RR LogoBrie Howard Darling - From Rock Star To Cake Diva

Brie Howard Darling Photo OneHave you ever fantasized about holding Jimmy Page’s double neck guitar in your hands? Now you can, sort of.  Brie Darling Cakes replicated one of Page’s guitars as a cake and you can eat everything including the guitar strings. Although, you will not be holding the entire cake, because it is life size, you will be holding a piece of it in your hands, so go out and tell your friends. It is not the first instrument that Darling and her team have replicated as they also reproduced in delicious form, a harmonica.

“I did a cake for a friend of mine Ted Andreadis and it was a harmonica cake. It was a Hohner harmonica and it made me so happy, because of the detail. I carved all of the little things that are carved into the metal (of the harmonica). It had the key that the harmonica was in and then I decided to go the extra mile and I cut up a cake box and I made it look like the Hohner harmonica box.  I love it when they turn out great and it blew his mind. He loved it. I went that extra mile to make it just right. That is what I love and that’s why I don’t want to get cranky pants about the money, because for me that is purely the enjoyment of getting it to a place where it will blow the recipient’s mind and it will blow the mind of whoever sees it, while making everybody uncomfortable, because they will have to cut into it. I have no problem with that. I love it that you have to destroy it to enjoy it. I don’t know why I have no attachment to it. I also paint and you have to get it just right or it is going to sit there on paper or canvass forever.  With cakes you do it, you take a shot, you take a picture and it’s gone. There is something about it that is freeing,” says Brie Howard Darling, as she is also referred to in the music business.  

Starting something from scratch and building it into a successful venture comes naturally to Darling, as she was one of the founding members of Fanny, which was the first all-female Rock band (late 1960s and 1970s) to be signed by a major record label. She played the drums and sang in Fanny and later she would be the lead singer for the band American Girls. She has toured the world with and recorded in the studio with some of the biggest names in music, Carole King, Roger Daltry, Keith Moon and Ringo Starr to name just a few.

After watching cake shows on television starting about five years ago, Brie Howard Darling thought “I can do that!”

“I have been artistic all of my life, mostly visual, but I love writing and I love music, but visual is my thing. I had never made a cake before or decorated one. I think I helped my daughter do one and it was pretty cute, but it was amateurish. I wanted this one to be like the ones I saw on TV.

This is something that I do, I decide I can do something and then after I take on the commitment I panic and I go what the hell was I thinking? Underlining all of that is the confidence in knowing that I can do it. I decided I was going to make this cake and I thought maybe I should take a course. There was a little mom and pop cake supply place close by that was really inexpensive and they gave instruction. I thought I would just take a course or two. I did that and my very first cake was a failure, but only because I decided I was going to make a cake for a friend of mine who was having a baby and I wanted to do this oval shape screaming head and with a baby hat on. I made a red velvet cake and I thought that would be neat. I iced it with buttercream. I didn’t realize that the red velvet stain was coming through the buttercream, so after half of a day this cake had a rash on its cheeks.  I never ended up giving it to him and I don’t think I ever told him that he was the inspiration for starting to do it.

I took the class and I excelled in it really fast, because I have a really strong background in art. My daughter, my granddaughter Storm and her nanny all sat in the class together just having a ball just taking these classes and doing them together. It turned into a neat sharing of artistic expression and out of that I accidentally got orders. I never planned to have a cake business. People started asking me to do it and so it turned into its own little business.

The part that I enjoy about it the most is the artistic expression. Hardly any of the cakes look alike. Every once in a while something will carry over, because someone will like a guitar cake, so I will do another guitar cake, but it is different. With these cakes someone will ask me to do something and I am very fortunate, because people will say, oh no, you make it like you want. You do it like you see it. I love that, because it gives me an idea to start with, but then I get free reign to create what I want and I like that a lot. On average there are two weeks where I just let it develop in my brain and I will wake up in the middle of the night and I will go, that’s what I have to do or oh, this is what will make this work better. It happens constantly and I love that part of it.  It is very time consuming and then to pull off those ideas and making them work is really labor intensive.  I love doing it, but at the same time sometimes I get all cranky pants, because I will work really hard on something and monetarily it doesn’t pay me enough for how much I put into it. I don’t want to feel bad about it. I enjoy creating the art, but there has to be a balance somewhere. My next step is to try and make it work and I have some ideas,” she says.

