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A Crying Shame

Well, aging owners and Netflix have finally finished off what was started by CD downloading, file sharing, Tropical Storm Allison, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and predatory big-box-store pricing. As of March 31, a day that will live in Houston music infamy, Cactus Music and Video will be no more.

I e-mailed a couple hundred people on the scene -- everyone from former and current Cactus employees to local stars and label presidents to typical customers -- and asked them to offer up their eulogies for the beloved, 30-year-old institution.

Ramifications for the Scene

Brad Turcotte, president, Compadre Records: "This is a huge blow to the music industry, not just in Houston, but for the nation. I heavily relied on Cactus as a major part of my marketing and distribution plan. Cactus is not just Houston's favorite record store, but it is one of the top five independent stores in the nation. The advertising programs, in-store performances and staff support are key ingredients to any independent release. Houston is consistently one of Compadre's top markets for overall sales, as it is with any nationally released independent artist. I am now afraid to see the sales impact."

Gary Moore, president, Stag Records (Jesse Dayton's label): "What has Cactus done for Stag Records and Jesse Dayton? PLENTY! When we would have a new release, they would slap a 'Sale' sticker on it, position it on the front rack and add it to the listening station, all without us having to ask. If ever I noticed they were low on stock, they would make sure there was an order placed as fast as possible. They prioritized local music ahead of the Madonnas and Springsteens of the world. Anytime someone would ask me, 'Where can I find Jesse's music?' it was always Cactus. Now I guess it's…jessedayton.com. Man, how the world is changing…"

Greg Ellis, marketing director, Blue Corn Music, and occasional Press contributor: "Houston's last full-line 'record store' is gone. That's not meant to denigrate Soundwaves or Sound Exchange or Sig's Lagoon, but let's look at facts.

"Soundwaves is as much a surf shop as a record store. Jeff Spargo is one of the smartest guys I know, and he diversified his business when he first saw trouble looming in the music biz. And that vision will keep those stores viable.

"But, and this is a big but, you just don't get the vibe there that you did at Cactus. Cactus was cluttered enough that you felt like you were in a 'record' store --Soundwaves is all straight lines. Sig's and Sound Exchange, on the other hand, exude 'vibe,' but you won't be able to find Kelly Clarkson and the Cramps under one roof there. Cactus combined cool with comprehensiveness like no other store in town."

The In-Store Experience

David A. Cobb, local music blogger/freelance writer/occasional Press contributor: "I always ended up spending more than I intended (damn you, Saint Arnold's!) but it was always worth it."

Frank Zweback: "The last in-store I did there was with skyblue72 last December, and it is actually one of the sweetest shows I've ever played. Something about having to play quietly and being in a place with so much excellent music around. And playing for the audiophile set. And the free Saint Arnold's on tap. We arrived, and they were playing our CD, which was very cool and unexpected. And when we played, it was just a very intimate and dynamic experience."

Teresa O'Connor, former Cactus employee: "I watched Marilyn Manson await the masses that never showed up for his signing party (although there were about half a dozen teenybopper girls there), helped crowd-control the literal masses that wove in and out the CD rows awaiting an autograph from Sarah McLachlan (what an amazingly patient person), heard about how amazing Jeff Buckley's in-store performance was (which I missed because I was sick), and then was horrified at his untimely death shortly after, watching as some of my co-workers wept from the news."

Greg Ellis: "The thrill of seeing something that just blew you away at your neighborhood record store…The Jeff Buckley one will always stick in my mind because it was the first time I experienced Jeff live, and the subsequent tragedy just underscores how special it was. Todd Snider, Billy Joe Shaver, Dave Alvin (who came close to sleeping through his), Rodney Crowell, Chris Whitley, the list can go on and on -- and it was like seeing them in your friggin' living room!"

Thomas Escalante, owner, Sig's Lagoon, and singer in Clouseaux and the El Orbits: "I can't say how many Cactus in-stores I missed that I regretted in the end -- most notably the Jeff Buckley in-store. I still haven't gotten my hands on that elusive 'recording.' "  

Let's Hear It for the Boy, Part One: Tributes to General Manager Quinn Bishop

Allen Hill, Allen Oldies Band: "Quinn Bishop is one of the most passionate and enthusiastic music addicts I know. Plain and simple, he's a fan. A music fanatic. His love of music establishes the vibe that made it so much fun to learn, buy, see and hear at Cactus."

