The Head of the Class

Allen Hill leads the cheers for Houston's only American Idol contestant

Allen Hill, Houston's High Priest of the Oldies, never thought of himself as an American Idol kind of guy. Like a lot of hip people, he deemed the show cheesy, an example of everything that is wrong with music in America.

Until now. This season he's riveted to the show, going so far as to organize a weekly Idol-watching party at Sig's Lagoon, the Midtown record and gift shop. That's because one of his buddies has gone to Hollywood and is seen by many seasoned observers of the show as the unofficial front-runner to win the whole thing. "You always support the home team," Hill says. "Especially when it's a friend of yours."

The friend and occasional music-making companion in question is Sundance Head, the son of pioneering Gulf Coast rocker and blue-eyed country-soul man Roy Head. (The Heads all live in Porter out by Humble.) "Only Roy Head could have generated any interest in me to watch this series," Hill says.

I catch up with Hill at the first of the weekly Idol-watching parties at Sig's, which Hill has renamed Sundance HeadQuarters for the duration of Sundance's Idol run. Thus far, the turnout has been light. Very light: At the first gathering the attendance consists of Hill, an obsessive record collector guy whose name we never catch, Sig's proprietor Thomas Escalante and Racket, gathered around a borrowed TV with rabbit ears and no remote. (Hill and Escalante are hoping that the people will come as Sundance's run continues.)

"Sundance has sung at the Continental at least three times," Hill says, as we catch the tail end of the Simpsons episode leading into Idol. "Roy's such an awesome dude. And it's such a cool story -- the son makes good. And he auditions with a Bobby 'Blue' Bland song? That's awesome."

Idol is Sundance's time to shine. Thus far, he has had a hard time escaping his father's shadow. Most of his public appearances have come when he has acted as a sort of relief pitcher for his father, stepping in and ripping through a few tunes with whatever band is backing his dad.

"He's just a singer -- he's not really a band guy," says Hill. "So he works with bands that know songs like 'Mustang Sally' and 'Stormy Monday,' and he sings like crazy. But he hasn't been in a working band where he's at it night after night."

Living up to a legacy as large as Roy Head's is no small feat. The word "legend" gets thrown around a lot in music journalism circles, but if anybody truly qualifies, it is Roy Head. One of the only white artists on Houston's black-owned Back Beat label (an imprint of Don Robey's Duke-Peacock empire), Head was, along with the Righteous Brothers, one of the true pioneers of what came to be called "blue-eyed soul."

"People didn't know Roy was white back then, and in some ways it kind of backfired on both sides," Hill says. "He told me about the time he played the Apollo in Harlem, and he said he was in the wings thinking, 'I'm not going out there,' and when he hit the stage he said you could hear a pin drop. But then he started dancing and doing his deal and he had them in 15 seconds." (Like father, like son: A couple of years ago, Roy insisted that Sundance be allowed to sing with the Calvin Owens-led all-star band at the Duke-Peacock reunion show at the Eldorado Ballroom in Third Ward. Some of the older guys resented the imposition, until Sundance's performance quieted the grousing.)

"On the flip side, Roy was quite the ladies' man and he had all these guys who wanted to kick his ass," Hill continues. "He would be going out with their sisters and these guys would hear the record, and let's just say these people didn't think they were hearing blue-eyed soul."

He may have had only one major pop hit -- "Treat Her Right," which charted number two in 1965, right behind the Beatles' "Help!" -- but he has racked up a host of lesser hits in both country and pop, and few people who ever saw him perform have ever felt cheated.

You can see why on YouTube, where several clips show Head in his prime. Watch the first one that pops up when you search his name -- not only did the man have James Brown-fast legs, but he pulls some double- and triple-jointed moves that would do an Indian fakir proud. Quite simply, legs aren't supposed to do those things. (Head once toured with James Brown, and legend has it that Brown threw Head off his bus for copping his dance moves.)

My father, John Lomax III, used to see the elder Head perform at battles of the bands at small clubs on South Main. "Him and B.J. Thomas used to duke it out on stage," he says. "These teen clubs had these cheesy little applause meters. But Roy and B.J. both took these things very seriously. They had these big eight- and nine-piece bands and they really wanted to win. B.J. had some moves, but Roy, man, I remember watching him and just thinking 'That sumbitch is somethin else.'"

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