Houston Hip of Yesteryear: Frank Davis Remembers Townes Van Zandt, "Mammy Goat"
Davis' W Gray house, before townhomes
Courtesy of Frank Davis
Houston often seems like a city that loves to tear down everything that's old and put up anything, as long as it's new, in its place. Well, whatever your qualms might be with that, we can all agree that sometimes it's nice to have a little knowledge of what this city was like however many years ago, a parallel universe of the city we live in today, when the art and music and whatever-else scene was running wild with the blood of youth. This kicks off what will hopefully be a long-running series of stories about what the kids were doing back then, part tall-tale and part oral history, giving our modern exploits something to stack up against and build upon.
Frank Davis is the main man behind the archive of Andrus Studios, a Houston-based recording studio in the '60s and '70s mostly known today for some of the legendary psychedelic records that got put out, including albums by the 13th Floor Elevators and the Red Krayola among others. Davis is also one of the best storytellers around. He worked as a recording engineer for Andrus Studios in its heyday, but that's only one part of decades' worth of wonder. Frank is a talented folk musician in his own right, a self-taught inventor (he wrote one of the first patents for holograms), an artist, a hot-rodder, and almost anything else you can think of -- he's done it all.
Art Attack sat down with Frank on one of last week's rainy days and talked for hours about his incredible family (Frank's grandfather made the Hyde Park Miniature Museum), his boyhood, his friendship with Janis Joplin in college, a job in New Orleans that paid in amethysts instead of cash, and, of course, what our grand old city was like before all the high-rises went up. Here are our favorite stories from the conversation -- three lessons modern youth can abide by.
Frank and "Mammy Goat"
Courtesy of Frank Davis
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From growing your own veggies and herbs to raising chickens for eggs, the urban homestead is "in" right now. That's old news to Frank, who was raising a goat at his house on West Gray way back when. "Mammy Goat," Frank says, "was the greatest woman I ever knew."
AA: Tell us about Mammy Goat.
FD: She would attack cars. She would just ram and smash the shit out of them. She would bounce off of them and be so stunned and she would shake her head -- oh man -- and then she would hit it again, go after it until the damn car moved.
AA: The driver would just move along?
FD: Oh god yeah. I mean -- Dang! [laughter]
AA: How did you get her? You were living downtown with a girl and she wanted goat's milk?
FD: That was Flora. Flora's a good girl. Mammy Goat had a funny background. [Townes van Zandt] loved old Mammy Goat and Mammy Goat just hated him. He used to get the shit beat out of him. I don't know what it was but they'd play a lot.
AA: When she was downtown or at your house?
FD: When she was downtown. Townes wouldn't come over to our house because what's her name hated him. Flora -- good gosh, I love her. She was a homemade bitch, but god she was so beautiful. But she was the one who found Mammy Goat.
AA: She wanted the fresh goat's milk?
FD: Yeah. And boy she had it.
AA: Would you go out and milk her in the mornings?
FD: Flora did. But she had big old tits.
AA: The goat?
FD: Yeah. Mammy Goat. Where's that photo? Let me see if you can see them.
AA: Is that a motorcycle jacket you're wearing in the photo?
FD: Yeah. That's a motorcycle jacket.
AA: Were you riding a moped in those days?
FD: No, it wasn't a moped. I've still got it [points across the warehouse to a bike under a tarp]. It wasn't a moped it was a 49cc -- what in the hell is that damn thing -- it doesn't matter.
AA: Where were you living?
FD: You know on Gray Street where all those damned high-rise apartments are? That was where we lived in that gorgeous, gorgeous place. And you know those trees that were around there? Thank god they weren't torn down. I'm going to go back and I bet you some of those old trees are still there. Oh man. Mammy Goat, because I was using that bike, it wasn't any big deal for her to run with me and what was so fine was that we'd go downtown and play at the [Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe -- now relocated to Galveston] and it was a pretty big group of people and Mammy Goat would come up on stage with me -- she had to guard me. And she'd sit behind me and she'd be doing this [rubs his hand against his back] and oh man. She'd do all that kind of stuff. She was a spirit of a kind that you never get to see. She was extraordinarily loving, but loving in a way that was always verging on violence because these huge horns and her aggressive and openly -- what would probably be thought of as mean -- aggressive behavior.
