A Crying Shame

RIP, Cactus Music and Video

Well, aging owners and Netflix have finally finished off what was started by CD downloading, file sharing, Tropical Storm Allison, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and predatory big-box-store pricing. As of March 31, a day that will live in Houston music infamy, Cactus Music and Video will be no more.

I e-mailed a couple hundred people on the scene -- everyone from former and current Cactus employees to local stars and label presidents to typical customers -- and asked them to offer up their eulogies for the beloved, 30-year-old institution.

Ramifications for the Scene

Brad Turcotte, president, Compadre Records: "This is a huge blow to the music industry, not just in Houston, but for the nation. I heavily relied on Cactus as a major part of my marketing and distribution plan. Cactus is not just Houston's favorite record store, but it is one of the top five independent stores in the nation. The advertising programs, in-store performances and staff support are key ingredients to any independent release. Houston is consistently one of Compadre's top markets for overall sales, as it is with any nationally released independent artist. I am now afraid to see the sales impact."

Gary Moore, president, Stag Records (Jesse Dayton's label): "What has Cactus done for Stag Records and Jesse Dayton? PLENTY! When we would have a new release, they would slap a 'Sale' sticker on it, position it on the front rack and add it to the listening station, all without us having to ask. If ever I noticed they were low on stock, they would make sure there was an order placed as fast as possible. They prioritized local music ahead of the Madonnas and Springsteens of the world. Anytime someone would ask me, 'Where can I find Jesse's music?' it was always Cactus. Now I guess it's… Man, how the world is changing…"

Greg Ellis, marketing director, Blue Corn Music, and occasional Press contributor: "Houston's last full-line 'record store' is gone. That's not meant to denigrate Soundwaves or Sound Exchange or Sig's Lagoon, but let's look at facts.

"Soundwaves is as much a surf shop as a record store. Jeff Spargo is one of the smartest guys I know, and he diversified his business when he first saw trouble looming in the music biz. And that vision will keep those stores viable.

"But, and this is a big but, you just don't get the vibe there that you did at Cactus. Cactus was cluttered enough that you felt like you were in a 'record' store --Soundwaves is all straight lines. Sig's and Sound Exchange, on the other hand, exude 'vibe,' but you won't be able to find Kelly Clarkson and the Cramps under one roof there. Cactus combined cool with comprehensiveness like no other store in town."

The In-Store Experience

David A. Cobb, local music blogger/freelance writer/occasional Press contributor: "I always ended up spending more than I intended (damn you, Saint Arnold's!) but it was always worth it."

Frank Zweback: "The last in-store I did there was with skyblue72 last December, and it is actually one of the sweetest shows I've ever played. Something about having to play quietly and being in a place with so much excellent music around. And playing for the audiophile set. And the free Saint Arnold's on tap. We arrived, and they were playing our CD, which was very cool and unexpected. And when we played, it was just a very intimate and dynamic experience."

Teresa O'Connor, former Cactus employee: "I watched Marilyn Manson await the masses that never showed up for his signing party (although there were about half a dozen teenybopper girls there), helped crowd-control the literal masses that wove in and out the CD rows awaiting an autograph from Sarah McLachlan (what an amazingly patient person), heard about how amazing Jeff Buckley's in-store performance was (which I missed because I was sick), and then was horrified at his untimely death shortly after, watching as some of my co-workers wept from the news."

Greg Ellis: "The thrill of seeing something that just blew you away at your neighborhood record store…The Jeff Buckley one will always stick in my mind because it was the first time I experienced Jeff live, and the subsequent tragedy just underscores how special it was. Todd Snider, Billy Joe Shaver, Dave Alvin (who came close to sleeping through his), Rodney Crowell, Chris Whitley, the list can go on and on -- and it was like seeing them in your friggin' living room!"

Thomas Escalante, owner, Sig's Lagoon, and singer in Clouseaux and the El Orbits: "I can't say how many Cactus in-stores I missed that I regretted in the end -- most notably the Jeff Buckley in-store. I still haven't gotten my hands on that elusive 'recording.' "

Let's Hear It for the Boy, Part One: Tributes to General Manager Quinn Bishop

Allen Hill, Allen Oldies Band: "Quinn Bishop is one of the most passionate and enthusiastic music addicts I know. Plain and simple, he's a fan. A music fanatic. His love of music establishes the vibe that made it so much fun to learn, buy, see and hear at Cactus."

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