interview: singer/rolling stones backing vocalist bernard fowler keeps it movin’

February 8, 2012

He may not be a household name but if you’re a fan of jazz, funk, alternative or rock and roll then you have heard Bernard Fowler’s voice and you have probably seen him perform countless time. Fowler’s first taste of success came in the early 80’s in the form of the club hit “Don’t Make Me Wait” as a member of the New York Citi Peech Boys. From there, Bernard Fowler has been a featured vocalist on a number of records for a plethora of artists including Yoko Ono, Stevie Salas, Herb Alpert, Tackhead, Duran Duran, Sly and Robbie, Herbie Hancock, PIL, and Bootsy Collins just to name of few. His steadiest gig has been his twenty years working as the main backing vocalist for The Rolling Stones. His affiliation with the Stones has led to appearances on solo discs by Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ron Wood and Mick Jagger. When Fowler isn’t hanging with the Stones he keeps himself busy doing his own music. I had the chance to chat with Fowler as he prepared for an upcoming show in New York City.

Interview by David Carr

David Carr: Bernard, tell me how this journey started for you.  How did you end up working with The Rolling Stones?
Bernard Fowler: Total Eclipse was the first band I was in and the bassist and drummer of that band became the New York Citi Peech Boys, along with me.  I then started singing for Herbie Hancock on his “Future Shock” record.   I had a break and when I came home, I literally walked through my front door and Bill Laswell called me and told me to come to London right now.   I ended up flying to London and he took me to a house where I met Mick Jagger.    We hung out, sang, talked, hummed and strummed and after that meeting, I got the chance to be on his first solo record “She’s The Boss”.   A few years later I was in a rehearsal studio for a gig in the south of France when I heard Mick was looking for a male voice to join him on the road.  I walked out to the bathroom and ran into Mick in the hallway. That same day someone asked me to audition for Mick Jagger’s solo tour.

David Carr: Where does the band Tackhead come into play?  When did you start fronting them?
Bernard Fowler: I met Doug Wimbish through Mick Jagger.  He was playing bass in Mick Jagger’s band.   I went to see Tackhead after rehearsals with Mick and I fell in love with the band. After the Mick Jagger gig, I moved to England to work with Tackhead.  During this time in England with Tackhead, Mick asked me to help out on what would be my first Rolling Stones LP which was “Steel Wheels”.
David Carr: Even though you have toured the world with The Stones do you still have your own aspirations of being a “rockstar”?
Bernard Fowler: After The New York Citi Peech Boys experience I put my dreams of being a rockstar on the shelf.  I just decided that I wanted to sing and that I wanted to be a working musician.  That’s what I wanted to do with my life and I have been able to do that with The Rolling Stones.  The first record my father gave me was by The Rolling Stones so it is fitting that I have been able to become a working singer/musician with them.  I have been lucky enough to work on all of their albums since 1989.  I have also worked on solo records for Keith Richards and Mick Jagger.  I have worked on the jazz albums by Charlie Watts and I have produced two records for Ronnie Woods.

David Carr: What have you learned from this experience?
Bernard Fowler: I think the main thing I have learned is that now that James Brown is gone, Mick Jagger is the hardest working man in show business!  HA!
David Carr: Would you say your work with the Stones has been the pinnacle of your professional career?
Bernard Fowler: I would say it’s one of the pinnacles of my career.  Working with Herbie Hancock was another pinnacle and so is the work I have done with Ryuichi Sakammoto.

David Carr: You released a solo disc in 2006 (“Friends with Privileges”).  Do you have any plans to do another disc?
Bernard Fowler: I am working on it as we speak.  I am working with a guitarist named Robert Davis and we are about five songs in.  I left LA for New York to look for some “flavor” for this record.  There are gonna be a good number of players on this disc.
David Carr: With such a wide range of styles to draw from what can folks expect on this new disc?
Bernard Fowler: Good songs! HA!
David Carr: You seem to be able to hold your own and then some, no matter what the style of music.  How have you been able to sing/perform /work within the confines of jazz, rock, blues, soul and latin music?
Bernard Fowler: I grew up in the Queensbridge Projects in New York.  You’ve probably heard of it thanks to Nas.  The community was primarily Black and Puerto Rican.  I used to hit the clubs to dance salsa with the Black and Puerto Rican kids but I was also into The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.  I listened to the rock and roll, the r&b and to the salsa that was happening all around me.  All of those influences are wide and vast and they are all in me.  
David Carr: And this explains why you are the go to vocalist for so many different artists?
Bernard Fowler:  Exactly!  I am able to go so many places vocally because of how I grew up.  Bottom line is, if I like it I will give it a try…my upbringing has served me well.  At the end of the day I just want to sing!
David Carr: Looks like you will be doing just that at the Highline Ballroom on February 8th, correct?
Bernard Fowler: Yeah it’s just a one off gig.  I figured since I am writing in New York, why not do a show? After the gig I will be going back to LA to my wife, and to finish up the disc.
David Carr: There are a ton of rumors swirling about whether or not The Rolling Stones will tour this year to commemorate their 50th anniversary.  If they do it will you be on the road with them?
Bernard Fowler: If they go and If I am asked to join them, yes I will be there.  There’s no way I can say no!  It will be Rock and Roll History in the making.
Keep an eye out for a new disc and shows from Bernard Fowler.