Tod Howarth and John Regan of Four By Fate

by Carl Wiser

The members of Four By Fate have made the rounds in the realm of rock. Bass player/producer John Regan toured and recorded with Peter Frampton and John Waite; lead singer Tod Howarth did time with Ted Nugent and Cheap Trick. Guitarist Pat Gasperini and drummer Rob Affuso (ex-Skid Row) round out the group - Affuso replaced AJ Pero of Twisted Sister, who died in March 2015 at age 55.

Overcoming the logistical challenges that come with combining four disparate, established musicians, Four By Fate released an album called Relentless in June 2016. Howarth and Regan took the time to answer some of our questions about the group and share some war stories from their previous adventures. We'll start with John.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): Four By Fate is a collision of talent, and it rocks. What were the challenges in representing each band member musically and creatively.

John Regan: Honestly, the situation never presented itself in that manner. The beauty of a "Band" as I see it, is at its best, it's the sum of its parts. We have all had the privilege of working with some of the most iconic artists in music over the years, and what repeatedly worked best was to get the right players and writers in a room together, and let them do what they do best. Everything on Relentless came very naturally without overthinking the process.

Songfacts: When you're doing a show with a star guitarist like Peter Frampton, you have a big responsibility, since you control the low end but are at the whims of his changes. What is that like?

John: I have been fortunate to have worked with artists that did not dictate on any level. Keeping in mind, that I have ALWAYS approached my contribution to a recording or live performance as one of "facilitator." By that I mean, it is always in the forefront of my mind to try and play my bass parts to best serve the song, singer and my fellow musicians. Peter in particular is a pleasure to work with in that regard. For the better part of 31 years, from 1979 through 2010, it was an honor to compose and perform his music.

Songfacts: What was the greatest musical learning opportunity of your career?

John: Working with the Legendary Robin Trower on his In The Line Of Fire record in 1990. I was at a point on one particular song that I found myself struggling a bit to come up with bass part that I was happy with. I think it was the last track we recorded, and I asked Robin if he had any suggestions. In his inimitable and true British gentleman fashion, he looked me straight in the eye and said something that has become somewhat of a mantra for me. Robin said, "John, you don't go out and buy a dog, then bark yourself!"

The message was clear: I was the bass player, and he expected me to find my way to a suitable part. In doing so, he showed me that he had the confidence that I would come through. Happy to say, that's exactly what happened, and especially when producing a project, I take the same approach with the players to this very day. Thanks Robin - a lesson well learned!

Songfacts: Please tell us about your role in the songwriting with Four By Fate.

John: On this debut record, minimal! Tod Howarth and Pat Gasperini brought so much to the table, that it was difficult to choose what NOT to record, and they have already written some killer tunes for our next record. I was very pleased to contribute as co-producer, along with Tod and "JC" Jean-Christophe Santalis.

I did submit a track "These Times Are Hard For Lovers" that I had recorded while playing bass with John Waite in '85-'86 which I felt never received the recognition it deserved. Written by John Waite and Desmond Child for John's Rovers Return record, it was one of my favorites on that record. I ran the idea by Tod, and he being a Babys/Waite aficionado agreed to give it a whirl. It's the opening track on Relentless and I'm really happy with the way it turned out.

Songfacts: What is your approach to producing Relentless?

John: My approach when producing has always been consistent. From the days co-producing the Frehley's Comet records with Eddie Kramer and Ace, up to today and everything in between, quite simply: Keep it REAL!

We recorded the tried-and-true method of getting us in a room and rolling the dice! Minimal overdubbing, and basically just having a great time making music. This record has a live feel to it that you can't achieve when you are overthinking each and every note and word.

Songfacts: Please tell us about your studio work with other artists. Wondering how these recording sessions went down and what it was like working with some of these big names.

John: Spending time working in studio with the likes of Frampton, Billy Idol, Mick Jagger and David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Michael Monroe and legendary producers such as Eddie Kramer and Nile Rodgers just to name a few, has been nothing short of awe inspiring and profoundly enjoyable. Suffice to say, each project had moments that I was pinching myself, just to make sure I wasn't dreaming.

One experience that became a high-water mark was getting the call from Nile Rodgers through my dear friend Rob Sabino, to stop by and replace a bass part on the track that David Bowie and Mick Jagger had recorded for Live Aid: "Dancing In The Street!" That song had long been favorite of mine, but when I arrived at the studio to find Mick Jagger greeting me, it was something I will never forget.

My most vivid memory of that day was that it happened to be one of those rare occasions that the part that made the final recording was a first take for me, but as I was laying down the bass track I could see Mick dancing around the studio, just getting into the music as if he were onstage. Powerful moment in time for me, and it hit home how much Jagger was moved by the power of the song, and how sincere his love of music must be.

Songfacts: What are some of the key moments on the Relentless album we should listen for?

John: I'm proud of each and every track, but listening to the six tracks that our Brother AJ Pero recorded with us has very personal meaning for obvious reasons. We lost him not long after he came in on a moment's notice to record with us, after Stet Howland was involved in a serious automobile accident just days before we were to record. I have said it before: In 48 hours we fell in love with AJ both musically and personally, and the drum tracks that were to be his last recordings are powerful and a perfect example of his monumental talent, heart and soul. AJ is forever a part of FXF!

