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Baby, You're a Star

Simpleton is Houston's best hope for the next big thing

Back at Leon's, another little seed sprouts roots as a young Walkman-wearing African-American man approaches the table. "Y'all are Simpleton, right?" he asks, looking surprised. "What are y'all doing over here?"

"Talking to the Houston Press," Clements replies.

"Well, this is my hangout," the fan says, and shyly walks over to the bar. Clements follows.

Simpleton chills in their deluxe apartment in the sky. Can a piece of the pie be far behind?
Jeff Fitlow
Simpleton chills in their deluxe apartment in the sky. Can a piece of the pie be far behind?
"I ain't no toast!"  Top to bottom: Beans Wheeler, B.C., Marc Armaos and Jon Black.
Jeff Fitlow
"I ain't no toast!" Top to bottom: Beans Wheeler, B.C., Marc Armaos and Jon Black.

Details

Simpleton releases its sophomore album, Baby You're a Star, Friday, August 16, at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak Drive. I-45, Slowvak, Downfall and Red Star are also on the bill. For more information, call 713-862-3838.

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"He knows more about us than we do," Clements says a few minutes later. "He knows all the lyrics of our most obscure songs off the first record. He's always walking down the street and he always has his headphones on. He just told me that he's listening to a new compilation tape right now with two of our songs on it."

You can get to know Clements fairly well by listening to Simpleton's records. His persona on the mike is no invention. He is what he raps -- a well-meaning ne'er-do-well who wishes every day were Sunday. Who wants a job when there are days to sleep through, bars to hit, women to chase and great lineups to watch on MTV and Fox? "If ignorance is bliss, then I'm as happy as a clam not doing all I can but doing all I want," off their new tune "Unfinished," seems to be his motto. But you can hear the substance beneath all the pop culture disarray when you listen to the sly, rapid-fire wordplay on his albums and just in conversation. Where many rap-rockers might think the Beat Poets were an East Coast hip-hop posse, BC calls them (along with Hunter S. Thompson) a primary influence on his songwriting.

Not that he wants to talk about such a literary legacy when the rest of the band is within earshot. When the band members are together, they act as all tight-knit bands do: They lay in to one another. Drummer Wheeler is the band's unofficial whipping boy.

"We used to have this game we played called Gulag," Black remembers with relish. "You ever seen Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome? You know where they chant, 'Bust a deal and face the wheel,' and then they put this big mask on him and make him ride a horse into the desert? We used to have this big papier-mâché head and we'd make Beans put it on and we'd shoot rubber bands at him and throw darts at his head. Gu-lag! Gu-lag! Gu-lag!"

Wheeler is stepping out of the whipping boy role now, Clements adds. Perhaps it's because he's drumming for Los Skarnales these days, too. He goes on to praise Wheeler's "great big heart that he crams into his itty-bitty torso...He should stumble around off-balance, but he doesn't."

Clements isn't feeling so generous minutes later when bassist Armaos rips the rapper's last band, Taste of Garlic, whose first album was called mydixiewrecked. (Roll that around on your tongue for a while. Wait, don't!)

"That band was great for what it was, for our age," Clements says. "When you're 17, 18 years old, what do you think about? Weed, pussy and your own dick."

"Too bad y'all didn't release that album until you were 25," Armaos says to general merriment.

Later, Wheeler and Clements clash when Black's discussion of the Dallas and Houston music scenes quickly devolves into which Texas metropolis has the best tittie bars. Wheeler takes the side of DFW. "You're out of your mind, dude," Clements says. "Just 'cause Pantera owns a club up there doesn't mean their scene is better."

KLOL DJ Zakk United once gave Simpleton a taste of Pantera's lifestyle, one that could be theirs soon with a couple of breaks. It was an event the band remembers fondly. "It was great: open bar, they brought us a deli tray of fajitas, egg rolls, chicken strips, free bottles of champagne," Clements says. "Everybody else at the club hated us because we were getting all this shit free."

Not that the band was stingy with its lavish bounty. "Every now and then I'd give some poor guy a taquito," the big-hearted Wheeler remembers.

Escalante hopes that if and when Simpleton breaks big, the band will give Houston more than a taquito to remember them by. "I really think they have a good shot at making a name for themselves beyond Texas," he says. "Personally, I hope that they keep it in the family and stay in Houston rather than move to L.A. That doesn't do anybody any favors here, or themselves, for that matter."

And as Pantera has proved, you can have plenty of fun in your own backyard.

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