Fire branded in the Chicago blues circuit, roots rocker and bluesman RJ Howson picked up his skillful guitar chops performing and sharing the stage with blues icons and fellow musicians at Buddy Guy’s Legends, Rosa's Lounge, Kingston Mines, BLUES on Halstead and many other clubs in the Windy City and playing countless shows all over the midwest. RJ continues to be steeped in the southern stews since moving to Florida with openers for Butch Trucks & the Freight Train Band, Dickey Betts & Great Southern, the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Molly Hatchet, Buddy Guy and a host of legendary musicians.
Having played music since being a child, RJ has played everything from Chicago Blues to Funk, Soul, Rock, Gospel, Country, Salsa and World Music. "My goal is to use music to show that the roots of all people are the same and to play it forward while paying tribute to the past and my mentors".
RJ has studied many styles of finger picking techniques from various genres of music, instruments and cultures. "I was finally convinced to play exclusively without a guitar pick and just with my fingers by watching and being encouraged by Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Water's guitarist Hubert Sumlin and Modern Chicago Blues Treasure Lurrie Bell. I had also been inspired by many of the early Country Blues players like Skip James, Son House, Blind Willie McTell, West African Kora (21 string Harp) player Toumani Diabate, Sitarist Ravi Shankar, Jazz Guitar Legend Wes Montgomery, Jazz and world music banjo great Bela Fleck, Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, and many other great finger pickers.
Some of my key stylistic heroes are Albert King, Otis Rush, BB King, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lonnie Mack, Jimi Hendrix, Dickey Betts, Duane Allman and many others. Since moving to Florida, RJ has been blessed with encouragement from a new friendships with Dickey Betts & Great Southern, Damon Fowler, Berry Duane Oakley, and many other great Florida based musicians. "I love to speak with the strings and believe the tone is in the fingers."
He grew up as the son of a Vietnam Veteran/Musician and a farmer's daughter/poet and travelled the world as a child and teen giving him a wide view of the world. Having been blessed with the gift of music as the common thread throughout his life, RJ moved to Chicago and made friends with many Chicago Blues Legends and up and coming musicians. It was a challenging road to say the least, but also quite magical and has been a very rewarding journey leading RJ back to the heart of who he is as a Musician, Guitarist, Singer, Songwriter, and band leader.
Since relocating to Florida, he has been busy playing a steady stream of shows at Festivals, Theaters, and Clubs all over Florida including performances at the Giving Hunger the Blues Festival 2015 & 2016 (main headliner with 20 bands), the Camping with the Blues Festival 2015 and 2016, Suncoast Blues Festival 2015, Bradenton Blues Festival 2015, Thunder By the Bay festival 2012 (20,00 people in attendance), Atlanta Rhythm Section opener at the Englewood Event Center 2016 the Allman Brother guitarist Dan Toler Benefit with Dickey Betts headlining, Jannus Landing, the Save the Gulf Festival, the Rock the Park festival, BLUESAPALOOZA, Cottee River Seafood and Blues Festival (see below for an list). Catch one of many regular club shows at the Five O'Clock Club, Ace's, The Blue Rooster, The Beach Club on Siesta Key, The Alley in Sanford, Ringside, Skipper's Smokehouse, Evie's, Stottlemeyer's Smokehouse, The Hoosier, Motorworks Brewery and many others.
The "RJ Howson- RAW" CD was self-released on September 21, 2013 at Bluesapalooza after a blistering live set and an epic jam with the Damon Fowler Group and Berry Duane Oakley's Skylab. "RJ Howson-RAW" captures an emotional performance at Realize Bradenton's Riverwalk Park Amphitheater played to an enthusiastic crowd and has received positive reviews from the Herald Tribune (Wade Tatangelo of the Sarasota Ticket - see link below) and the Suncoast Blues Society.
