy Wachtel, we don’t need labels to work. If you’re a new artist a label is really good for you if you’ve not been heard, they can help circulate who you are and what you do.
Biz X: If you were an up and coming artist would you sign with a label?
BF: Probably I think that is what most kids want. “A record contract” —those words are magic to young artists and it’s not until they sign the contract that they realize how much #$%^ is involved.
Biz X: How do you transition when you’re singular and not in the group dynamic where you’re the boss and have to make everything happen?
BF: I have to make everything happen on a budget. That horrible word. Rolling Stones don’t.
Biz X:What advice can you give new generations?
BF: LEARN YOUR CRAFT. Nothing comes easy. Go to the bars. Go to all the bars and play. The only way you get good is playing. Before I started singing with Herbie Hancock and all these other people, I played every catering house in New York City. I played dinner dances, birthday parties. So that’s my advice, learn your craft and don’t depend on pro tools to fix it for you.
Biz X: What experiences in your career shaped your path of where you are today?
BF: I never wanted to be a solo artist, that was not part of the plan ever. I always wanted to be with a group of guys and make good music and have this life. The first band I had big success with was the New York Citi Peech Boys. You hear it all the time — once the money starts coming people change. People get greedy. Record labels will use their power to influence and tear apart a group. There was one guy in the band that we elected to be our mouthpiece. You can’t have five or six members all talking to the media. That’s why The Rolling Stones are so successful. It’s Mick and it’s Keith (Richards). They are the mouthpieces for the band. In my case we elected the older of the guys and sure enough the money started coming in and he started wheeling and dealing for himself and didn’t think anyone would notice. I noticed because everywhere I went I heard myself on the radio. He had a new car and I was walking. I knew what was happening and he then wanted to put people out of the band. We don’t need all these guys he said “we can do it without them.” I thought to myself what a horrible person. I said if anyone leaves the band I quit. It wasn’t long before Herbie Hancock called and I was gone.
Biz X: What is the hardest part of making great music?
BF: I am surrounded by great musicians. My friends are great musicians. There is nothing hard about making great music. The hard part is getting great music to be heard these days. Making it is not hard. Getting heard is hard.
From backstage to the airwaves or leading the organizing committee Lori Baldassi has been in and around the music industry for over 20 years. Lori has sat on a number of boards of directors and focused on charity/non-profit committees for concerts/ festivals bringing in name acts. She has also spoken in front of the CRTC. If you have any questions for her please email: [email protected]