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In 2005, Howling Diablos released their honestly raw 'Car Wash' LP on Alive Records / Bomp Records. With thick guitar riffs and soulful singing, the album paints a gritty portrait of Detroit's struggling working class. 'Prison Train' is a brutally vivid story about a man sentenced to death row after his girlfriend died of a heroin overdose. The brutal honesty of 'Dope Man' makes listener experience the daily struggle of heroin addiction. What would a Blues album be without songs about heartbreak? Their version of RL Burnside's 'Gone So Long' is an addictive gem about missing the one you love. Other true Blues sounding tracks include 'Broke Down', 'A Woman (Like Mine)', and 'Easy Street'. Without playing a role or exploiting the genre, Howling Diablos pay respect to the Blues while creating their own signature sound. As an album, 'Car Wash' is a bare bones musical experience. Although the stripped down sound is evident, the songs never sound weak. Once you hear 'Car Wash' by Howling Diablos, you will truly have the Blues if you are without the album. Regardless of where you work or how you live, the Blues will get into you one of these days. When that day comes, listen to Howling Diablos and you will release that your misery has some company.
T.JONES: 'What goes on?'
TINO GROSS: 'The band is getting ready to go out for some shows.'
T.JONES: 'The Howling Diablos just released the 'Car Wash' LP on Alive Records / Bomp Records. Tell us about the album.'
TINO GROSS: ''Car Wash' was recorded in 2 sessions at The White Room in downtown Detroit, last winter between 2004 and 2005. Some of it was done at my house as well. We took a pretty straight forward approach. The band played live, there were very little overdubs, and we went for a feel. I had just finished working with Fat Possum Records and produced 2 CDs for RL Burnside, who just passed last week at age 78. So, we did an RL cover, 'Gone So Long', as well.'
T.JONES: 'Do you have a favorite song on the 'Car Wash' LP?'
TINO GROSS: 'It's really hard to pick, but, I'd say 'Prison Train'. The song, 'Prison Train' just seems kind of timeless.'
T.JONES: 'The songs, 'Dope Man' and 'Prison Train' are about heroin addiction. Has the band struggled with heroin? Have you?'
TINO GROSS: ''Prison Train' does get a good response live. It is about doing smack and the perils of all that. We've had past members struggle with it. Everyone's pretty clean now. I had some trouble with it when I was a teenager.'
T.JONES: 'What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with heroin?'
TINO GROSS: 'My advice would be to say, 'Nobody can control it. It will control you eventually'. So, give yourself every chance to find another way to live and survive.'
T.JONES: 'What song took the longest to finish, from conception to completion?'
TINO GROSS: ''Mean Little Town' started out more like a Springsteen kind of thing with a bridge and all. It just needed to get stripped down into more of a country Blues song.'
T.JONES: 'What's the meaning behind the name 'Car Wash'?'
TINO GROSS: ''Car Wash' just came to us living in Detroit. If you look around, we have more car washes and bowling alleys than anywhere. The song is about working your gig and trying to get over.'
T.JONES: 'When creating a song, do you have the lyrics pre-written or a set theme? Or, do you write the music first and then, write to the music? Describe the creative process.'
TINO GROSS: 'I usually will have some little riff or a couple of chords on the guitar that I like. I'll start free styling vocals over that until something starts sounding good. You can tell, when it sounds natural and not too forced, it's usually on the money. I'll develop it from there. Maybe I'll re-write a verse or two. I've found my best stuff happens organically and I don't beat it up too much. Like Tom Waits says, 'Good songs are like little friends that will come around and hang out with you if you create the right conditions. If the vibe isn't cool they don't show up.' With the Howling Diablos, I'll bring in a song. We'll work it over and get a good groove arrangement. Then, we try it out live. You can tell if it's going to work pretty quick. We all collaborated on some of the material.'
T.JONES: 'Do you get any criticism for being white guys playing blues?'
TINO GROSS: 'Not that much really. think people can tell that we dig Blues and soul music, but we put our own spin on it, like The Stones or Elvis did back in the day. Nobody can sound like Muddy Waters or RL Burnside. So, why even try? Just do your own thing.'
T.JONES: 'By the way, rest in peace to Greg Shaw of Bomp Records. How did you get involved with Bomp / Alive Records?'
TINO GROSS: 'I had friends in Detroit who did records with them. People like Wayne Kramer, John Sinclair, Bootsey X, etc. We loved Alive's vibe and had been talking to Patrick off and on for a couple years. I sent him about half the 'Car Wash' CD. It blew his wig back. He offered us a deal, so we went back to the White Room and finished it up. Patrick was also cool in helping us pick the right material. It has been good working with them. Greg Shaw was a visionary in starting Bomp Records.'