The Follow-Up in Oct 2016 is an epic all original studio album entitled "SET IT FREE" which received glowing reviews from Deepjams.net. Both albums continue to receive radio airplay on Tampa's WMNF 88.5FM "Mo Better Blues" Show hosted by KBA award winner Larry Lisk, Sarasota's WSLR 96.5FM "Blues with the Velvet Hammer", the Tom Darby show and several other stations including deepjams.net. Check the website for his current schedule and come join the party ! JOIN THE MAILING LIST to KEEP UP !
For Bookings: email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 773-915-3886
also check out the Facebook and Twitter pages.
FESTIVALS and other Special Events (partial list) :
Bradenton Riverwalk Park Groundbreaking 2011
Maze Festival 2011
Art Slam 2011 & 2012
BLUES REVUE Magazine Grand Opening Bradenton, FL Aug. 2011
Dan Toler Benefit Festival 2011
Bradenton Courthouse Concert Series 2011
Grace-FX Grand Opening 2011
Thunder By the Bay 2012
Clearwater Sea-Blues Festival Blueswalk 2012, 2013, and 2014
Suncoast Blues Society Magic Slim spring concert 2012 (opening)
Sun King Festival 2012
Rock The Park Festival 2012
Sarasota Craft Beer Festival 2012
American Craft Beer Festival St. Petersburg, FL 2012
Cottee River Seafood and Blues Festival 2012
Sarasota Blues and Brews 2012
Chicago Blues All-Star night at Skipper's Smokehouse 2012
Bulls, Blues and BBQ USF 2012
Countdown to the Blues - Bradenton Blues Festival 2012
AMI Radio Program co-host with Damon Fowler 2012
Manatee Chamber of Commerce Retreat Bonita Springs 2012
Festival of the Skeletons 2012
Slick's Garage 3rd Anniversary Festival 2012
Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise 2013 and 2014 (including several jams with Tab Benoit, Big Head Todd, Southern Hospitality, Chris Cain, Sista Monica, Damon Fowler, JP Soars, Tommy Castro, Tony Coleman from the BB King Band, and many others)
Realize Bradenton Riverwalk Park Concert Series 2013
DeSoto Seafood Festival 2013
Berry Oakley's Skylab Blues Service special guest 2013
Florida Blueberry Festival 2013
Myakka Blues Festival 2013
Suncoast Blues Society Anniversary Party opening for John Nemeth 2013
Tropicana Field Rays Game Suncoast Blues Society's BLUES in CENTERFIELD 2013
Energy Music Festival 2013
BLUESAPALOOZA 2013 (Sept. 21 release date of "RJ HOWSON - RAW" CD)
RICHEY SUNCOAST Theater opening for BOBBY MURRAY 2013
WSLR 96.5 FM Sarasota, FL "Blues with the Velvet Hammer" radio appearance promoting "RJ HOWSON - RAW" CD 2013
WMNF 88.5FM Tampa, FL "MO' BLUES MONDAY" radio appearance with KBA award winner Larry Lisk promoting "RJ HOWSON - RAW" CD 2013
OPERATION CO-EXIST BLUES FESTIVAL 2013
Suncoast Blues Society's SOUL FOOD SUNDAYs at Ella's Folk Art Cafe Tampa, FL 2013-2016
B.B. King New Year's Eve pre and post party at the Capitol Beer House Dec. 2013
Aces Live Music Venue Bradenton, FL Blues Jam host Wednesdays 2011-2014
Ocean Blues Tuesdays Sarasota, FL Blues Night host with Mike Kach (Dickey Betts keyboardist) 2011-2012
Straggler's Bikes and Blues Nights Sarasota, FL (with Mike Kach, Dickey Betts keyboardist) 2012-2014
Blue Rooster Blue Mondays Sarasota, FL host (featuring a different special guest each week) 2014
Bonita Blues Festival 2014
Lived in Chicago and played guitar with several Chicago Blues acts at Buddy Guy's Legends, Kingston Mines, BLUES on Halstead, Rosa's Lounge, Bill's Blues, Wisconsin Dells, Linda's Lounge, The Blues Bar, House of Blues, For the Good Times Lounge, Checkerboard Lounge, and many others. 2005 - 2010
Goldcoast Eagle Brewing Concert 2014
Venice Blues Festival 2014
Bradenton Courthouse Concert Series 2014
Winner of the Southwest Florida Blues Challenge 2014
International Blues Challenge 2015
Sarasota Music Half Marathon 2015
