The Judy's Come Back

Just in time for SXSW, the Pearland New Wavers brush off the mothballs

Cactus Music, which has fashioned a sizable portion of its back wall into an elaborate Judy's display, is already on its fourth shipment. "I e-mailed Jeff the other day asking him to bring by another 25 or 30 pieces," says owner Quinn Bishop. "He was like, 'Wow, really?' I think they misunderstand their popularity and underestimate their cachet with people who love music here in Houston. Washarama's been in our Top 10 since its release, and Moo was last week too."

The albums' appeal isn't limited to the people who have been waiting years to replace their vinyl copies with CDs, either. "I'll play it for some younger teenagers and they're like, 'Wow, this is cool,'" says Escalante. "They dig it and pick it up — it's an easy sell."

"I think some [customers] were probably back there in the old days, but it's also people who aren't old enough to have been back there," agrees Brennan. "They're pretty legendary here, so that's something people have been begging for on CD forever."

The Judy's are all smiles in this 1984 promo shot.
Ken Hoge
The Judy's are all smiles in this 1984 promo shot.
Fun with percussion in a show from the pre-Washarama days, 1980, at Austin's Club Foot
Photo by Ken Hoge
Fun with percussion in a show from the pre-Washarama days, 1980, at Austin's Club Foot

"We're kind of over it, I think, but it was always coming up in the weirdest ways," admits Bean. "But yeah, I'm surprised it's selling like it is and that there's an interest."

Their continuing popularity might come as a surprise to the Judy's, but not to longtime fans like Bishop. "They were definitely one of the Houston bands that could have [made it]," he says. "Probably exhibit A as far as that goes."

The Texas punk scene of nearly 30 years ago was dominated by the more aggressive, hardcore-leaning sounds of Houston's Really Red, Legionnaire's Disease and Culturcide, and Austin's Dicks and Big Boys, so the Judy's crisp, almost mechanical songs stood out even then. They played the same venues as those bands, places like the long-gone Island at U.S. 59 and South Main and the Agora Ballroom at Richmond and Loop 610 (where they opened for the B-52's and Talking Heads) but drew an entirely different audience.

"The interesting thing about the Judy's audience was it wasn't like the traditional inner-city punk-rock or eclectic crowd," says Houston punk-scene veteran Tom Bunch, who went from videotaping bands like Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys in those days to owning Washington Avenue venue the Vatican and then managing the Butthole Surfers and Toadies in the '90s.

"The lower Westheimer scene was gays, cross-dressers, junkies, punk rockers, artists — drastically different from what it is right now," continues Bunch. "The people that came to see the Judy's were mostly upper-middle-class people from the suburbs, and fraternity and sorority boys and girls. They claimed the Judy's as their band."

As three clean-cut kids from Pearland, the Judy's admit to feeling out of place. "I remember feeling intimidated by some of the punks," says Walton. "I thought they were really rough, and [that] they hated me."

That wasn't necessarily the case, explains Bunch. "All I know is the people that liked the Judy's loved 'em, and the people that didn't really didn't," he says. "I don't ever remember people wanting to ban the Judy's or being pissed off that they were doing what they were doing."

The Judy's fit in a little better in Austin, where the punk and New Wave crowds who came to see bands like the Skunks, Standing Waves and the Huns mingled a little more freely. (This was also before punk became defined by the Mohawks-and-tattoos image that has persisted ever since.) At places like Raul's and Club Foot, capital city audiences keyed onto Bean's cerebral lyrics and infectious songcraft almost immediately.

"They were a smart band, and Austin has always had smart audiences," says Austin Chronicle senior writer Margaret Moser. "The original punk crowd in Austin was a very smart audience — they were mostly communications students and stuff, so you had a very high degree of appreciation for kitchiness, for intelligence, for something different, and the Judy's fit that bill all the way around."

The Judy's formed sometime in 1979, but Bean, Walton and Cessac had already been playing together for years. Walton and Cessac were in the same junior high school band, while Walton and Bean grew up two streets apart and used to get together for unusual guitar-and-trombone jam sessions in the future bassist's front yard.

"I remember thinking it was really cool that he had an electric guitar and could play 'Space Oddity,'" Walton says. "He would come over on his bike with his guitar, and I'd see him coming around the corner. I can still see that."

The Judy's eventually came together from the remnants of their previous schoolboy bands like Mondo Babies, the Jets and the Cleavers, taking their musical inspiration from the oddball, eclectic, minimalist sounds of bands like Talking Heads and the B-52's. New Wave was foreign to the Houston airwaves back then, but Bean — just back from a summer trip to Austin, where he had discovered the same punk scene that would soon enough embrace his band — happened to record an episode of 1970s late-night concert series Midnight Special hosted by Blondie and largely devoted to New Wave.

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