T.JONES: 'Who are some of your major influences?'
TINO GROSS: 'I immediately liked the early pioneers like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and the guys that took the Blues to the next level. It hasn't really been done any better than that. I started working back to people like Robert Johnson and Son House, when Blues music had a really dangerous edge and was not to be taken lightly. I also like jazz guys with an edge, like Coltrane, Charlie Parker, etc. Later, I loved Hendrix, Elvis, The Stones, and Detroit music like the Stooges and MC5.'
T.JONES: 'Who are the contemporary artists you respect?'
TINO GROSS: 'Lots of people! The Clash, Ramones, White Stripes, and The Black Keys. Coldplay is hot. I also like Paul Wine Jones and Tom Waits.'
T.JONES: 'What has been in your CD player, tape deck, or on your turntable today?'
TINO GROSS: 'I have been listening to the Junior Kimbrough Tribute CD on Fat Possum. It is called 'Sunday Nights'. Also, some P-Funk and 'Johnny Cash at Folsum Prison'. I woke up today and made a Blues mix-tape with Fred McDowell, RL, Elmore James, and others.'
T.JONES: 'How did Howling Diablos meet and eventually become a band?'
TINO GROSS: 'Gary Grimshaw, the rock poster artist, was doing a show at a place in Detroit, called the Michigan Gallery. Gary asked me and Johnny Evans, who plays harp and sax, if we'd be interested in playing. That was really the first gig. We kept going after that. Mo Hollis, who plays bass, joined soon after. We had lots of different drummers and guitarists. I think we have the best line-up now with Johnny Bee on drums. He worked with Mitch Ryder, Dr. John, and Rockets. Also, we have Mike Smith on guitar. I love the way we all hit together and ride.'
T.JONES: 'Where were you doing the September 11th terrorist attack? How did you deal with it? How do you think it has affected music?'
TINO GROSS: 'I was in my car, in the morning, driving down Woodward. My girlfriend called me on the cell and asked me if I'd heard anything about what was going on in New York. I said, 'No. What are you talking about?' She told me that she thought New York was under some kind of attack. I went in the house and turned on the TV. Boom! I flipped on the TV and it was a shot of both towers still standing, but one was smoking. I was watching as the 2nd plane came in low and hit the other tower. My mind was blown when the whole thing fell down. I was numb and thought the world was ending. It has affected music by making people realize this country is hated by a good portion of the Eastern world. Our people are dying because of that. Some things really need to change before it becomes too late to turn it around.'
T.JONES: "What is your favorite part of your live show?"
TINO GROSS: 'I always dig it when the groove gets down low and nasty. I love it when people are smiling and having a good time.'
T.JONES: 'How has your live show evolved?'
TINO GROSS: 'It's gotten more energetic for sure. I love playing live. That's what it's really all about.'
T.JONES: 'Are there any signature songs you always play to start the concert? What about songs that you end the concert with?'
TINO GROSS: 'Our drummer, Johnny Bee makes sure the pace is right. We've been starting with 'Car Wash' and ending with 'Elvis Lives'. Sometimes, we wrap up with 'Prison Train'. People love that. For a long time, we would end with something called, 'Go Gene Go'. It has a drummer swing groove. People always loved that. Now, were mostly doing stuff off the new CD. It's going good.'
T.JONES: 'What pisses you off?'
TINO GROSS: 'Dumb asses or yahoos wanting to hear cover tunes. Also, bad sound men that think they're Hitler, no beer in the dressing room, no dressing room, and sports bars with televisions everywhere. Stuff like that is annoying.'
T.JONES: 'What song made you fall in love with The Blues?'
TINO GROSS: 'I'm into Blues and soul music because it has that real genuine sound. As far as what song, I think I really liked some early Jimmy Reed. Robert Johnson's 'Hell Hound On My Trail' is about as badass as music will ever get.'
T.JONES: 'What other bands were you in before Howling Diablos?'