Naples Grande Ballroom 2015 (multiple shows)
Butch Trucks & the Freight Train Band opener at Aces in Bradenton 2015
Buddy Guy concert after party at the Capitol Beer House (with BG band members) in Clearwater, FL 2015
Camping with the Blues Festival 2015 and 2016
Giving Hunger the Blues Festival 2015 and 2016 (Grand Finale headlining act with 20 bands, 3 stages)
Blues in the Schools, Blues in the Library 2013 until present with the Suncoast Blues Society
Tropicana Field (season ticket holder club multiple shows) 2014-2016
Pigs-n-Zhills Blues and BBQ Festival 2016, 2017
Sarasota Seafood and Music Festival 2016, 2017
Sunset Kia Radio jingle still running in 3 cities on 4 stations 2016
Summertime Blues workshops (Suncoast Blues Society) 2016
Performing with Keyboard legend Neil Larsen in Sarasota 2016
Atlanta Rhythm Section opener at the Englewood Event Center 2016
Rock the Block Party Festival in Clearwater (multiple bands) 2016
Michael Allman opener at the Englewood Event Center 2016
ABC7 Sarasota TV solo performance on the “Suncoast View” for Giving Hunger the Blues 2016
Release of a brand new, all original studio album “RJ HOWSON - SET IT FREE” Oct. 2016 (getting great reviews and radio play)
Radio appearances on WMNF Tampa Live Music Showcase, WMNF Mo Blues Show, WSLR Happy Hour show 2016, 2017
Molly Hatchet opener 2017 (with 3 encores)
Summer Jam Watkins Geln Revival with Berry Duane Oakley 2017
Bradenton Blues Festival Brunch 2017
Ft. Meyers Freedom Fest 2017
Seven Seas Blues, Boats & Beer Bash 2017
Special performances with Duane Betts 2017
Live Music Review by Shawn Chisholm: Set It Free by the RJ Howson Band
Set It Free is a collection of original music written by front man RJ Howson and performed collectively by Pat McDonald on drums (Charlie Daniels Band; RJ calls Pat the heartbeat of the band and the Bruce Lee of drummers), Chuck Riley driving the bass (formerly with Damon Fowler from Butch Trucks & the Freight Train Band; whom he compares to the likes of SRV, BB King and Buddy Guy), with RJ Howson on vocals & guitars forming the power trio of the band, also frequently joined by keyboard wizard Mike Kach (Dickey Betts & Great Southern) when his schedule allows him to perform with the group, along with occasional guest appearances by Berry Duane Oakley (son of the original Allman Brothers bassist), Garrett Dawson (from Butch Trucks & FTB), Pedro Arevalo (Dickey Betts & Great Southern) and Duane Betts (Dickey’s son). RJ describes the group as “like minded good souls sharing a spirit connection” through music.
I had the opportunity to speak with RJ about the album, his career and his personal views about music and its place in our world today.
He was quick to praise his band mates and is quite clear that this album is a musical collaboration, “These aren’t just good musicians (which they all are of course) but more than that these are guys that I connect with and we feel this music together when we play”. He went on to tell me that most of the album was recorded on a single day and in one take, underscoring that deep intense personal connection with the music and his band.
The album was recorded (at Red Line Studios by master engineer Jason Schmidt) using Eddie Kramer custom analog tape emulation technology (think Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles & the Allman Brothers Band) to achieve a vintage old school feel to the recording. The album was officially released on October 19th 2016 under Howson’s own label Spiral Resonance Ventures. The spiral logo is thematic for Howson, he says “the spiral represents a spiritual circle, not bound in a loop but rather set free”, this theme is also the foundation for the cover art on Set It Free.