AA: So what would she do? You'd be riding your moped down the street and ...
FD: She'd ordinarily be behind me. But going through an intersection, I would always speed up because if there was a chance for her to slow down and stop, she would, and she'd challenge all the cars going the other way -- because it was a threat. And so, you had to keep up as fast as you could go because she would stay right behind you. So if you slowed down that was her cue to take stock of the situation and to protect and destroy.
AA: Did she have a reputation around town?
FD: She had a reputation. And old Townes, he loved to be the whipping boy. He'd try to get her to chase him around the block. And she volunteered in a second, and she cut the shit out of him all the time. I was surprised he never got his wrist broken, because her favorite thing to do is to make friends, and she goes up to you, and she kind of puts her horn up and down your side and motions to you to pet her. So she'd put her head down and then it comes to about that [puts his fingers out like horns], and then all of a sudden you realize you're like this [puts his wrist between two fingers], and she goes Ka-Wonk! And it hurts like a son of a bitch, and she just loved to do that.
But dammit we had a bond that was just so amazing, I never understood it. In a way it was like having an angel, but really it wasn't an angel. It was like a jealous devil or something, because she always had a plan and you never knew what it was, and she knew and she enjoyed the shit out of it. It was like having a jealous woman in a way except a jealous woman is like -- Mammy Goat had a loaded gun and she didn't use it like a weapon, it was a toy that she dealt out with a very solid powerful respect. And basically that's what it was. She had a power and she knew how to use it and she'd toy with it. And I don't think she hardly ever was mean -- except to Townes! Townes would go as far as he could to be sure that she knew that he was going to go as far as she wanted to go. And he was always extending his -- he didn't care about getting hurt, he loved it.
AA: When you were on stage playing your show and she was sitting behind you, what happened when you'd go back down off the stage?
FD: She'd always stay right next to me. And shit -- you know goats, they just drop those little pebbles and its not like -- uhh-pbbt -- something you stand in. It was just those little pebbles.
AA: All over the club?
FD: All over the place. Didn't stink. And you could tell she enjoyed it.
AA: Taking shits?
FD: Oh yeah.
AA: What happened to Mammy Goat?
FD: I remember burying Mammy Goat.
AA: Underneath those high-rises?
The Art of the Spectacle
If reality television has taught us anything (which might be a hard claim to make), it's that everybody loves a spectacle, especially when it's unscripted.
AA: When did you start playing music publicly? As a teenager?
FD: Yeah. I had a mandolin, a gourd mandolin, which was the most gorgeous. Oh and I loved music, but what was really funny was when music started actually connecting with instruments -- music made with instruments -- and I got involved with Paul [Kuenstler]'s older brother [Bill], who was a criminal, and who was one of those assholes that's just brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, IQ-just-off-the-scale kind of guys. Oh god, the Kuenstlers. Paul's older brother, he was criminal. We all were criminals. Criminals were fun! Oh man, that was fun. You get kind of a reputation and the whole kind of status, boy, that social thing. I was a hubcap guy. I could pop a whole set of hubcaps off a lady that just stopped at a stop sign and just get them all, and she'd drive off, no hubcaps.
AA: And you played music together?
This guy, he was brilliant, off-the-scale-IQ and that stuff, and he wanted to be a rock-and-roller, I guess. My introduction into that whole thing was this parade for [the Livestock Show] or whatever that whole thing is. You parade down Main Street; you drive to wherever the Colosseum was from some other place in town. And Bill put this band together. We learned one song I think it was, or two maybe. We rented tuxedos. We were on a float with electric instruments. I had a Harmony, gold six-string guitar, solid body. It was gold with a white pick-guard and it was about this big and oh man it was funky, looking back. But what a day. The float, the front of it was kind of round in the front, and it was about the size of this rug. Granger Hunt from the Hunt family -- oh boy he was a big time judge, his daddy was. He was this long, tall, skinny guy and he was the singer. And we learned I think it was two or three songs: "Honky Tonk," "Roll Over, Beethoven" (or something like that) and maybe one other one, "Johnny B. Goode." So Granger Hunt, tall, skinny guy, he was a herpetologist; he loved snakes. He loved catching snakes, and oh my god, he was this long, tall, skinny guy, and he got bit. He laid his hand down in a bag of snakes, and one got him in the arm, and it was all dead. You know that stuff kills your nerves and all that. So he was just getting over that kind of thing and his hand was all ...
