John Howie Jr. was born in Raleigh, North Carolina and raised in the woods of Wake County. His father was obsessed with country music, while his mother – an improvisational Jazz pianist – filled the house with the sounds of Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal. John started playing drums with the school jazz band in the sixth grade, and a year later one of his mom's jamming buddies, drummer Chuck Leonard (Four Tops) began giving John weekly lessons, turning him on to Al Jackson, Jr., Elvin Jones, Gene Krupa, Tony Williams and other greats. Around this time the specter of Punk Rock raised its head in John's world as well, and the styles of Topper Headon (the Clash), Paul Cook (Sex Pistols) and Martin Chambers (Pretenders) were added to the heady jazz/r&b influences in John's playing.
In 1986, at the age of 17, John began gigging with numerous local bands, playing the clubs around the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area, including the legendary Cat's Cradle, rushing home after gigs to grab a few hours sleep before school the next day. By 1988, John was flying to the UK to join British punk stalwarts Sink on drums for a two month European tour that took in France, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy and Poland.
Returning to the States in 1989, John joined Raleigh band Finger, whose career for the next three years would take in recordings for Merge and Skyclad Records, as well as an appearance on the Rhino Records Gram Parsons tribute, Conmemorativo. The band toured extensively, sharing the stage with legends of the time like Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., Uncle Tupelo, Soul Asylum, etc. Guitarist Brad Rice went on to play with Keith Urban, Tift Merritt and Son Volt. A compilation of Finger's finest moments, Still in Boxes, was released in 2010 on Second Motion Records.
In 1991, at the age of 22, John moved to Chapel Hill, and a year later began playing drums for NC music legend (and former member of the dB's) Chris Stamey. John's tenure with Stamey included playing SXSW in a supergroup featuring Stamey, Peter Holsapple (dB's, REM), Mitch Easter and James Mastro (Bongos, Ian Hunter band), and several regional gigs, as well. The experience was a significant one for John, in that it taught him about the nuanced art of taking direction from a bandleader/songwriter, as opposed to being a member of a band. It was a lesson that would serve John well in his career.
By 1995, John had joined Chapel Hill band June, who were signed to Beggar's Banquet Records. After the release of the band's 1996 album, I Am Beautiful, June spent the next six months touring before the members decided to go their separate ways to pursue other interests.
For John, “other interests” meant focusing on songwriting, in particular the traditional country music kind, the kind he had been exposed to from his father growing up. He formed the Two Dollar Pistols, a honky tonk/country-rock band that over the next 12 years would release five full-length albums – four of those for the Yep Roc label – and and EP of songs with Grammy nominee Tift Merritt. The band toured the world and perfomed with legends like Merle Haggard and Flaco Jiminez, and were a mainstay on the Americana Chart from 1997-2007.
The Two Dollar Pistols called it a day in 2008, but John set about forming a new group immediately, and by the end of the year John Howie Jr. and the Rosewood Bluff were gigging and preparing to make their first album. Leavin Yesterday, produced by Brian Paulson (Wilco, Beck), was released to acclaim in 2011, followed by the band's second album, Everything Except Goodbye, in 2013. Like the Two Dollar Pistols, the Rosewood Bluff shared the stage with numerous country legends, including George Jones, Junior Brown and Dale Watson.
But John had never fully relinquished the drum kit during this time, playing on recordings and gigging with Snatches of Pink, Chris Stamey, the Backsliders and the NC Music Love Army. So it came as no surprise when, in 2014, local rising outlaw country artist Sarah Shook asked John to drum in her newest project, Sarah Shook and the Disarmers. The band gigged and rehearsed, and went into Manifold Recording Studio in Pittsboro, NC in April 2015 with producer/engineer Ian Schreier (Roomful of Blues) manning the board.
Sarah Shook and the Disarmers debut, Sidelong, was released in October 2015 to critical acclaim, and the band set about hitting the road to promote the album. Rolling Stone, Saving Country Music, No Depression, PopMatters, Auntie Bellum, Mix Magazine and many more ran glowing features on the album. Within a year, Sarah and the Disarmers were being courted by labels. Legendary Chicago roots music label Bloodshot Records (Ryan Adams, Neko Case) won the battle, and the label reissued Sidelong on April 28, 2017. The Fader, Wall Street Journal, She Shreds, No Depression, Paste, Noisey, Glide Magazine, PopMatters and other esteemed press outlets are running features and interviews with the band. Sarah Shook and the Disarmers are currently recording their second album, again at Manifold with Schreier producing, and will spend the majority of 2017 promoting Sidelong, recording a new single for Summer release, and awaiting the release of their second album for Bloodshot in April 2018.
*** Photo Credit Stephen Crocker ***