By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Back before Howard’s was Howard’s Club H.
Back when it was on the west side of North Main Street.
Back when it served liquor, beer, wine, and sandwiches prepared upstairs, and it also served a lot of colorful characters, some of whom lived in the rooms out back.
What it didn’t offer was live music. That is except for when a college professor assembled friends and guitars for an impromptu hootenanny singing folk songs, some with decidedly blue lyrics.
When the Wood County District Public Library bought the property in the late 1960s as a site for its new facility, the bar was displaced across the street to the former Modern Heating storefront, and then to the room next door.
For Charlie Davis the long-time manager this was an opportunity.
Yes, the place that opened Feb. 14, 1973, was nicer. The floors were level for one thing. “It was supposed to be more of a club atmosphere instead of just a watering hole,” remembers Tom Lambert, who had worked at the bar since returning home from the Army.
It also had room for live music. Davis had been wanting to host bands, especially blues bands, for a while, and now he had his chance. He started booking acts including J.B. Hutto, Willie Dixon, and Jimmy Dawkins, as well as locals including Diamond Reo (not the 1980s national act with a slightly different spelling).
The music drew decent crowds until about 18 months later when Chicago bluesman Luther Allison came to town for a September weekend in 1974.
Lambert was manning the sound booth. He brought along his reel-to-reel tape recorder and jerry-rigged a connection. He caught local history on tape.
The first night’s crowd was modest, Lambert remembers.
Allison came to party, and the room could hardly contain his energy.
Davis remembers Allison getting up on the bar and walking down in true blues fashion, jangling the lights as he went. When he got to the end he didn’t stop. Trailing a long cord to keep his guitar plugged in, Allison headed out the door and ended up playing in the middle of Main Street.
A night to remember.
Lambert said that once word got out about Friday’s show, the bar was packed the next night.
In the early morning hours of Sunday, Lambert played the tapes from the shows back to Allison and his band. They enjoyed reliving the nights.
Then the tapes were set aside. Lambert made a cassette for his brother in Oregon. A footnote.
Howard’s meantime has established a foothold as a mecca for blues and rock. The bar’s fortunes waned at times, but now it’s enjoying a renaissance.
And some 40 years later, Lambert plays the cassette of a night that ignited that tradition to John Henry, owner of Third Street Cigars in Waterville and a blues impresario. Henry, who hosts blues show at his shop, was intrigued. He brought the original tape up to Bigfoot Studios in Maumee where the mix was massaged as much as it could be. The recording was a basic two-track location job. Lambert was impressed how good it sounded even when the headliner headed out the door.
Now after some wrangling, they’ve struck an arrangement with Allison’s widow. “Luther Allison: Live at Howard’s Club H” will be released in a limited 300 CD edition with all profits going to DART – the Drug Abuse Response Team. The CD, which sells for $20, will only be available at Howard’s and at Third Street Cigars.
The CD will be for sale at a release party Saturday, February 17, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Howard’s Club H. Bobby G with Curtis Grant and The Midnight Rockers will perform. Cover $5.