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AMERICAN STORYTELLER: The Legendary TOMMY HOWELL On Blazing New Creative Trails!

With over four decades in the entertainment industry under his belt, C. Thomas Howell has spent the better part of his life in the spotlight. From the iconic “Ponyboy” Curtis in ‘The Outsiders’ to the unsuspecting Jim Halsey in the cult classic thriller ‘The Hitcher’ to the menacing “The Reaper” in the hit CBS show ‘Criminal Minds,’ his rich body of work has become engrained in the fabric of pop culture. However, the latest chapter of his career as a singer/songwriter might be the most captivating. On May 28, 2020, while the world was in the middle of a pandemic and in total lockdown, Tommy Howell picked up a guitar. Lost in his newly found love of learning to strum, practice instantly turned to passion. His musical journey began simply by learning to play his favorite songs by artists like Chris Stapleton, Drake White, and Whiskey Myers. It turned into Tommy writing songs that grip your soul and make us remember why we love the stories in and between the songs. It wasn’t long before Tommy found himself writing with some of the most incredible songwriters in the business, and there was no looking back. In early 2023, he released his debut album, ‘American Storyteller,’ to critical acclaim. It didn’t take long for his enthralling live performances to start to make headlines nationwide, ultimately leading to a star-studded residency at Nashville’s City Winery. When it comes to Tommy Howell, it’s all about storytelling! So, pull up a seat, give him a listen, and you just might learn a thing or two. We guarantee you won’t walk away disappointed. 

Icon Vs. Icon’s Jason Price recently caught up with the legendary Tommy Howell to discuss his creative journey, the lessons he’s learned along the way, and much more!

You’ve spent most of your life bringing unique characters to life and tales of your own to the masses as a singer/songwriter. I’m sure your perspective has changed through the years. What drew you to the craft of storytelling and continues to speak to you about it today?

Storytelling has been a big part of my life since I can remember. I’ve always been fascinated by storytelling, whether from simple childhood books, comic books, and stories from my father, who was a stuntman. And this kind of opened the doors to me being raised on movie sets. Then at a very young age, I was given the opportunity to become an actor. I started understanding the process of storytelling! I start working with some of the best storytellers of our time, like Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola. I was always fascinated by their ability to connect with people. A good story and a good storyteller creates a platform that allows everybody to come together and be moved emotionally, psychologically, and sometimes physically! Acting in particular, was a raw form of art that touched people’s emotions through your own emotions. I discovered that the two-hour format of telling stories could be transferred into the two-minute format through music! I then just fell in love with music and the opportunity to connect with people without playing a role or hiding behind lenses and wardrobe. The music platform allows me to be myself. And I can connect with people on a smaller level, but it’s more personal. The more personal that connection is, the more universal it is. That has been my discovery. To be able to put a smile on somebody’s heart immediately through an experience is very powerful and moving. It has changed my life!

I’m always on the lookout for some wisdom. What are some of the lessons you learned early on as an artist that have continued to resonate throughout your career?

I wasted a lot of time worrying about what other people think. It dilutes your work as an artist. As an actor, you try and please a director or a producer. As a singer/songwriter, you’re just hoping to be appreciated and want to be loved. You focus on the wrong things! To be the best version of myself, I need to be present in the moment and not worried about pleasing anybody. I set the bar high, whether acting, performing, or writing a song. When I’m finished with my work and in my heart, I feel satisfied or accomplished, I don’t feel the need to be validated by anybody other than myself. All I need to know is that I attacked and fulfilled my mission. This has to do with learning how to trust yourself. That’s difficult! As an artist, we’re all searching to be accepted. I learned at a very young age that THAT was a waste of time. Some people are going to like the work you do, with some people won’t. But if I like the work I do, I have accomplished my goal, and I feel good about it and myself. Understanding my thoughts, my feelings, and my own actions create my own reality! There will be good, bad, and ugly days. And you gotta take it all in and grow! I’ve learned a lot more from failure than from success.

You released your debut album, ‘American Storyteller,’ earlier this year. Jumping back to the start of this new chapter — What lit the fuse on your journey in music, and was it challenging to find your creative voice in that realm?

When covid hit in 2020, I picked up the guitar with the idea that I would do a film about an old cowboy that recorded a record that would become a big hit… but then would walk away from the business and get back to roots and train horses. When I started doing the music thing, I realized I had a knack for writing songs that I didn’t really anticipate. I was shocked by the seamless transfer from spending a lifetime telling two-hour stories into telling two-minute stories. I didn’t feel much of a challenge. I was raised around incredible storytellers and then moved to Nashville and immediately surrounded myself with great musicians and writers. They showed me some ins and outs, and there are no rules for writing them. A lot of it is instinct and life lessons that you can just scratch down on paper.