Some cakes, such as the guitar ones are almost life size and therefore present some logistical issues getting them to their final destination, so they are transported in sections. Brie Howard Darling also says sometimes people will visit the website for Brie Darling Cakes and they do not realize how big they are and they will assume the guitar cakes are smaller, wanting to order one for a party of about 25 to 30 people. She then has to advise them that those cakes actually can feed up to 150 people.

“Now I have come up with doing them slightly different so that I can make smaller versions that are still spectacular.  That is the kind of problem solving that I like. I like being forced to come up with a different way to do something that is just as cool if not cooler.  The thing I like the most is the problem solving and the engineering. That’s just fun for me,” says Darling.

Brie Howard Darling has a dedicated cake studio at her home, right next to her husband producer, sound engineer, musician, singer and songwriter, Dave Darling’s recording studio.

“Before I did this I had never baked anything in my life. I don’t cook. Dave is the cook. Dave is a fantastic cook and he went to chef school. He used to work as a chef and I am a lousy cook. I felt very confident about the artistic part. Even though I don’t cook I believe that I have a really good palette and I love the food. I decided to take a couple of courses, because I wanted to have a bit of a background in what I was doing. I started with a great chocolate cake recipe that I found and people loved it. Then I saw something that I thought looked interesting on the internet and I made that and people went nuts for it. That is the only chocolate cake that I make now, because it is so good. Until I find one that can beat it, that’s my guy. I don’t have a huge repertoire, but what I do is killer. There are still a couple of recipes that I am looking for (and one is) to have a perfect white cake with the right consistency, but I do have some in my arsenal. People tell me (my cakes) are some of the best cakes they have ever tasted. They say the buttercream icing that I use is some of the best buttercream. I love that. That is my go to guy now. That’s it,” says Darling.

The Brie Darling Cakes also come with a special surprise once you cut into the cake. Brie Howard Darling Photo Two

“When I was taking those cake classes I got the idea that I wanted the design on the inside as well as the outside.  I thought why not leopard skin. I had never seen it and I thought I am just going to figure out how to do this. It took me a year to figure out how to do it consistently and to make it work.  Cake batter is not dependable and it does what it wants to do, depending on the recipe you use, depending on the weather, depending on if you bake it just a little bit longer or a little bit shorter. I have it down now and I can make amazing leopard print cakes consistently. It takes me just about three hours to make one cake and that is just the cake without decorating it. To me it is worth doing it, because when people get it, they flip out. Now that I have worked that out I have to figure out how to make it worth all of the time that I put into it, so I don’t get so exhausted doing it by the time it is completely decorated inside and outside that it is not a bummer.

We have done a bunch of things. We did a Cinco de Mayo cake. The fun thing too is one thing inspires another thing. Most of the Rock and Roll cakes are leopard inside, because it works.  You cut into your cake, whether it is round, whether it is square, whether it is shaped like a guitar and you can see it. There is a section on my website called inside outside and it shows that when you cut into the cake, it is leopard skin. It looks like a leopard print and I think it is pretty remarkable. I want to expand into some other shapes and I will have to figure out how to do it. I want to do a hound’s-tooth print inside a cake. I say that and I have no idea how I am going to do it, but I know I can do it. I just need to figure out how to do it and then do it. One of the first designs that I did inside was for a friend of mine who loves dogs. When you cut into (the cake) there was a dog bone on the inside.  It was a chocolate cake with a white dog bone. To be honest with you I don’t even remember how I did that. I love it when people see the cake and they say oh my God this is fantastic and they cut into it and they freak out, because there is another surprise inside. Then they taste it and then they go holy crap this is the best cake that I have ever tasted. Then I’m happy,” she says.