Describing his youth Howson told me his father his father (who plays guitar, keyboards and drums) was a military man, enabling his family to travel the world. He describes his mother as a farmer’s daughter, a healer/poet. Both parents provided a solid foundation for his musical beginnings. He pursued a career in robotics engineering until 2005 when he cut his ties with corporate culture, moving to Chicago to pursue music as a full time endeavor. He states “Chicago was transformative and the older blues guys really showed me the way”. In 2010 he relocated to Florida,
where he currently resides, playing music full time and “following a sacred obligation to honor my balance”. RJ views music as a science with the ability to heal emotional wounds and bring great joy to listeners.
Nikola Tesla “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”
The words “grateful” and “blessed” pepper his dialog, it’s clear that RJ considers himself to be one heck of a lucky guy; he told me “I feel like I have been hunting Bigfoot for 20 years… and I found him!”
In citing his influences RJ covers a lot of ground including Joseph Campbell (“follow your bliss”), the Dalai Llama (for blending the science and spiritual worlds with a childlike simplicity), and Jesus (the kingdom is within). Ravi Shankar and Albert King collectively for their influential string bending techniques (which he points out date back more than 5000 years), as well as personal advice he received from BB King as a young musician: to keep the blues alive “take what you like about what I’m doing, mix in something of yourself and keep it (the blues) going into the future”.
His most effusive praise goes out to the mentor-ship he’s received from Dickey Betts, in whom he finds great inspiration as both a musician and composer (Howson compares Betts to the likes of Beethoven for his ability to craft a memorable melody and support it with symphonic harmonies all while blending the genres of blues, gospel, western swing, rock and jazz), “My heart is on fire when I jam with him” he told me.
It’s sort of a “metaphysical science meets spirituality state of mind”. He went on to explain that when selecting the music for Set It Free “I wanted to make a CD to share some things I want to say. I’ve been writing for 20 years and playing for 30 so I have a pretty deep catalog of music to choose from. I chose songs with a happy vibe that would appeal to blues/rock/southern/jam music fans”. Happy vibe indeed! This collection is about love, devotion, strong women and loyalty all captured with great blues licks that will leave you tapping your toes and put a smile on your face. It’s an uplifting collection both lyrically and musically.
Current Band Members include :
Chuck Riley - Electric and Upright Bass Guitar (formerly with Damon Fowler Group)
Pat McDonald - Drums (formerly with the Charlie Daniels Band)
Special Guest Artists have included :
Mike Kach (Keyboardist and vocalist for Dickey Betts and Great Southern)
Burt Engelsman (bass, formerly with Gregg Allman)
Berry Duane Oakley (guitar, vocals, bass)
Joel Tatangelo (Slide Guitar)
Brian Byrd (Pedal and Lap steel)
Garrett Dawson (drums and percussion)
Pedro Arevalo (slide guitar, lap steel, current bassist for Dickey Betts)
Frankie Lombardi (drums, currently with Dickey Betts)
Gabriel Strange (drums, formerly with Devon Allman)
Sidney Wingfield (keyboardist and vocalist, worked with Son Seals, Lurrie Bell, Otis Rush)
TC Carr (harmonica, vocals and bandleader for TC Carr and Bolts of Blue)
Duane Betts (guitarist currently with Dickey Betts, Dawes and also Brethen of the Coast)
George Potsos (bassist formerly with Devon Allman)
Thorson Moore (guitarist and vocalist with Thorson Moore Band and Kettle of Fish)
Tony Tyler (Bandleader, vocalist, guitarist with Come Back Alice)
Duke Kelley (drummer formerly with Koko Taylor)
Richard Price (bassist formerly with Lucinda Williams)
James McKnight (drums, Damon Fowler Group)
Matt Walker (bass and guitar, currently with Damon Fowler Group and Southern Hospitality)
Steve Scott (harmonica and vocals)
and many others !!!
RJ Howson finishes a mahi sandwich and sips from a bottle of beer as the sun washes over the waters of Sarasota Bay. It’s 6 p.m. on a Wednesday and we’re occupying one of the colorfully painted picnic tables at Star Fish Co. in Cortez. A couple hours from now, Howson will host his weekly blues jam at nearby Aces Live, the top blues club in Bradenton and Sarasota Howson has performed there as a singer/guitarist/bandleader, and as a sideman, probably 100 times during the past three years.
