Producer/engineer Bones Howe had huge hits with the 5th Dimension, the Association, and the Turtles, and he recorded Tom Waits' highly acclaimed albums of the '70s and '80s. He earned the nickname "Bones"…
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Bones Howe Biography

by Ed Hogan

Producer/engineer Bones Howe had huge hits with the 5th Dimension, the Association, and the Turtles, and he recorded Tom Waits' highly acclaimed albums of the '70s and '80s. He earned the nickname "Bones" because of his thinness. Born Dayton Howe in 1933 in Minneapolis, MN, he was mystified as a child when he'd play his family's 78 rpm records. The son of a stockbroker, he moved with his family to Sarasota, FL, when he was still a preteen. He taught him self how to repair radios and nurtured a growing fascination with music, teaching himself to play drums. After graduating from high school in 1951, he became a professional musician. Later, he enrolled at Atlanta's Georgia Tech, majoring in communications and electronics. During his final two years in college, Howe played drums in a lounge band. While performing, Howe met drummer Shelly Manne who suggested he start a recording career since he was a musician who understood electronics. After graduating from Georgia Tech with a Bachelor of Science in electronic engineering, Howe headed for the West Coast. In a Hollywood club, Howe met a friend from Atlanta who introduced him to a recording engineer who invited him to a session for Mel Tormé. The manager of the studio hired Howe as an apprentice. In the early '60s, Howe met Nesuhi Ertegun at a recording session for Ornette Coleman. In 1961, Howe joined Bill Putnam's United Recording where he engineered sessions for Frank Sinatra, Jan and Dean, and the Everly Brothers. In November 1962, Howe, wanting to control his schedule, became an independent recording engineer, something that was unheard of at the time; most engineers were hired on staff at the various recording studios or record labels. Producer Lou Adler, whom he'd met at United, requested he engineer all of his sessions. Herb Alpert recommended Howe to Tim Feigen, owner of the White Whale label. Howe's first session for the label was on a new group called the Turtles. Their cover of Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe" went to number eight pop in summer 1965. Working with the Association, Howe, now a producer, changed the 3/4 (waltz) time signature of Ruthann Friedman's "Windy" to the standard 4/4 rock beat. The single went to number one pop for four weeks in summer 1967 and was included on their gold Insight Out LP. Howe also engineered sessions by the Mamas and the Papas.

Singer Johnny Rivers ("Secret Agent Man") asked Howe to engineer and produce the 5th Dimension for his Soul City label. Howe, just as he had done with the Association, used top L.A. session players group the Wrecking Crew on their sessions: bassist Joe Osborn, drummer Hal Blaine, keyboardist Larry Knechtel, and arrangers Bob Alcivar and Bill Holman. Their first hit was a cover of the Mama and the Papas' "Go Where You Wanna Go," making it into Billboard's Top 20 pop charts in early 1967. "Up up and Away," written by Jimmy Webb, went to number seven pop during the summer of 1967. The song won four 1968 Grammy Awards and was the title track to their first hit LP. The 5th Dimension's next single release established Howe's reputation as a hit producer. "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" parked at number one pop for six weeks and hit number six R&B in spring 1969. The Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In LP went gold and included "Workin' on a Groovy Thing" (written by Neil Sedaka). The next album, Portrait (on the Bell label after Johnny Rivers sold Soul City to Bell Records), yielded the hit singles "Save the Country" (a Nyro song), the gold "One Less Bell to Answer" (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David), and "Puppet Man." Though the gold "(Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep At All" and "If I Could Reach You" were the group's last two singles to make it into the Top Ten, the 5th Dimension continued to have hits, including "Living Together, Growing Together," another Bacharach/David song written for the Peter Finch movie Lost Horizon, and "Ashes to Ashes."

Small Change Howe was the chief engineer for the 1967 Monterey Pop concert feature film and the 1968 NBC Elvis Christmas Special. He also engineered singer/songwriter Tom Waits' Nighthawks in the Diner, Small Change, Foreign Affairs, and Blue Valentine. He became a music supervisor for various feature films such as La Bamba and Back to the Future. Howe was still active in the music business in the '90s.

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