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David Rice

A songsmith picks up the pieces and returns to Houston in triumph

In 2005, Rice and his family returned to Austin from Los Angeles, bringing behind them an exodus of other musicians from California. Now, with the release of Eighty Miles to Stand Up, Rice will play a show in Houston, back where it all started almost 20 years ago.

Rice graduated from Katy Taylor High School in 1988, moved into Montrose and enrolled at UH. Books held little appeal for him; far more interesting was the city's nightlife, not least downtown nightclub Power Tools, where he had a life-changing experience.

"Back behind Power Tools there was this little patio — actually, that's pretty generous, because it was more like a catwalk over the bayou — and this guy was out there playing covers," he remembers. "And that was the first time I had ever seen a guy playing music live outside of a show at the Summit. Nobody ever hipped me to the idea that, hey, people were playing music pretty much every night of the week in bars and clubs."

Rice knew then that this was his calling. Before it opened the next evening, he returned to Power Tools, guitar in hand, and asked the owners for a gig. As it happened, he was able to start that very night. "So I had to go home and go through all my records and put together a set list of things I kind of knew well enough to fake my way through," he says.

On the list: The Waterboys, the Smiths/Morrissey, acoustic covers of Depeche Mode, a few Beatles tunes and other classics. "Stuff that kind of connected with the Power Tools crowd because it was just acoustified versions of pretty hip music," Rice remembers.

Rice started weaving in more and more of his originals, and eventually got steady bookings at lower Richmond pub Munchie's. In 1992, he and Eddie Hawkins went to Fredericksburg and recorded Orange Number Eight, later rereleased by Justice Records.

And this is where things get a bit sticky. Justice's Randall Jamail signed Rice shortly thereafter and wanted to pair him with producer Stephen Thompson for a follow-up. Rice preferred recording with Hawkins in Fredericksburg, and in 1998 told the Press's Hobart Rowland that the Justice sessions "never got off the ground."

In the meantime, Columbia had decided to sign him, so Rice approached Jamail and asked to be released from his contract. Jamail granted the request, but not without a side order of vengeance.

Rice was by then living in Los Angeles, and one day went to his mailbox and found a package containing a copy of the Justice sessions. Up to that moment, he had no idea they were ever coming out, and Jamail twisted the knife by giving the record the title Released, using as cover art a picture of Rice's mangled contract.

Needless to say, there was bad blood between Jamail and Rice. In 1998, Jamail told Rowland that "mistakes were made," and Rice says he no longer harbors any ill will for Jamail: "Time passes, and I've gotten more perspective. A while back, I sent him a letter thanking him for putting time and money into me."

A chance meeting at this year's South by Southwest ended with Rice crashing Jamail's relaunch dinner party for Justice, and there the two further buried the hatchet. "I didn't know if he would have me kicked out or what, but in the end we had a long talk and got along great, so I would say we were friendly now," he says. "I wouldn't say we were going into business, though. He's not gonna be putting out my record, but I've got nothing bad to say about Randall Jamail."

Nor much else. Life is good for David Rice. He hasn't had to work a day job, and has the luxury of performing as a hobby. What's more, he seems immensely satisfied. He devotes his days to running the business of his career, while his nights are taken up making music in the studio. He is one who has truly made it — a man for whom work and play are one and the same.

"I just love hearing a piece of music come together in the studio," he says. "It's very exciting. I don't favor any type of project — it could just as easily be a commercial or piece of music for a film — if it's something with integrity, and if I'm able to just follow wherever it takes me, that's just a fun process."

john.lomax@houstonpress.com

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