Howson has also performed at Skipper’s Smokehouse in Tampa, one of the most venerable blues clubs in the country, and numerous other venues usually within a tankful of gas from his home on Longboat Key; and before relocating here in 2010, the famed blues clubs of Chicago. Saturday's gig, though, at the Cabana Inn, is special. It’s the CD release show for Howson's solo debut album "Raw."
“I feel like basically it’s been a really long pregnancy,” he says with a grin. “At the same time, though, it really feels right to have it out now.”
RJ Howson at Star Fish Co. by Wade Tatangelo
RJ Howson at Star Fish Co. in Cortez. STAFF PHOTO / WADE TATANGELO
On Saturday, Cabana Inn attendees can purchase “Raw” for $10. The CD features 80 minutes of music spread across 11 tracks recorded live by Fred Bovino during a show in March at the amphitheater along Bradenton Riverwalk. Lenny Long at Roseland Park Recording in Sarasota mastered the disc, which features winning clarity and separation while also capturing the energy of the festive, outdoor context.
The album finds Howson singing with convincing emotional punch while playing hot licks on his Gibson B.B. King Lucille, which he augments with a vintage distortion pedal and equally old, powerful and warm-sounding Fender amplifier. Howson writes solid originals with titles like “Carry Me Mama,” “Lookin’ for a Lover” and “Sweet Soul Sister” but really connects with the audience when playing songs made famous by his heroes.
The centerpiece of the album is Howson’s rendition of Muddy Waters’ “Champagne and Reefer,” a pro-marijuana anthem most famously performed by the Rolling Stones and special guest Buddy Guy in the Martin Scorsese documentary “Shine a Light.” Howson’s faithful version of Buddy Guy’s masterful, slow-burning ballad “A Man and the Blues” is another standout on “Raw.” Check out the liner notes to the CD and you’ll see Buddy Guy’s name also appears in the “special thanks” section.
Howson paid his dues as a sideman in Chicago and one night while accompanying Doug “The Arkansas Razorback” McDonald at Buddy Guy’s Legends club, Howson stepped to the front of the stage to solo.
“I’ve got my eyes closed and I feel a tap on my shoulder and think it’s the bass player,” Howson says. “It’s Buddy Guy! I just about fell over. I tried to hand him my guitar and he said, ‘No, no, keep playing, I’m just going to sing.’”
Howson has probably told that story dozens and dozens of times - and can you blame him? - to family, friends and especially, to fellow musicians. I’ve heard Howson tell it twice. Each time his eyes glow with ecstasy as he gets to the part when Buddy Guy taps his shoulder and then, those same eyes on that boyish face, almost dampen.
CD cover of RJ Howson's album "Raw."
“There were tears in my eyes that night,” Howson says. “It was the realization of all my dreams as a musician.”
Although Howson will always cherish his years in Chicago, he began thinking about moving to Manatee County after meeting Damon Fowler in late 2008 through mutual friend Scott Cable, who had produced Fowler’s nationally acclaimed breakthrough album “Sugar Shack.” The recording sessions took place in Chicago.
Howson and Cable visited Fowler at his Bradenton Beach cottage and then, in 2010, Howson and Fowler became neighbors. For about three years they lived less than a block apart before Fowler relocated his family to Lakeland and Howson moved behind Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant on the Manatee County side of Longboat Key. Fowler is also thanked in the liner notes of “Raw.”
“Damon’s help has been invaluable,” Howson says, “his acceptance and encouragement and bringing me into this great music community.”
So, on Saturday, Howson will finally have his CD release show. In the next 10 days alone, he has gigs on Siesta Key and Anna Maria Island; in Bradenton and Sarasota. In the future, Howson hopes to perform at blues clubs and festivals nationwide, using his new CD to grab the attention of bookers and promoters who demand a physical product, a professional album, before even considering putting someone on their stage.
“It’s a good step in the right direction,” Howson says of his CD.