Tuesday, February 28, 2006
It's pretty rich for me to be lectured by you, you must admit. If the Houston scene is so precious to you, Killian, then why have you moved to Chicago?
I am not some outsider using this job as a stepping stone. I am a Houston lifer. Yes, I spent a few years growing up in Tennessee, but that was not my choice. And I was away from Houston from 1989-97, but I have returned here for good.
My grandparents moved here in the 1940s, my parents were raised here, as I was at least in part. (Strake Jesuit, Class of '88)
John Avery Lomax Jr was my grandfather, not Alan (my great-uncle), and he founded the Houston Folklore Society, managed Lightnin' Hopkins and helped fund the Les Blank films about Mance Lipscomb, Clifton Chenier and Hopkins. And he died in Houston.
And what, Sprawl is such a sacred cow that I can't quote someone's opinion that they were just okay? And yes, Bunch may be a polarizing figure, but so was Sprawl. I know quite a few people who say that their lack of songwriting skills, thier lack of anything that could be called songs period, did more to hold back Houston's scene than any careerist music editor at the Press ever could.
Sure, Bunch may have charged you $8 for a ticket you wanted to pay $6 for. Does that erase all his other credentials? You can't take his years with the Surfers and the Toadies away from him.
My father John Lomax III has been managing bands * Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Kasey Chambers among them -- since 1975, and Bunch and my dad say a lot of the same things. What Bunch said reminded me a lot of the lessons my dad taught me. I know the kinds of things real managers say. They are often not the same things that bands want to hear.
Have you listened to Haaga's CD? Have you looked at the liner notes? He had musicians on there from dozens of Houston bands * the Pain Teens, Pure Rubbish, Groceries, Carolyn Wonderland, Clouseaux, Sprawl, etc. When that CD failed * owing to laziness and bad attitudes in my opinion * it was a failure not just for Haaga but for Houston as a whole. I wrote that article out of a sense of sadness and disappointment more than anger.
And have you read any of the other 500-plus articles I have written on the best of Houston's culture? I have covered musicians from just about every one of Houston's dozens of scenes and done so whether or not I thought they could make it bigtime or not. I cover the musicians who make the music I like. If that coincides with commercial possiblities, fine, fine also if it doesn't. But it really makes me sad when an album that is both glorious and potentially an international hit dies on the vine b/c of immaturity.
Just a couple of weeks ago while I was online, I turned an Austin label owner * a total stranger to me * on to Haaga's music, and he said that Austin sidemen would fall over themselves to be in a band like that. Here in Houston, everybody just wants to put it down, just because I praised the record. I get things like "Oh yeah, I heard a couple of the tunes on the juke in Poison Girl. That record's lame." Or "While I haven't listened to Haaga's record at all yet, I still felt Lomax's story sucked because I saw Haaga's show and it was boring."
Yes, that was kinda my point. And Haaga's.
Well, gota sign off now. Enjoy the rest of your Chicago winter.
And My Reply:
Hi John - Let me just say first good to hear from you and "go Jebbies!" I went to Strake myself although I was two years ahead of you (and one year behind the late great Steve Smith Jr.). I didn't graduate from Strake though because my family was struggling. My mom made Christmas stockings after work to pay for my education and I worked at Strake in the Summer as well. Anyway I quit Strake and started college early and graduated from the University of Houston with a History major and a Journalism minor. Maybe my academic interest is part of the reason this has had importance to me. Maybe also because I get back to Houston pretty regularly. I even united with my old band Texas Guinness Lovers for a fantastic reunion which included some great Houston musicians - Jo Bird from Two Star Orchestra; Tony Barilla, Chris Bakos and Bill Savoie all with Infernal Bridegroom Productions; and finally Bo Morris who played with Sprawl and Project Grimm. I would like you to have a copy of the performance, flubs and all.
I moved to Chicago because my wife got a full scholarship to the University of Illinois for her graduate studies. I was going to stay in Houston and wait out the two years but I was layed off from a company that eventually went bankrupt. SO, I was compelled to go with her for many reasons none of which had to do with disappointment in the Houston Scene.
