Howards Club H

Music rings out up & down BG’s Main Street

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Music brought people together in downtown Bowling Green Friday night. On South Main Street more than 100 people gathered at Grounds for Thought for “Singing for Our Lives: Empowering the People through Song” a protest song singalong led by three of the four members of the Grande Royale Ukulelists of the Black Swamp. A couple blocks north more than 100 people celebrated the ageless power of rock ‘n’ roll with The Welders, who for more than 30 years have been staging a spring break show at Howard’s Club H. Mary Jane Saunders, co-pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, opened “Singing for Our Lives” at Grounds by explaining her rationale for suggesting the event. Many are feeling stressed and uncomfortable in the current political climate, she said. That’s been expressed in several rallies, most held in the green space next to the Presbyterian Church.             The sing-along of classic songs was offered as an occasion “to have fun together” while not forgetting the cause that has united so many in the community. “Music has the power to empower and to energize us,” she said. Pop music historian Ken Bielen gave a brief introduction to protest music, much of it by simply quoting memorable lines. He recalled that it was gospel singer Mahalia Jackson who urged Martin Luther King Jr. to deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech. “When people get together in the right combination, history is made.” He then recalled Country Joe McDonald’s admonition to the throngs at Woodstock singing along to “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag.” “I don’t know how you expect the stop the war when you can’t sing any better than that.” And at first the singing at the Grounds event was, let’s say,  dutiful. But humor, another unifier, helped pull everyone in. After singing the Holly Near song that gave the event its title, Jason Wells-Jensen joked about the setting of the microphone, saying all short people were the same height to him. At which point bandmate Anne Kidder, started singing “we are tall and short, together” with the audience spontaneously picking up the tune and continuing even after Kidder had stopped singing. From then on, the singing grew more enthusiastic, even as some of the lyrics were tough on the tongue or the music was in 5/4 time and the audience was supposed to clap on the fourth and fifth beats. The sound ranged from Don Scherer’s seismic bass to the jangle of percussion. The GRUBS for the occasion loosened their prohibition against non-ukulele instruments and employed guitars and Sheri Wells-Jensen’s banjo. That was a fitting choice given banjo was the instrument of activist and folk singer Pete Seeger, whose songs and spirit infused the gathering. The repertoire included the lesser known verses of such standards as “This Land Is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful.” Some obvious choices were included such as “If I Had a Hammer,” “We Shall Overcome” and “Blowin’ in the Wind,” but there was the unexpected choice as well. Jason Wells-Jensen said only on studying the lyrics did he realize that Creedence Clearwater Revival’s hit “Bad Moon Rising’” was in its way a protest song, warning of danger ahead. He mentioned that while many in audience knew this and other songs from when they were first popular, he and others encountered them much later. “This was always classic rock to me.” For The Welders holding forth down the street at Howard’s “Bad Moon Rising” was just one of the many hits from their youth. When The…

Weekend shows celebrate Howard’s Club H musical legend

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News When Steve Feehan and Tony Zmarzly bought Howard’s Club H earlier this year, it was with the intent of reviving the venerable night spot as a top local music venue. The fruits of those ambitions will be evident this weekend. Blues rocker Michael Katon, who played the club regularly from 1982 through the early 2000s, will return for a show Friday. Then on Saturday at 10 p.m. a crew from WBGU-TV will be on hand to tape a triple bill of younger acts – Tree No Leaves, Indian Opinion and Shell. “Howard’s has always been a music venue, a place to hear live music with a bar to go with it,” Feehan said. “We want to foster a community as much as we can. That’s what’ needed in this day and age.” And that’s what Howard’s was in its heyday. The bar traces its genesis to 1928 when Fred Howard opened a candy shop where the Wood County Library now sits. Legend has it, Feehan said, that the candy store also fronted a speakeasy that was popular with college football players. When Prohibition ended, Howard’s became a bar. The details of that and other stories are hard to pin down, he said. That’s part of the fun. “After we took ownership, then we realized what we had,” Feehan said. People would walk through the door, and share lore of the club, which moved across the street in the early 1970s. “We almost felt more like curators than owners.” Both Zmarzly and Feehan experienced that history as teenagers playing in bands at Howard’s. Feehan played piano with the Madhatters and Zmarzly is still active as a drummer and guitarist in AmpWagon. Feehan remembers crossing paths with Katon back in the 1980s. After a hiatus of more than 10 years, Katon returned to the club during this year’s Black Swamp Arts Festival. He played a late night Saturday show at the club before closing the festival on the Main Stage. He was glad to be back, Katon said, in a telephone interview. Howard’s was packed just as it was in the old days. Katon, who tours extensively in Europe, said he’s played clubs in England that hosted Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Black Sabbath, and The Animals. Those clubs had a well-worn, lived in feel. “Same with Howard’s,” he said. The BG club is one of his favorite places to play. He even said he’d buy it and play there all the time, before reflecting on just how hard it is to run a club. “I hope some of the kids coming in appreciate something funky and lowdown. …The funkier the better in my book,” he said. That’s true of his high-powered blues rock sound as well. Howard’s is similar to the clubs where he first heard the blues and then where he started playing. His older brother, a member of the legendary Ann Arbor band The Prime Movers, would bring him to visit. The 13-year-old Katon would sit at the bar under the eye of the bartender while the band played. Top blues artists who were passing through town would stay at the band’s house. When he told one musician that he liked Eric Clapton, Katon was instructed to check out all the bluesmen that inspired Clapton. Katon stocked up of records of all the greats, and his direction was set. Though his style is rooted there, he heard plenty of exposure to big band and country music at home in Ypsilanti. Later in his teens he explored jazz, even mastering “Giant Steps,” John Coltrane’s harmonic…

