The Judy's Come Back

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

Rumors swirled the Judy's were about to be signed to Warner Bros., and the band seemed poised to take the next step beyond regional success. But for reasons neither the band nor their friends still can't quite explain, that next step never came.

"Everybody back then thought they were going to hit it big, they were going to be the next Talking Heads, the next B-52's," says E.A. Srere. "You think you can just be enthusiastic enough and a group will sell themselves, and you soon learn that the music business is brutal and you've really gotta know what you're doing, and you gotta know people."

"I think their local and regional success was a big surprise to them," Moser offers. "But I also think they were more ambitious than they knew. I just don't think they knew how to channel it, and there wasn't much industry back then [in Texas] to support them with anything."

Jeff Walton (left) and Dane Cessac revisit the Judy's Wonderful World of Appliances.
Daniel Kramer
Jeff Walton (left) and Dane Cessac revisit the Judy's Wonderful World of Appliances.
David Bean lets his fingers do the walking.
Daniel Kramer
David Bean lets his fingers do the walking.

The Judy's did reach out to the big-time labels, Bean remembers, and were shot down every time. Blondie, the B-52's, Talking Heads and even Devo all eventually broke out of the New Wave disco to enjoy mainstream chart success; so it would seem that a band with distinct similarities — not to mention a sizable and enthusiastic regional following — would be a sure thing. But whatever it was about the Judy's that worked so well in Texas just didn't fly in New York and L.A.

"Most of the time, [labels] would request to hear something because they saw our name, or they were getting references or whatever," sighs Bean. "They'd hear it and go, 'We don't get it.'"

According to the Pearland Economic Development Corporation, the population of the suburb on Houston's southern border is projected to surpass 70,000 by 2011. In 1990, ten years after Bean and Cessac graduated from high school, it was just shy of 24,000.

"At the time, it was almost more of a rural place than it was suburban," says Bean. "Back then, there were three groups: the jocks, the kickers and the heads."

The Judy's didn't belong to any of those — the closest high-school subcategory would probably be "band geeks" — but nonetheless, their Pearland roots were fairly obvious to people who hung out with them. Their idea of an afterparty, Srere remembers, was hitting up either a bowling alley or House of Pies.

"They were really clean, innocent boys," agrees Moser. "They didn't do drugs, and they mostly had girlfriends and they read. Even their parties were these cute little parties, not like the big orgiastic parties I was used to. It was very refreshing."

Not only did their relative isolation in Pearland keep the Judy's out of trouble, it freed them from the peer pressure that comes with belonging to a big-city scene. "I think it insulated us quite a bit," says Bean. "I think being sequestered out in a garage in Pearland gave us this sense that we were independent and could do whatever we wanted to do.

"We wanted to define for ourselves what we were going to be and how we were going to do it," he adds. "I think having that sense of being alienated from the big city also meant we could alienate ourselves from what the trends were."

That said, the Judy's never had much luck winning over their Brazoria County neighbors. Walton and Bean's group Mondo Babies played the Brazoria County Fair talent show in Angleton, where they lost to a twirler. (A Barbra Streisand impersonator beat them the year before that.) Another early group of Bean's played a chili-supper fundraiser for a friend of a friend's dad who was running for office; people kept yelling "Freebird!" at that one. As the Judy's, they made an auspicious debut opening one Pearland High dance where Bean, as "Johnny Typhoid," flung beef liver at the audience.

"We were trying to freak out the school," he says. "We considered ourselves very punk at the time, although the music wasn't punk."

The Judy's agreed to play one Pearland Founder's Day celebration, but Walton says standing up there in the city park playing for their hometown was "just awkward." Nonetheless, under "Notable People from Pearland" on the city's Wikipedia page, the Judy's are one of only three entries, alongside the baseball pitchers Clay Hensley and Adam Cowart.

"I remember growing up I never thought there were any cool bands from Pearland, and certainly none of them that actually opened for Devo or anything like that," says Press contributor and music blogger Craig Hlavaty, a 24-year-old Pearland native whose mother was a high-school classmate of the Judy's.

"For the longest time, the kids in Pearland always thought their band was the first band from Pearland to ever do anything, because Pearland's kind of a boring place," he says. "You don't really think of Pearland when you think of weird New Wave guys banging on refrigerators and stuff like that."

There may be a few more big-box stores and master-planned communities in Pearland today (okay, more than a few) but Hlavaty says it's as small-town strait-laced as ever, with church and football at the top of the social pyramid – "if you've seen Dazed and Confused, it's kinda like that" – and little to no precedent for creative types looking to do something different. Except for the Judy's.

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