Don't get me wrong - I specifically wanted to point to that article as bad writing. I know I suggested that Houston needs a good music editor and that kind of makes it personal (and I also know I misspelled Alan Lomax's name and got your lineage wrong). Please take all of this as a sign of how moved I was when I wrote and sent this letter to the Press.
I have heard Hagaa's CD. I am friends with Matt Kelly who played organ on the record. He was the front man for Sprawl. I stayed at his house over the holidays and it came up. You know Hagaa has this album online under his name? And it is on MySpace under his name so it's pretty accessible. And also quite obvious that it is a "solo project" and not a band. It is a very well produced work that is not to my taste but that's beside the point. I know most of the musicians he played with - from Scott Ayers who produced de Schmog's "Kiddie Wonderland" album to the around town session players Chris King and Lisa Harrington to the boys from Middlefinger. All of those musicians never desired to have a full commitment to this solo record - that's my impression. Some of them have done some pretty amazing things on their own and have toured the world with their own projects. They are pretty level headed about the business. Something I think your article lacks.
I think it was the wrong approach to what you might have wanted to say about this particular album and this particular artist.
Sprawl is not a sacred cow. Hell I used to rank on them all the time to their faces! You can rank on them all you want and many did particularly when they were the kings of the Houston pop scene. But they did have a lot of influence on Houston music and are still a part of the community for better or worse (just as Bunch's influence can be interpreted). Matt is on Hagaa's album and probably introduced Hagaa to many of the other players on this album. At least he made the players more prominent through his bands. Sprawl had a different message then the one that you are trying to give to musicians or even more precisely bands. They said you know "just do it" have fun create something good and get out there. They travelled all over the country many times. They put out their own catalog and even released the music of other great local acts - particularly the Indonesian rock supergroup The Presidents. I don't know it was a good message and it had more to do with the longevity of playing and community of playing than this idea of "making it." And they turned out to be on to something because the U2 idea of making it is rather silly and doesn't work any more and even U2 probably didn't set out to "make it" they are just remarkably special as a group of committed friends and players.
As you probably know FFG just got signed to French Kiss Records. Their success is due to hard work, comradery and touring. The Press has had some great pieces about them particularly Brian's hilarious Road Trip article. So why pick on Houston now?
Maybe you don't know that Mary Cutrufello chose to "make it" out of Houston just a few years back. She really wanted to do it from Houston and she could have picked anywhere USA. She got her major label deal and her trip to the Tonight show and where is she now? No reason to turn this around on the "scene." I know she's not a band but that doesn't matter does it?
There's always Blue October too. And hey ZZ Top!
And if you want to take off the Major Label tag and just say major influence you've got 13th Floor Elevators, Jandek, the Pain Teens and many others.
You lambast the Chronicle as if the Los Angeles Times or the New York Post have much to say about the state of rock in their respective cities. That's just silly and really stretching.
Anyway I know you have much merit. I respect you. But I think this was a disservice to the community.
Chicago doesn't hurt for cajun food - Heaven on Seven, Wishbone, Dixie Kitchen come to mind just to name a few. There's even a Pappas Seafood, a Houston-based franchise, out in the 'burbs.
But how often can you sit down to a plate of red beans & rice and catch a good zydeco act?
Things start up around 6:30 PM tonight.
This brings to mind the last time I ate at Wishbone. It was just a week or so after Katrina. I instantly recognized our waitress' Louisiana accent and commented on it. She seemed pleased that I noticed but then when I asked her if she had any relatives affected by the storm she grew very upset. Not at me I don't think. It appeared to be a relief on her part to spit it all out. She was putting people up herself in Chicago and she had folks scattered across the country. She was very stressed out. I wanted to hug her. The shock of Katrina made it all the way up the Mississippi to Lake Michigan, yes indeedy.
