Rock Radio (and Rock Romano) Redux

Bo knows good rock when he sees it. Do Houston radio programmers?

And all of those stations are focused on the past, except for the Buzz, which might as well be, for as little relevance as it has. So anyway, rock is all but covered. Now all we need is something new, something exciting, something that will make what few tourists trickle our way and turn on their radios think this place is something other than a cultural backwater. If only the Point would flip to that blend I've been touting -- that Franz Ferdinand-Kanye West-Modest Mouse-Roots-Interpol-OutKast-'80s alternative-classic rap thingy -- maybe then I'd be able to move on from writing these columns, the Point wouldn't ever have to play "Tainted Love" again, and a new format would be born, one the whole entire world could be proud of.

But hell, who am I kidding? That seems about as likely as "Big Pussy" Bompensiero walking off Tony Soprano's yacht alive. Rock the Man, Rock the Myth, Rock the Legend

Twenty years ago, the corner of Heights and Washington was the epicenter of the Houston live music scene -- a thriving corner of four or five clubs, where thousands flocked every weekend to boogie to the blues, groove to jazz and two-step to country that hailed from here in town and all over the world. In one weekend on that corner, you could see Miss Molly and the Passions and B.B. King, Son Seals and the Dishes.

Those days are gone now -- Washington may still be the city's avenue of rock dreams, but Rockefeller's, Club Hey Hey and the Satellite are no more, and Cosmos and Hickory Hollow are all that remain.

Most of the players who once packed those clubs are still in town and still playing, and many of them recently have acquired second winds. One such is Herschel Berry, who has been playing out more with his new band, which his lead guitarist, Rock Romano, describes as a "rockin' four-piece Gulf Coast rockabilly band, sort of like the Who meets Elvis Costello with a Texas edge."

Another is Romano himself, who not only was one of Berry's original Natives but also led his own band -- Dr. Rockit and the Sisters of Mercy -- in the '80s. Dr. Rockit was one of the top-tier Gulf Coast party bands of the era, a nationally touring act that headlined the Houston Festival for three straight years. "It was a really rockin' band, a four-piece blues band with two girls that really rocked out," Romano says from the recording studio he has owned and operated for 20 years. "Nobody ever left once we hit a note. The men loved the girls, and the people who loved the blues dug what we did musically. We were like the Blasters on steroids. Bo Diddley still remembers me -- he loved the band so much. I saw him five years after we opened for him and he had pictures of us in his pack backstage at Rockefeller's. He said, 'I've been saving these for you, Doc.' And I was thinking, 'Oh, my God, this is Bo Diddley telling me this.' It was one of the greatest moments of my life, to have Bo Diddley show me photographs of my band that he took!"

Exactly 20 years ago, Sisters of Mercy Lisa Williams and Cindy Thrall left the band. "We were getting up there when we finally split apart," says Romano. "It was like the Commitments -- they were our paradigm for self-destruction."

Last year the band reunited for the Urban Animals 25th anniversary party, and the show was a huge success, drawing about 700 people to Fitzgerald's. This time around Romano wants to test the waters without the Urban Animals, and he wants to celebrate his 60th birthday in style. Ergo the Heart and Soul Birthday Ball on Valentine's Day at Fitz's, which will feature Dr. Rockit and the Sisters of Mercy and opening act Romeo Dogs. Special guests include Herschel Berry, Tommie Lee Bradley, Big Al Bettis, Tommy Dardar, Sean Walters, Guy Schwartz, Wally Shannon, Trudy Lynn and Marie English, with more expected.

"The snowball has gotten so big that Sara has moved it upstairs," says Romano, who has stayed sharp performing with Bettis, Berry and the Hightailers during Dr. Rockit's hiatus. "It's really a kick in the ass to have this band back together."

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