When you think of country music, you don’t often think of California. Nevertheless, this was the home of Boy Howdy. The group was a four-man West Coast country band that found a successful blend of country and rock that quickly pushed them to the top of the country charts in the mid 1990s. However, around the summer of 1995, the group just as quickly disbanded and has not been singing together since. Some of their top singles like “A Cowboy’s Born with a Broken Heart,” “She’d Give Anything,” and “They Don’t Make Them Like That Anymore,” found the top of the charts in 1994. But soon afterward, the lead singer for the group, Jeffrey Steele, decided to start a solo singing career. In April 1997, Steele released a single called “A Girl Like You” on MCG/Curb Records, although it received little airplay. At the beginning of 1998, Steele turned his attention towards an acting career instead. He worked in Hollywood and appeared on an episode of the TV series Murder, She Wrote.
Two of the band members who are brothers, Larry and Cary Park, played lead guitar for the group. They grew up in a country music family, with their father, Ray Park, making records for the Capitol label, and playing the fiddle for Vern & Ray during the late 1950s and early 1960s in California. Larry, who is the older brother, started playing bluegrass, rock ’n’ roll, and country at an early age. Cary started playing a little later in the early 1980s for a military band. “Cary plays the rock influenced stuff really nice,” Larry told Chris Gill of Guitar Player. “I do more of the bluegrass type stuff. We play the songs and see who comes up with the best part first.” Cary plays an early 1980 Charvel (guitar) with two humbuckers, a single-coil, and a Floyd Rose, plugged into a Fender Bassman reissue. Larry, on the other hand, uses either a two-pickup model with a wrist activated B-bender made by Jimmy Bachman or a three-pickup version with a five-position switch.
Larry was the one who actually founded Boy Howdy while brother Cary played in his own band. Drummer Hugh Wright played for the Park brothers’ bands, as well as Jeffrey Steele’s, who was a talented singer and bassist. Steele was from Burbank, California, and he grew up being influenced by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, and Kris Kristofferson. At the age of 17, Steele began touring the country as a backup musician. Dwight Yoakam’s producer, Pete Anderson, heard Steele’s work and included him on Yoakam’s album A Town South of Bakersfield, Vol2. The country singer Steve Wariner also admired Steele’s songwriting, and sang one of his songs “Where Fools Are King,” on his Laredoalbum, which was released in 1990.
It was Wright who always told the Park brothers and Steele that they should form a band. One day, Larry needed a substitute for his band and at the insistence of Wright he called Steele to play for him in 1989 at a chili cookoff in Long Beach, California. As Steele recalled to Gene Harbrecht of the Dallas Morning News, “We all played together for the first time and just kind of looked at each other and went, Man, this is going to be good.” Soon after, brother Cary joined the group. Since the band wanted to create their own sound and play original material rather than covers, they earned a reputation around L.A. as a “bunch of real bad guys.” They began going to other clubs that let them feature their own music. At a place where Elvis and Dwight Yoakam once played, Boy Howdy found success. In 1990, the Foothill Club in Signal Hill, California, was the place where Warner Brother executives first heard and liked the Boy Howdy sound. Subsequently, the band headed to Nashville for its first series of studio recordings. “We gave up all our work and went,” Steele told Harbrecht. “We didn’t have anywhere to play, but we told our families we’d figure out some way to make money.”
Where did Boy Howdy come up with it’s name, one that many people thought poked fun at country music? “To us the name’s like a celebration of country music,” Park explained to Bobby L. Weaver, Jr. of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. In the old Western movies, you’d see somebody riding off on a horse and they’d say ‘Boy Howdy, did you see that guy shoot that gun?’ That kind of thing. It’s a very Western expression.”
Members include Cary Park, guitar; Larry Park, guitar; Jeffrey Steele, vocals, bass; Hugh Wright, drums.
Band formed in California; received big break at the Foothill Club in Signal Hill, CA, 1990; released first album, Welcome to Howdywood, 1992; released She’d Give Anything, 1994; released Born That Way then disbanded when Steele went solo, 1995.
Addresses: Fan club —Boy Howdy, c/o Club Howdy, P.O. Box 570784, Tarzana, CA 91357-0784.
After being “discovered” in L.A., the band finished filming a video and scene for the film Pure Country, which featured George Strait. Boy Howdy hadn’t even released its first album yet, but it was riding high on its future prospects for success. Wright was with band manager Alan Hopper returning to their Dallas, Texas, hotel on a Saturday morning in May of 1992. As they were driving back, they came upon a pickup truck that had spun out on the highway. Wright and others went to aid the driver. Suddenly, a car from the highway smashed into the truck and the rescuers aiding its driver. Two people were killed, and Wright was left struggling for his life.
He had two broken legs, was in a coma for five months, and took many more months to fully recover before he could return to the band. The group continued to perform on the road in Wright’s absence, and it struggled with the thought of breaking up. “At one point we thought it was over,” Park admitted to Mike Boehm of the Los Angeles Times. “We considered stopping, but we thought, ‘If we quit now, what’s Hugh got to look forward to when he comes around?” Instead of giving up, the band decided to work even harder, continuing to tour with a stand-in drummer. Meanwhile, Wright’s condition had improved and he was released from the hospital in November, 1992.
In early 1992, Curb Records released Boy Howdy’s single hit “Our Love Was Meant to Be.” That summer their first album, Welcome to Howdywood, was released. Unfortunately, the album sold poorly. The first real radio hit for the group was in the spring of 1993 with the single “A Cowboy’s Born with a Broken Heart,” which reached noumber 12 on the Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. It was a song that described the lonely life of a rodeo cowboy. This hit was soon followed by the successful release of “She’d Give Anything,” song expressing the emotions people commonly experience when searching for love. Country Music Television frequently played the video to “She’d Give Anything,” and the song reached Number 13 on the Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.
In an effort to boost sales, Curb Records tried a new marketing strategy with Boy Howdy in releasing the album She’d Give Anything, with just six songs on it. It was released on January 11, 1994. “There are certain artists who are absolute album-sellers… but when it comes to developing artists, I don’t know that anybody buys them for the 10 or 11 songs on the album—God bless us, if we’re lucky, three—singles on the album,” stated Dennis Hannon, Curb’s VP of marketing and sales. The album’s packaging denoted that there were only six songs, and it was even marked “Specially Priced” in the cover’s artwork. The price of the album was also dropped to reflect that it was an abbreviated album.
Boy Howdy’s next album, Born That Way, was released in 1995. However, difficulties with the record distribution had delayed its release and that of other singles for several months. The album also went through two name changes. First, “Plan B” was going to be the title, then “Bigger Fish to Fry,” before they settled on Born That Way
With the difficulties in releasing their third album, it seemed the writing was on the wall for this band. Steele’s wife soon moved back to Nashville, which was a precursor to where Steele would soon focus his energy and attention. His business interests were there, along with the premier writers in the industry that he wanted to collaborate with. The group quietly disbanded, with Steele going his own way.
Welcome to Howdywood, Curb Records, 1992.
She’d Give Anything, Curb Records, 1994.
Born That Way, Curb Records, 1995.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 14, 1994, p. 5. Billboard, January 15, 1994, p. 24.
Guitar Player, August 1993, 14.
Los Angeles Times, January 31, 1994.
The Orange County Register, November 21, 1994, p. F02; July 4, 1994, p. F02.