50 Houston Music People We Love

In a town clouded by endless distractions, where local music too often feels like a footnote, making people care about the scene is probably the most difficult task of all. Houston has no shortage of headliners — far from it — but no one should ever forget the managers, publicists, promoters, venue and label owners, box-office managers, security and everyone else with a behind-the-scenes stake in getting audiences to show up. These people especially deserve fans’ eternal thanks.

The Bayou City is blessed with a wealth of such people, so much so that, in the course of discussing them (which we do all the time, pretty much), the Houston Press decided to have a go at recognizing 50 of our favorites — though there could have easily been 50 more. Yes, it’s an arbitrary number, but 50 is big enough to approach an accurate reflection of what a dynamic, industrious, idiosyncratic and often unruly music scene this city really has. Anything smaller probably wouldn’t do that, and anything bigger might start to get redundant. Fifty, though, sounds just about right.

So enjoy, salute, debate and tip your cap to the Houston Press’s “50 Houston Music People We Love.” Just to be different, we present them in reverse alphabetical order.

GERRITT WITTMER: Formerly of Oakland crushers Deathroes and similarly unhinged Names, here at home Gerritt Wittmer goes by his given name, keeps a reasonably low local profile in between international tours and avant-garde appearances, and perambulates avenues of sound and performance that are more medicine man or alchemic rite than straight noise. TEX KERSCHEN

MATT WILLHELM: If it’s music-related, Willhelm does it: as an artist in many projects, but most notably popeNQM; and as a producer, sound engineer, promoter, journalist and music instructor. He’s a well-regarded figure in Houston’s musical underground, and his steady presence and influence allow the artists he encounters to deviate creatively from the norm. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

BRANDON WALSH: The wunderkind behind YouTube channel Punk With a Camera, the flagship effort of which is the DIY Sessions, a music-video series that has racked up nearly a million views in a few short years. He and business partner Makena Janis are young, talented, driven and now parlaying their online success into a label, Rib Fest Records. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

ERIKA THRASHER: The siren of Studded Left and Indian Jewelry before that, Erika Thrasher might set her tenacious guitar against her mates’ roiling rhythms and brain-fogging effects, or else be mixing it up with the rest of them. She’s Chanel chic in a group that sounds like a rave invaded Deer Park or Brazosport. CHRIS GRAY

Clockwise from top left: Gerritt Wittmer; Continental Club GM John "Goodtime" Smith; "Chopped Not Slopped" maestro OG Ron C; Studded Left siren Erika Thrasher
Clockwise from top left: Gerritt Wittmer; Continental Club GM John "Goodtime" Smith; "Chopped Not Slopped" maestro OG Ron C; Studded Left siren Erika Thrasher
Clockwise from top left: Photo courtesy of Gerritt Wittmer; Photo by Jay Lee; Photo by Marco Torres; Photo by Jackie Green

ANN-MARIE TCHOLAKIAN: Tcholakian is dedicated to bringing quality sounds to MKT Bar, part of the Phoenicia Specialty Foods brand she and her family own. Live acts and DJs grace the bar’s stage practically every night or afternoon; “I gravitate to music and will do what I can to see it flourishing locally,” she says. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

RYAN TAYLOR: Seeing the lead singer of Thug Boots or Black Coffee live is a guaranteed face-melting good time. But Ryan Taylor’s thrashing ways of close to 20 years aren’t relegated to music venues; he owns East End Barbershop, where he helps keep people looking tight, and co-owns Wired Up Records and Books. JACK GORMAN

T2 THE GHETTO HIPPIE: T2 the Ghetto Hippie walks a tightrope: His music balances on the razor’s edge between the easy hedonism of the Houston rap scene and its disconcerting malaise. He’s smart, he’s driven and he’s doggedly committed to his own authenticity. That’s why he’s able to make some of the best new music this town has seen in years. KATIE SULLIVAN

JOHN “GOODTIME” SMITH: The Continental Club consigliere is the sharpest-dressed GM on Mid-Main, juggling bands, bartenders and beer trucks while outfitted like a Guys and Dolls extra. Unless, that is, he’s paradiddling the snare in the oom-pah-pah parade known as Polish Pete & the Polka? I Hardly Know Her Band. Prost! CHRIS GRAY

SHEA SERRANO: The former Houston Press writer turned New York Times-bestselling author still keeps his ear tuned into Houston’s music scene. Thanks to him and the ever-expanding FOH Army, Serrano’s blessing could net an artist a whole new legion of fans. BRANDON CALDWELL

CHUCK ROAST: Owner of Vinal Edge in the Heights, Chuck Roast has done it all: played in bands, cultivated one of the most impressive vinyl selections this side of the Mississippi, and hosted KPFT’s notorious Funhouse show. With a heady experimental music knowledge that puts Google to shame, Roast remains one of Houston’s music people to know. VERONICA ANNE SALINAS

VOCKAH REDU: Vockah Redu has enough style and charisma to lend to the rest of us; we don’t have to come up short anymore. He’s an MC with a light touch and total control; he’s a tireless, amazing dancer; and as an overall showman he is unparalleled, which is to say, free of right angles and other inhibitions. TEX KERSCHEN