Brie Howard Darling was born in northern California and before she turned two years old the family moved to Alaska and then when she was eight years old they moved to Sacramento, California. She finished her high school there before as she says, “I ran away with a Rock and Roll band.” While she was still in high school she became a member of the all-girl group Svelts in 1966, which eventually morphed into Fanny the first all-female Rock band to be signed by a major record label.

“I was seventeen years old and I was playing in a band. The band kind of broke up. I had a boyfriend who was playing guitar and he was connected with a manager in Sacramento. They turned me onto this band that was looking for a drummer, because they had just lost their girl drummer. They asked me if I would join them. I did and that was one of the most influential things musically and otherwise in my life. I guess everything influences you, but when you are that young and you are creating something that nobody else is doing and you have this goal….(she changes direction mid-sentence as she talks about something she is passionate about) this is something that I have found about bands, they become my lifelong friends, because you have something that all of you want. You all want it and you all want it the same. You bust your butt for it and you fight about it. You work at it and you beat it to death. You laugh about it and you got through hardships together. You give up other parts of your life and relationships, whatever and there is a bonding that happens when you have a goal together. You are not just in a band, but you have something in common with somebody for the rest of your life. That was like fifty years ago and that bond is still there. They are somewhere between family and friends and maybe they kind of overlap the two. It’s a cool thing,” she says.

Between 1966 and 1972 Brie Howard Darling was in and out of what started out as the Svelts and ended up being Fanny, some of the changes were due to getting married and some of them, because she gave birth to her daughter.  

During one of the times when Darling was not a part of Fanny she sat in on one of their gigs at Filthy McNasty’s (later renamed the Palomino) in Hollywood and producer Richard Perry who has numerous gold and platinum records to his credit and who also produced Fanny happened to be there that night.

Darling relates what happened next, “I sang a couple of songs and Richard Perry called me and he said you need to be in the band. You need to be the lead singer in the band. I said okay, great.  I was a silly kid and I thought that sounds good. He made me feel like I was so good. He wanted me to be the face of the band. That made me feel like I had value and the more I feel valued the better I am. That’s how I work.”

June (Millington) from Fanny just put out a book and it is a great book. It is called Land of a Thousand Bridges, which I loved reading, because I got to read (about Fanny) from her perspective. As I was reading it I was reading our history and I knew how I felt at the time and I had no idea what she was thinking at the time. It was really eye opening. She talks a lot about how difficult it was for women (in music). I didn’t feel that way and I don’t know if it was because I was naïve or I was oblivious, but I was having a great freaking time. I was the drummer in a band and I got to sing my ass off. We were playing and we didn’t get turned down.  If somebody frowned upon us, I didn’t know it, because I felt good about what I was doing. Joni Mitchell was there, Bonnie Raitt was there and Tracy Nelson and Mother Earth were there (part of the music scene).

Brie Howard Darling Cake Wars corrected time photoThere was a difference between the girl front singer and the girl who actually picked up an axe (guitar) and played as well. There weren’t a lot of girls that even thought about doing that and the only reason that I did it (played an instrument) was a total accident.  I had two brothers, an older brother and a younger brother and my sister wasn’t even born yet and my mother said what do you guys want to play? We were in school so my brother played the trombone and I guess I was supposed to play the piano and my younger brother Henry played the drums. (Sometimes) we would switch around. My piano was broken, so nobody could really play that and I would fool around on my brother’s drums. He was going to audition for a band and I happened to be sitting on the drum set when the people came over to hear him, but they wanted me. Here is the amazing thing about my family, my younger brother gave me his drum set willingly and when things would break my brothers would fix them for me. There was never any resentment or jealousy. My sister, she is a drummer now too and she is nine years younger than me. My parents were awesome and they would clear the furniture out of the living room and they would start flipping burgers. We would have rehearsals in the living room. It was a pretty supportive family.”

