Interview: “Made In Brooklyn” Rick Howard

“Made in Brooklyn”…Rick & Lisa Howard… Florida Doo wop Team Embrace Brooklyn Roots

 “Are you kidding? Geez…I used to live at Nathan’s. The best French fries in the entire universe. We used to hang out there with the ‘Carnies’ who operated the rides and games at Astro Land and Steeple Chase Park.”

Rick Howard (Lisa Howard’s husband and the other half of the Made In Brooklyn duo) was born in 1955 in the Midwood section of Brooklyn.
In a Brooklyn Eagle interview with the Brooklyn born duo, Howard said; “Lisa and I had totally different kinds of childhoods although we are both from Brooklyn. When I was five my family moved from Midwood to Canarsie. In the early 60s Carnarsie wasn’t developed yet, there were still farms, and a lot of untouched swamp areas. Like country kids anywhere we’d go out and explore, searching for tadpoles and stuff little kids do in the woods.”
Howard continued; “I was not an athletic kid, I was not into sports. I was into drawing, dinosaurs and reading, you know, a little intellectual kid.”
When he was nine his family moved to Seagate (aka Norton’s Point) at the tip of Coney Island. Rick added, “It was a gated community but it was not exclusive.”
Howard went to grammar school at PS 188 in Coney Island, and attended Mark Twain Jr. High School. Then he went to a newly opened experimental High School in 1968 called John Dewey High School. “It wasn’t meant to be an art school but it leaned toward that. They dabbled with free study periods where you could just go off and study what you wanted to study. I didn’t go to college until I was 26…for two years…it was Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn.”

When you did get to college you studied music, right?
“Yes. Well, it was a program funded by a Musician’s Union for professional musicians. It was part of a larger program. A lot of the professors for the program were from Julliard and The Manhattan School.”

Howard’s introduction to music was via his mother. He described her as “a beatnik who took me with her when I was very young to some of the famous music venues in Greenwich Village like Cafe Wha.  I spent a lot of time with my mother in the Village.”
He added; “She played the guitar and started me out with Clarinet and Saxophone lessons, which I did not take to, but soon enough she was teaching me my first chords on the guitar when I was seven.”

Howard at 14 with his guitars.

There was always music playing in the Howard home. His father liked big band music, and his mother listened to everything from Johnny Mathis to Nina Simone, and the popular folk music groups of the day like The LimelightersThe Kingston Trio, and Pete Seeger.
Howard was only 11 years old when he started his first band. “We had one gig. I played the guitar, one kid was on the bongos and one kid did the singing. We called ourselves the Boy O Boys.”  Howard laughed, then continued; “My grandmother used to work in the administrative office of a nursing home and we performed there. (Laughing again) That was our one big gig. But I don’t remember being paid for a gig until I was 17 years old.”
Howard has performed a wide range of music all his life. He’s been studying and playing jazz since he was eighteen. “I’ve always had bands and worked with different people. I’ve had many bands…I had a few bands in High School…I’m 59 years old so I missed the doo wop era…but we put together a group that did a lot of those songs…like Sha Na Na…and just for fun we called it Teddy and the Teen Tones. You gotta remember that in the late 60s and early 70s, I was still in high school. So we were catching the last part of the whole hippie thing…I was fascinated with the Haight Ashbury scene. We were doing what most of the kids were doing during that era.”

Who specifically influenced you the most musically?
“Well, my big influences included Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, David Gilmore, and Alvin Lee. I still love those guitarist to this day.”

You were with a group called Music Box for many years, tell us something about that band.

Rick (front row 2nd from right) with Music Box.

“That started in 1983. We started out doing country and became very big in the Tri-State area, when Country & Western Clubs seemed to be everywhere. When country music died out in the area we started doing oldies, and on into the 90s we played all over the place with Chuck Berry, The Shirelles, The Coasters, just about everybody you could name. That was all exciting, and I have a ton of good memories from that time.”

In the 1980s Howard also did a lot of recording session work in Manhattan, playing on movies scores and commercial jingles.
“I don’t like being a starving musician, I like eating too much. I want to just keep working and making music, as many different kinds of music as possible, and still be an artist.”

When I asked him about his Brooklyn childhood, he recalled:
“One of the biggest things I miss about Brooklyn in the old days…I miss the luncheonettes and mom and pop stores, the pharmacies.  In Sheepshead Bay, when I was single, there was a luncheonette down the block owned by this nice old Jewish couple. I would go in there and the first thing she would say was; How are you?
And she would make me this giant pastrami sandwich, or a fantastic chocolate malted shake. She also made me a dish called Matzo Brei (matzah fried in eggs). There weren’t any CVS’s or Walgreens back then. Just all these little mom and pop luncheonettes we called candy stores. We used to go in there and sit down on the stool at the counter, and we’d have salami and eggs with a bagel  for breakfast, you know, that’s Brooklyn.”

Howard paused for a moment, and asked me if that was enough and I replied, keep talking.
“Another special place I remember was in Sheepshead Bay by the Post Office, it was called Meyer’s.  We used to go in there and for $4.75 we’d get this huge, and I mean huge, roast beef sandwich. All the postal workers ate there. Yea, Meyer’s was one good place. Of course we had Lundy’s in Sheepshead Bay, but for me, my fondest memories are from those small luncheonettes. I remember when walking home from school on Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island I would stop by the butcher’s store and he would make us knockwurst hotdogs.”

I asked Rick since he lived close to Coney Island if he ever went to Nathan’s.
“Are you kidding? Jeez, I used to live at Nathan’s. The best French fries in the entire universe. We used to hang out there with the ‘Carnies’ who operated the rides and games at Astro Land and Steeple Chase Park. And I went to the Surf Theater and the Tilyou Theater quite a bit.”
“And another thing I remember about Brooklyn; those trucks with the rides on the flatbed would come around to the neighborhoods. King Kong and the Whip were my favorites. They brought Coney Island to us. As a kid, we’d pay a dime and go on the ride. They also delivered bottled Seltzer to the house, like the milkman, we had the Seltzer man.”

I asked Rick if he was interested in anything besides music?
“Yes, my most gratifying hobby is the photography I’ve been doing for the past 10 years. I really enjoy doing nature and wildlife photography.”

Photos: Courtesy of Rick Howard and Lisa Howard.