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Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish

Roy Ames, child pornographer and record producer, dies at 66

No one man caused more harm to Houston's music community than Roy Ames, who passed away August 14 of natural causes at age 66 at his home in West University. Johnny Winter left town for the express purpose of getting away from him. Joe "Guitar" Hughes called him "the Texas music rapist." The shoddy CDs he released by talented musicians without their consent dragged Houston's reputation as a blues hotbed down in the gutter where he was so at home.

Child porn and Gulf Coast music and memorabilia were Ames's favorite wares to sell, and the way he went about peddling and acquiring both was not dissimilar. He coerced people into making the stuff for him and then sold it on the sly, legal consequences be damned. In both cases, his victims lost their innocence; they felt raped and soiled. Consider all that is decent in the world. Roy Ames was as far from that as you could get.

The list of musicians he was accused of ripping off includes Hughes, Winter, Freddy King, Juke Boy Bonner, Leonard "Low Down" Brown, Big Walter the Thunderbird, Pete Mayes, Jimmy "T-99" Nelson, Clarence Green, Arnett Cobb, Rayfield Jackson, Sonny Boy Terry, Lee Frazier, Big Roger Collins, Kinney Abair, Al Bottis, Tommy Dardar and Clarence Parker. What's more, in 1997 a federal jury agreed with the artists' allegations about Ames, and awarded most of the above more than a quarter-million dollars in damages.

For years, Ames had avoided such verdicts by exploiting the letter of the law and ignoring completely its spirit. He often set up recording equipment in local clubs and recorded original but uncopyrighted songs and released them on CDs in Europe and Japan. (If he did capture a song that was copyrighted, he would avoid paying royalties by simply changing the title of the song.) He frequently "lost" contracts for recording sessions, especially when he hoped that those he recorded were either dead by the time he released the album, or too poor or too ignorant of their rights to sue him.

Low Down Brown was a victim, and happily, Ames figured him wrong. In the early '90s, Ames and Brown arranged a demo session. Brown laid down five "scratch tracks" for Ames, sort of dress rehearsals for the real session to come.

"I met with him, and we didn't get around to talking about any business," Brown told the Press's Jim Sherman in 1994. "We went in and laid down four or five tunes. These were all original songs. It was just a rough sketch…Roy did not want to come to contractual terms; he kept sidestepping the issue and everything. I just abandoned the project."

Imagine Brown's surprise when the admittedly third-rate demos surfaced on an internationally released CD (Texas Guitar Greats, Volume 2) a little while later. As related in Sherman's article, Brown called Ames and demanded an explanation. "I said, 'Roy, you're using my music and you're not paying me any royalties. I don't think what you're doing is right.' He said, 'Well, if you don't like what I'm doing, sue me.' And then he hung up on me."

And then Brown did sue him, and won. Another who did so was Jimmy "T-99" Nelson. Nelson retired from music in 1955, and hoped to make a comeback 15 years later. Nelson made some sides with a band that included Arnett Cobb and Calvin Owens with Ames in 1970. The album went unreleased for years -- Ames's priority in those days was Johnny Winter.

By the mid-'70s, Ames had other concerns: the first of several pornography busts and convictions. In 1974, he was indicted by a federal grand jury in Houston on a charge of conspiracy and ten charges of mailing obscene material. He was subsequently arrested on two counts of sexual abuse of a child and six charges of compelling the prostitution of a child, and in 1975 police raided his home and carted off literally two tons of obscene material. Four years later, the sexual abuse and prostitution charges were dismissed, but by then Ames was already in federal prison for other charges relating to sex offenses with minors and distributing kiddie porn through the mail. The upshot of all of this was that Ames was incarcerated from 1975 to 1986.

Nelson's album did not come out until after Ames's parole, and when it did, on the Japanese label P-Vine and the British label Ace, it was a very poor recording. Glaring errors abounded. A drummer's fluff was left in. Owens's trumpet was poorly miked. All could have been easily fixed, but Ames was never one for quality control. Nelson later discovered that the album, which Ames named Hot Tamale Man, was also available domestically on Ames's own Home Cooking label. On the jacket of that release, Ames wrote that the publishing on all of Nelson's songs belonged to Ames's Clarity Music.

"It was copyrighted, too," Nelson says. "It was all over Japan. I didn't get a dime out of it. I didn't blame him -- it's just a matter of business to try to recoup some of this money. He should have let me know, but like I said, it's just a matter of business, so I have no hard feelings against him."

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