Talks music from childhood to ESPN

On Saturday nights, Chris Fowler finds himself in the booth at some of the country’s biggest College Football stadiums, calling the game of the week on ABC. This comes on the heels of wrapping up the the play-by-play of professional tennis. As Fowler transitions from the court to the field, and prepares physically and mentally, there is one constant companion by his side, enhancing the overall experience. Music.

Fowler considers music to be a pivotal element to his everyday. Whether he’s in the gym or in the booth, there’s a certain artist or genre within his vast sonic universe to match the setting.

I recently had the chance to speak with Fowler about the power of music, how it helps him focus and his earliest musical memories.

What role does music play in your life?

Music, especially Rock n’ Roll, has been a part of my life for at least as long as sports has been. It’s been as important to me as sports has been. I’m going back to the early 70’s in saying that as that was my first awareness of music — getting introduced to stuff like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. I then evolved to be quite a metal-head in high school.

I saw pretty much everybody you could see, growing up in Colorado. I’d camp out on the sidewalks to get concert tickets. I got to see the Who, Black Sabbath and ACDC at a young age. It was loud music and what I was into. I’m 54 now, and it really hasn’t changed. I still listen to plenty of loud and angry music. Mostly when I work out. You see a guy wearing a tie on TV and it surprises people that I listen to Rage Against the Machine, Sepultura or Ministry. You wouldn’t think I have stuff like that on my iPod, but I do.

Overall, I have very eclectic taste in music. I’m all over the place. When I had college radio shifts in the 80’s, I’d listen to a lot of nostalgic stuff. I’m also a huge REM fan and I love reggae and the blues. It’s the weirdest iPod you’ve ever come across. There’s a time and a place for all of it.

Was there a pivotal moment in your youth, maybe your first concert or a record somebody played for you, where you got hooked emotionally to the power of music?

In my generation, active listening was really important. You’d put a record on, turn the lights down and you’d listen to the complete album. That’s how I’d listen, I would sincerely track an entire album — really blasting it. I’d focus on the production of them. It was really important to me to do that. When you’d first hear Zeppelin and “Kashmir,” it was mind-blowing to kid that age. The same holds true for hearing Wish You Were Here and The Dark Side of the Moon. Pink Floyd’s albums were things where you’d turn your life over to them for an hour.

Is music a vital part to your preparation now? Do you have a certain playlist you listen to before going on the air?

When I did Gameday, I liked to have charged up music playing before we started. I’d crank “Bulls on Parade” by Rage Against the Machine quite often and get the crowd involved. The later years, there was DJ there who would play more neutral music to appeal to all tastes. I personally will listen to music before I work, but it’s generally not to get fired up. What I do now, focus is more important so I listen to music to block things out. It’s usually more mellow stuff to limit the distraction.

Do you contribute to or have an influence on what music pairs with your programs?

I don’t have a great deal of influence. I give a thumbs up or a thumbs down, but we have a music department that works with certain labels to commercial music. I’m not on the front lines of those decisions.

Do you play an instrument?

No, the world doesn’t need another bad guitar player. (Laughs) I’m ashamed to say I gave it up. One of my buddies played growing up. I tried to play piano and guitar. My nephew is a great guitarist and I try to encourage him to keep after it. He’s got a lot of talent. I regret not following it a bit more. If I could do anything, I would be a drummer. I often think about what it must be like to walk out on stage in front of thousands and be under the spotlight. To play the “Comfortably Numb” solo in that environment, I think would blow away anything I can do in my profession. It must be an incredible feeling. Even to sing a song and have 20,000 people sing it back to you. I can’t imagine. That would be a fantasy experience.

That’s also where I see the connection between music and sports. It’s people coming together and just feeling happy together. Concerts are not a competition. You go in knowing you will enjoy it. People singing, and having a good time together is really a powerful thing. Sports are unscripted. You can celebrate together or suffer together. You don’t know what is going to happen. At any live event, one of my favorite things is to just watch the crowd. A game winning field goal or a shot at the buzzer, I am looking at the crowd. It’s amazing to express the emotion together. Both music and sports do that in different ways.

Artists That Have Had the Biggest Influence on You?

Pink Floyd, REM, Rage Against the Machine, Metallica, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Kings of Leon

Part 2 with Chris Fowler — a tribute to Kings of Leon

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