Growing up, Frehley’s Comet’s music was a huge part of my childhood. Indeed, I recall many warm summer days when I’d cruise out early in the morning on my bike, headphones draped over my helmetless head, and the music of Frehley’s Comet – specifically Tod Howarth’s cut, “Calling to You” – blaring in my easts. How’s that for an early morning wake-up call?
While that wasn’t remotely safe, I survived to tell the tale, although I took quite a few spills in the process – primarily due to a lack of sensory awareness due to music-related deafness. I guess the point is that the music of Frehley’s Comet meant something to me, and yeah, if I’m being honest, it still does.
As alluded to, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist extraordinaire Tod Howarth played a massive role in the creation of that music, particularly Frehley’s Comet’s self-titled record from 1987. His ear for melody and subtle ability to add just enough edgy grittiness alongside tried-and-true poppy goodness made those songs special to me and a whole generation of adoring fans.
With a new triple CD unleashed, Tod Howarth dialed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to recount his recent KruiseFest appearance, his modern-day songwriting approach, the reality of a potential Frehley’s Comet reunion, and a whole lot more.
You recently played the KISS Kruise. Tell me about the experience.
Well, we played a show for the KruiseFest ordeal, not on the ship but on land that coincided with the Kruise and a smaller convention. You know these are always fun. It was smaller than the other KISS-related fests/kruises, but I always make it fun for the fans that wish to see me and/or the other Frehley’s Comet guys.
When originally planned, it was to be John Regan, Anton Fig, Richie Scarlet, and me, but Richie had other committed plans, and John came down with a medical situation that prevented travel, so I had to come up with other players. Prior to all of this, when John determined that he couldn’t do it, I told Joe DeAngelo (the promoter) that perhaps we should just cancel. He said not a great idea as tickets and VIP passes had already been sold… so that was not an option.
Joe then came up with Brad Lang (Currently with BulletBoys) for bass, and that turned out to be a great fit. And then I had insisted on Keith Robert War doing the Ace [Frehley] part, and that was also an epic fit. All of us rehearsed at our respective homes/studios before getting together the night before the show in California for three hours to run through – trying to remember the endings – and smooth out questionable areas.
How did the set come together with the rejiggered lineup?
The set came out great, as did most of the show. There are always times when I couldn’t hear my vocals and keys because the monitors were fixed in a lead singer location, but hey, that’s live music. I will say it was a hell of a lot of work for a one-off show, and we all talked about how good the “Comet Boys” would’ve sounded after a week of real shows.
Anton Fig was amazing, of course, and the other guys pulled through tremendously. The convention part was a bit disappointing, being so very small, but I blame no one for that. I was happy that it was in California, and I didn’t have to get on a plane doing a redeye straight into a rehearsal!
How do you put a setlist together? What emotions run through you as you play the old songs again?
John has always done the set lists and had one in mind for the show. After it was determined that he and Richie weren’t to be there, I changed it up for more action, power, and impact with the first three songs, one right after the other no stopping. Brad sang “Stranger in a Strange Land,” and Keith sang ‘”Snowblind,” and they did great jobs!!
Emotionally it’s been a long time since playing the songs affected me in any way. I think that the first time Four By Fate played “It’s Over Now,” that was big to me as Frehley’s Comet never got to play it. This event was fun, but I will say some emotional impact was there because Anton was on drums, and it felt like 35 years ago. It was the indelible feeling of, “Oh yea, I remember. Wow… what power and drive.”
Here is the setlist for those curious: Rip it Out/ Calling to You/ Love Me Right/ Something Moved/ Stranger in a Strange Land/ Into the Night/ Time Ain’t Runnin’ Out/ Words Are Not Enough/ Snowblind/It’s Over Now/ Breakout.
What are your favorites, and why?
Good question. There are songs that I couldn’t stand playing back then – some I still can’t to this day – and others that are now fun to play, I guess. Honestly, and perhaps selfishly, it’s always my tunes that are favored, but once one steps off the “it’s all about me” soapbox and enjoys any song for what it is, it’s a blast. And then how the fans reacted made the favorites change up, if only for a while. [Laughs]. I will say that “Love Me Right is a fun song to play live, and “Words Are Not Enough” and “Breakout” will always be favorites, too/
How important is the music of Frehley’s Comet and KISS to you?
Frehley’s Comet’s music is so very important to me by way of contribution, memorable musical moments, career, and resume. The latter may sound callous, but it is the business of music, especially when you’re the perpetual hired gun. It was only later that the importance became more evident to me. Learning just how dedicated the KISS fans were and then to the extended KISS family members… wow, I never knew.