RABIT: East Coast-raised, Gulf Coast-placed electronic-music producer Rabit, born Eric Burton, is better known in Berlin and London than in his adopted hometown of Houston. His productions concern the atmospheric deployment of dark matter and negative space jammed up with hard rap beats and noise sizzle. His recent appearances at the Station Museum and his live collaborations with the House of Kenzo — equal parts Danceteria and Hellfire Club — have claimed some pretty hefty chunks of psychic realty. TEX KERSCHEN

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NATHAN QUICK: His late father introduced him to the blues, notably Houston’s own Lightnin’ Hopkins, helping Nathan Quick craft a signature sound out of his affinity for old country and rock. Despite his booming vocals on wax, the singer-songwriter is one of the most soft-spoken, easygoing musicians about town. MATTHEW KEEVER

PHIL PETERSON: We recently learned that Phil Peterson — better known as Bassman Pep — studied ballet as a youth. It’s no wonder. He routinely pirouettes between big events like Madness on Main and Yes, Indeed!; two fests he curates; and the nightly offerings he promotes, touring and local acts alike, that keep this city grooving. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

ZACK PALMER: There will never be another Pam Robinson, but Walter’s is all her son Zack’s now. He treats the seminal underground outpost as not just his birthright, but Houston’s as well, stocking cool shows night after night and even bringing in Deep End Records. And after a million hardcore throwdowns, he still looks happy to see you show up. NATHAN SMITH

OG RON C: After DJ Screw, no one is more tied to the idea of “chopped not slopped” than the Swishahouse co-founder. Drake’s go-to when he wants his own material chopped not slopped, OG also helped push himself and the Chopstars all the way to chopping up a soundtrack for the Oscar-winning Moonlight. BRANDON CALDWELL

What does Bun B know that you don't?
What does Bun B know that you don't?
Photo by Marco Torres

CRAIG MICKLE: Whether heading up the Bad News Bears of noise-rock, Cop Warmth; tightening up his metal chops in Thundertank; or signing glossy 8x10’s at fan meet-n-greets with the rest of modern hardcore supergroup Lace, Craig Mickle has been holding a place for Houston in a particularly damaged kind of punk-rock sweepstakes for years now. TEX KERSCHEN

KELSEY MCDANIEL: Every self-starter needs an outlet for his or her passion; McDaniel has two — her radio program, The Tuesday Special, on All Real Radio; and HustleGrade, a Houston-centric creatives blog that is the one emerging brand helmed mostly by women. What’s her key mission? Focusing on the now rather than strictly paying homage to the past. BRANDON CALDWELL

MO MCRAE: Recently introduced to friends as “one of the best bartenders in town” (by us), McRae deflected the praise with professional humility and by handing us beers. Easily one of Houston’s friendliest as well, she’s become highly recognizable to Continental Club patrons, who share our opinion, for nearly 15 years now. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

AYANNA MCCLOUD: An anomaly on this list, McCloud maneuvers through the disciplines of sound, text and installation. Providing a community-driven platform for the arts with projects such as La Botanica and experimental writing workshops, she weaves a space for female sound artists and writers to come together. VERONICA ANNE SALINAS

PAIGE MANN: Joking her title should be “Dream Crusher” when she’s forced to turn away last-minute fans hoping to purchase tickets for a sold-out show, the House of Blues box-office manager still never lets her more unfortunate duties dampen her passion for music. MARCO TORRES

Trudy Lynn at the 2014 Houston Press Music Awards
Trudy Lynn at the 2014 Houston Press Music Awards
Photo by Marco Torres

TRUDY LYNN
Late bloomers everywhere have a sterling role model in Miss Trudy Lynn. Not that we would ever reveal her age (if we even knew), but the dynamic singer has been righteously turning heads in Houston since opening for national R&B acts like Ike & Tina Turner in the late ’60s. Even before that, the Fifth Ward gem born Lee Audrey Nelms found her formidable voice singing in neighborhood joints like Walter’s Lounge, where she impressed legendary “Iceman” Albert Collins, and studying under bandleader Clarence Green, who had been on staff at Don Robey’s landmark Duke-Peacock Records.

She never lacked for gigs after that, eventually landing a deal with Atlanta’s Ichiban Records, where ’90s albums like Come to Mama and 24 Hour Woman drew comparisons to greats like Etta James and Koko Taylor. All those years of dues ultimately paid off with Royal Oak Blues Cafe, which slowly climbed Billboard’s Hot Blues Albums chart until it hit No. 1 in September 2014. Two more equally dynamic albums have since followed, last year’s I’ll Sing the Blues for You and 2015’s Everything Comes With a Price.

Listening to Miss Trudy sing, it’s hard not to argue that it’s been worth it; her recent success has upped her profile on the festival circuit, both in the United States and overseas. Today, dressed to the nines and brimming with positivity, she rules H-Town’s blues scene as a down-home sort of queen, most at ease holding court at no-frills venues like the Big Easy. CHRIS GRAY

VANCE LAWRENCE: One of the nicest people around the electronic scene, and the busiest, Vance Lawrence always has a smile on his face and is willing to lend a hand or share his vast industry knowledge with anyone who asks. Catch him opening for the biggest acts at Stereo Live or playing festivals. JACK GORMAN



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