His pickup truck is waxed, his woofers ready to rumble. Drew Howard has been waiting for warm skies to crawl their way to the North Coast more anxiously than most Clevelanders. When the weather breaks, Howard plans to circle city parks like the ice-cream man. His treats are not popsicles and fudge bars, but the songs recorded at his East Side studio, Critical Sound Labs.
"I don't want to sound conceited, but if you put my stuff in your deck, you're going to buy it, or you're going to tell someone about it," he says.
For Howard, "taking it to the streets" is no limp cliche. He's ready to drive around town in his new pickup, beats popping from the speakers of a borrowed p.a., hoping to catch anyone's attention. Critical Sound Labs has just issued a maxi-single compilation that features local rappers he recorded, including Kenya and Thick Artillery. A full-length CD should be available in a month.
If Howard, who lists Dr. Dre, Madonna, and Quincy Jones as his professional inspirations, could find any more middlemen to cut out, he would. The 27-year-old Kent grad records, produces, and masters his artists' songs at his home studio. He can burn duplicate CDs, has an artist to do cover art, and even bought a shrink-wrap machine to get the discs store-ready. As if that weren't enough, he also raps, under the name R.S. IL2. "Our whole focus is really to bring Cleveland to the forefront," Howard says. "Back in the day, Cleveland used to be a musical entity. Now, it's not known for music. But you got people here who are killer."
Howard is a confessed computer nerd. Friends got him into music. The first piece of recording equipment he bought was a Radio Shack reverb machine, cheesy wood panels and all. This is cool, he thought, But if I got this piece of gear to go with that piece of gear. . . Some $80,000 later, the basement of his mother's house is a tangle of wires and hardware. "Slowly but surely, it's taken over the house," he says. And how does Mom feel about the high-tech mess? "She loves it. When you see your child doing something and it's positive, you'll deal with it."
Howard decided to put out a compilation "to show we had diversity. We wanted to show we did a lot of things well." E la Puff Daddy, his scouts are looking for alternative rock bands to add to the roster. The only thing Howard can't do, seemingly, is convince record buyers that music produced in Cleveland isn't inferior to what's produced on the coasts. Howard says he has gone to local record shops, dropped his CD into the store player, and watched customers groove to his sounds. "The guy will keep bobbing his head, go to the New York/L.A. section, and buy something else," Howard says. "He'll be like, 'Yeah, that's, like, nice,' but he won't buy it."
Calling it "the opportunity of a lifetime" for Cleveland music fans, the supergroupy Plastics will raffle themselves off at their Euclid Tavern gig Friday, April 16. Winners receive a demo tape, T-shirt, free drinks, and "a romantic downtown cruise in the Plastics' touring van" with bassist Carol Schumacher (of Chump), guitarist Aaron Koonce (the Conservatives), and drummer Barb Eckles (Downside Special). Raffle proceeds benefit a fall CD release.
King Dapper Combo bandleader Michael Devine debuts his all-ukulele band, Ukuleles U.K., Thursday, April 15, at the Rhythm Room. The three-piece, also featuring Doug Wofsey and Ray Carmen, promises to give rockabilly, surf, Beatles, and Dylan tunes the full treatment. Devine wants to rescue the ukulele's reputation from the meaty hands of its most famous enthusiast. "Tiny Tim gave the instrument such a bad rap," Devine says. "People don't know what the instrument is capable of."
Undercurrents announced its band roster for the scaled-down, two-night showcase May 21 and 22. A host of Northeast Ohio bands will perform: Al's Fast Freight, B.E. Mann, Coinmonster, Double Zero, James Greiner, Lint, the Mike Farley Band, Not So Blah, Omegacell, Pepper Acton, Qwasi Qwa, Rawpurr, Robert Loss, State of Being, Super G, Susanne Petrick, the TwistOffs, Wedge, and Wish.
Murray "The Get Down Man" Saul's harangues from his days on WMMS in the late '70s are now available on CD, The Get Downs: Vol. 1 . . . The fortieth Cleveland Record & CD Convention is Sunday, April 18, at the UAW Hall 1005. The folks at Record Roundup, who put on the show, make sure to include items of local interest. Author Larry Stidom will be at the show promoting They're Coming to Take Me Away, a book about novelty records.