The past several months have been a wild ride for you, with the release of your debut album and an incredible residency in Nashville. I’m sure finding balance has been a challenge. What does the future look like for you, both short and long-term, with acting and music?

I have a new series coming out called “Obliterated” that will air this fall! It’s produced by the team of ‘Cobra Kai.’ I haven’t seen the whole thing yet, but I’ve got a pretty good gut feeling that it has been my best work! It’s sort of a cross between ‘The Hangover’ and ’24’. Wrap your head around that! But acting is always something I will identify with and want to do for the rest of my life. It’s a different word from writing songs and telling stories (at least on stage). As I mentioned, it’s a two-hour format instead of a two-minute one. The ability to play music and travel has given me the opportunity to be a lot “choosier” when it comes to selecting the projects I want to be involved in as an actor. I can satisfy that creative hunger whenever I choose, which is a beast that grows within. Also, by living my life at home, that ranch-style life that I have (chopping wood, collecting eggs from the chicken, tending to the horses, etc.), these aspects have helped me maintain a great balance in my life. There are no guarantees when you’re playing music and making movies – everything is sort of a lottery ticket. But we’re all hoping to win and be accepted as an artist. I’m just looking to live my best life, meet people, become a better person, and share that through the films I make or the songs that I write!

Tommy Howell

Over the past several years, something magical has happened in Tulsa with the resurrection of “The Outsiders House.” Danny O’Connor, whom I consider an incredible source of inspiration, has been hard at work building something truly unique. What do you remember about crossing paths with him for the first time, and what has it been like to see that venture, not to mention the film’s legacy, continue to blossom?

I have known Danny for years and years. I knew him back when I was just a young pup in Hollywood, and he was starting out as a musician. We ran in some similar circles and spent time together in our young 20s. When he became sober, one of his passions in life was to visit specific locations from different films that he had watched. Well, of course, he was a fan of ‘The Outsiders’ and went to Tulsa one day, where he found that they condemned ‘The Outsiders House.’ It was in a pretty low area at the time, and they were tearing down those homes and rebuilding them. Danny showed up to the place, found somebody working there, and asked, “Do you know what this house is? You can’t tear it down!” The story goes that he made 100 phone calls, finally found the owner, and bought the house for $15,000. He said he was going to rebuild it and open it up to the public, which was not an easy task.

He started reaching out to the locals, and he got people to donate their time and money into this and pour their heart into this project and restore it. They supplied it with all the same brands and props that were in the film. The actors supplied wardrobe and other props they kept. I supplied wardrobe of my own, never thinking at the time there will be a place where they want these things. I kept my hoodie, my sneakers, and my jeans. Everything is behind glass, along with Tom Cruise’s stuff, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, and all those iconic names! They all went on to have incredible careers because of that film. The fact that the Tulsa community rallied to put this all together was incredible. They did the same thing with the Admiral Twin Drive-In Theater. They took what was left and rebuilt it.

Danny has now made a home in Tulsa. He’s an honorary greaser. I come up to visit him a couple times a year. I put a couple of shows on there. It’s my second home, I love the people there. Tulsa has been so good to me. The fact that the community loves the film so much that they put their time and money into it is beautiful.

Your hard work and passion for what you do shines through. It will undoubtedly inspire many people. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey so far?

I’m a true believer in really understanding the power of loving yourself and deeply understanding that our thoughts, feelings, and our actions help create our reality. If you believe in something or want to change your life, you need to understand you can do what you want to do. This becomes a part of your subconscious. We manifest our own reality. We co-create and create the existence that we experience. I thought I missed my calling to be a musician, but when covid hit, it slowed everything down for me. When my business shut down, I started playing the guitar and didn’t put it down. I discovered I had something to share – my life experiences in my journey! So, I worked every single day and moved to Nashville, and put a band together. And I’m living the dream now. I’m proof that what I just said is true. Our thoughts and feelings, and actions create our own reality!

Visit Tommy Howell’s official site, www.tommyhowellmusic.com, for a list of all his upcoming tour dates! Additionally, check out a curated playlist from Tommy Howell — From the Allman Brothers Band to Tyler Childers and beyond; it’ll cure what ails ya!