Time flies when you’re having a bluesy good time, and Omar Dykes should know. He formed the Howlers 20 years ago.
“It doesn’t seem that long ago,” the soul-bearing blues singer said recently from his Austin, Texas, home. “I still feel like I’m about 15 years old, but then I look in the mirror and scare myself.”
Even after all those years, it’s easy for Dykes to recount his first gig at a VFW post in his native Mississippi.
“A guy built like an Army tank walked in off stage,” Dykes said, laughing. “I saw him walk in and I knew he was drunk. He was staggering around and he kept looking at me with this mean look. I’m thinking, ‘Who is this guy?’
“He pulled me off stage and my bass player grabbed my guitar before I hit the floor. I got beaten up almost unconscious and then his girlfriend yells, ‘No, Foozy, that’s the wrong guy.’ I remember his name very well.
“Back then, we were dressed in black coats and white turtleneck shirts. The guy bloodied my nose and I had blood all over my white shirt. But it didn’t stop me from playing. The show went on.”
That tenacity has served Dykes well. As styles have come and gone, Omar and the Howlers have stayed tried and true to their blues and rock roots, from their glory days with Columbia Records in the ’80s (notably “Hard Times in the Land of Plenty”) to their new “World Wide Open” album, the group’s second for Watermelon Records.
Among other things, “World Wide Open” marks a new Howlers lineup. Tired of the road life, bassist Bruce Jones and drummer Gene Bradley quit and have been replaced by Paul Junior and Steve Kilmer.
“They’ve been with us for two years so they’re broken in real well,” Dykes said. “When the other guys left, both of these guys were recommended by different people who know how I play and what I was looking for, so there weren’t any auditions.”
One of the album’s most daring tracks is “Hey Joe,” a taut cover of the Leaves’ 1965 original.
“That was actually the version I played when I was 14 years old,” Dykes said. “The Leaves did it way before (Jimi) Hendrix it. All the garage bands played in Mississippi back in the ’60s, and that version has always stuck with me.”
BWF (before we forget): Omar and The Howlers’ album discography – “Big Leg Beat” (Amazing, 1980); “I Told You So” (Austin, 1984); “Hard Times in the Land of Plenty” (Columbia, 1987); “Wall of Pride” (1988); “Monkey Land” (Antone’s, 1990); “Blues Bag” (Bullseye Blues/Rounder, 1991); “Live at Paradiso” (1992); “Courts of Lulu” (1993); “Muddy Springs Road” (Watermelon, 1994); “World Wide Open” (1996).