Omar and The Howlers

Austin, Texas-based guitarist and singer/songwriter Omar Kent Dykes fits the stereotypical image some have of an American blues musician: he’s tall, wears cowboy boots, and has a deep voice with a Southern accent. But although Dykes looks rough and tough, he’s actually an incredibly peaceful and intelligent musician, and a veteran at working a crowd in a blues club or a festival. While Dykes has a sizable American audience owing to his albums for Columbia Records , he has spent a good portion of his touring years at festivals and clubs around Europe.

Omar Kent Dykes was born in 1950, in McComb, Mississippi, the same town from which Bo Diddley hailed. He first set foot into neighborhood juke joints at age 12 and after he’d been playing guitar for a while, he went back into the juke joints. After graduating from high school, Dykes lived in Hattiesburg and Jackson, Mississippi for a few years before relocating to Austin in 1976. He’d heard the blues scene in Texas was heating up. At that time, Stevie Ray Vaughan was still playing with Paul Ray & the Cobras . By the early ’80s, Omar & the Howlers had gained a solid reputation for their invigorating live shows. They also released two albums on independent labels, Big Leg Beat (1980), followed four years later by I Told You So.

Dykes was truly one of a kind, a fact Columbia Records recognized in the mid-’80s when they signed Omar & the Howlers. Unfortunately, it was a fleeting relationship at best. After releasing Hard Times in the Land of Plenty (1987) and Wall of Pride (1988), the band was dropped when the company was bought by Sony . While it was inconvenient, it didn’t stop Dykes , and his output continued to be nothing short of extraordinary. Starting in 1991, Omar & the Howlers recorded three discs for Rounder / Bullseye Blues : Live at Paradiso (1991), followed by Blues Bag and Courts of Lulu (both in 1992). In 1995, they switched to the Austin-based Watermelon Records and released Muddy Springs Road (1995), World Wide Open (1996), and Southern Style (1997).

After 15 years of dealing with record contracts, Dykes needed a break from being tied down to one particular label for any length of time. Since then, he and the Howlers have released excellent discs on Discovery (a 1997 reissue of 1990’s Monkey Land), Black Top (1999’s Swing Land), Blind Pig (2002’s Big Delta), and Ruf Records (2004’s Boogie Man). A live set recorded in Germany, Bamboozled, appeared from Ruf Records in 2006. ~ Richard Skelly & Al Campbell, Rovi