ROSBACH, GERMANY, NOV. 26 -- Finally unveiled for the world to see, the real voices behind Milli Vanilli assumed the mantle of band leaders at a press conference here today. But the onstage cavorting that served as a trademark of deposed "singers" Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan will likely not be quite what it used to be.
"I'm no dancer," said Brad Howell, 46, a bit on the portly side and more than 20 years older than Pilatus and Morvan. "I'm not a person to do cha-cha-cha. I'm like Wilson Pickett -- I'll sing you into the ground."
Howell, a Washington, D.C., native who played drums and sang in long-gone 14th Street clubs, came to Europe with Pickett in 1966 and never really left. Along with another transplanted American musician, John Davis, Howell provided the vocals that propelled Milli Vanilli to album sales of more than 7 million and a Grammy Award as Best New Artist of 1989.
That Grammy was taken back last week, but Howell and Davis were not too bothered. "They had the faces, we had the voices," said Davis, 36. "If they don't have the Grammy, I don't want it either. Besides we're going to get it next year anyway."
The two are teaming up with Frank Farian, the German producer who created Milli Vanilli and who fired Pilatus and Morvan when they demanded to sing. Both Howell and Davis have done studio work with Farian for years.
The new group is not yet named but the moniker Milli Vanilli, to which Farian owns the rights, will be consigned to the history books. "My idea is to call the group the Real Deal," said Howell.
Howell, Davis and the other members of the new band appeared with Farian at the producer's studio in Rosbach, near Frankfurt. Farian declared the group's album, to be released in January, to have a "really Milli Vanilli sound," and plans were announced for concerts in New York, London, Paris and Munich followed by, if things go well, an extended world tour.
Neither Howell nor Davis expressed hard feelings at their delayed introduction as band members.
As the two tell the story, they were more than happy to let Pilatus and Morvan -- or "those cats with the real nice-looking faces," as Davis refers to them -- be the fake front of Milli Vanilli.
"I felt good seeing those boys in the spotlight," said Howell. "It gave me a good feeling."
It gave them more than that. "The more they sold, the more I got in royalties," said Davis.
"Those two were out there looking good selling this thing," said Howell. "The only thing I regret is that they didn't have sense enough to be gentlemen about it."
Added Davis, "What I didn't find good in those guys was that they never called to say thank you, let's have a party or something."
Davis said he was too busy pursuing a solo career to get more involved with Milli Vanilli. And Howell said he was comfortable staying at home. "I've been on the road all my life," he said. "I didn't want to live out of a suitcase."
So why are they risking a bout of international stardom? "To show who's really doing it without telling lies," said Howell.
Howell said he cut his teeth in various Washington clubs, often working in house bands. "In the Howard Theater, I played everything," he said. "When the stars came into town, we backed them up. By playing there I got a chance to meet the big stars."
One of them was Pickett, who invited Howell to join him on a European tour. Howell stayed on, playing the circuit of U.S. Army clubs and performing jazz and salsa in Zurich and Vienna.
Davis, a bass player, served with the U.S. Army in Germany in the mid-1970s and jumped into that country's music scene after his discharge.
Like Howell, Davis predicts a different image for the band in the post-Fab and Rob era. "They were the jet-set young guys," he said. "I'm 36 years old, two children, married. I'm going to stay the same country boy that I am."
That is not to say the new group will completely lack theatrics. The lineup includes two young, attractive American singers, who both live in Germany. Gina Mohammed, 18, provided backup vocals on the first Milli Vanilli album and will assume a more prominent role. She was brought into the Farian fold at age 14 by her mother, a U.S. Army employee in Germany who worked with the producer as a gospel singer.
Ray Horton, 25, whose long, dark, curly hair gives him a bit of the Fab-and-Rob look, was added by Davis, with whom he had been playing in Germany.
"They can dance their butts off," Howell said. "Put them up front. I can sit on the side and do my thing."
Perched on a stool behind the band at the press conference, Farian beamed for the television cameras, including a crew from MTV, and reflected on the Milli Vanilli legacy. "I'm very proud," he said. "It was great music."
He even spoke benevolently of Pilatus and Morvan, who have vowed to prove their talent to the world. "I wish them a lot of luck in the future," said Farian adding, "I love them."
Nevertheless, the studio distributed videos at the press conference of a two-year-old interview with Pilatus and Morvan in an attempt to demonstrate that the two had previously been misleading about their past.
Howell and Davis defended Farian's decision to use fake singers, calling it a sound marketing strategy. "I find the criticism Frank is getting kind of unfair because it's been done 100 times before," said Davis. "The kids want someone who's nice and pretty."
So where does that leave Davis? "Oh, I'm beautiful," he said.