Jeff Balke, Orange Is In: "Quinn Bishop was a musician himself, and was always helpful to local bands. Flyers got good exposure there. You could get a listening station that you'd never get in Best Buy. The in-stores were a great way to promote your band."

Jeff Thames, musician and host of KPFT's Soundawake: "Through it all, Quinn has been a staunch supporter of my (and the station's) exploits. I should mention that you could find the debut CD from Small Craft Advisory -- on which I served as keyboardist -- on sale at Cactus as late as 2000, four years after it was released. A pretty impressive shelf life for a not particularly successful endeavor."

Let's Hear It for the Boy, Part Two: Tributes to George St. Clair, a.k.a. the Video God

John Cramer, musician, occasional Press contributor and Alabama Bookstop employee: "George is the coolest guy in the world, and no brain-dead retard from Blockbuster will ever replace his genius.

"Typical Blockbuster experience:

"Me: 'Uhh…do you guys have the latest documentary from Werner Herzog? Not the grizzly bear one, but the one about the hot-air balloon guy?'

"Blockbuster doofus: 'Is John Leguizamo in it?'

Cactus will be sorely missed."

Ramon Medina, guitarist, Linus Pauling Quartet: "Cactus was the video rental store. What am I gonna do without George!!"

The Cactus Je Ne Sais Quoi

Rob Mahan, songwriter: "Cactus was always a good place to go on an afternoon when you needed to get out of the house but didn't have any place to go or anything to do or much desire to put on a clean shirt or tie your shoes. It was a good place to go when you didn't want to see anybody or be seen by anybody but didn't mind running into someone else in the same condition. It was a good place to gather your thoughts about what really happened the night before. Often you would run into someone you were with the night before and your reaction to seeing them or their reaction to seeing you would help put the pieces together. Then you could pick out a movie at random and pretend you did something with your day."

John Cramer: "Working next door at Bookstop afforded us the dubious honor of being around their stoner asses day in and day out. My fondest memory is of the day I went to lunch and happened to pass a Cactus-mobile filled to the brim with Cactus folk. The car was also filled with a (very noticeable) cloud of what clearly smelled like the devil's weed. It was in broad daylight, mind you, but those guys were clearly professionals. I remember the 'What? We're not doin' nothin'…' look I got as I walked past. Classic Cactus."

Reg Burns, manager, Little Joe Washington: "On a sunny Saturday afternoon…stopping by the West Alabama Ice House for a cold beer (or three) followed by a drop-in to Cactus…"

Sam Smith, Cactus customer: "My sharpest memory was the aesthetic pleasure derived from an in-store with the El Orbits a year ago. They played their Christmas set around noon on a beautiful 75-degree winter Saturday. I was a Yankee spending my first Christmas in the South, and the cool Christmas music, the palm trees along Shepherd and the Demeris sign outlined against the blue, blue sky, the retro-Astros El Orbit T-shirts and Pete's stage rap about RC Colas, Moon Pies and depression-era South all contributed to a feeling of a fleeting moment where such contrasts can create a unique kind of serenity that I feel fortunate to have enjoyed. For real."

Paige Mann, former sales manager, Southwest Wholesale: "You met your idols in Cactus. You met your friends in Cactus. You shopped for music and you listened to music in Cactus. You asked a staff member who the bass player for Wilco is and they would know. Ask a staff member for a music recommendation and listen to them describe with both passion and conviction the perfect record for you!

"Cactus never sold music. Cactus was music. Music wasn't a pastime there. It was a lifeline that, for 30 years, we in the music community were lucky enough to share. And after March 31, 2006, music and music retail in this city will never be the same. My best wishes and eternal gratitude go out to my dear friend Quinn Bishop and the entire staff of Cactus. 'Although these changes have come / with your chrome heart shining in the sun / Long may you run.' "  


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