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Bill Bentley Goes Online with Sonic Boomers

Native Houstonian creates Web site for boomer music fans

Bentley was inspired enough to start a band at Lamar High School called the Aggregation, which, he says, got its ass kicked in every talent show it ever played. The usual victors were their rivals from Lee High School, a band called the Coachmen which featured Billy Gibbons on lead guitar.

It was around that time that kids started getting into pot and acid. Bentley got into the 13th Floor Elevators when they were still parked in the lobby and rode them until they ran out of steam. (Even today, on his Facebook profile, Bentley lists his religion as "13th Floor Elevators.") Bentley says he was at every one of their shows at both locations of La Maison and also caught the band in its long fade-out era when it would play at David Adickes's Love Street Light Circus on Allen's Landing. (Years later, Bentley would produce Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye, a 1990 all-star tribute to the Elevators and Roky Erickson.)

Meanwhile, across town at the Galleria-area Catacombs, Bob Cope was bringing in the top touring acid-rock and heavy rock bands — people like the Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, Frank Zappa and Jeff Beck. As Bentley recalls, the usual opener was Billy Gibbons's new band, the Moving Sidewalks. Meanwhile in Montrose and what is now the Museum District, there was an avant-garde, ex-beatnik scene centered around the University of St. Thomas. The de Menils hosted a club for young filmmakers and once brought in Andy Warhol for a weekend. Mayo Thompson and the Red Krayola, Houston's first noise band, eventually came out of that Montrose demimonde. And the folk scene that would eventually produce Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams, Lyle Lovett, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle and Eric Taylor was just starting to come to life.

Yep, it was a helluva music town. Bentley says up until 1968, Houston was a city with no rules, no boundaries, save for staying out of country music bars, where longhairs could expect an ass-kicking. White kids could go to black clubs and be treated like family. According to Bentley, all that came to a screeching halt in 1968. "What killed Houston for us in terms of music appreciation was King's assassination," Bentley says. "That was the end. You did not feel welcome in the clubs anymore, and I totally understand why. We were blamed for his death, and I think rightly so — I mean not everybody, but the white race."

After moving to Austin for college, between gigs drumming in a band called LeAnne and the Bizarros with original Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison, Bentley had a hand in the founding of the Austin Sun, a forerunner to the Austin Chronicle. After relocating to Los Angeles in 1980, he served as the music editor at the then-fledgling L.A. Weekly, now a sister paper to the Press. From there Bentley jumped to the ranks of the flacks, through which he rose slowly from indie label Slash to senior vice-president of media relations for Warner Brothers. While at Slash and Warner's, Bentley worked closely with Los Lobos, Elvis Costello, Green Day, R.E.M., X, Lou Reed and the Replacements.

Warner Brothers canned Bentley in 2006 in one of what has since proved to be many cost-cutting convulsions to wrack the labels. Speaking to SF Weekly, Bentley sounded relieved to have been let go. "I love doing press, but the labels got to be so hard to work at," he said. "The money got smaller and everybody just got mean. Labels are a battered bunch. Publicists just don't have as much fun as they used to. Each [record] that fails, it's like the [labels] hold you personally accountable for its failure. It's like, 'Man, you guys put out the wrong records.' Warner was such a good label, though, for so many years."

And it was a helluva industry for so many years too. Bentley was there from the very inception to the meltdown of today, and here's hoping he can make the jump to today's leaner, meaner music business.

john.lomax@houstonpress.com

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