I sent a letter to the editor at Houston Press and received this email from John Nova Lomax which is followed by my reply...
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.