American Routes Shortcuts: Bernard Fowler

Oct 11, 2019

Bernard Fowler
Credit American Routes

Rolling Stones percussionist and backing singer Bernard Fowler has put a new twist on some of the band’s songs. His album “Inside Out” is a spoken word collection of their lyrics. Bernard has toured and recorded with the band since 1989. He uses a monitor on stage to anticipate Mick Jagger’s vocals. Bernard grew up in New York City’s black and Puerto Rican Queensbridge Projects, surrounded by the city’s soul and salsa sounds. He went on to form the New York Citi Peech Boys, whose dance hits were widely sampled, making Bernard’s voice a soundtrack for many. He went on to work with Herbie Hancock, and it was Herbie’s producer and collaborator, Bill Laswell, who introduced Bernard to his next incarnation. 


Bernard Fowler: I toured with Herbie for a long time, and during that tour, I had a break. I walk into my apartment, phone rings, it’s Bill Laswell. “Bernard, where are you? Go to the airport, there’s a ticket there for you.” I go to the airport, “Excuse me is there a ticket?” She says, “Yeah you got a first class ticket to London.” Okay, I meet Bill in London. He says, “Do you like the Stones?” And I’m like, “What? The first record my father ever gave me was a Rolling Stone record.” 

Nick Spitzer: Now that sounds prophetic. 

BF: Yeah, really! So we keep talking, and we come to this house. We walk up the house, a big black dude answers the door. “Hey Bill,” he says, “He’s in that room.” I don’t know who he is. We walk in the room, and I’m in shock. It’s Mick Jagger! Mick invites me on the floor. He’s strummin’, I’m hummin’, the next day we go into the studio to work on his first solo album, She’s the Boss. 

NS: Why’d you decide to do this recording? It’s called Bernard Fowler: Inside Out. 

BF: I did a show at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It was a tribute to the Stones and Chuck D was part of this all-star band, and Chuck D didn’t show up for the first rehearsal. I said, “I’ve been messing around with this idea of spoken word stuff,” you know, and I said, “Well if Chuck D doesn’t come, I’d like to try.” And he said, “Well, that’s an idea.” And then they started playing “Sympathy for the Devil,” and I recited it in poetry form. And Steve said, “Yo man, if Chuck don’t show up, we’re definitely doing that.” Chuck did show up, but we did it anyway. 

NS: You have had a career, you have all these obvious talents, but is it hard to be onstage with these four­– or five depending– icons? Is that an unusual relationship for you to manage? 

BF: I think at the beginning, when I first started working with them, yes it was because up until that point I was Mick Jagger in my world only. That’s Mick and that’s his band, and you know what, nobody does it better than the Rolling Stones. But I’m kicking some booty over there. 

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