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An Interview with Howling Diablos

Howling Diablos (Photo Credit: Bette Chapelle)

Johnny Evans – sax/harp
Johnny Bee – drums
MO Hollis – bass
Erik Gustafson – guitar
Tino Gross – vocals

Howling Diablos have been a Detroit staple since their origin in the 90’s. The band’s live shows are powerful, gritty, raw and mixed with a blend of rock, funk, and blues. Howling Diablos have collaborated with artists such as Kid Rock and Nathaniel Mayer, and opened for acts including George Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic, Alice Cooper, Ben Harper, Hank Williams Jr, and Incubus as well as headlining their own shows. The group is getting ready to rock the crowd at MI Fest ’11 in Brooklyn, MI this Saturday. Noize got the chance to ask Tino Gross some questions about the band and what they have been up to…

I was at the Park Bar for the release party for Ultra Sonic Gas Can. The place was packed and everyone was having a great time. As a concert photographer, your show is the only place where people pushed me up front so I could take pictures-usually I have to sneak my way up there and try not to be in the way! That was pretty cool. You have great fans. Where did the name “Ultra Sonic Gas Can” come from?

The CD Release Party was a BASH! and yes, we do have awesome fans…’Ultra Sonic Gas Can’ actually came after several other names were luke-warm, and nobody was feeling them. I wanted something that ‘fit’ the sound of the record, and had a Detroit ‘feel’ to it. The concept of combining high octane fuel, sound, cars, and the Motor-City, all came together perfectly in the title. Plus people’s reaction to it was really good… “Oh I love the title…that’s HOT!’

What was it like working with Uncle Kracker and hip-hop artist Hush? How did they end up making a guest-appearance on your new cd?

Uncle Kracker and Hush are both artists we have worked with over the years…Kracker and I wrote ‘Detroit On My Mind’ a few years back for one of his records, and it never got used… so I had the Diablos cut the track, with Johnny Bee and Jim McCarty from the Detroit Wheels. Jimmie Bones from Kid Rock’s band is on keys. It’s one of my favorites on the new record. Hush is a killer rapper who combines a street sound with a socially conscious intelligence that I love. I used him on the RL Burnside record ‘A Bothered Mind’ for Fat Possum Records.

Are there any Detroit artists that you would like to work with but haven’t gotten the chance yet?

Detroit has more great artists than anywhere I’ve ever been, there’s tons of good ones. I’m working with 2 really good bands right now, Horse Cave Trio and StaggoLee. Just did a track with Sean Forbes where we got a co-write with Bob Dylan. I been doing songs with Eliza Neals and Barrett Strong that are killer…a real sweet track with Danny D and Mark Farner… But, I would love to do something with Eminem, Bette Lavette, Jack White, Peter Wolf, or some unknown blues cats/street musicians.

What does the band have planned for the rest of 2011?

The Diablos are going to bust out another single , ‘House Party’, from the new album, with another video. Mike E. Clark (Insane Clown Posse) helped with this track and it is so fresh! It’s about a heavy metal musician/family-man who’s out of work and in foreclosure. He finds some turntables in the trash and starts throwing house parties, spinning records to pay the mortgage. It’s a real American underdog story, like Rocky! Watch out cuz it’s COMING!

Awesome, can’t wait to see the video-we are big Mike E. Clark fans! What do you think of the current Detroit music scene? How has it changed since Howling Diablos got together?

The Detroit music scene is, and always will be the BEST scene ever. It’s popularity ebbs and flows like the ocean…but it’s deep.

Congratulations on winning an award for “Outstanding Live Performance” at the Detroit Music Awards this year. What was that like?

The Diablos are truly fortunate in that we have been honored at the Detroit Music Awards. Getting the nod for “Outstanding Live Performance’ meant alot to us because that’s what we come from. That same year we got to open 2 shows at The Fillmore for the J. Geils Band, who are super-hot live performers.

Do any of the band members have any interesting routines before a big show? How do you prepare?

The Diablos prepare for a show by stayin loose-as-a-goose, and don’t overthink it, which is the key to being fluid, and is key to being great live. We have a set-list, and have arrangements, but we leave space for magic to happen. We are NOT trying to play perfect recreations of a recording. We like to feel out the crowd and the venue and then blast them with an up-to-the-minute news report of how we feel at that exact moment. This approach is not for every band…you have to be able to tap into the old ‘Deal with the Devil at the Crossroads’ shit to do this.

What’s your favorite venue to play at in Detroit? Favorite hotspots?

Detroit has some real cool historic venues like St. Andrew’s Hall, Cobo Hall, and The Fillmore (State Theatre). We love theaters like The FOX, where alot of energy is coming back in your face. The worst gigs are when they stick the people a long distance from the stage. That might work for The Ice Follies or Les Miserables, but a rock n roll show should have people pressed up near the front, going crazy, like The Apollo Theater when James Brown or Little Willie John played. Our new favorite hotspot will be Michigan Speedway on Sept.17th! Start your engines! Bring the ‘Ultra Sonic Gas Can!

Thanks for the great answers Tino. See you at Mi Fest!

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