FD: Numb and black and all that kind of stuff, and his hand was all taped to his guitar pick. So he's out front and he's singing. Oh, and the band: The guy in the very back was playing drums, and I was on one side, and Bill was in the back, and Granger was out in front. So we were playing "Roll Over, Beethoven," or something like that, and Granger's going and going and going, and so anyhow he had rubbed through the pick, and of course he can't feel anything, and he's going on and on, and then way up in the back is Miss University of Houston -- Miss Cougar or whatever -- in this huge, huge dress [smiles and waves]. And kids were coming back and grabbing the seat of the drummer, and he's yelling at them and all that kind of stuff. Anyway, everyone has a distraction: Granger with the pick, Bill with smiling and trying to get all the girls, and me, I'm just trying to remember what chord's next. And Granger, boy, he's just beating the shit out of it. And what's happened is that he has gone through the tape; the pick is gone, and he's just going like crazy, and he's just going through the finger, and soon it's blood that's flying, and the girl upstairs is getting blood all over herself, and the kids are pulling the drummer off the back of the damn thing. She was screaming because she's covered in blood. And Granger's going ploomp, ploomp, ploomp, "roll over, Beethoven!" -- and all that.
Destruction is a Creative Act
Blowing shit up has always been cool, period.
AA: Where'd you grow up?
FD: I grew up in Houston. My daddy worked in the refinery for Shell. And I come from a family that's extraordinary.
AA: Your grandfather did the Hyde Park Miniature Museum, right? Among other things?
FD: Yeah. He came from up North -- I'm not really sure, Chicago or some place or another. He worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad Company and did maps. He met my grandma and got into this family, oh my god. This family that she was in were Glücks, and it was pretty wild. There were some of them, three of them, that were called "the big Glück girls," and the big Glück sisters were big -- they were huge. They all lived together, and they had a huge farm, and they were ugly -- moles and hair coming out of them and all that stuff. But they were the greatest. I met them. They were so big and they all kind of moved around ... they couldn't put their arms down, their clothes were all thin, and they cooked all the time. The place smelled ... huge old buildings.
AA: This was in Houston?
FD: No. Sealy, and all that area over there [West I-10 near Katy]. It was so different. I've got to tell you something about these people out there. The big Glück girls, that was one thing. But the other one, one of the more interesting guys, he was the sheriff of Six Shooter Junction, which turned out to be Katy or Sealy or one of those places out there. He was quite the character. He was the sheriff for one thing, and he was a marksman. He had a house that was real, real long, that covered up his shooting gallery, which was dug in the dirt underneath his house and was this huge, long-ass old shooting gallery where all the boys would get together, and they'd just shoot off their guns and ooh, ahh and all that kind of stuff. But he was the sheriff, so he could do any goddamned thing he wanted. And what he liked to do was play with dynamite, and he was a dynamite nut, and he loved to go and blow holes in shit, and he would set dynamite off all the time, and he would go and blow holes all over the place. And what was crazy was that he would set these huge charges and blow the shit out of these things (sand holes), and you'd come back a week later, and it would be this crystal-clear pond of icy blue water -- gorgeous, just incredibly gorgeous. And they were all over the place, for miles around he would blow these holes, and anyhow ...
AA: Did you ever meet him?
FD: Oh yeah. He was a Glück! Gorgeous guy. An interesting thing about him being a dynamite freak and blowing all these holes in everything was that as things developed later, people and their land had an incredible supply of crystal-clear water coming up from the ground -- rice fields. So that whole area was rice fields and it was unnatural. And of course his insanity was not only put up with, but it was ...
FD: Not encouraged, but it ended up supporting a whole industry that still goes on today, because of this crazy guy who played with dynamite, and who was an accurate marksman and all that bullshit, and respected by every damn group of people, and was a good man.
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