35 Years of Numbers Memories: Music to Die By
Over the last couple of days, we've looked at some Houstonians' best concerts and experiences from Numbers over the course of its 35-year history. Its legacy as a center of the excellent local gothic-music scene, as well as a unique size and scope that attracts an impressive array of touring acts, has continuously ensured Numbers' place as one of Houston's most legendary music venues.
But it's the darker memories associated with Numbers that are the focus of this final cycle.
Probably the most famous death associated with Numbers is that of the late Shannon Hoon, lead singer of Blind Melon. Hoon, who had recently become a father to a little girl named Nico, sought to rehabilitate his drug use and had a drug counselor accompany him on the road. The counselor didn't last long, and was dismissed shortly before Blind Melon played its last show at Numbers on October 20, 1995.
After their performance, Blind Melon boarded their bus and headed to the band's next gig in New Orleans. Hoon fell asleep en route and never woke up. Initial reports were sketchy, but the cause of death was eventually attributed to a cocaine overdose.
One patron, speaking anonymously, told Rocks Off that a close friend of his was the man who had sold Hoon the drugs that ultimately killed him. Our source wouldn't reveal names, but indicated that his friend often put up many bands passing through Houston in the mid-'90s, and was also a ready supplier of drugs to those artists. After he heard the announcement of Hoon's death on MTV, he quit the drug game completely.
At the time of Hoon's death, late Numbers owner Robert Burtenshaw seemed shocked, telling the Associated Press that Hoon was "having a general good old time. He was rocking and rolling.
"They appeared to be a typical band relaxing after the show," added Burtenshaw, better known as "Robot."
This past July, Burtenshaw himself was found dead near St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Humble, a suspected suicide. Any possible motive remains unknown to the general public.
Story continues on the next page.
Jim Jones and the Kkoolaidman song inspired by Darnell's murder.
The fact that drugs were a large part of the Numbers night life, or any other club for that matter, is not surprising. Well-known local legends about bowls of ecstasy being available by the entrance are 100 percent accurate, though a lot less shocking once you realize that the drug was perfectly legal during the '70s and '80s. Other non-legal and potentially more deadly substances, though, have also always been lurking in the shadows.
"I used to do a lot of drugs," emails another patron who also requested anonymity. "I got into mainlining, and I was mainlining in the girls' restroom. I was caught by the restroom girl, and she was a total bitch, her and her girlfriend. I was banned for a month, everyone was so horrible to me.
"I know it's understandable," she continues. "Those were the darkest days of my life."
As far as is known, no drugs were involved in another tragedy that took place at Numbers in 2003. Tommy Hall, known locally as Tommy Vain, got into an argument with Brody Darnell over a girl, and Hall fatally stabbed Darnell, who died of blood loss. Vain would plead guilty to murder and is serving a 30-year sentence at the Robertson Unit in Abilene. He is currently studying to be a minister, and is eligible for parole in 2019.
Despite the dark spots and bad nights Numbers has experienced -- be it fights, drugs, or who knows what else occurs when the lights go down and the music is pumping -- the club has remained essential to Houston nightlife for 35 years. It's rare to find someone in Houston, or who grew up here, who doesn't hold a warm memory of evenings spent there listening to music, dancing, drinking, and otherwise looking for something a little louder than life.
Sometimes it's danger and despair, true -- two qualities that arguably form a considerable portion of the club's appeal -- but one way or another there's always something to see at Numbers.
Numbers celebrates its 35th anniversary Saturday, September 28. See numbersnightclub.com for details.
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