Musical Chairs

When band members trade places, there isn't always a loser

The Houston Astros used to be infamous for their multiplayer trades. Remember in 1994, when the 'Stros shipped Ken Caminiti, Steve Finley and mullet shortstop Andujar Cedeño to the San Diego Padres for Derek "Operation Shutdown" Bell and mullet shortstop Ricky Gutierrez? In 1998, Caminiti went on to lead the Padres to the World Series and won an MVP award on the West Coast before the Astros welcomed back his crack-ravaged hulk years later. And don't even get me started on the Joe Morgan and Kenny Loftin deals…

The point to this little primer in Astros lore? In sports, history nearly always judges someone the loser in multiplayer trades. The current and former members of Houston blues guitarist Tony Vega's band, which has won multiple Houston Press Music Awards, are hoping that the same principle doesn't hold true for music.

It didn't seem odd when second guitarist/singer the Mighty Orq left the Tony Vega Band to pursue a solo career last November; his talent is huge and the band seemed to go in an entirely different direction whenever he took a turn as front man. But that departure sparked a ripple effect the likes of which the city's music scene seldom sees. The entire original lineup of the Tony Vega Band -- with the exception, of course, of Vega himself -- is gone.

First, a little background. Bassist Brock Proctor had all but retired from touring even before Orq went solo, and had been replaced -- at the suggestion of Snit's Dog & Pony Show guitarist Snit Fitzpatrick -- by Jessica Buchheit, the 2001 Press award- winner for best bassist who was then playing with Sisters Morales and also just happens to be Fitzpatrick's former Dog & Pony Show bandmate and ex-girlfriend.

After Orq's announcement, Vega anointed Austinite Sam Massey as his replacement. So far, so good. But now for the bombshells: Vega next announced that Buchheit and drummer Jeremy Pierce would be replaced by Austin roots-blues legend Preston Hubbard on bass and Snit himself on drums. To make the circle complete, Buchheit and Pierce are now backing -- you guessed it -- none other than the Mighty Orq.

And, somehow, everybody's happy about it. "It's such a cliché, but everyone's so amicable," says Vega. "We're still family."

Vega says that Proctor chose to leave because he was burned out by the demands of the band's schedule and that Orq decided to fulfill his own ambition. But the other departures were not voluntary.

"Basically, for once in my life I want to play with musicians," says Vega of the decision to replace Buchheit and Pierce with former Fabulous Thunderbird Hubbard and former Hollister Fitzpatrick. "By 'musicians,' I mean that's all they do, all they plan to do. Guys like Snit and Preston, that's what they've always done. With guys like Jeremy and other younger people, they don't know what they want to do from one year to the next. Jeremy's got a day job that he really likes, and he told me flat out that when I start touring nationally that there would be problems. And that's my resolution for this year, that I'm gonna start branching out nationally and regionally, and I need guys that can get up and go."

The decision to part ways with Buchheit was even harder. Vega has nothing but praise for the bassist, as both a person and a player, but the chance to add a guy like Hubbard to the band was just too good to pass up. "She's never done one bad thing to me. She's never done anything but her job…," Vega says, the words coming with difficulty. "But I'm at a point in my life where…I've let my personal feelings drive me for so long, to Orq, to Jeremy…These are my best friends. It was always a miracle that I was playing in a professional band with three of my best friends, and I kind of let that get the best of me over the years. Instead of making business decisions, I was making personal decisions, and for once in my life I want to take it to another level, and I'm ready for it, and I want to surround myself with… badasses." He laughs, out of the dark now and looking to the future. "I'm ready for it, and sure enough, we played the first show last Friday [January 10] with the new band and it was unbe-fucking- lievable. It was so explosive."

For his part, Snit thinks Vega has become something of a badass himself. Not that he always had that view: "I've been watching Tony for years, ever since he first came out, and I was like, 'Uhhhh, okay.' "

But now Snit is convinced that drumming in the TVB is the best gig in town, even better than leading his own band. "I first talked to Tony about a year and a half ago when I was plodding along with Snit's Dog & Pony Show," says Snit. "Don't get me wrong -- I love that band, but it was always just a side project. I mentioned to Tony then -- and Jeremy's a friend of mine too, so I'd never steal his job -- but I said to Tony that if he, Jeremy, ever wanted to leave, or if he wanted to take it to the next level, to keep me in mind."

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