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Music Council malaise... Next Monday and Tuesday at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge and May 14 at Ovations, the Houston Music Council will be holding parties to celebrate the release of its most recent CD designed to survey the local music scene, HMC Compilation Volume 4. Excited? Me neither.

But according to some folks I know, a few years ago such an announcement might actually have meant something. Apparently, there was a time before I arrived in town when the HMC mattered. Membership meetings happened once a month, lots of people actually showed up and the variety of genres represented was nothing if not impressive -- folk, metal, punk, blues, country. There was even a vague spirit of camaraderie at said gatherings. Houston's various cliques mingled, ideas were exchanged, contacts were made, seminars were held, HMC board members were broad-minded, foresighted and enthusiastic. That, at least, is what I'm told.

"I remember before it all started clicking off, you'd be hard-pressed to be able to walk into Dan Electro's [a Music Council meeting hub]. It was that full," recalls Richard Cagle, head of Houston's Artist Management Group and one of HMC's original members. "The membership ran the gamut. It was the diversity that was really cool; you had the country players over here, you had the metal heads with the punk kids over there, and it was no big deal. It was a very, very positive thing. People were wanting this; they wanted to come."

These days, however, the HMC is lucky to meet at all (the most recent meeting to date this year was in January). And when a few of the council's more motivated musicians and industry folk are able to set aside time for an HMC summit, they often wind up doing little else other than gabbing. Or maybe, if the board members decide to buckle down, they might review the status of the routinely dismal HMC local compilation CD and the live showcases that lead up to it. This year, the council sponsored seven such events devoted to various styles of music. I served on the judges' panel for one of them, the country showcase at Dan Electro's. Granted, it was a Sunday evening and the weather was hideous (freezing rain), but even so, the entire audience could have fit easily inside a minivan.

Presently, the HMC's annual CD release is the group's only reason for existing, a fact HMC president Tina Johnson reluctantly acknowledges. Johnson, a former KPFT DJ, admits that she's been focusing all of her efforts on the CD project and videotaped coverage of the live showcases (which is currently airing on Access Houston). Nonetheless, she contends that HMC Compilation Volume 4 is the council's spiffiest effort to date. I haven't heard it yet, so I can't argue with her. As I run down the list of showcase winners who earned slots on the '97 disc, though, there are several names I don't recognize ... and a few, frankly, that I wish I didn't.

Cagle spearheaded the HMC's first CD effort in 1993, and not too long after its release, he was history. "They made some big blunders and some big mistakes, and it cost them," says Cagle. "It was a losing cause."

According to Cagle and current council treasurer Alice Romero, the origins of the HMC's decline can be traced to one incident. It happened in 1991 when, after landing a music showcase at the South by Southwest Music Conference, the board made a decision that would cost HMC dearly.

"They got the full night at one of the clubs, and the board chose to do nothing but metal acts -- we're talking heavy, heavy stuff," recalls Cagle. "They honestly thought that that would be the cool thing to do. Everybody else got pissed off and withdrew their support -- except, of course, the metal heads."

Looking back, HMC co-founder Romero can't blame those who were disgruntled. "We're supposed to be representing all different types of music," she says. "Some of the heavy rock people got involved as officers, and it really turned people off."

Oddly enough, the HMC's genesis came about not here but in Austin, where a group of Houston music-business types gathered for a SXSW panel discussion with the intent of introducing our city's music scene to the rest of the country. Instead, the members of the Houston contingent wound up getting to know each other more than anyone else. "The panel was supposed to be for all these people from New York, Los Angeles or wherever to network with people from Houston," Cagle recalls. "What happened was, nobody came to see anybody from Houston. And for all the people from Houston, it was the first time for them to meet each other."

HMC's first round of meetings grew out of the initial excitement of that SXSW gathering. In its prime, says Romero, HMC boasted upward of 300 members. That number has since plummeted to about 80, and those willing to take an active role on the four-member board have dwindled to basically nil. Johnson promises a membership drive in the near future. Romero, though, isn't sure what, if anything, can be done to bolster numbers and enthusiasm within HMC.

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