In the “Unsung Heroes of Rock & Roll” category, it is with great sadness to report the death of one of the most inspired guitarists of the post-punk era — and self-proclaimed 'King of Kalifornia' — Roland S. Howard. Best known for his strange, angular, genius work with Australia's best punk band, The Birthday Party, Howard created some of the oddest, catchiest, most sinister guitar lines of the 1980s.
The Birthday Party: If you know them at all, it's because their lead singer, Nick Cave, went on to bigger things. But the band that launched Cave was no mere vehicle. Cave's peers created a pound sound that supported his freakiness. Bassist Tracy Pew was a beast, guitarist Mick Harvey a masterful rhythm player, and drummer Phil Calvert beat hard. But the addition of Roland S. Howard transformed the punk group into something far stranger.
Employing an echoed, creepy guitar sound, Howard's personality can be heard in the hard, dry tones of Gang of Four, early R.E.M., Franz Ferdinand and Modest Mouse, and inspired a legion of proto-goths with his dark vibe.
After the Birthday Party split, Howard formed Crime & the City Solution, which took the pound and echo even deeper into the darkness (if that's possible), and proved that Nick Cave wasn't the only genius in the band.
After Crime & the City Solution, Howard formed These Immortal Souls, where he created the blistering track “King of Kalifornia.”
But it is as the man behind the Birthday Party's sound that he will best be remembered. If you watch the clip below, you can here how Howard's odd tunings and echo-laden sound created a strange tension that Cave and the rest of the band had to reconcile in order to create their gothic blues.
And we couldn't help but to finish with this, because, A) it gives us hope for the future that at least one young Birthday Party fan will carry us to the tail end of the 21st century, and B) it's such a strange juxtapostion.