Brian & Bruce Howie
Musical Career Memories
Memories from the Howie Brothers. Others may recall events differently
The Saints - The Action - The Typical Small Town Band
The Small Town Band - The Howie Brothers
In Memory of
Brian Howie born September 11, 1945 in Brandon Manitoba and Bruce Howie born April 28, 1949 in Shilo Manitoba had musical interests from early childhood according to their parents Alex and Myrtle. Early family photos show the brothers playing on a toy guitar and a drum set.
Alex Howie was a member of the Canadian military and in the spring of 1960 the Howie family resided in Camp Shilo a military base in Manitoba. It was at this time that Bruce asked his parents for guitar lessons. The nearest town in which guitar lessons could be obtained was Brandon located 23 miles west of Shilo. A trip into Brandon was arranged to speak with the only guitar teacher for miles but Bruce was informed that he was too young to benefit from guitar lessons and to wait until he was 12. That trip to Brandon was never forgotten.
Within a few months the family moved to El Paso Texas USA and within a short period of time the family settled into their new surroundings. Guitar lessons were all but forgotten until a gentleman knocked on the door and indicated he was selling music lessons on behalf of the El Paso Conservatory of Music.
His name was Charlie Chavez a music teacher specializing in guitar. It was this meeting that helped shape a musical future for Brian and Bruce.
Hawaiian, Spanish and Classical guitar lessons were taken over a 2 year period. The boys could now read music and enjoyed playing all styles including country and pop. They enjoyed playing and practicing with the Volz family whose daughters Nina and Vicky played Country/ Hawaiian steel guitar while their mom led the group on her piano.
The boys worked hard to improve their guitar playing ability but also noted that playing the guitar was a whole lot of fun.
It was during this period that the boys began to imitate well known musical artists of the day especially the instrumental group The Ventures. Some weekend nights were spent playing guitar with a friend Jerry Crowder whose parents were also Canadian military. Jerry also took guitar lessons with the brothers. Brian would play lead, Bruce would play rhythm and Jerry would sometimes tune the last four strings down an octave on his guitar to play the bass parts.
Frequent trips to a local music store in El Paso were made by the boys to purchase pop records and to dream of owning a Fender guitar. The Fender guitars were displayed high on a shelf in the music store just out of reach. The Stratocaster – Jazzmaster – Precision Bass – just like the Ventures used.
The Action on "Let's Go" - Vancouver - 1967
Courtesy of Bruce Howie
Music was a shared gift in El Paso and when others knew that you were a musician it seemed that everyone supported you in your endeavor. Sandy Stone, a classmate of Bruce’s at Burges High School, mentioned to Bruce that her mother was a musician and had written some songs with another musician who was an employee at this same music store.
It is intriguing to note that the boys went to the home of this music store employee for a recording session. This was something out of the ordinary and the boys were not sure what would happen. The boys were stunned when they were told they could use the musical equipment in the home to play a song while being tape recorded. The boys got the opportunity to play white Fender guitars owned by their host and his musical band. A dream come true for the boys.
The young employee of the music store was Bobby Fuller. (I Fought The Law)
This one experience was definitely an exciting event to the boys and has never been forgotten. It also planted the seed of recording music on tape even if the neighbour’s dog did bark into the home made reverb chamber in the back yard spoiling a track or two according to Bobby.
The local shopping mall would often have rock bands performing in some of the stores and the boys would stand in awe watching and listening to the bands hoping to pick up a piece of magic that would enable them to play better.
The local TV channels in El Paso had an assortment of pop bands performing live. Most of the bands consisted of five to nine members usually of Mexican/ American descent. Brass was the main instrument in these bands but often a band would have at least one guitar player. The boys would watch and wait for the guitarist to play a solo or hopefully the band would play an instrumental of the Ventures.
The Howie family returned to Shilo in the fall of 1963 and the boys became more involved in playing the popular music of the day. They preferred instrumental songs and added another favorite instrumental group to their listening/ playing list - The Shadows an English instrumental group known to be the backup band for Cliff Richard.
Fender Jaguar guitars and a Fender Super Reverb amplifier were purchased by the boy's parents to assist in furthering their musical career. Entering and winning talent contests in Winnipeg, playing in the local Variety shows and hours of rehearsing. It was full steam ahead but it was still a whole lot of fun.
The boys added a drummer Rennie Siriani to the team and called themselves “The Saints”. They were now playing instrumental songs during breaks at local record hops and gaining good reviews from listeners young and old. To the boys knowledge there was no other musical band in the area playing all instrumentals in their repertoire especially instrumentals by the Ventures and Shadows.
Jerry Crowder came from Ottawa to join the band playing bass guitar. The band’s music repertoire now included over 60 instrumental songs but the British music invasion was underway and in order to compete in the music dance band scene – vocals were added.
In 1965 the Howie family moved to Winnipeg Manitoba. The band's name was changed to “The Action” and the members lived together in the Howie family home on the military base in Fort Osbourne and later in a home in the River Heights area of Winnipeg. Some evenings were enjoyed with other musicians from the Winnipeg dance bands trading guitar licks or showing each other how the newest popular song was played so the song could be played at the next dance. It was always a challenge to play the newest hit song before any other band in the Winnipeg area.
