Official Biography (courtesy of Columbia Records)
Some may be familiar with Terrence Howard as the Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated star of such movies as Hustle and Flow, Ray, Crash and Lackawanna Blues, an actor declared by Entertainment Weekly the "Indie Film King." Still, what you may not know is that his first love is actually music, which could be heard when he performed Three 6 Mafia's Academy Award-winning "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," along with two other tracks, in Hustle and Flow, as well as his roles in such music-themed films as The Jacksons: An American Dream, Mr. Holland's Opus and his guitar performance in The Best Man.
With Me and the Band of Kings, Shine Through It, his debut album for Columbia Records, Howard gets to pursue his true passion, fulfilling the dream the Cleveland native had on arriving in Los Angeles 16 years ago, auditioning, and earning a part, in a Jackson 5 biopic because he wanted to meet legendary Motown producer Suzanne de Passe and further his music career.
Assembling an expert Band of Kings which includes co-producer Miles Mosley on upright bass, guitar, drums and piano (Lauryn Hill, Herbie Hancock, Common, Chris Cornell, Jonathan Davis), tenor sax Kamasi Washington (Gerald Wilson, Roy Hargrove), trumpet player Serafin Aguilar, keyboardist Kenneth Crouch (Maria Carey, Patti LaBelle, Eric Clapton) and viola player Tom Lea, Howard sings and plays lead guitar on a self-penned set of songs that defies description, every bit as unexpected and mercurial as the performer himself.
"Music has always been the road that leads to where I'm headed," he says. "Film is my vocation, my 9 to 5. In the movies, I'm doing what somebody else is asking me to do. Music is my own personal form of expression. My responsibility, like the sun's, is to shine. Even if the planet is covered with clouds, I must say what I have to say."
And that he has done. The album's 11 songs tell about his life, with influences which range from narrative singer-songwriters James Taylor, Bob Marley, Paul Simon and Jim Croce, pop maestros Englebert Humperdinck and Bread (he named his daughter after their song "Aubrey") and R&B giants The Impressions, The Dramatics, The Stylistics and The Temptations, to world music exotica such as Buena Vista Social Club, Cachao, Nina Simone and Ottmar Liebert and the wide-screen visions of Quincy Jones and Duke Ellington.
"I'd like to say it's my music," explains Howard. "But no one really creates anything. You just happened to be in the right place, heard the right car go by, the right cell phone ring, the wind blow at the right time. I received something and shaped it."
And that serendipity comes out in the opening "Love Makes You Beautiful," with its flamenco melody and haunting flute voicing its title sentiment, a song inspired by Howard watching people of all shapes and sizes made beautiful by the mere act of being in love, an important theme in his music and his life. "If we can personify love in our nature," he says. "We can touch something that's dead and bring it back to life."
The dramatic, soulful "Shine Through It," with its piano and acoustic guitar groove building to a cinematic climax of strings and horns, is about allowing ourselves to experience the light of spirituality, while "Presumption" is a highly personal song in which Howard accepts responsibility for the demise of his marriage and regret for the mistakes he made ("You treat me like a walking mattress ad/And I don't think I can love you anymore/If you want to leave girl/Do your thing/But don't forget who you're talking to").
The flutes, strings, island rhythms and south-of-the-border horns combine with hip-hop rhythms and Cuban flair in "Mr. Johnson's Lawn" for a childhood tale of trying to sneak around with the next-door neighbor's daughter while staying off her vigilant father's front yard. "I Remember When," with its warm James Taylor vibe, Steve Wonder harp and whistling intro recalls yet another adolescent romance ("I remember when/I was just a dude/You walked to school/Had some problems/And I talked them through"). "All these songs are just walks through different avenues of my life," explains Howard.
The jaggedly bombastic "Chinese American War," with its wailing Kamasi Washington sax solo and jazz piano, harks back to an early 20th century New Orleans funeral procession, its prediction of an inevitable armed conflict between the U.S. and the growing Far East power inspired by an argument between an Asian man and the studio owner as well as his own aggressive attitude. The acoustic guitar and sawing strings of the soulful, romantic "Sanctuary" was inspired by Howard's chance meeting with Seal and Heidi Klum at a Hollywood party and being impressed by the level of commitment in their relationship ("Living like a Casanova was living/Feeling unsure but no one was missing/Then you called/And you found me/Heading on out to where I was restless... And it's alright if part of the time/You've been looking for me").
The instrumental "Spanish Love Affair," which boasts a seductive Serafin Aguilar horn solo, Latin guitars and a Middle East feel, was originally written by Howard with Marc Anthony in mind. "I wanted him to recite some great Spanish poetry from 200 years ago over this beautiful music, but I couldn't get in touch with him," says Terrence. "I tried to do it, but I don't speak Spanish. I can barely say, â€˜Arriba.'"
"She Was Mine" is a jazz-blues shuffle about falling in love at a stop light at the corner of La Cienega and Holloway in the style of Manhattan Transfer and Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, while "Plenty" has a Curtis Mayfield "Super Fly" vibe and an ominous hip-hop undercurrent.
After securing a two-album deal with Sony Music by convincing label head Rob Stringer he wanted to make music like Don McLean's "Vincent," Howard entered Spiral Recording in Hollywood, the first time he had ever sit foot in a studio. Eschewing the use of charts, arrangements, click tracks or any other preconceived notions by assuming a playful, childlike innocence, he proceeded to allow the players some autonomy to play up with their own parts. Miles Mosley, originally brought in as an upright bassist, hit it off so well with Howard that he was asked to co-produce.
"There was an immediate connection between us," says Terrence of the pairing. "He came into the room and immediately began playing with me. Within three days, I told him, â€˜You're going to produce this album with me.'"
Going into the studio with four songs already completed, Howard recorded the album in a remarkable 11 days, and now that it's done, he is ready to put his burgeoning film career on hold and begin touring Europe later this year into next. Terrence is also looking forward to working with new talent for his own label, as well as writing songs for other artists.
"Music has fallen into some type of quagmire," he says. This is for people who love artists that can't help but tell true stories. Each person has a different imagination, sees a different horizon and offers a different possibility for the universe in which we live. This album is one shaft of light that happened to come out and reflect something beautiful.
"Einstein said everything's relative, and if you understand one thing about something, you understand one thing about all things. When you bring me into a film as an actor, you can give me the words, tell me the parameters by which I have to act, but God damn if you're going to tell me how you want me to act. That's not how I do it. You don't invite me to a party and tell me how you want me to dance. You direct me to the dance floor and I will dance. That's the kind of freedom I wanted to give to these musicians."
For Howard, music is truly a universal language, one we make our own, no matter what anybody else says.
"Human beings are the only individuals on this planet who can't help but communicate, whether it's by a drumbeat, singing, dancing or the visual arts," he says. "We are the only creatures truly gifted with this ability to communicate with music. I can play music with people whose language I don't even speak and by the end of the night, know their whole story. I'm not the greatest guitar player on this planet, but I try to play honestly. And I try to make the songs honest. So this album had to be honest, too."
Me and the Band of Kings may be the second act in Terrence Howard's professional life and career, but it's the first in his heart.