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Gunfights and Ragtime

A look at the Houston "music scene" of the early 20th century.

Catfish Reef

For the first century after Houston's birth in 1837, happenings of music and revelry were advertised word-of-mouth. Music journalism generally consisted of classical reviews, and most of those who could chat about those times have passed, making it harder to find what's left today.

What's left are library reserves of research volumes alongside torn pictures and captions tucked and scattered throughout a small variety of faded and discolored scrapbooks. Looking through dozens of those, this is what we found:

Early settlers described Houston as full of saloons and brothels and gunfights; it was a young Southern town with the temperament of the West. Meanwhile, business was booming, ensuring some glitzy elements in Houston's nightlife even then.

Yadon's Saloon was a popular spot. It was located at the corner of Congress and San Jacinto several blocks down from the old Kennedy Bakery building, which became the home of La ­Carafe in 1962. It was said to be popular "among locals who had the means to buy themselves drinks," meaning richer folk.

Like many saloons of the time, Yadon's may have had a piano on which two-steps were played; ragtime was growing in popularity even beyond downtown brothels. In addition, gunfights were said to break out frequently at ­Yadon's.

One recorded gunfight at Yadon's, which broke out on the evening of July 29, 1901, was remembered vividly. Witnesses saw this fight progress north on San Jacinto and west on Franklin before it looped the block and ended up back in the bar. There, a rambunctious ­gunman by the name of J.T. Vaughn was silhouetted, gun in hand. Officers fired at him, and he fell and uttered these final words: "I died game."

It was said that Yadon's Saloon then closed for the night.

Another gunfight broke out at Yadon's on the afternoon of December 11, 1901, when a man by the name of Sid Preacher jumped up on a buggy and took out a double-barreled shotgun while debating his gambling practices with an officer.

The shooting began shortly thereafter, and everyone in possession of a gun died at the scene.

Preacher had been arrested for gambling troubles several months before the incident, allegedly for operating a gaming device. After this arrest, his attorney advised him, "You arm yourself with a six-shooter and the next policeman who attempts to arrest you without a warrant for any offense, except for carrying a six-shooter, shoot his belly off."

Turned out Preacher followed that advice about as plainly as it was given.

Aside from the glamorized civilian accounts and police reports, there was much advertising for the friendly Bank of Bacchus in the scrapbook clippings. This bar and billiards parlor was opened in 1858 by 20-year-old Dick Dowling, who would go on to become one of Houston's leading businessmen and a Civil War hero for the Confederacy before his death in 1867.

Dowling's bar was said to be located across the street from the courthouse square at the southwest corner of Congress and Fannin, and then about a decade later at the northeast corner of Congress and Main, where it was in business for many years.

Bank of Bacchus was advertised consistently in many 19th-century Houston papers as a haven where deposits of cash were to be exchanged for withdrawals of whiskey. It was said to court the city's fancy business elite and was reportedly not the best place for those wanting to hear live music.

Houston's music scene in the early years ranged from fiddlers to bluesmen and ragtime players, and people drunk and sober danced to the music. In addition, the local development of civic music societies began at this time. The first performance of what would become the Houston Symphony took place in 1913.

The more high-minded local music of the early 20th century was to be found at the Houston City Auditorium, located at the corner of Main and McGowen. The old Houston City Hall and Market House on Travis and Prairie housed some of these shows, too, as did the Rice Hotel.
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Screwston, Texas

Melancholy Baby
Houston's blunt-loving Devin the Dude sings the blues on eighth album One For the Road.

Brando

To say Devin the Dude is Houston's rap Yoda would seem like a slight to theDude.

At 43, he seems almost timeless, still rolling through copious amounts of weed while letting his inner thoughts bellow out in between tokes. His voice has never reached more than a lovable croak, switching between romantic anecdotes that seemingly won't get him to point B from point A ("Lacville '79") and down-and-out blues ("Stray").

That has been Devin's motif for the better part of two decades: He's Houston's most relatable everyman who seemingly can't get a handle on love nearly as well as he can get a handle on a blunt or seven.

But One for the Road, his eighth studio effort, seems like the most mature Devin Copeland has ever felt on wax. There's the playful oddball who appears on three separate skits as a part-time radio-station shock jock delivering humorous ads about improving sexual impotence, but there's also the Devin who — for once — contemplates his mortality and has moments of fatalism when things have hit absolute bottom.

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