Friday, February 24, 2006
Nadine's no stranger to the business although she is no longer in the biz so to speak. Her glory days as a college radio manager in Connecticut (WFCS/WESU) are behind her, as are her days booking bands which she also did in CT night clubs - Nightshift, Moon Grotto. She'll still occasionally help a band out here and there, bless her heart, but her days as a band manager (the Dispossessed) are also a thing of the past. And she doesn't run a fanzine any more (Subterranean) nor is she an editor for Chord magazine. But she's still full of energy and fun and something tells me her best days are still in front of her.
"I was a big fish in a small pond is all. Just in the right place at the right time. All it is about is lots of good stories to tell." That's right Nadine, it's all about good stories to tell. Happy Birthday, girl.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Three Reasons "Band Suicide" is Bad Writing:
- It's Truthiness. The full title of the piece is "Band Suicide: Why so many Houston music groups self-destruct right on the brink of having it made." You get the impression you're going to read about at least a few groups of close musicians, probably friends, and how their common dream fell apart. What you get is the story of one Houston player trying to make a come back by fabricating a band made up of players that aren't from Houston. Your expert witness is also a fabricator. Tom Bunch is a promoter and spin artist (read that negatively if you want). Ultimately the article is a fabrication. It's an opinion piece passed off as news (and I believe it was printed in the News section of the Press not the Music section). Lomax shapes this story to what he wants to say about the "Houston Scene" without giving any credible examples or even a good reason for doing it. Sure, there might be a story in Hagaa's aggressive attempt to make something happen for himself but in truth the story just doesn't have the angle Lomax presents.
- It lacks historical accuracy or authority. Like him or not, Tom Bunch is a polarizing figure in the Houston music business. To pass him off simply as the "real deal" is naive. To put in his quote that Sprawl was "just okay" is amateur. I blame Lomax for that because Tom Bunch may have said it but Lomax doesn't back the quote up with anything. It's just kind of plugged in there like a bullying punch in the gut. It doesn't have any meaning other than to be hurtful. The history behind it is that Nick Cooper of Sprawl was essentially a rival of Tom Bunch if not a bonafide enemy. In the 90's both Nick and Tom could pack a house in Houston any day of the week. Sprawl consistently sold out places like Fitzgerald where they could pull in over a thousand kids even on a week night. But Nick's scene was organic and decidedly DIY. Bunch opened the vacuous obviously money driven Vatican. The editor of the fourth largest city's leading alternative press shouldn't present such a one-sided case and casually slight the biggest act on the Houston scene in the time Lomax is referring to. Sprawl was also highly involved in the scene not just for their own good. Sprawl was committed to the bands they liked around town and they liked a diverse bunch not just funk. The players are still in the community doing good things too.
- It lacks expertise. So one argument people have been using against the Lomax piece is that his idea of "making it" is distasteful. Well let's assume for a minute that we all believe in Lomax's idea of "making it" which he implies is the Big Time-LA Style-Major Label-U2 idea. Okay fine and your argument is that the Houston scene screws people's chance of making it. Where has Lomax been for the past ten years or so? You don't have to be the music editor for the largest alternative press in the fourth largest city in the country to know that the industry is in crisis. You just have to read Business Week. Arena rock is now a form of corporate executive entertainment, and musicians are better educated to steer away from the illusion of a major label deal. Major labels don't even sign acts unless they've worked hard on the indie circuit, touring and what not and made it clear that they are a bread winner. In that way Tom Bunch has it right. He said he wouldn't work with Hagaa until he actually had a band. Lomax should have gotten a clue right there that his angle was wack.
So I didn't want to make it personal and why should I? The Houston Press was always nice to me. de Schmog won lots of awards and got good press from HP and Public News. But if I did make it personal I might remind everyone that John Nova Lomax is the grandson the most influential collector of "local music" in the world. Allen Lomax dedicated his life to capturing the essence of place through sound. His grandson is telling Houston kids to seek their advice from an LA Music Industry Webzine. What is JNL's mission in life? If you ask me, he has Cameron Crowe fantasies.
So why is it important?
