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Triad rocker Clay Howard proves rock music isn’t dead

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Singer-songwriter Clay Howard of Kernersville, who just released his first solo album, will perform on May 8 at The Garage in Winston-Salem.

Triad rocker Clay Howard’s solo debut album showed up between two Led Zeppelin LPs on Amazon’s list of Classic Rock best-sellers last week, exactly where he and his producer, Brynn Arens, would have wanted it.

“(Arens) said, ‘Rock music’s dead — why am I doing this?’ ” Howard said during a recent interview at his Kernersville home. “It’s funny — he often says that he’s the guy in the bushes that nobody told the war was over.”

Arens, who lives in Minneapolis, produced “Who the Hell is Clay Howard?” He leads the Oddfathers and fronted Flipp in the 1990s. The Internet allowed him to produce and play most of the instruments on Howard’s solo debut album from 1,100 miles away.

“It’s really not rocket science when you’ve got somebody as good as him,” Arens said.

Howard, 46, will showcase his new album May 8 at the Garage in Winston-Salem, backed by an all-star band of Triad rockers: Doug Davis, Jerry Chapman, Aaron Burkey and Corky McClellen. Davis runs a home studio, plays in multiple bands and organizes several Vagabond Saints Society’s cover-show extravaganzas every year, with Howard one of many guest vocalists.

“He had originally talked to me about producing an album,” Davis said. “This guy made a totally different album than I would have made, and I think it suits him to a tee.”

Davis also organizes the Monday Morning 3AM Music Club, where some of the best songwriters in the Triad (and beyond) commit to writing, recording and posting a new song online every week.

“I blame Doug Davis for this whole record,” Howard said. “I thought, ‘That’s a great idea — make yourself write a whole song a week.’ ”

He ended up writing 17 songs in 17 weeks, striving to match the standard set by his fellow club members. The album’s first track, a blistering rocker called “LOL,” was written for the club.

Howard and Arens share a love for classic rock by the likes of Alice Cooper, Mott the Hoople and Cheap Trick. “Who the Hell is Clay Howard?” has echoes of KISS, Van Halen, the Cult and Billy Squier. There are synthesizers, power ballads, lyrics about a crazy train and big, nasty guitars.

“Doug said it was an even mix of Cheap Trick, Rick Springfield, Foreigner and the Osmonds,” Howard said with a laugh.

Singer and producer spent plenty of time conferring online via FaceTime, but they have yet to occupy the same room since they started working together.

The two met briefly about 20 years ago when Howard saw Flipp open for Cheap Trick, then reconnected when Arens expressed interest in buying a Waterstone guitar.

Howard markets and distributes guitars for the Nashville-based instrument maker from the Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship in Greensboro, where he is vice president. He first asked Arens to play a guitar solo on one song, but the project quickly snowballed when Arens liked what he heard and juiced up Howard’s recording, then asked him to send more.

“God has certainly decided to give Clay Howard a great voice,” Arens said.

Howard honed that voice in a series of Piedmont bands dating back to the late 1980s. His previous groups include Society’s Child, Diggin’ Taters and Barely White. But Howard spent the most time in the power-pop band Stratocruiser with guitarist-songwriter Mike Nicholson, a Greensboro native. Nicholson wrote music and Howard wrote lyrics, and they recorded six albums during an 11-year run.

Recording and marketing his first solo album is only a small fraction of how Howard occupies his time. He regularly performs solo acoustic cover shows at local bars and restaurants, including WineStyles in Greensboro and J.P. Looney’s in Oak Ridge and Kernersville. He also has written two children’s books: “Escaping the Naughty List” and “The Energy Thief.”

Howard, a native of Tupelo, Miss., is married and has four children. He also coaches his son’s basketball team. (Howard is 6-foot-9 and briefly played basketball for an NCAA Division I team in college after making a name for himself at Southeast Guilford High School.) It was Arens’s idea to have his children sing backup on “LOL,” a la the chorus of kids in Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.”

“We had been talking about Alice Cooper,” Howard said. “We talk about classic rock all the time. He said, ‘You know, man, that would be perfect for the end of “LOL”!’ I said, ‘I don’t hear it, but OK.’ He goes, ‘I want ’em to sing, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, whoo!’ ”

Having a father who works in a business incubator has apparently had an impact on Howard’s children.

“Ava, who’s my 11-year-old, she goes, ‘We’re not gonna do it unless you pay us,’ ” he said. “I went, ‘Well, how much?’ And she went, ‘Five bucks — apiece.’ ”

Contact Eddie Huffman at huffman.eddie@gmail.com and follow @eddiehuffman on Twitter.

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