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Heaven's Gatemouth

Juneteenth brings a blues great back to Houston

The Juneteenth Blues Festival commenced last weekend in tribute to the late great Albert Collins, and while there was simply too much fine music to catch it all -- I mean, it's just one of the largest free blues festivals in the free world -- I was lucky enough to get to tag along with Carolyn Wonderland and the Houston Blues Society folks who drove out to the airport to pick up one-time Houstonian Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. "Gate" was flown in with his band for one night only before returning to Cleveland to catch up with the tour bus that's presently carrying them across the United States and Canada. When he's not on the road, this year's winner of the blues instrumentalist Handy Award lives in Slidell, Louisiana, but Gate called Houston home for 14 years and had a daughter here. He's still got an obvious nostalgia for the place. "I used to know this town like the back of my hand," he grumbled as we drove down 59, "but I don't know shit about it no more. Maybe some of the old places...."

The multi-instrumentalist legend was visibly cheered when he and his entourage entered their hotel lobby to the awed recognition of a group of transient railroad workers who noticed, no doubt, the rail-thin regality of a Very Important Man in their presence. Hometowns were announced all around, with Gate naming off the clubs he'd played in each. One of the admirers turned out to be from Orange, whereupon Gate asked who his people were over there. Sure enough, they found common ground in the exchange of a few last names. The man's a genuine folk hero, and it was good to see him back in Houston.

Even better to see him when he headlined the Thursday night concert at Miller Outdoor Theater. Coco Monyoya had kicked the evening off innocuously enough, but Brown and his band took their blues in a tighter, jazzier direction, with some energetic picking by Brown on guitar, fiddle and mandolin, and fine individual performances by the band. If there was a problem, it was an almost criminally low volume level that took some of the grit out of Brown's voice, and his band seemed less at home on the dirtier blues numbers, but when the group stepped into prolonged solos to the beat of Duke Ellington's "Take the 'A' Train," it was hard to hear anything but how sweet it was. "This is your town, Gate," his guitarist said on the drive in. "Let's tear it up." That they did.

In the Studio... Local rocker Zachary Bair of Zachary Bair & No Control signed a deal with Austin's Sundown Records, home of Townes Van Zandt and other notables, last week. He'll be going into Austin's Arlyn Studios in early July to cut the tracks for a scheduled September release.

The newly opened Chelsea Pub at Rice and Kirby in the Village has offered a regular weekend schedule of music since early June, but Friday night the club's kicking it off officially with a grand opening featuring Rick Lee and the Nite Owls. Lavelle White, one of several contenders for the Houston Blues Queen crown, follows up on Saturday.

Local Stuff... The week kicks off on Thursday with singers: Kimberly M'Carver is at the Mucky Duck, Mignon Rae plays the Boatyard and Norma Zenteno and the Secret are scheduled at Caramba restaurant on Westheimer. And if that lineup should prove too well-mannered for your wildly eclectic taste, you can jot down the street and catch Childman, Thought Industry and Chem Lab with their pants down at Goat's Head Soup.

Friday night the Horsies -- an Austin band with a temporarily Houston-based label in Sector II Records -- have their record release at Rudyard's, and the Alamo Jets play the Satellite. Locals Rosebud and Seed, whose publicist tells me two of the band members used to live in Houston, open for The Figgs and Chainsaw Kittens at Goat's Head. Should be a good one all the way through. Lips and the Trips play Toad's Friday night, and Badger and Butterboy Porno Star warm up for Billy Goat at the Abyss.

Come Saturday, Sisters Morales do two shows, the first for people who don't puff, at the Duck, while Grady Gaines and the Texas Upsetters hold court at Billy Blues. "Jazzologist" Israel McCloud exhibits jazz art of the visual sort at Dizzy's, starting on the 18th, and K-Otix opens for Madhouse at Goat's. The Missiles play the Edge Bar. Over at Harvey's, Woody's Jukebox is scheduled for what's billed as the band's last show ever, which presages a definite loss of some sort or another.

Sunday, it's Beef Masters at the Blue Iguana and LaLa Wilson and the Imitators at Rockefeller's, and that's about it till Harry Sheppard hits the vibes at Munchies Wednesday night. Bye bye.

 
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