tony howard band

Ramblin’s Roads: Tony Howard’s popular soul show moves to Columbia County

(Editor’s note: In case you missed this one, this column originally ran Jan. 31, 2023 and was written by columnist Don Rhodes, who died in June 2023. It has been updated with the 2024 concert information. The 2023 concert was held at the Bell Auditorium which is currently closed for renovations. The 2023 concert at the Bell also sold out.)

(Disclaimer: Any opinions expressed in this column belong to its author)

Augusta-reared showman Tony Howard is taking his revue of all-star tribute artists to bigger things in
moving this year’s show from the historic Imperial Theatre to the much larger auditorium.

“We love the Imperial Theatre,” Howard said for this article the other day. “It’s nothing against the
Imperial where we had sold out shows for 15 years. But this year we just want to see if we can do a bigger
event and offer more seats.”

Tony Howard’s Motown/Elvis Revue mixed with soul staples and ‘60s rock classics will be staged at 7 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 10, at the Columbia County Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $29-$64 and are available here. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Safe Homes of Augusta.

You can expect to hear songs of artists such as The Temptations, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Whitney
Houston, Bruno Mars and Tina Turner with a special tribute to Elvis Presley by Augusta’s Liam Hewitt.

Howard unofficially was known as the “King of the Washington Road Nightclubs” for many years being in residence with his bands along the four-lane highway at watering holes heavily patronized by Masters Tournament visitors and golfers.

“I did three and a half years at Marti’s Faded Rose (behind Hooters) from Wednesday to Saturday nights and then moved to Goodfella’s on Washington Road for another three years Wednesdays through Saturdays,” Howard recalled. “There were some long hours and some mighty good times.”

Born in Fayetteville, N.C., as an Army brat, Howard came to Augusta when his father, Marcellus Howard, was assigned to Fort Gordon. That led eventually to his father first forming the Junior All-Stars band with Tony and his brothers, Dee and Greg.

The family also consisted of his mother; three sisters and another brother, Marcellus Jr., who became a hot shot pitcher with the Hephzibah High Rebels baseball team and owner of M&H Construction Co. The musical Howard brothers evolved into a band called Cellus (from his father’s name of Marcellus) with the band playing at the Fort Gordon NCO Club and local nightclubs like Pappy’s and Simone’s.

His musical adventures brought him into contact with local legendary keyboard player Buzz Clifford, a
long-time favorite of soul music giant James Brown, who was known for developing and promoting local talent. Clifford invited Howard to come join him in performing at one of Brown’s annual Christmas parties
for employees and friends. Brown liked what he heard and got in touch with Howard.

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“That turned out to be some of the most exciting things that ever happened to me in my life,” Howard
said. “What he saw in me I don’t know, but he would fly me out to different places to do shows with him in Vegas, California, D.C., New York, all over.

“He had me meet him at Bush Field one time, and I flew on his private jet with just him and his two
lawyers and his body guard and two pilots.

“We first stopped in D.C., where he was to be a guest on Donnie Simpson’s Video Soul show that aired on
the BET cable network. Mr. Brown insisted that I be on the show also, and here I was sitting next to Donnie Simpson and his co-host Sherry Carter. And I had going through my head, ‘What am I going to talk about? Being at the Safari Lounge in Augusta and Marti’s Faded Rose’?”

From Washington, D.C., Howard flew with Brown and his entourage to New York City where they stayed at
Trump Plaza with Brown telling a bodyguard, “Take Mr. Howard out, and let him see the city.”

Photo by Don Rhodes

Howard said he was leaning up against Brown’s rented limousine parked in front of the hotel trying to look cool and collected when some people on the sidewalk asked him, “Who are you?” When he replied “I’m Tony Howard from Augusta, Georgia,” the gawkers responded, “We have never heard of you.” Howard continued, “I’m with James Brown.”

Within minutes, Howard and the limousine was surrounded by a growing number of spectators who thought Soul Brother Number One himself would be getting in the limo any minute!

“One time I was sitting in his office when he told his secretary, ‘Call [American Bandstand TV host] Dick
Clark.’ And almost right away, Dick Clark was on the phone with the speaker turned on and Mr. Brown
introducing him to me. I’m thinking, ‘What in the world am I doing talking with Dick Clark?’”

Brown liked Howard so much that he began putting Howard of his “Birthday Bash” shows held in May at the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center, which became James Brown Arena just before Brown’s death.

Howard, the self-proclaimed military brat and nightclub band leader, found himself talking backstage
with internationally-known celebrities such as actress Sharon Stone and Blues Brother actor Dan Aykroyd,
country stars The Oak Ridge Boys and Aaron Tippin, guitarist Slash from Guns ‘N Roses, rap superstar M.C. Hammer and many others. Besides his nightclub shows, Howard and his tightly-knit musical groups became in demand at wedding receptions and corporate functions throughout the South.

Tony Howard’s 2023 sold-out show at the Bell Auditorium. Photo from Tony Howard/Facebook

“One night I was in a motel watching one of those public broadcasting TV music specials [T.J. Lubinsky’s
“My Music” series] with the old groups reunited,” Howard remembers. “I was just amazed to realize how
good those songs were, and how those audience members were singing along and bobbing their heads. I wanted to do that kind of a show in Augusta.”

Howard talked the idea around town and found some financial backing from Dan Troutman, a good friend from Goodfella’s.

“We tried the first show in the auditorium at Fort Discovery (Seventh Street at The Levee off Reynolds)
with 275 seats, and we sold out within six weeks,” Howard said. “We moved it to the Imperial and have
been selling it out since then.”

And, yes, Tony Howard will tell you that he still loves looking out over those packed audiences and
watching those bobbing heads and those mouths singing along with the words.

Don Rhodes has been a by-line journalist since 1963 writing for his Chamblee, Ga., High School newspaper and two weeklies in Decatur.  He has worked for Morris Communications Co. since joining the Savannah Evening Press in March of 1967.  He also has authored four national books, four regional books, national magazine articles and album notes for several music artists. 

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2 responses to “Ramblin’s Roads: Tony Howard’s popular soul show moves to Columbia County”

  1. Russell Oglesby says:

    Tony Howard is a consummate showman. A professional on and off the stage. I have had the privilege and pleasure of working with him on many occasions. His Show is great and you shouldn’t miss it.

  2. Tony, I must say James Browns Birthday Bash was one of the greatest moments and memories of my life as well. You name the celebrity and they were there. I would not miss Feb. 11th, 2023 for nothing! See you soon my dear brother!