In the early 1980s, Randal Drader missed a ferry back to Powell River on his way home from a trip to Vancouver Island. With time on his hands, he decided to go for a little drive around the Courtenay area and began cruising up and down rows of houses.
On one particular street, he could hear the sounds of a rock band emanating from a basement window. Twenty-five years old at the time and owner of the Cellar Nightclub in Townsite, Drader slowed down to take a listen and eventually stopped the car altogether.
“I could hear this band playing Journey and the harmonies were there and the vocals were great,” he said. “I waited until they finished and I knocked on the door, walked in and there were the pretty boys. There these guys were, practicing in the basement with the big hair and full-on spandex and makeup and everything.”
Feeling perhaps a little underdressed and overdressed at the same time, Drader introduced himself and hired the group on the spot for their first show across the water in Powell River.
The band, called Young Gun, then “started playing over here all the time,” he said. “They played steady. They played grad here at Max Cameron [Secondary School], I had them at the Westview [Hotel] one time too and they played the Lund Hall. Picture that. Here’s this band of long-haired rock and rollers wearing spandex and 500 bucks worth of hair spray playing the Lund Hall which has been condemned for what, 20 years now? They only had like two power bars to run all the amplifiers,” he recalled, laughing.
While the venue was perhaps beyond repair, Drader saw star potential in the band and particularly in a young man named Brian Howes who, barely out of his teens, would soon become like a little brother to him. A little brother that liked to get into the makeup drawer, that is.
“The first time they came over to play the girls went absolutely goo-goo over them,” he said, adding that the band never travelled without a tackle box full of makeup each. Today, Drader fishes and guides charter boat tours for a living but says even now his tackle box still pales in comparison.
When Young Gun hit the stage, they were “a show from the first note to the last” and Powell River was where they fine-tuned their live act and honed their skills to a local crowd. “It was our starting ground for sure, learning to play bigger shows,” said Howes. “It was cool, it made me want to keep going.”
After a few well-received performances in the area, Drader called S.L. Feldman and Associates, one of the premiere talent and booking agencies both then and now, and arranged to fly in an agent to check out the band. When his offer was stood up at the last minute, he called the owner of People’s Nightclub, the largest and busiest venue on Vancouver Island at the time, and made arrangements that led to Young Gun being booked there directly, a move that stepped right over Feldman.
“He got so screaming mad because nobody ever booked in People’s directly without them,” chuckled Drader. “The next week [Young Gun] started working for Feldman and within two months they were doing Canadian tours.”
After a few years with that band, Howes had begun to get restless. “I was really getting sick of playing covers and just wanted to really focus on learning how to write songs and produce,” he said. “I would sit in the hotel room and figure out how to write songs and just kept working on my craft.”
Young Gun had caught the tail end of the 1980s, perhaps “just a hair too young” as trends shifted toward the Seattle grunge scene. “I remember hearing Nirvana on the radio for the first time and going ‘this is so much cooler than what I’m doing,’” he said. “I just fell in love with it and kind of went ‘wow, I don’t want to be pigeon-holed. There’s so many cool styles of music out there that I want to be involved in.’”
As the 1990s began, Howes left Young Gun and started a band called DDT. After Lars Ulrich of Metallica heard the group, it was signed to Elektra Records and toured the world. “We did really well, we sold some records, but it took a while,” said Howes. “That was from about 1991 to 1999 and it took us about seven of those years to get signed.”
As the year 2000 approached, Howes was growing increasingly tired of life on the road and the financial pressure it had been putting on his wife. “Obviously, I was broke,” he said. It was then he decided to make a demo tape and try to get a publishing deal so he could make some money on which to live.
Howes put together a four-song demo and sent it out to all of the major record labels, several of which entered a bidding war trying to sign it. He had just one problem, however. There was no band for them to sign. The recording was just Howes and his guitar, so he quickly threw a group together and made a full record. It caught the attention of some of the members of the American band Hinder, a group he would later go on to produce in what he called his “first big break.
“That whole thing popped and then I worked with Daughtry and a bunch of American Idol stuff after that,” he said. “Every step took me a little higher and I just kind of expanded.”
Howes won a Juno in 2007 and again in 2012 for producer of the year, beating out fellow Canadians Bob Rock and David Foster. “That was really cool, especially to beat out your idol [Rock],” said Howes. He also won the 2010 International Achievement Award from SOCAN [Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada.] “I’ve been pretty lucky,” he said.
Projects with Hedley, Simple Plan, David Cook, Chris Cornell, Nickelback, Avril Lavigne take centre stage on Howes’ resumé, as well as a label deal with Jimmy Iovine at Interscope Records. The musical diversity Howes used to crave while playing covers in his younger days has now become a reality. “Any genre I can [work with I will],” he said. “I love urban music. I worked with Beyonce last year which was really cool. It’s crazy how the 80s’ stuff has led me to working with urban music.”
Lately, Howes’ projects have become more and more centred in the United States and he recently relocated to Los Angeles from his longtime home in Vancouver. Working with artists from television shows like The Voice and The X Factor, and preparing for a baby on the way, have been keeping him very busy, but not too busy to give his buddy Randal a call every once in a while.
“He was the first kind of official manager in my life,” said Howes. “He got us our start and got me up and running and gave me a bigger vision of the music business. Whenever I get a chance, I try and call him,” he said.
“Brian and I are family,” said Drader through a proud smile. “We don’t see each other all the time but when we do see each other it’s never changed. He’s like my little brother. He’s never forgotten where he started and he’s very humble. Just a real nice guy.
“The biggest inspiration for me is that he just never gave up,” added Drader. “He was down, he was broke, but he just kept saying I’m not going to quit.”
It’s hard to deny that Howes has certainly come a long way since his days playing covers in a Courtenay basement. And indeed, it’s rather fitting that Journey’s 1981 hit Don’t Stop Believin’ has served as somewhat of a motto for his entire career, even though he probably hasn’t played it in decades.