ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 26, 2002
By Steve Newton
If you’re a blues-rock guitarist-vocalist looking for a guy to play drums with you, you could do worse than have Terry Bozzio—renowned skinbasher for Jeff Beck—living three doors down. At least that’s what Kent Omar Dykes—the Omar in Omar and the Howlers—discovered recently.
“He’s my neighbour, friend of mine,” relates Dykes, on the line from his home in Austin, Texas. “We talked about gardening and stuff long before we talked about music. My wife was responsible for connecting us up musically, ’cause she went to a neighbourhood barbecue when I was on the road, and she told him, ‘My husband sure would like to play music with you some time.’ And he said, ‘When’s he comin’ back?’ ”
Bozzio wound up playing on four tracks on Big Delta, the 13th album by the Texas trio, which some folks might recall from their 1987 hit, “Hard Times in the Land of Plenty”. That was also the title of the band’s third album, which went on to sell half a million copies, a respectable number for any blues release. “Back then I was still young enough to enjoy getting out and playin’ and havin’ a little notoriety,” says Dykes, who, even though he’s now 52, claims: “I still rock, man.”
Born and raised in McComb, Mississippi—the birthplace of Bo Diddley—Dykes got his first musical experience as a teenager playing primitive blues in the area’s black juke joints. In ’76 he moved to the musical hotbed of Austin, which became quite a blues-rock mecca by the mid-’80s, when the Austin-based Stevie Ray Vaughan was making his unforgettable mark on the music world. But times have changed since then.
“The kind of music Stevie Ray played is really not the prevalent thing here at this point,” offers Dykes. “I don’t think blues-rock is as big as it was, nationally or internationally, but I’m always happy, ’cause I like to play what I play. I don’t think I’m on the tip of the commercial iceberg or anything.”
He may not be blazing his way up the Billboard chart, but with CDs like Big Delta, Dykes, who comes to the Yale Hotel on Wednesday (October 2), is proving that he’s still got a talent for gritty, low-down, rockin’ blues. His signature gutbucket growl sounds mighty fine on his rough ’n’ tumble, southern-boogie originals, as well as the disc’s sole cover tune, “Mississippi Queen”. Mountain’s ’70s-rock classic came into play while he was jammin’ with Bozzio and bassist extraordinaire Roscoe Beck (from the Robben Ford Band). “A lotta my stuff’s about the swamp and growin’ up in Mississippi,” says Dykes, “so it just seemed like a logical one for me.”
There is one thing strangely missing from Omar and the Howler’s new version of “Mississippi Queen”, however, that being Mountain drummer Corky Laing’s famed cowbell intro. Did Dykes have to tell Bozzio to skip it, or what? “I didn’t tell him anything,” replies Dykes with a chuckle. “He’s got so many weird drums, I just figured he would do the right thing.”