When singer Bernard Fowler hooked up with the Rolling Stones for the band’s late-1980s reunion album “Steel Wheels,” and the subsequent world tour behind that album, he already had been around the block a few times.
Working with everyone from Herbie Hancock to Public Image LTD. and Philip Glass, Fowler had made a serious name for himself, in the process garnering the attention of Mick Jagger, who hired him for his 1985 solo debut “She’s the Boss.”
Fowler has been a strong presence in the music of the Stones ever since, both on stage and off. He’s also worked with the band members on their various solo projects, including a jaw-dropping turn as featured vocalist with the Charlie Watts Quintet, during which Fowler revealed that, in addition to his mastery of R&B, funk, soul, rock, reggae and various permutations thereof, he could also more than cut it as a jazz vocalist.
Mastery of diverse styles has long been Fowler’s claim to fame, and is more than likely what got him hired by the Rolling Stones in the first place. That diversity is abundant on Fowler’s new solo album, “The Bura,” which finds the singer joined by a list of star contributors including Chuck D of Public Enemy, Slash, L. Shankar, members of Living Color, and fellow Stones vocalist Lisa Fischer, for a collection that includes several Fowler-penned classics-in-waiting, as well as inspired interpretations of songs by the Stones, the Beatles, the Box Tops and Queen.
Fowler will be in the area for a book signing from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday to sign copies of “The Bura” at the Ellicottville Depot (6094 Route 219, Ellicotville), a bar and restaurant granted a Rolling Stones theme by owner and Stones fanatic Moose Brown.
I spoke to Fowler last week about “The Bura,” the Stones and the significance of musical diversity.
Question: You’ve had an incredibly diverse career, and that diversity is reflected in the new album. There’s soulful hard rock, reggae and dub, R&B, funk. How did you manage to make all of this into something cohesive?
Answer: Funny you should ask that, because I have always been told “You can’t do that. You can’t mix all of these different things together on one album. People won’t understand.” But we live in a very good time today. If you look at the playlist of anyone you meet, on their phone or iPod, you’ll see that it’s completely diverse. I think that diversity in music is being accepted, maybe more than ever. So “The Bura” reflects that. And this is the way I’ve always been anyway.
Q: The list of guest contributors is incredibly impressive.
A: I’m blessed. There was no big budget for this album, there was no record company putting up big money or anything like that. It was a labor of love. Incredibly, everyone I asked said yes. And they certainly didn’t do it for money. (Laughs) Getting Chuck D to rap on our version of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” for example – wow. He’s the master. And he gave it all he had.
Q: Will you be touring the new record when you get a break from the Stones?
A: Absolutely, as much as humanly possible, and we’ll be coming up to your region, too.
Q: When you first joined the Stones, Bill Wyman was still the bassist. Soon after, Darryl Jones joined, and for my money, the improvement in the rhythm section was remarkable, and really recharged the whole group. Was this your experience?
A: Man, you nailed it. All of a sudden, there was a lot more roll in that rock ’n’ roll. (laughs) He’s an unbelievable musician, and yeah, he definitely gave the band a new lease on life. It just got funkier and better, while still sounding like the Stones.
Q: By all accounts, the Stones are killing it on this tour. Age doesn’t seem to be a factor.
A: Man, I’ve been with the Stones for almost 30 years now, so everyone has to believe me when I tell them this – they are absolutely, beyond a doubt, playing better than they ever have. That’s saying something, I know. But it’s the truth. They’re killing it. Mick is the hardest working man in show business, there is no doubt. He’s been unbelievable.