I was never into KISS. I thought that their show, dynamics, costumes, and characters were brilliant and entertaining, but it was never an allure to me. I was more into heavy, big rock bands like Van Halen and Aerosmith and then artists like the late Jeff Beck, The Babys, and songwriters of many styles and genres.
How do you measure your importance in KISS-adjacent history?
The measuring of my importance to KISS is minuscule, as there are so many branches to that tree that stood and stand out to this day, let alone the nucleus that is KISS. My contribution is small, but I am there, and I have zero illusions of to what degree. I’ll leave that up to the fans to decide.
You’ve got some new music out, right? What can you tell me about it?
Yes! About eight years ago, I decided that I wanted to really concentrate on making one more solo rock CD where I’m again writing, singing, and playing all the instruments but two projects set my personal project back. These would be Four by Fate and then Return of The Comet. Four by Fate would end up soaking up a few of the new tunes that I had in mind for my solo CD, which would become my album, Relentless.
As ideas and conversations came up about my solo project, it was brought to my attention or suggested by friends and fans that I do some acoustic versions of Frehley’s Comet songs. And then, “When are you going to do another easy CD?” had been asked often as well, so I had the brilliant idea of making three CDs at the same time. So, I decided to go forward with the three CD idea: one rock, one acoustic Frehley’s Comet, and one more easy-going type of songs. I’ll never do this again. It was way too many hats for one guy and two ears that are waning. [Laughs].
So, the project took a lot out of you, then?
Oh, yeah. For sure. A shit load of work, sweat, blood, money, time, sacrifice, equipment failure, file loss of one year’s work (studio recording console), and the learning curve of the console. I purchased an electronic drum set to record the drums with, and while they were quick and efficient for tracking and punching in and out, there were limitations.
For one, I had to contend that it was me playing the drums (Barney Rubble at best) and that the outputs for the set were only in two-track stereo, not each drum, cymbal, etc. There is midi, but it wouldn’t work in the manner needed for my little recording console (I think). This was a huge problem, so I had to get the best performance, mix, and compression down and printed before I could finish each song. And then, sometimes, I’d re-record the drums! The whole thing was a time vampire.
So, fast forward to releases, I had my son do the three covers based on our collective ideas, and they came out great. I finished up all the lyrics and credits via the program by DiscMakers (production company) and the other photos, which were quickly taken by my wife Valerie so we could get them into production and shipped to me before the KruiseFest show in 2022. They barely made it to the hotel the morning of the first day. Sooo much work went into these three releases.
What are the biggest differences between the three? How did your approach change from album to album?
The rock one, which is called Heavy Canvas, is just that – heavy rock, mostly with dark themes and production. There are some fun moments, too, as I don’t take myself that seriously, but I busted ass trying to get the full band feeling, which you’re never gonna really get playing to a click.
Comet Canvas was a great way of re-doing the songs that I sang and/or wrote in an acoustical approach. I wanted to do something different with the songs rather than the same attack. Some did turn out in an original manner, but I felt that that was the right thing to do for those songs. Others transpired into a way different feel and fun for me as I got to explore other interpretations of a song. I had one fan suggest that I do “Fallen Angel on piano… at first, I thought, “What? Wait… hmm. YES!” It was these kinds of departures that made it very interesting to me to go after.
Lastly, we have Coastal Canvas, which is another of my self-indulging easier type CDs. It’s not unlike my album Winter, with tunes that were written on any instrument that inspired me. I’ve always been a songwriter and loved melodies, arrangements, and the color between bass notes and inverted, cool, tension chords. This CD allowed me to just record some deep heartfelt tunes with varying themes and approaches, and I get to play with orchestrations, strings, horns, etc., all through my keyboards, of course.
How would you best describe the evolution of your songwriting process?
It’s still the same somewhat, although I’ve been influenced by younger bands and artists where I’ve gleaned intriguing, interesting styles of vocal harmonies, arrangements, and production. Generally, I’ll have a lick or riff but usually a rhythmic pattern on guitar or bass – or keyboard idea – but on rare occasions, I’ll have a lyric or vocal melody that I’ll translate into a full tune.
The mood of the song, speed, denotes the theme and lyrics once I have the tonic melody down. My rock tunes are still of old-school construct, but I change them up a little here and there. For me, to go into a way different rock genre wouldn’t seem true or real, so I attempt to keep some consistency, coloring outside of the lines here and there. I’ll expand my other genres by way of my adult contemporary songs.