I spent ten years in the Houston music scene. Throughout that time I always heard lamenting about the lack of a scene and whatever. I remained a staunch defender as did the Sprawl guys and most everybody who was actually doing something. The biggest fault I always saw in the scene, if you want to call it that, was that the press would fall into this trap. At the Houston Press specifically, they would continually hire these freelance writers who hated Houston, knew nothing about it and were just using the job as a stepping stone. When de Schmog went out on the road I started seeing that this is a culture that can actually be changed and it can start with the way you tell the story. A good music editor would find importance in the fact that he is writing about a specific place and respect that place. For better or worse s/he should present the best of the culture as what it is in that place and time; respect his audience's intelligence and desire to be a part of a culture, not lectured to or pitied. What Houston got is a damaging senseless article. What it deserves is a good music editor.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
New York Night Train has done a terrific job shining a light on that music community in its third issue. I remain impressed with JT's NYNT and I think you will be too. Go check it out for an in depth look at New Orlean's Ninth Ward Underground music community - how they dealt with Hurricane Katrina and how they are dealing with the aftermath. Be sure to read the Oral History section which regretably in this issue is not download-able in mp3 format. Nevertheless Jonathan Toubin's writing skills at capturing the voice of these musicians is top notch, particularly the hilarious vernacular of MC Trachiotomy:
Just after most recently turning 80 years of age. They say the woist herracanne ever was gown hit Neworleans floods ever thang wind all‚at. Nah look here, I aint neva left fa no storm. I was trew betsy. I was trew Camille. I been trew all at. Ma dawgs was wit me anyhow. I help load up H.F.S, w/Stella & Man~Ting, mz.Fis wit her Doris, and Chris freaky fryer Hair dyer. Cause they was headed for the hills ya undastand. I was in. Where was I gwanna go anyhow?
The Oral History mp3 downloads are missed but NYNT makes available some ninth ward music. I like the lot, but the Detonation songs stand out because they rock and because the band broke up as a direct result of Katrina. Crooks and Nannies' Into the Water has acadian flavor. It sounds like something you might hear on AM radio as you drive across the Atchafalaya Swamp, maybe something eminating from Fred's in Big Mamou on a Saturday morning. EP's Parle' Gras has some Funky Meters influence, oh yeah I like it me too. Fun!
What's not entirely fun (although sometimes funny) are the horror stories these artists tell. Go, read for yourself, my friends.
Miss O: On our tour, Walt, Jay and I would sadly joke about every city we passed through, “Nope, this isn’t the city, I could never live here.” The truth is, the last remaining threads of our lives in New Orleans seem to be better than any other home we could imagine in the states. But in the near future I think we’ll think about New Orleans as a base to travel from, instead of home. And the feeling that we are homeless, in constant search of the city we adored passionately, I think will continue for years to come, if not for the rest of our lives. Despite all of this, there is a shred of hope in my heart that things won’t turn out as bad as our minds imagine... After all, the world is a crazy place.
*photo courtesy of New York Night Train - Lefty Parker Collection
Monday, February 20, 2006
Hagaa's Dead Horse played heavy metal in the late 80's as the art form was taking a decidely gravitational turn. My impression at the time was that the band was fittingly named. With all due respect, it is sad to hear that Michael is spending his time "archiving dead horse recordings, articles, photos and band paperwork." Oh well musicians fade away though I don't know too many who have done so in a pile of band paperwork (I've never even heard the two words together before).
John Nova Lomax's dead horse doesn't exist. I don't know what he is getting at in his Feb 16th Houston Press Article "Band Suicide: Why so many Houston music groups self-destruct right on the brink of having it made." He somehow identifies 37 year old Hagaa's failure to get a bunch of twenty-something Conroe musicians to follow Hagaa's personal MTV glory dream with an overall failure on the part of the Houston music scene. John, there is no magic city "scene" any where. There is something going on in Houston (as there always has been) and you're missing it. And as usual, you're not writing about it.
Grabbing into thin air to come up with external factors that are "holding down the scene," Lomax neglects the one factor that he is contributing to - the perennial flogging of the dead horse that is the Houston Press writer's noble rite of passage: to lament the absence of a scene. This is a myth, not a dead horse, a ghost horse. There is something going on brother you're just too hung up on bullcrap to harness it.