TINO GROSS: 'I was in a band called The Urbations, back in the 1980's. I was the drummer in that outfit. It was kind of like a new-wave meets The Specials and The English Beat sort of thing with horns. We toured a lot. We were on Celluloid Records in New York City and managed by John Sinclair. He was the former MC5 manager. I became more of a free-lance guy when that went down the tubes. I played drums with everybody around Detroit and Ann Arbor, at that time. I played with Big Walter Horton, Johnny Shines, Steve Nardella, and John Nicholas. This was all for Blind Pig Records. I've been doing the same sort of thing again recently with Fat Possum Records, out of Mississippi. I just did stuff like Nathaniel Mayer's excellent new CD, 'I Just Want To Be Held', Little Freddie King's 'You Don't Know What I Know', Charles Caldwell's 'Remember Me', and the last two RL Burnside CDs, 'A Bothered Mind' and 'Darker Blues'. In between all the freelance stuff, I played a couple gigs with Dee Dee Ramone, when he moved to Detroit in the early '90s. I'm on The Romantics new CD, last year. The Howling Diablos is my favorite thing because I'm playing guitar, singing, and doing my own material on a great label like Bomp.'
T.JONES: 'What is the meaning behind the name Howling Diablos?'
TINO GROSS: 'It just sounded cool, like Rolling Stones, Black Crowes, or Mannish Boys. I think the Howling Wolf might have inspired it. Of course, Nolan Strong and the Diablos were out of Detroit.'
T.JONES: 'What are the best things about living in Detroit?'
TINO GROSS: 'Wow! I'd have to say that growing up in Detroit enabled me to soak up some incredible music and taught me how to do my thing, because a Detroit boy can survive.'
T.JONES: 'What are the worst things about living in Detroit?'
TINO GROSS: 'Man, it can be hell. Like in any big city, you need to know where you are and why you're there at all times. I've been robbed several times. I've have had shotguns put in my face. I was at the Union Street in Detroit, across the street from the Magic Stick when a crack head came in and robbed the place. I crouched down behind a table and the guy put a cap right through it. Missed me by an inch. At the same time, I love this place and I'm proud to call it my home.'
T.JONES: 'What was the biggest mistake you have made in your career?'
TINO GROSS: 'That's hard to say. There's been a lot of real highs and a lot of real lows. I'd say the lows were a result of me trusting people and believing their bullshit. This is common in this industry. Getting burned. The highs are incredible. I sat in on guitar with Bob Dylan at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, a few years ago. I couldn't put a price on that. It was a real high most people will never experience.'
T.JONES: 'What classic Blues songs have you covered? What ones would you like to cover?'
TINO GROSS: 'We really haven't messed with too many of them because it's hard to beat the original. We did cover RL Burnside and didn't fuck it up too bad. I'd like to tackle 'See That My Grave's Kept Clean', originally by Blind Lemon Jefferson back in '28. During live shows, we mess with a little bit of Howling Wolf's 'Killing Floor'.'
T.JONES: 'Favorite guitar?'
TINO GROSS: 'Fender.'
T.JONES: 'Word association. I am going to say the name, and you say the first word that pops into your head. If I said, 'The Beatles', you may say, 'Revolver' or 'Yoko Ono'. Okay?'
TINO GROSS: 'Cool.'
T.JONES: 'The Rolling Stones.'
TINO GROSS: 'Chuck Berry.'
T.JONES: 'Muddy Waters.'
TINO GROSS: 'Chess Records.'
TINO GROSS: 'Marshall.'
T.JONES: 'The White Stripes.'
TINO GROSS: 'I love the drummer.'
T.JONES: 'My Bloody Valentine.'
TINO GROSS: 'Great name.'
T.JONES: 'The Stone Roses.'
TINO GROSS: 'British boys.'
T.JONES: 'Happy Mondays.'
TINO GROSS: 'Mommas and The Poppas.'
T.JONES: 'The Blues Brothers.'
TINO GROSS: 'Comedians.'
T.JONES: 'B.B. King.'
TINO GROSS: 'Master.'
T.JONES: 'Curtis Mayfield.'
TINO GROSS: 'Soul genius.'
T.JONES: 'Billy Holliday.'
TINO GROSS: 'Black soul.'
T.JONES: 'Gil-Scott Heron.'
TINO GROSS: 'Revolution.'
TINO GROSS: 'Nice groove.'
T.JONES: 'George Bush.'
TINO GROSS: 'Retard.'
T.JONES: 'What can we expect from Tino Brass and / or Howling Diablos in the future?'
TINO GROSS: 'We're gonna keep on keeping on.'
T.JONES: 'Final words?'
TINO GROSS: 'John Lennon said it best. All you need is love, baby.'
Todd E. Jones
Interview by Todd E. Jones
NOTICE: This interview is property of Todd E. Jones and cannot be duplicated or posted without written permission.