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Judy's Lore

Fans still pine for Houston's dork-pop heroes

Was, that is. Bean has long since abandoned music for a career as a water shiatsu massage therapist, a hobby that turned serious once the Judy's disbanded for good. He has not recorded since 1991, when he took a bastardized version of the Judy's -- bassist Jeff Walton and drummer Dane Cessac were long gone by then -- into the studio to record Land of Plenty. The album, the lone Judy's record available on CD, came and went, which is perhaps just as well: Where the band's earlier recordings were angular gems, Land of Plenty trips over its own conventionality. Songs such as "Riding in a UFO" and "Superman" are far less charming than their lunatic predecessors; listening to them is like watching an old friend grow up, get fat and break out in a rash. Perhaps it was inevitable a career with such promise would end without much fanfare.

"Trying to get the album done was a nightmare," Bean recalls. "I was growing more and more distant. I thought, even if I made it big, I'd be miserable, so why am I doing this? The last show was a horrible frat fest, and beer got thrown all over our equipment. The band got pissed off, and I had trouble collecting the money. It was like the universe was saying, no."

The Judy's began as most teen bands did in the late 1970s, as a punk-rock hobby playing to the lawnmowers and other junk stored in the garage. But after Bean spent a summer in Austin and heard the B-52's playing at a record store, he returned to Pearland and told his buddies of a terse new sound that left plenty of room for punch lines. Thus, the Judy's were born, their possessive name and their sound inspired by the Athens, Georgia, band that, even now, refuses to die.

"It wasn't like we said we were going to be the B-52's," Bean recalls, "but we were struck by the minimalism."

Indeed, when second guitarist Sam Roush (who appears on Teenage Hang-Ups) died in a car accident in 1980 (the week before the EP's release, no less), the rest of the band decided not to replace him -- fewer musicians to clutter up the sound. "We were scheduled to play before the school dance in the cafeteria the week he died, so we had to cancel the show," Bean says. "It was a big blow. We never performed live with him."

The band sold copies of the three-song Teenage Hang-Ups (with a full-band version of "All the Pretty Girls," Bean's vocals reverbed to death) in the cafeteria at Pearland High School. They recorded The Wonderful World of Appliances not long after. For a short time, rumors circulated about a pending deal with the Warner Bros. label, but they proved to be nothing. Bean insists the Judy's never sought out a record deal or, for that matter, a manager. They were content enough releasing music on their own label and touring regionally, playing out just seldom enough to make every show seem like An Event. The last thing they wanted was to be a club band, making the scene in hopes of getting noticed by someone looking to buy their souls for a few thousand bucks.

"We never knew of being close to any kind of deal," Bean says. "We didn't want to focus all our energies on that. We didn't want to make demos and go to L.A. If there was interest, that was good, but we were always around other musicians who talked about this deal, and it was like they weren't interested in being where they were and entertaining people. I was just never interested in chasing after something like that. There was enough in front of us that kept us happy. But believe me, we would have welcomed a major-label deal, but we also thought, 'Who would sign us?' We knew we weren't commercial. Majors always said, 'The production's awful,' but we said, 'Of course it is. We paid for the records and recorded them in three hours.' We thought we sucked too bad to get signed."

The band would disband in 1981 after Washarama, then again in '83, get back together once more in '85 for The Moo Album, then slowly come apart again. In the end, all that was left was Bean and a gang of impostors for Land of Plenty. The band would regroup here and there for the occasional gig -- their last appearance was at the Raul's reunion show at Austin's Liberty Lunch in the early '90s, celebrating the long-defunct punk hangout. Bean isn't averse to doing a few reunion shows here and there. But these days, he has little tolerance for songs about high school girls and Three Mile Island; if anything, he'd like to record some of the new music he's writing and, yeah, release Washarama on CD for the few thousand folks who might desire such a relic.

"Jeff, Dane, and I were in the studio together not long ago working on another project -- it wasn't Judy's stuff," Bean says. "But we get together and see each other [from] time to time, both socially and musically. We don't see each other so often that we're, like, the best of buddies, but there's so much history there. We knew each other in grade school. I mean, just sharing all those years of incredible experiences -- to be in your teens and have all this stuff happen, and going from Pearland to a semi-successful regional rock band. We got to see all kinds of things we never dreamed of. I think that's still back there.

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