12mid, Central Presbyterian Church
From the far reaches of Sweden ("don't ask me to say the name!"), Bernard Fowler's speaking voice over the telephone is as rich as his vocals behind a microphone. Imposingly tall, athletically broad-shouldered, and sporting a majestic black mane of dreads, he's the first-call vocalist for artists as disparate as Yoko Ono, Bootsy Collins, and, most notably, the Rolling Stones. Such credentials sound a world away from where he's calling from.
"The tundra is beautiful. It's just big, open wilderness. You can actually see it from the city. There's a lake, and on the other side, it starts. When I was flying in, I saw a moose. Snow everywhere – they've had the worst winter in years. It shut down the subway in Stockholm. I'm just on the outskirts now of another city in Sweden."
And getting ready to rock their Nordic socks off, no doubt. Fowler lives in the best of two musical realities. His lucrative, high-profile part-time gig buys him the time and ability to pursue exactly the kinds of music he wants to do, such as collaborating with Stones drummer Charlie Watts, a legendary jazz fan. Touring on his own, the 59-year-old New Yorker makes music to suit himself, a broad-based repertoire fueled by the five-star band that backs him up.
"We're going to do songs from my record, Friends With Privileges. We're going to do some stuff I haven't done before, stuff I've written for other people, and," Fowler's voice turns coy, "we're gonna do some of everybody's favorites. The band is killer – Al Ortiz, Robert Davis, Phil Jones, and Waddy Wachtel are coming with me to Austin. We are coming to play straight-ahead rock & roll."
Hey Bernard, did you know you were playing a showcase at Central Presbyterian Church?
"That's a whole 'nother groove. It's an extra blessing."