Darling reflects upon her time with Fanny, while in Los Angeles, “We had this great house in Hollywood Hills called Fanny Hill and it used to be Hedy Lamarr’s old house at the top of Marmont Lane, above the Chateau Marmont Hotel. It was an amazing old Spanish (type) mansion. There were three floors, a basement, the middle floor and the top floor. We lived there and we rehearsed there. Little Feat used to come and jam in the basement. The Band showed up, Joe Cocker showed up and Bonnie Raitt would show up. There were people rehearsing on every level of the house. It was a fantastic place to be, while I was living there with the band (Fanny).

There was a woman named Linda Wolf who started documenting things and taking pictures, hundreds and hundreds of pictures. She (later became) the official photographer for the Olympics (1984 Los Angeles) and she moved on to become quite a successful photographer. When June came out with her book Land of a Thousand Bridges, Linda sent me an email and she said, I don’t know if you ever knew this Brie, but if you ever felt like you weren’t wanted in that band or you weren’t good enough it is only because Roy Silver the manager and Richard Perry the producer were dead set on having the female Beatles and the female Beatles were a four piece band. They couldn’t have just a lead singer. Richard liked me, but when push came to shove, they liked their female Beatles idea better. At the time it was crushing for me, because nobody ever likes being let go from anything. It was so much fun and these were my friends. I moved past that and I joined other bands and I did other things. I had a great time. That was in the seventies.  Then I ended up playing with Fanny again when we went out on tour and we did the record Rock and Roll Survivors.”

In the 1980s Brie Howard Darling formed a songwriting trio with Glen Ballard and Davey Faragher and they wrote an estimated sixty or seventy songs for MCA Records, including the song “Night Line,” which was pulled from Michael Jackson’s album Thriller at the last minute when the two record labels could not come to an agreement over a split on the publishing rights.

Darling recalls the feeling when they got the news, “I have to tell you that it was much more than heartbreaking. At the time we didn’t know how big it was going to be, because Off the Wall (Michael Jackson’s previous album) had sold something like four million records. Rick Shoemaker called me from MCA and he said are you sitting down? I said okay I will sit down. He said they are pulling it off of the record and I thought oh man, there goes my new car and little did I know it was going to sell, twenty-eight, twenty-nine or thirty million copies.

The version with Michael still exists. I’ve heard it on YouTube and it will probably come out one of these days. It is in the vault and it will probably come out on one of the compilation records, so I will make some money, which is nice. I really had to come to terms with that and it was a hard thing to take for a while, especially when Thriller started selling and I thought, I could have been a multi-multi-millionaire. It was tough to take, but the way I look at it now is if they do put it out and I get something from it that would be great, but what I’ve learned is it is not real until you have cashed the check.

That’s just the way it is. Something might happen and nothing might happen and I am okay with that. A lot might happen and I would love that. What I realize is if I want to make something work and make something happen, I have to make it happen. I can’t wait for somebody to die or to decide if they want to use it, it is up to me to make something happen. Most of my life since I started playing, I have been a team player. I am a band guy. I love working with other people, but I guess what I am finding out is if I really want to be in control of what is left of my destiny I need to take the bull by the horns and to find that courage within to do it on my own rather than depending on somebody else. I do have a tendency to know what works best and I think you can only pull that off when it is your own thing.

In recent years Darling performed as a percussionist and singer with her husband Dave Darling in the band he founded Boxing Gandhis.

Just before this interview was published the Food Network announced that on Monday March 29th (2016) it will air an episode on the program Cake Wars, featuring Brie Howard Darling and her granddaughter Storm. Check your local listings for the time.   

Duet of Brie Howard Darling singing with Carole King.  

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Photo of Brie Darling by Dave Darling, protected by copyright ©, All Rights Reserved.

This interview by Joe Montague  published January 12, 2016 is protected by copyright and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine © All Rights Reserved.  Photos are the property of Brie Howard Darling and are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved