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Judy's Lore

Fans still pine for Houston's dork-pop heroes

Even now, after all these years, David Bean still gets letters and phone calls from fans who wonder where he is, what he's up to, why he disappeared. Perhaps they've heard the stories about how he became a recluse after he left the stage, which isn't really true at all. More likely, they just want to discover for themselves what happened to the boy from Pearland who became -- for a brief, spectacular moment -- a rock star without ever having to leave the state.

Those who go to the trouble to track down Bean are fans from way back, adults whose childhood rock-and-roll memories dance to the sparse, quirky-jerky pop-and-roll beat of songs Bean and his old band mates in the Judy's wrote when they were barely out of high school themselves. Said followers still hum the off-key melodies, still know all the words to "All the Pretty Girls" ("... in high school make me sick!"), still hope for a reunion that may -- or, more likely, may never -- take place.

Truth be told, the phone calls and the notes aren't all that creepy to David Bean. He rather likes them, and is flattered by the attention paid to a band that died a handful of times throughout the 1980s before finally running out of breath in 1991 somewhere along the road between Pearland and Houston.

"I am really impressed," the 36-year-old Bean says. "It must have really meant something. But part of it just escapes me."

It all seems so long ago, a lifetime stuck back in the past. The Judy's were native heroes, the best '80s pop band to hail from Texas -- so much better than the Nelsons and so many other one-hit where-are-they-nows? who plied the club circuit back then. The Judy's opened for the B-52's, Devo and the Talking Heads, and though they were so much younger than those bands, they seemed so much smarter. Their music was austere, lean, clean, catchy; they banged out the beat on pots, pans and smashed light bulbs that went pop, pop, POP in time to the music. They wrote songs about Gary Gilmore ("How's Gary?"), happy hostages ("Vacation in Tehran"), Son of Sam serial killer David Berkowitz ("Dogs"), Jim Jones ("Guyana Punch," with its call to come "freshen up, freshen up, freshen up"), television's wasteland ("Reruns," "T.V."), stalkers ("Trixie and the Killer"), and sex-change bliss ("The Grass Is Greener"). As a result, they had thousands of words devoted to them in Houston, Dallas and Austin newspapers. In September 1981, Texas Monthly remarked, "These kids have talent, humor and originality in abundance."

Yet the Judy's released only two official full-length albums in their career: Washarama in 1981 and The Moo Album four years later, both on the band's own Wasted Talent label. The albums were bookended by an EP recorded while the boys were in high school (Teenage Hang-Ups in 1980, which features an early version of "All the Pretty Girls"), the six-song The Wonderful World of Appliances the same year, the "Girl of 1000 Smells" single (the B-side is sung in Russian), and a 1991 farewell CD that barely waved good-bye. Now, their albums sell for hundreds of dollars to collectors, though they're also liable to show up in the racks at Half-Price Books and Records, and sell for pocket change.

Bean, who still maintains Wasted Talent, plans to release all the albums on CD sometime in the near future -- before the end of the summer, he says with a shrug that implies: Don't hold your breath. "When it happens, it happens," he says, laughing. "I've been telling people for years, 'Oh, they'll be out in several months.' "

Eighteen years since the band's inception in a Pearland garage, the Judy's live on, a new wave zombie too stubborn to die. DJs around the state still get requests for Judy's songs, some on a weekly basis. For the past two years, Michael Wilson, a Nashville-via-Houston Internet programmer, has maintained a fetishistic web site that contains every single Judy's song sampled, in its entirety, at CD-perfect quality. (The web site's address is maddancer.com/thejudys.)

"The Judy's site gets more action than my business site," says Wilson, who's also designing a Judy's screen saver that will be available before the end of the year.

Over the past three years, the Seattle-based indie-pop band Tullycraft has covered the Judy's on three separate releases: In 1995, the band remade "Guyana Punch" for the compilation When I'm Hungry I Eat: Songs About Food, then recorded "Mental Obsession" on 1996's Old Traditions, New Standards, and issued "She's Got the Beat" this year on a Japanese-only vinyl single.

"People send me tapes all the time," says Tullycraft's Sean Tollefson, "and someone in Alaska sent me a tape of Washarama. They said, 'I listen to your band, and this sounds like the same stuff you're doing.' Well, the tape sat there a few weeks, and then I popped it in and was just amazed. Since then, I've been looking all over for their records. I've had to go to the web site, and I've downloaded all the songs and have them on cassette. I mean, they were just so stripped down -- the bass and drums are the whole backbeat. And David Bean is just a really great songwriter."

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