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Andre Smith is a smart, enterprising man. But he's got this all wrong.
Smith's family is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The last three generations ran the kitchen of a truck stop. However, Smith was born and raised in Yellowstone, right off 288 on the southern edge of Third Ward.
Five years ago, he opened the nondescript Smitty's Louisiana Sports Cafe (3333 Raleigh). It's basically built out like a big, Creole food-oriented icehouse — there's concrete floors, tin siding for parts of the walls, condiments organized in those cardboard holders six-packs of bottled beer come in. It smells like the entire place has been deep-fried.
Smith opened it hoping to provide area residents with somewhere warmer and more sincere than a glitzy nightclub. Smitty's weekly schedule bears this out.
Sundays are unofficially referred to as "Biker Sundays," due to the swarms of motorcyclers who show up. Mondays, along with the requisite NFL game, Smitty's hosts the Texas Jazz Jam, a straight-ahead jazz event with a room full of musicians cycling on and offstage willy-nilly, similar to what happens Sunday evenings at Mr. Gino's Lounge (7306 Cullen).
Smitty's is closed Tuesdays, and Wednesdays bring poker-league night. Fridays, R&B band Too Laid Back provides a cover-free show, while DJ Chubb keeps the dance floor pumping Saturdays. Smith is right on all of these days of the week.
But Thursdays, karaoke night, is when he's wrong. Near 10 p.m., as Smith moves from person to person in the already packed room, he introduces himself by saying, "You know the definition of karaoke, don't you? It's to get drunk and sing badly." Then a big, hearty smile follows.
At other places, that might be correct. Not here. Act for act, we're not sure there's been a more capable group of karaokers ever assembled than Smitty's regulars.
Eddie Bassey, who's frequented Thursdays at Smitty's for a year and a half (driving from Stafford to do so), says he's received professional training in singing and dancing. When he tears through Jill Scott's "It's Love," hitting the dance breaks like an extra from Stomp the Yard, the crowd hollers its approval.
Liz Jones, 29, actually used to be a waitress at Smitty's. She tallies her time spent there in years, as she does the length of time she's been singing.
"The stage," she says, referring to how it sits about three feet off the ground, "makes me feel like I'm really performing. It used to just be for fun, but I'm here so much I get requests. Most people want me to do Erykah Badu or Jill Scott."
True to form, she dials up Badu's "Apple Tree" from 1997's Baduizm. This is semi-ironic because, as it were, Jones happens to be the daughter of wonderfully talented Houston jazz singer Mickey Moseley; that whole "apple not falling too far from the tree" thing and whatnot.
When the demure Doneshia Green meekly takes the stage, it seems like an opportune time to sneak off to place a food order (Smitty's kitchen is open until closing time every day). Then Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes' "If You Don't Know By Now" comes on, and it's like watching a scene from Dreamgirls. By the end, Green is all sass and bravado.
Turns out, she's already won a karaoke competition sponsored by Magic 102.1 FM at Diallo's (3340 Dixie); she knows what she's doing.
"This gives me a chance to express my talent," says Green after her performance. "This is where I want to go with my life. My father just passed — I have to sing to keep from going crazy."
Smith might've had the definition of karaoke wrong. But it feels an awful lot like Smitty's is doing everything else just about right.
Two things: First, Smitty's karaoke night has done well enough that it now spills over into other days of the week. Fridays, before Too Laid Back takes the stage, karaoke runs from 6 to 10 p.m. Also, Smitty's now hosts a kids' karaoke event from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturdays. Kids aren't annoying enough unless they're screwing up the words to George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone," apparently.
Second, be sure to stop by the Houston Press's Rocks Off music blog this week to see our interview with the aforementioned Mickey Moseley. In the meantime, you can hear her online at www.myspace.com/mickeymoseley and purchase her album, Ever Yours, at www.mickeymoseley.com.
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