Between 1965 and 1967 the rock band “The Action” played continuously in the Winnipeg area at clubs, community centers, schools and private functions becoming one of the more popular musical groups in Winnipeg. During this period the band also recorded four 45 records at Kay Bank Recording Studios in Minneapolis Minnesota. It was mentioned by the recording engineer that their songs were possible ‘sleepers’ meaning the songs may take some time to rise on the charts but in time the boys believed the songs were in a’ deep coma’.
Two of the four records were released and received good air play in the Manitoba and Ontario regions by local pop radio stations. Winnipeg's CKRC was utilizing their instrumental song “Time Flies” as an intro theme to the news broadcasts.
The Howie family’s last move occurred in 1967 to Vancouver British Columbia and as part of this move the band acquired a new drummer Ken Elliott. The band continued to play community centers, schools and other venues such as the Pacific National Exhibition, Let's Go TV Show from Vancouver and finally culminating in late 1968 at Vancouver's most prestigious night club the ‘Cave Theatre Restaurant’.
It was here the band members met the group The First Edition who were the headliners for a 5 day stay at the Cave. Through the thoughtfulness and professionalism of the members of the First Edition, the Howie brothers reflect on this encounter as being one of the most remembered highlights of their musical career. It was during this 5 day period that friendships were started between members of both bands which continued each time the First Edition came into Vancouver between 1968 and 1971. Bruce had a chance meeting with Kenny Rogers in 1975 after the breakup of the First Edition. Kenny was in Vancouver appearing as a solo act on a pilot musical variety show being taped at the Cave. This was prior to his Country music career success.
The Action played another 5 day engagement at the Cave in 1968 with headliners the Moby Grape. It was shortly after this the brothers made a decision not to play rock and roll any longer as their taste in music was changing. At that point it was agreed The Action would disband and the members went their separate ways.
Bruce took a liking to folk music and a whole new episode in the Howie brother's musical career began. In late 1969 brother Brian joined Bruce’s folk duo. A short time later more musicians were added and finally a 5 member group emerged calling themselves “The Typical Small Town Band”.
The Typical Small Town Band was probably the most satisfying and rewarding group the Howie brothers formed. Not only was original material being written by the brothers but their songs were being recorded as demo material and the pursuit of a recording career was finally being realized. The original songs were unique for this time period in that they had a country/ folk/ pop feel and the lyrics told a story. Acoustic guitars were used to soften the sound although drums and electric bass were still evident.
Live performances and show case performances on CBC radio and TV took place. Recording contracts were offered from interested parties through ‘TRO’ a major publishing house in New York. Trips to New York and LA were offered to the group to place the group with a major record producer hopefully leading to a major recording contract. Interest from Canadian record companies and producers began to materialize. Canadian artists such as the Mercey Brothers and Doug Hutton, a CTV producer/ performer from Alberta, offered publishing deals for songs written by the boys.
A major career disappointment and a CBC technicians strike which caused cancellation of a CBC TV show in Toronto featuring the group resulted in low moral with some of the members ultimately ending the group in 1972.
The brothers continued with a commitment to CBC radio recording four songs on an LP featuring Canadian artists. All vocal and instrumental parts on this LP were recorded solely by the brothers.
The Howie brothers continued on musically adding Ken Jenkins on bass forming a trio and calling themselves the ‘Small Town Band’. With the assistance from other local musicians several 45 records were recorded and released between 1973 and 1976. The 45 singles were recorded at their own recording studio and released on their own record label ‘BRO’. Moderate air play was given to the songs by various radio stations across Canada however in the brother's opinion unless you were associated to a major record label there was only a slight hope of receiving continual air play.
Between 1977 and 2000 the Howie brothers continued writing/ producing / recording original songs with different musical venues while they pursued other careers to support their families.
The Howie Brothers musical career as a team formally ended in 2001.
The Howie Brothers wish to thank all those who contributed in supporting their musical career either by taking part directly or by their kind words of encouragement and good wishes.
You became a part of their memories just as the Howie brothers became a part of your memories.
Charlie Chavez, El Paso Texas - music teacher.
A quote from Mr. Chavez to the Howie Brothers ‘God has given you musical talent - use it wisely - share it with your neighbour’
The Volz family from El Paso, Texas
Jerry Crowder (bass) = The Saints & The Action
Rennie Siriani (drums) = The Saints & The Action
Ken Elliott (drums) = The Action
Levern Delves (bass) = The Typical Small Town Band
Peter Jensen (drums) = The Typical Small Town Band
Waverly Stevenson (vocals) = The Typical Small Town Band
Ken Jenkins (bass) = The Small Town Band
Rick Smalley (bass) = The Howie Brothers
Ron Graham (equipment manager for the Action).
Peter Walters (drums)
Terry Moffatt (piano and keyboards)
The Lapka sisters (vocals)
Bill Rummel (recording assistant)