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Last of the Hard-Core Troubadours

Randal Calcote, Houston's most dangerous folkie, needs your help

Montrose legend Randal Calcote has been many things in his life: child country musician, poet, actor, hemp activist, pirate radio impresario, folk troubadour, rock and punk promoter, and member of the bands Backyard Epics, Southern Pikes and Yellow Number Six. He's also worked some straight jobs: He's repaired both transmissions and computers, and at Public News, he was perhaps the only legally blind typesetter in the history of journalism. Despite his impaired vision, you wouldn't know he's extremely nearsighted from talking to him.

"Every now and then you've got to buckle down and get a real job and put that guitar in the corner," he says of his varied career. "But it's bigger than codeine, man -- it will grab you by the balls and say, 'Come back and play with me.' "

Over the years, Calcote has performed at literally hundreds of benefits, and, well, you know the story. Sooner or later we're all going to need a benefit of some kind, and now it's Calcote's turn. In Manvel a few months ago, at a rehearsal for his country band 90 Proof, he had a close encounter of the worst kind with a plate-glass sliding door.

Details

Benefit takes place Saturday, July 2, at Super Happy Fun Land, 2610 Ashland. For further information, contact either Roxanna Worthington (roxannawyn@yahoo.com) or Keith Collins (texaskingfish@houston.rr.com), or call Super Happy Fun Land at 713-880-2100.

"I wasn't drunk or anything," Calcote says. "I just didn't see that it was closed. I walked into it and I could feel that my knee had broken the glass, and my first thought was how sorry I was that I had broken the door. I didn't feel any pain. Then I pulled my leg back out of the door, and that's when I realized what had happened."

Calcote's got some unbelievable scars -- it looks almost like a hammerhead shark took a chomp or two out of him. His knee had lodged in the glass, and he had sliced one side of his leg open on the way in and ripped the other side open on the way out.

He remembers asking for a cigarette and the fast response time of the Manvel EMS. "They got there before I was even done with my smoke," he says. "And then when they got there, one of the paramedics told me I was gonna lose that leg. I told him, 'The hell with that.' Actually, I am very thankful he said that, because if he hadn't told me that, I would have lost it. But since he did tell me, I was able to get the word out that I was keeping it."

As you can imagine, he's facing some considerable medical bills, so an eclectic cross-section of Houston's music scene has pitched in to help out at Rand-Aid, a benefit July 2 at Super Happy Fun Land. Opie Hendrix & the Texas Tallboys, Fahl and Folk, Secret Beat Society, Muzak, Organ Failure, Friendship Bracelet, Kairos, Jimmy Deen and Glenna Bell have already signed on, and as always with benefits, expect many a surprise guest.

But Calcote doesn't just need this benefit. He also deserves it. "I have known Randal Calcote since he held the rather unlikely position of typesetter at Public News (although given the punk aesthetic of the era, using a legally blind typesetter might've been shrewdness on the publisher's part, rather than the cheapness it was generally taken for)," wrote punk impresario and Rand-Aid organizer M. Martin in an e-mail to Racket just before setting off on his honeymoon. "He has been both among my friends and my critics over the years, and deserves a lifetime achievement award as a member of the Houston music scene."

Calcote is not just Martin's friend and critic -- he also assumes both of those roles with regard to the whole Houston music scene. One hot Friday afternoon, I dropped by Calcote's Montrose garage apartment -- which is nestled just above the now-defunct Internet radio station Earthwire.net he once helped run -- and in the course of about two hours we destroyed a 12-pack of Lone Star at his kitchen table as Calcote reminisced on the Houston music scene he once knew and that of today.

It's hard to believe now, but about 30 or 35 years ago, Houston's folk music scene was positively dangerous, an acid-addled, drink-soaked, sexy milieu. The police were always lurking nearby. "Wrecks" Bell, who with the late Dale Soffar owned and operated the Old Quarter folk club on Congress downtown during that period, recalled to me a few years ago that he was thrown in jail on a weekly basis.

It was also a scene marked by greatness. Once Townes Van Zandt got rolling, the whole scene picked up steam -- everybody wanted to be as good as Van Zandt, and Van Zandt would heap scorn on those who didn't have the goods. People would ask him what it took to write great songs, and he would tell them that they had to blow off family, happiness, money, jobs and safety and focus on living and breathing music, and that there were no buts about it.

Some quit playing, but others kept honing their skills, and soon enough Houston's folk scene had produced not just Van Zandt but also Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Eric Taylor, Vince Bell, Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, Richard Dobson and many others. Van Zandt was never vindictive -- when any one of those people would write a good song, he would tell them so.

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