As the lead founder, singer and guitarist for American rock band Alabama Shakes, Brittany Howard’s presence is powerful in both mediums.
Howard shares six-string duties with guitarist Heath Fogg, and together they make up a musical tag-team of roots rock guitar and soulful vocals.
In a mostly male dominated genre, Howard is a triple threat talent, and she wasted no time following up Alabama Shakes’ remarkable sophomore record, Sound & Color, with a 10-track, self-titled LP under the side-project moniker, Thunderbitch.
Howard was born in Athens, Alabama on October 2, 1988 to a white mother and a black father. She began playing the guitar at age 13, and attended East Limestone High School where she met future Alabama Shakes bassist Zac Cockrell. She worked for the United States Postal Service until becoming a full-time musician with Alabama Shakes.
The band formed under the name ‘The Shakes’ when Howard and Cockrell began playing covers and original songs together with drummer Steve Cockrell. Guitarist Heath Fogg later rounded out the lineup, and the band began playing shows at bars in Alabama and recording their debut album, Boys & Girls. They went on to sign a record deal with ATO Records, and released the album in 2012 to critical acclaim and multiple Grammy Award nominations.
In April this year, Alabama Shakes released their sophomore album, Sound & Color, and it debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. The band went on to perform on SNL and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and at Lollapalooza she was invited on stage to perform a duet of ‘Get Back’ with Paul McCartney. Howard was named the recipient of Billboard’s Women in Music “Powerhouse” Award and is also the lead singer of rock band Thunderbitch, formed in Nashville in 2012 with members of Clear Plastic Masks and Fly Golden Eagle.
And just announced, Alabama Shakes have been nominated for 6 Grammy’s, including Best Rock Performance, Best Rock Song, Album Of The Year, Best Alternative Music Album and Blake Gills for Producer Of The Year for Sound & Color.
Brittany Howard rocks out on two main guitars live – a 1971 Gibson SG Custom and a Harmony Rocket.
“I have a ’66 Harmony Rocket that I am in love with,” she’s said. “It can glitter, it can growl, it can rock, it can lull you to sleep. So far, it’s the perfect rig.” The guitar she speaks of is a full bodied gorgeous cherry red model, whilst her Gibson axe – which she has been playing a lot lately – is a compact teal green SG with an ebony Mahogany neck.
On the festival circuit, Howard has also been spied playing a Gibson SG Special 70’s Tribute and a Gibson SG Custom Electric.
Although critics have compared her singing style to that of Janis Joplin, Howard has stated that she does not consider Joplin an influence, and has listed the eclectic likes of David Bowie, Bon Scott and Nina Simone as inspirations instead.
Vocal wise, her voice is a mixture of whoops, howls, hollers and gritty growls. Her raspy, bluesy tone is part powerhouse part soul, cutting through and over the grooves of her own guitar sounds.
Blistering guitar power chords and meaty, psychedelic instrumental breaks are common in Alabama Shakes songs, and along with Fogg’s co-lead work, Howard’s guitar style is a rhythmic rock n’ roll blend of blues, roots and soul.
The reverb-soaked, stutter-step rhythm of ‘Don’t Wanna Fight’, the textural composition of ‘Gemini’, the punk rock homage ‘The Greatest’ , space rock odyssey ‘Miss You’, the intermittent strums and Link Wray-esque guitar of Thunderbitch’s ‘Heavenly Feeling’, the power chord-heavy structure of ‘The Greatest’ and ‘Shoegaze’, the CCR-like ditty riff of ‘Hold On’, the shimmering sound of ‘Hang Loose’, the dual guitar parts of ‘I Found You’, and the magical harmony majesty of ‘Sound & Color’ (which you’ll probably recognise from the radio or on TV commercials).
Alabama Shakes are a dish best served live according to anyone who’s ever seen them, but their limited range of official music videos can be viewed online and on YouTube.
Below, check out Brittany Howard rocking out to ‘Get Back’ with the one and only Paul McCartney and band at Lollapalooza earlier this year: