Overblown and Underrated

So you know Houston's goats, heroes and high points? Think again.

There was a while when the rest of the nation thought everyone in Houston rode mechanical bulls, wore expensive cowboy hats and listened to Mickey Gilley. This was known as The Dark Time.

The soundtrack that accompanied the 1980 John Travolta movie was a phenomenal best-seller. It became difficult to escape the strains of "Looking for Love," by Johnny Lee, Gilley doing "Stand By Me" or Charlie Daniels and "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."

More importantly, the album ushered in a movement that dominated country music for the next five years, taking its name from the movie even as it overshadowed it. Critics never much cared for the Urban Cowboy craze -- which lasted until the New Traditionalists like George Strait came to the fore in the mid-'80s -- but the American public loved it, and country stars racked up gold and platinum albums with ease as they went pop.

Despite awesome clutch hitting, Bill Spiers often gets overlooked.
Despite awesome clutch hitting, Bill Spiers often gets overlooked.

"I don't know if you can call it 'overrated,' because a lot of it was never 'rated' very well at all by critics," Mitchell says, "but it was very, very popular for a brief period, and it gave music executives in Nashville these crossover dreams of getting into the pop world. When those dreams were over, country music was in worse shape because it had lost touch. And Houston was seen as the heart of all that."

The Urban Cowboy fad set country music back a decade, he says. "If you look at what Houston has to own up to and accept responsibility for, it was really a blot on our culture," he says.

Most Underrated: Joe Medwick, bluesman extraordinaire

Houstonians have to be constantly nagged to remember that this city was once a thriving center of blues and R&B music. Before Motown emerged in the '60s, the most famous black-owned record label in the country was Duke/Peacock Records of the Fifth Ward, which featured artists like Bobby "Blue" Bland, Johnny Ace and Big Mama Thornton.

"Houston has a long list of black blues and jazz musicians who are better known elsewhere in the country or in Europe than they are here," Mitchell says.

And one of the best, he says, was Joe Medwick. Medwick wrote such tunes as "Further On Up the Road," later made famous by Eric Clapton, and "Turn On Your Love Light," recorded by the Grateful Dead, among others. He wrote "I Pity the Fool," which Mitchell calls "one of the greatest R&B songs of all time," a song that has absolutely nothing to do with Mr. T.

"He wrote some of the greatest R&B songs ever recorded," he says. "He was one of the best lyricists in R&B, and no one's ever heard of him."

Medwick sold his songs to publisher Don Robey for 50 bucks a pop and he died poor in Houston, but he wasn't bitter, says Mitchell, who interviewed Medwick shortly before the bluesman's death in 1992 at age 59.

"He told me, 'Don't you write nothing bad about Don Robey. Don Robey was a businessman, and he gave me what I wanted: money to go out and buy booze,' " Mitchell says. "And he had a flask in his pocket when he was telling me this."

Celebrity Court Case

Houston's courtrooms have provided some entertaining spectacles through the years, everything from the Cheerleader Mom to the bloody battles between divorcing River Oaks types.

We've experienced the Selena murder trial, where the courthouse was ringed by dozens of satellite-broadcast trucks from seemingly every news station in North and South America; we've had a string of visiting athletes dealing with the fallout from partying too hard or too lustfully.

Houston journalist Gabrielle Cosgriff, now a reporter for People magazine, has often followed the ups and downs of celebrities at the courthouse.

Most Overrated: The Christopher Sarofim divorce

All of River Oaks, and all of the large community of River Oaks wanna-bes, salivated palpably last May as the gavel was about to open on the divorce trial of Christopher and Valerie Sarofim. Christopher is the son of billionaire Fayez Sarofim; Valerie claimed that his fling with Courtney Lanier, the mayor's daughter, broke up the marriage.

The biggest junkyard-dog names from the divorce bar were lined up and ready to go to the wall for their clients. Fascinating scraps of pretrial filings leaked out, with allegations of cocaine abuse and child neglect.

Jurors had been picked, after filling out a 25-page questionnaire. Judge Annette Galik, who has gathered ink on her own for her romantic misadventures, was ready to pound the gavel to start the show last May 23.

And then -- damn it all to hell -- the two sides settled that day.

"What a shame we never got to hear all the juicy details of the son's divorce that were just starting to surface when they settled," Cosgriff says. "How funny that he married the Lanier daughter so quickly afterwards -- there's got to be lots there that we don't know."

And apparently never will. In fact, the prospect of the harsh light of publicity shining on their most intimate affairs is what drove both sides to a settlement, leaving Houston all primed up for a show that never took place.

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