“Gavarone’s small business leadership comes up short” – JJ Dennis

I was very surprised to receive a brochure at my door recently touting Theresa Gavarone’s experience as a business owner as a reason why we should elect her to the position she was appointed to fill in August. Based on my time working at one of Gavarone’s businesses, I do not believe her experience as a small business owner warrants support. Anyone who has frequented Howard’s Club H knows that part of its charm is in its grungy appearance. What you might not know is that until very recently that grunginess ran bone deep. While her family owned Howards, employees were regularly forced to wade through vomit and other human waste multiple times every night to plunge the toilets that hadn’t flushed properly (read: hardly at all) for years. Those boxes of plastic gloves you saw behind the counter? Not for food prep. In addition to the infamously inadequate bathrooms, closing duties included dumping gallons of bleach down floor drains behind the bar to prevent an unbearable stench from filling the business the next day. When the smell didn’t drive customers away, the broken AC and furnace did. Fortunately these issues (which posed a clear health risk to employees and patrons) were fixed immediately when new ownership took over. That makes me wonder though, why were these issues – issues that were resolved within days of the business being sold – not addressed for YEARS under Gavarone’s ownership? I don’t believe that letting a business fall into that degree of disrepair should be considered a qualification, and I certainly won’t cast my vote for anyone who thinks it’s acceptable. JJ Dennis Bowling Green

Friends serve up support at benefit for Corner Grill staff (updated)

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Howard’s Club H got to rocking a little early Saturday. At 2 p.m. the Mechanical Cat was on stage rapping about other worlds against a psychedelic background. The business at hand though was a centered on a very real world cause – helping the 10 or so employees of the Corner Grill, who have lost work because of the Feb. 1 fire. The Grill is a beloved part of the downtown scene, whether for folks people heading to work at dawn, the employees from the county courthouse down the block, or the late night revelers and the workers who serve them. It’s been that for decades. So Howard’s, another venerable downtown establishment, opened its doors to host the benefit that ran from early afternoon to early the next morning with a full slate of bands, as well as a buffet of home cooked food and raffle items. Howard’s employee Nikki Cordy who organized the benefit reported: “It was absolutely amazing. It certainly exceeded my expectations. We had perfect weather,everyone was in such a positive and fun mood,we ran on time,all the bands showed up & kicked ass,we raised over $4,000. I couldn’t possibly be happier.” Larry Cain, the owner of the Grill, said he was glad to see the turnout to help his employees. They’re a team, he said. He now expects the Grill will take three to four months to open its doors. A glance inside the diner shows a gutted interior. The linoleum counter, Cain said, has been saved. That’s good, given he wants to preserve as much of the eatery’s classic look as possible. He hopes when the Corner Grill reopens it will feature that old atmosphere but with a much improved operation for his workers, including space for another cook in the grill area. All that will take time working with disaster recovery, architects and construction crews. In the meantime, Patrick McDermott, the third shift cook at the Grill, said he was reaching out to places he used to work to pick up shifts. The other staff, many of whom worked multiple jobs, are doing the same. McDermott had said earlier in the week that he was so distraught about the fire he wasn’t even able to watched a video about it. Standup comic Dick Pretzel said he was saddened when he heard the news about the fire. He was among those donating their time Saturday. He was serving as master of ceremonies for show that included sets by about a dozen bands. Pretzel said he likes to host benefits. “It makes me feel really good to lend my voice for a really good cause.” He said he’s lived in many places around the country and as a truck driver has traveled to many more. “I’ll find this one place where I really feel comfortable, where I can have a really good conversation with the cook or the waitress or even the patrons.” For Pretzel, the Corner Grill was that place for him in Bowling Green. Before he would go perform at an open mic at Grumpy Dave’s, he’d have a meal at the Corner Grill. “It puts me a good place,” Pretzel said. “It had everything to put me in the zone.” A conversation, or overheard comment, may cause something to click – maybe he’ll remember a joke written a few years ago. “I don’t want to say it’s a magical thing, but it kind of is.”