Remembering the early rock and roll shows in Howell

When I moved back to Michigan a few months ago, I was curious to see if any of the rock and roll bands that came to Howell for various events that I had booked were still doing any more music. A quick online search brought me to the December 2018 article on The Livingston Post entitled: “Did You See Bob Seger Perform in Livingston County?

I did, in fact, see him.

And, I did, in fact, book him and front the May 1972 show at the Howell Armory.

I got to remembering that Bob Seger wasn’t the only top Michigan act who played in Howell in those early years of the ‘70s.  So, I thought I’d do a quick trip down memory lane that some of our Howell High graduates of that era will also remember.  Not all of the following dates will be precise, but they’ll be pretty close.

When the Howell High Class of  1970 needed a band for a prom or a dance, I was the one who did the booking. While in high school, and then at Western Michigan University, during the weekends when I wasn’t playing a sport, I’d go see the big Michigan bands at Mount Holly, The Birmingham Palladium, The Factory Ballroom, the Eastown Theatre, and the Cinderella Ballroom in Detroit.  All the bands that I’m going to recall I booked to play in Howell during the early 1970s.  At the time, all of them were very well known throughout the state, and some even nationally.

The first “big” band played several proms for our graduating class. Plain Brown Wrapper was a rock band from Lansing featuring horns very similar to Chicago. They also played at the infamous Grande Ballroom in Detroit and some big Michigan rock festivals including the Southfield, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Lake Lansing Rock festivals, all of which had national bands headlining.

Another group that played in Howell twice was The Woolies from Lansing. The Woolies played the Howell Armory in the summer of 1971 as part of the annual Howell Melon Festival, and then again at Howell High in the spring of 1972. The Woolies was also the back-up band for the legendary Chuck Berry whenever he played the Midwestern states.

Along with The Woolies for the Armory show was the band Ormandy, which had a pretty good saxophone player named Tom Cartmell, who later went on to play with Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band under the pseudo-name Alto Reed. Incidentally, also playing at the armory with The Woolies and Ormandy for that melon festival show was a very good Howell band called Quiet Sun, made up entirely of Howell kids, some of whom still live in Howell.

While at Western Michigan University, a friend and I put on some concerts, but then we split up and I just did the promoting and management of the shows myself. A band that I had seen at various shows around Michigan and loved was the Ann Arbor band SRC, which played for me three times. The first time was on Thanksgiving Eve in 1971 at the Howell High School auditorium, along with a band who also played a few times in Howell named Julia. Members of the band Julia later became the backing band for Bob Seger, and several members of Julia also ended up playing for Eric Clapton in 1974 and following.

SRC also played at Western Michigan University in the spring of 1972 at our dorm complex, “The Valley.” Since I had booked them for this event and knew them a little, they used my dorm room as their changing area and as a place to chill between their first and second set.

SRC was then on a bill in the summer of 1972 at the Armory along with the Michigan bands Catfish, Guardian Angel, and Frut. Catfish spent lots of time traveling between Detroit and New Orleans, and lead singer Bob Hodge later had Dr. John (The Night Tripper) and Bonnie Raitt back him for an album he released in 1980. Guardian Angel was made up of past members of the notorious early Detroit/Ann Arbor Band The Rationals, and also the bass player for Savage Grace, who actually lived in Howell for many years.

I also booked the nationally known band The Third Power for — get this — an after-football-game dance at Howell High School in 1971. The lead guitar player, Drew Abbott, was later the long-time guitarist for the Bob Seger Silver Bullet Band.

This brings me to Bob Seger.

I originally booked the nationally infamous The MC5 band from Detroit for this show in May 1972; however, The MC5 were then — for reasons I don’t need to get into here — pulled by their management agency, which offered Bob Seger as the replacement. Guardian Angel and Julia were also on this show held at the Howell Armory.

I remember meeting Bob Seger prior to the show, and he was shorter than I had imagined, having seen him on stage many times before he came to Howell. His introduction to me at the Armory was: “Hi, I’m Bob Seger from Ann Arbor,” and, without missing a beat, I said, “Hi, I’m Jeff Rhodes from Howell.”

(Photo of Bob Seger from Rolling Stone/Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

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Jeff Rhodes was born and raised in Howell and is a member of the Howell High School Class of 1970. Recently moved to Traverse City from Virginia, Jeff is a graduate of Western Michigan University and Boston University. A retired Navy officer, he most recently worked as a consultant to the Department of Defense in Arlington, Virginia. He can be reached at: JERSBRL@earthlink.net

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