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The Skies Are Rosy Again for Country's Boy Howdy : Pop music: After a lot of bad luck, the band is on the upswing with well-received singles from 'Howdywood.'

January 31, 1994|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

About a year and a half ago, Boy Howdy looked as if it was going to have to bid a sad goodby to its dreams of national success, its fleeting shot at the country music big time having been deflected by some extraordinarily bad luck.

The Southern California band's drummer, Hugh Wright, was comatose in a Santa Monica hospital bed. Wright had gone to Dallas with his three bandmates in May, 1992, to shoot the group's debut video; he had returned unconscious with a brain injury and broken legs after being run over on a freeway while trying to help an injured motorist.

Meanwhile, commercial vital signs were barely registering for Boy Howdy's debut album, "Welcome to Howdywood."

"It was tough for us," recalls Larry Park, the guitarist who founded an early version of Boy Howdy in the early '80s. The band had kicked around the Southern California club circuit for the better part of a decade, playing mostly cover material, before finally signing with Curb Records in 1991.

"At one point we thought it was over," Park said recently, recalling the band's low ebb after Wright's accident. "We considered stopping, but we thought, 'If we quit now, what's Hugh got to look forward to when he comes around?' "

Boy Howdy's answer to adversity was hard work.

Wright left the hospital in November, 1992, and within days was spending hours at his drum kit to recover his skills. Meanwhile, Park, his guitarist brother, Cary, and Jeffrey Steele, the band's singer-bassist and main songwriter, stayed on the road with a stand-in drummer, hoping for another chance.

The strategy they hit upon was a grueling, three-month van trek last spring in which Steele and the Park brothers visited 114 radio stations in 26 states, turning up with acoustic guitars to showcase their music face to face for country music's gatekeepers.

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"It was get up at 6 a.m. and get finished at 11 at night," Larry Park recalled. "It's the hardest thing I ever did in my life--just not getting any sleep and not knowing if it was going to do any good. But it sure paid off."

At the end of Boy Howdy's radio odyssey, Curb released a third single from the "Howdywood" album, "A Cowboy's Born With a Broken Heart." Radio played it, and the ballad reached No. 12 on the Billboard country chart. When Boy Howdy recently turned up with a new single, "She'd Give Anything," radio welcomed the band again.

The best news is that Wright was back in the lineup for the new record, having resumed touring with the band last July.

"He came in playing stronger than ever," Park says. "He did suffer a brain injury which affected his speech, but he goes to a speech therapist and that gets better every day. I think he'll be back 100 percent."

Boy Howdy recently released a discount-priced, six-song EP, also called "She'd Give Anything." And it quickly became the fastest-rising item on the country albums chart.

Now Boy Howdy gets the satisfaction of returning tonight as a nationally-ranked headliner to the Crazy Horse Steak House in Santa Ana, one of the band's regular gigs in its scuffling days as a dance-oriented covers band. But it also faces the pressure of keeping its good-luck streak alive.

Park is looking to the Beatles for inspiration as the band prepares for the recording sessions that could determine whether Boy Howdy's newfound success will be a quick flash or the basis for a sustained career. His current on-the-road reading is "The Complete Beatles Chronicle," a day-by-day account of the Beatles' career.

"I read this and it inspires me," he said. "It helps to know there are other people who have done it and worked even harder than we have. Since I've been reading it, I've found myself with a lot more energy. It just shows what hard work does. It's going to be required reading for everybody in the band."

* Boy Howdy plays tonight at 7 and 10 at the Crazy Horse Steak House, 1580 Brookhollow Drive, Santa Ana. $17.50. (714) 549-1512.

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