|Steve Howell And The Mighty Men’s new album, Been Here And Gone, closes with a cover of the timeless guitar anthem “Walk Don’t Run,” and, fittingly, that title may best sum up Howell’s refreshing style and approach. Howell doesn’t howl. Howell doesn’t shred. In a musical landscape overpopulated by acrobatic singers and too-busy guitarists, Howell figuratively walks and doesn’t run through this album’s dozen covers. Deftly employing subtlety instead of bombast, this low-key approach results in gimmick-free vocals and captivating guitar work. While other axemen play countless notes, he makes all the notes count.
This band-produced effort features Howell on vocals, electric and acoustic guitars backed by Mighty Men – Chris Michaels on electric guitar, Dave Hoffpauir on drums, Jason Weinheimer on bass and organ. The straight-forward production and arrangements are as uncluttered as the performances, and the choice of material is intriguing.
Howell jumps right into “The ‘In’ Crowd” and sounds like he belongs there. Having been a vocal hit by Dobie Gray and subsequently an instrumental one by the Ramsey Lewis Trio, both in the ‘60s, this is a slower-paced instrumental rendition. As with all the tracks, Howell’s guitar has an irresistible au naturel tone, sounding like you’re sitting right next to his amp. “Bad Boy” is a laconic jazz blues from the ‘30s written by Lil Armstrong (Louis’ second wife) and Avon Long. The period-correct feel and playing is proof-positive that Howell and company would have had the chops to impress in any era.
A sweet version of “Candyman,” origin unknown but drawn from the Rev. Gary Davis’ catalog, is followed by Ray Charles’ “I Believe To My Soul,” sung with a tone of resignation rather than the anger of other renderings. Mindful but never fearful of tackling tunes that were previously hits and strongly identified with other artists, Howell next resurrects “Such A Night” with its history of popular versions by the Drifters (with Clyde McPhatter) and Elvis Presley. As great as the Delfonics’ original 1968 smash vocal version of “La La Means I Love You” is, Howell’s gorgeous, delicate instrumental treatment spotlights the rich beauty of the melody while the Mighty Men offer a mighty lovely setting for this gem.
Displaying his eclecticism, Howell effortlessly shifts gears from a British Invasion Top-Tenner—a non-vocal take on Gerry and the Pacemakers’ “Ferry Cross The Mersey”–to an obscure swampy blues originally done by William “Cat Iron” Carradine entitled “Jimmy Bell.” Likewise, an instrumental arrangement of the Los Bravos ‘60s pop hit “Black Is Black” is then juxtaposed with a traditional Appalachian tale of murder, “Wild Bill Jones,” with an ominous reverb accentuating the song’s dark atmosphere.
Before he ventures into Ventures territory with the aforementioned album closer, there is one more nod to another great bluesman, Big Bill Broonzy, in Howell’s interpretation of “Willie Mae.” With that and all of Been Here And Gone, Steve Howell And The Mighty Men clearly demonstrate that might can also be measured by taste and restraint rather than sheer overkill.
East Texan Steve Howell’s guitar playing, and singing are very much rooted in the and rural blues and traditional jazz genres born in the American South. His musical interests also extend to rhythm and blues, pop music from the 1950’s and 1960’s, and rock ‘ roll. His interpretations of tunes from these genres have been enjoyed by audiences in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Oregon, and Great Britain for over forty-five years and lauded by critics from the United States and Europe who have unanimously praised his unique approach to breathing new life into time-honored songs from days gone by and reintroducing little-known gems of American music to a whole new audience. He has released ten CD’s and was the recipient of the Texas Music Academy’s 2011 Historical Significance Award. His recordings are in steady rotation on radio playlists in the United States, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Poland, Greece, Croatia, and Australia and on XM and WorldSpace satellite radio. “Fingerpicking Early Jazz Standards,” a set of fifteen of his fingerstyle guitar arrangements has been published by the Hal Leonard Corporation in 2018. He was also instrumental in the publication of “Snoozer Quinn: Fingerstyle jazz Guitar Pioneer” in 2022.
Chris Michaels cut his musical teeth in the late 80’s and early 90’s as a bass player in the Shreveport, LA area, including notable one nighters with Cab Calloway, Martha and the Vandellas, and Augie Myers and gigs with local heroes such as The Deadbeats, Iraz Baz, The Cut, David Egan, and Buddy Flett. Later exploits included extensive touring with Beanland, a notorious jam-band from Oxford, MS. The mid-90’s were spent doing recordings and live dates as a member of Boondogs in Little Rock, Arkansas. Other notable gigs that followed included recording dates and live shows with artists such as the late Jim Dickinson, Greg Spradlin, Isaac Alexander, Mulehead, Ho-Hum, Kami Lyle, Kevin Gordon, The Yellow Hope Project, and Buddy Flett. Although primarily focusing on electric bass, upright bass, and guitars, Chris released a solo record of Americana inspired songs titled “Morning & Night” in 2009. Throughout it all Chris has maintained a musical kinship and friendship with Steve Howell, both in the studio and on the stage.
Dave Hoffpauir started playing professionally in 1982. He played around Shreveport for 10 years or so in bands such as the Psychobillies, the Native Sons, the Deadbeats (his first collaboration w/ Steve Howell), Dorothy Prime and the Housecats, Betty Lewis, and the Executives, and in various house bands which backed artists like Jessie Thomas, Kenny Bill Stinson, and Buddy Flett. In 1989, he formed the SugarKings (his first serious collaboration w/ Chris Michaels, and he also played in the Infidels in 1990 (his first serious collaboration w/ Jason Weinheimer.) After moving to Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1992, he continued playing with the SugarKings as well as several Arkansas bands, including Ebo and the Tomcats (which backed Billy Lee Riley and Dale Hawkins on occasion), the Skeeterhawks, the Cockleburrs and Mulehead. He and Kevin Kerby briefly tabled Mulehead and joined Ho-Hum in 1993. After recording demos with various producers, including the legendary Jim Dickinson in 1994, they eventually signed a record deal with Universal Records in 1995. They had one major label release, Local, which came out in 1996. Hoffpauir joined the Boondogs in 1999 and again worked with Michaels, Weinheimer and Dickinson as they completed a project that was never released on Garageband.com Records.
Jason Weinheimer owns and operates Fellowship Hall Sound in Little Rock, AR. In addition to producing and engineering, he plays in the Boondogs, Love Ghost, The Libras and with songwriter Isaac Alexander. He also played with the late great Jim Dickinson, who served as his studio mentor and musical guide for many years. Jason is the owner/operator of Fellowship Hall Sound recording studio in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he has played on, produced, and engineered significant recordings by artists including Steve Howell & The Mighty Men, Jim Mize, Isaac Alexander, Boondogs, The Yellow Hope Project, Greg Spradlin & Band of Imperials, Buddy Flett, and Libras.