The one big difference that Houston has to many great music towns big and small (and never forget that Houston is the Fourth largest city in the entire nation) is the absence of a good writing community; a good local rag; like a good radio show; that doesn't linger on foolishness such as this; an agent that assumes an audience of music appreciators and writes to that audience.
I was surprised to find out this morning that he is only 65. As a musician, I'm a tad disappointed. The older I get the more I enjoy watching older musicians perform. It gives me a sense of security about my own musical longevity. But during his set I thought well hell if this octogenarian can still pluck and holler, I got some years left with my good friend Mr. Telecaster. Not that Guy Clark fully mastered his vocal cords or guitar last night. He was rough around the edges and wouldn't perform some of his more challenging vocal stuff such as "Desperados Waiting for a Train." Like Terry Allen before him, he blamed the cold weather. He did however perform a brand new song for which, he claimed, we were the first audience. It was a story-song (Mr. Clark is a diciple of Townes Van Zandt's narrative songwriting style) about celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Memphis. I really enjoyed that. If Guy Clark hasn't aged well at least he has proven that you can still whip up a good tune while collecting Social Security.
Guy Clark brought along his long time writing/playing partner, Verlon Thompson. Verlon was the surprise hit of the show. He accompanied Guy Clark competently, playing the part of the good sidekick as well as Cervantes could have written it. Towards the end of the set Guy Clark sat down looking tired, giving up the spotlight to Mr. Thompson. Verlon Thompson ripped into a fast picking tune of his own which brought the loudest applause of the night. After that he did an a capella song that fit very well after the blue grass-ey piece. It was a beautiful song about couples that wasn't too sappy you'd want to vomit. He did one more number called "Lucky Dog" which he claimed was recorded by Johnny Cash but never released. I couldn't tell if that was true or just a set up to an excellent Johnny Cash impersonation but either way it stole the show. Guy Clark was noble to bring this guy along. Verlon Thompson added some needed pizazz. Their Quixotic companionship was enjoyable to watch as well.
Guy Clark's set started with Terry Allen accompanying on piano for a song they wrote together about Terry Allen's dog getting shot and killed on New Year's Day 1999. It was a good segue between the sets. For his performance, Terry Allen stuck to the piano which was unfortunate for me because I ended up with a nice view of Mr. Allen's backside. Terry Allen also complained about the cold. He started songs over more than once. He didn't do much to endear himself to the audience (calling them idiots for living with cold weather). Somehow he managed to get a good set out of it. Perhaps the audience was a bit more scrutinizing then they would have been if he wasn't complainin'. He didn't receive a strong applause except for a couple of comical numbers, "Peggy Leg" and "Crisis Site 13." He only did one song off of "Lubbock (on everything)" which is the album I'm most familiar with. But that's okay I'll take it. Terry was asked to perform an encore as was Guy Clark but neither artist did. Grumpy old men don't need adoration.
The cold might make the old appear older but they're still kicking and I'm glad for that. Thank you Robbie Fulks once again for this great series, Secret Country, which by the way is recorded and hosted on XM Radio, check it out.