Songfacts: You guys must have some serious war stories (AJ certainly did - the new Twisted Sister documentary is pretty intense). What's the tale you tell that is most shocking?

John: I'm afraid you are going to have to wait for the book! Seriously... Shocking... That would have to be that Tod Howarth is a mere mortal! In these 30 years that I have known him, I have found him to be the most hard-working and dedicated musician known to me, and I'm so very proud to be in Four By Fate with him, along with Pat Gasperini and Rob Affuso. It's a true Band of Brothers!

Tod Howarth

Songfacts: Trying to figure out how you end up in the touring band with someone like Ted Nugent. How does that work?

Tod Howarth: We'd jump in the old time machine and go back to 1981 when I joined the band 707 in Los Angeles. 707 had just released its second album, deftly titled Second Album, and was about to embark on a tour with REO Speedwagon on the legs of their Hi Infidelity tour. This would take us to many summer festivals, concerts with many bands and artists – one of them being Ted Nugent.

Ted and his management liked the band (707) because of its Detroit roots and plain 'ol Rock and Roll approach. We had kept in contact with Ted and when our management team fell apart they took us on – for a bit. 707 took its last breath in 1983 while Ted recorded his album Penetrator at The Record Plant in Sausalito, California (Mill Valley, north of San Francisco). I was asked along with Kevin Russell, the guitarist for 707, to sing backups for the LP, which we did.

In the fall of 1983 I was contacted by Ted to see if I could join them on the tour for 1984. Being that I had just moved back to San Diego, broke and band free, I did six months with Ted that year, and that year only, playing keyboards, guitar and singing big backups.

Songfacts: What is the process for writing and recording songs in Four By Fate?

Tod: The idea came to mind to record some tunes for a FxF CD as the project gathered some serious ground and interest. I had many songs that were already written for another solo CD that I was to do and then wrote some tailored for FxF solely. When Pat Gasperini had John Regan record bass on his solo project, John discovered the writing brilliance of Pat and suggested we do one of his songs in the first batch (six songs with the late AJ Pero) titled "Follow Me."

Pat had then joined the band for the next six songs and contributed more tunes. Tracking was done primarily as a three-piece initially and the first guitarist, Sean Kelly, had sent his ideas and tracks through the internet because of the ease of doing as such since he lived in Canada. I taught AJ Pero the first six songs right in the studio as we were pressed for time with regard to the events that led to us replacing Stet Howland after his car accident days before the basic tracks were to be recorded. Then the same "teaching" procedure with Rob Affuso, our current and new drummer, took place under the same time limits. The whole process is not at all what I had hoped for in doing this first CD but the variables that will come about with people that have busy schedules are unavoidable!

Songfacts: Did you have a theme in mind when you started writing the songs for Relentless?

Tod: Theme? No, not really. I believe that we wanted the songs to represent what we felt was just solid rock with growth/departure from The Comet days. The delicate balance of going too far in that direction was just as "dangerous" as staying in the past – which a lot of fans I think hoped would happen. Luckily many more embraced the new material and we are at a point where I think we can afford to take the chance. Pat Gasperini and I have a LOT in common with the style of music that we write and love to hear. We didn't get a chance to co-write on this CD given the turn of events BUT we are looking so forward to the next CD with any success really to any degree with this CD – of which we have high hopes for!

Songfacts: What are some of the songs on the album that are most important to you, and why?

Tod: Always a tough question. For me it would be "Amber Waves" as it represents my love for this country, the opportunities one can pursue if driven enough and just being loyal to the flag and those who gave their lives in the past and now so we as a nation can enjoy a "free" country.

"I Give" is another heartfelt song for me. I give blood when I can as I'm O negative, and I give as much musically to those who still wish to listen after all these years. It costs me not only money, time, effort, health, but emotionally as well as I do this now just for the fans and a bit to satisfy my desire to entertain. The pace that I keep up with all my non-musical responsibilities just to keep going with this musical addiction damn near takes me out every few months, but still "I Give."

Finally, "Don't Know" is a love song that is a composite of the few times in my life that I was really in love and lost. Period. Ah such is the story for many people.

Songfacts: What was your most memorable experience working with another artist?

Tod: When touring with Cheap Trick, Robin Zander and I would lock up on vocals so much that it was like, "Holy Shit." It would be fun to do some solo material with him on a duet level. Robin knows of my songwriting: I wrote "It's Over Now" in 1986 in Rick Nielsen's parents' condo for them to do (they passed) but I always wanted to do a CD with him. He is the most underrated American rock singer ever. One of my favorites.

Songfacts: What's the story of the Frehley's Comet song "Breakout"?

Tod: That question would be best answered by John Regan actually! I came into The Comet when the song was already set to be recorded, and I believe had been but without my vocals. It was a blast to sing: Anton Fig slammin' away on the drums, true Ace brilliance on the guitars, John Regan and the monster bass sound that I know all so very well! I believe that the lyrical nature of the song was from Richie Scarlet – a great player and then a jam with the late Eric Carr and Ace Frehley developed the song as people know it today and then back in 1987 on the release.

June 3, 2016.
Get the album and more info at fourbyfate.com.
Photos: Tracy Ketcher.

More Song Writing

Comments: 1

  • Greg Childress from Costa RicaThanks for the Songfacts! I recently saw a live performance of Four by Fate, taped. One song. Amber Waves. Im then looking for more info and I'm appreciative to have found your interview. Excellent!
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