Tell me about the production aspect of this record.
The production is good on these CDs; however, I’m not an engineer by any means, period. I just do basics and then battle with outcomes because my ears go after a few hours of constant tracking, dubbing, singing, and quick mixing. And then add the time on the two other CDs!
Guitar tones I generally have down, but I would like to experiment more with them (if it happens) in the future because, well, it’s way past due! As I had stated earlier, the drums were the bitch as I had to play the best that I could with the rusty memories of my drumming days. The energy, my ears, and my ability all condensed down into a mix of a final two-track output. It’s doable but time intensive.
Then issues with amplifiers going out, the first Tascam DP-32SD recording console gurking out on me and losing about a year’s worth of work before I learned to constantly and daily back everything up. The second machine finished off the projects just fine, thank God. Overall, with some minimal outboard gear, I had tremendous final success with the 32-track recorder that costs about $500.00.
I recorded it in my smaller studio that I built from scratch and ground up inside another building on my family’s commercial real estate, and right under the second story of my first bigger studio called Big Black Studios. The little one I named Small Block Studios. The first one is about 1,200 sq ft. The little one I built was really for pre-concert vocal rehearsals, 200 sq ft, so it’s tight.
What guitars and gear did you use? Do you have one guitar that means the most to you?
For the rock stuff, mostly my Steinberger guitars (6 and 12 strings) and Steinberger basses. With the exception of my Chandler Baritone guitars that Tom Petersson turned me on to. I also used the Waterstone 12-string bass on a few tunes that, again, Tom of Cheap Trick gave to me.
For amps, it’s mostly Marshall 100 watts for guitars or a little bit of Line 6. My bass rig was all SansAmp rack for bass. The keyboards were Korg Triton, and the drums were Roland V drums TD-25KV. I don’t have a favorite guitar, really, with the exception of the next one. [Laughs].
Are you still in touch with Ace and the rest of the Frehley’s Comet guys? Is there hope for a reunion?
I talk to John almost weekly on many issues. Anton only recently as he’s been very busy with his gunslinger activity! Ace lived here in San Diego for a few years but never reached out to me. I saw him once at a book signing event just north here and then ran into him on the east coast while we did some shows with Four by Fate close to his shows and, on one occasion, opened up for him. Then only in a few KISS conventions as well – once in Florida, he jumped up on stage and do a few songs with Return of The Comet but not without some drama happening.
At this juncture, there is little hope for a Frehley’s Comet reunion. Ace had apparently stated at one time that Frehley’s Comet was “dead to him” to perhaps paraphrase his statement. However, if he was to ask me to do some big, select shows, I would. I would do that for the fans, as they deserve a little bit more of Frehley’s, I believe.
What’s next for you in all lanes?
Presently, I’m finishing up my autobiography, selling my Canvas CDs through my Shopify store at todhowarth.biz, and I am contemplating my next musical move. What I may end up doing is one or two of the following: write and record one more big rock album with a real band, members of my choice – most likely local California dudes and make it high energy, danceable ala Van Halen with my newer influences of freshness. I’ll get out to do local, fun shows for the hell of it.
After, or in lieu of that, I will write and record tracks and songs for other people to do. As I get older – I’ll be 66 this September – I have more family business and responsibilities here that will need my full attention, and I won’t have time to do the music thing on the level that I did 35 years ago. There are many hobbies I have; the wife and I will shift into retirement by way of travel in our 40-foot motorhome, Harley’s, and boat activity, along with snowboarding/skiing into our older years. [Laughs].
I am encouraged by the younger musicians out there delving into real instruments, writing real songs, and enticing youth to dig into their music. Hopefully, there will be new young rockers out tearing it up and getting another generation into that genre because it’s so much fun. But it will have to be that youth that gets it going again, as it should be.
Tod Howarth: Formerly of Frehley’s Comet: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
Classicrockhistory.com claims ownership of all its original content and Intellectual property under United States Copyright laws and those of all other foreign countries. No one person, business, or organization is allowed to re-publish any of our original content anywhere on the web or in print without our permission. All photos used are either public domain creative commons photos or licensed officially from Shutterstock under license with ClassicRockHistory.com. All photo credits have been placed at the end of the article. Album Cover Photos are affiliate links and the property of Amazon and are stored on the Amazon server. Any theft of our content will be met with swift legal action against the infringing websites.