*photo courtesy of Guy Clark's Official Site.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Friday Night: I'll be recording the 14TH ANNUAL PERFORMANCE ART CELEBRATION. According to one of the founders, Jeff Harms - the name is somewhat arbitrary, but there will be performance art and Music. It will be at 8pm on Feb 17th. At the South Union Arts Building 1352 S. Union Ave. One small block east of Halsted and 14th. It is an old church built in 1860 and is complete with a neon crucifix and a baptismal font. Its an amazing space. (Hotel Brotherhood, who are mixing at the disclexington sunken monastery studio tonight, will be playing probably around 9:30)
Sunday Night: Robbie Fulks hosts another performance in his terrific Secret Country Series at the Old Town School of Folk Music Lincoln Avenue Concert Hall. This week its Guy Clark and Terry Allen. I'm not much of a Guy Clark fan but that might just be ignorance. We'll see. I do love Terry Allen thanks to my old buddy Andy Walker. I first heard about Mr. Allen when I was living in Houston. I was complaining to Andy about how much you hear the word "Texas" in songs on the local public radio station, like it's some kind of magic word that will get you on the radio. The word lost all power. Andy agreed and mentioned some lyrics by Terry Allen that were funny yet poignant so I checked out more of his stuff and fell in love.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Monday, February 13, 2006
Sounds pathetic, but the artist in me knew that this sinking into self-pitying depression can be creatively snagged if patient like a good fisherman. The bait was taken Friday night at Hotti Biscotti. Sullen already, I let things get to me. As fortune would have it lots of little things went wrong (bad tempered musician buzzing my ear, the club's neglected PA system breaking down, false theft accusations from the bartender). Fortunately this didn't affect many people and the show went pretty good. I was the lone sufferer (well me and maybe that bad tempered musician). The next morning I reeled in the fish, recording the vocals to a bitter drone churchbus had long been working on. The song needed vocals and for many weeks I couldn't get into the right mood to do it. Saturday morning, mopey and self-loathing, I needed a creative outlet. It was in the basement on a half-inch reel of tape.
The Hotti Biscotti events took me to the place but the gears were already in motion. In my wallow I read a Robert Pinksy poem that truly sang to me, I'd like to pass that on.
Oh and the song should be up on the churchbus MySpace page soon. It's called "Three Short Years."
Sunday, February 12, 2006
Keep on truckin'.
Monday, February 06, 2006
Come out this Friday night to a place you've never been in beautiful Logan Square. churchbus plays with Bob Taylor (an acoustic performance) and uraniam jam. I promise you. It fhalleth be good.
At Hotti Biscotti.
Friday, February 03, 2006
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Artist: Texas Guinness Lovers
Track: Not Far Enuff
Location: Rudyard's (Houston, TX)
Comment: This is a companion song to last week's tdj. Texas Guinness Lovers performing a Roberto Cofresi song "almost" simultaneously with his band, New Town Drunks. NTD on the East Coast and TGL on the Gulf, New Year's Eve 05/06.
click below to listen (requires FLASH)...
- ► 2007 (31)
- Interesting. My Dictionary.com word of the day is...
- I'll take two or t'ree of them boudins over der by...
- Nadine's Birfday Bash
- Three Reasons Lomax's "Band Suicide" is Bad Writin...
- Ninth Ward Underground
- Beating a Dead Horse and Houston don't need that.
- Chicago too cold for a couple of Texas Old Timers
- Tonight, Friday Night and Sunday Night
- New churchbus song up: Three Short Years
- A Stupid Meditation on Complacency Funk and Art
- Bright Men of Learning
- churchbus: Making Your Weekend Plans a Little Easi...
- Hey Chicago - Tonight at the Bottle
- New Track du Jour - Texas Guinness Lovers
- ▼ February (14)
- Broad Tosser
- Urban Djin
- Hotel Brotherhood
- the New Town Drunks
- THE LATEST
- Headache City
- the Ponys
- the M's
- the Camaro Rouge
- Galactic Inmate
- Hotel Brotherhood
- Turpentine Brothers
- Northern Liberties
- Cause For Applause
- Drums and Tuba
- Stag Party
- the Skull
- Bobby Conn
- Aspic Tines
- J.W. Americana
- the Ron Titter Band
- Texas Guinness Lovers
- Attic Ted
- Linus Pauling Quartet
- Fatal Flying Guilloteens
- Devin Davis
- Neko Case
- Love Story in Blood Red
- Bill Tucker
- Bright Men of Learning
- Golden Arm Trio
- Two Star Symphony
- S.S.Records (record label)
- My Mind's Eye Records (record store/Cleveland)
- New York Night Train (webzine and label)
- Hands Up Houston (shows and music forum)
- Goner Records Forum
- Houston Punk Archives
- Electrical Audio Studio Forum
- Keith Herzik (silk screen poster artist)
- Black Hole Press (T-shirt print shop)
- Kathleen Judge (silk screen poster artist)
- el Goodo Audio (ProTools Recording Studio/Chicago)
- Birdhouse Museum
- Robot Machine Gun