Everybody has probably been through this scenario once or twice: It's Christmastime. You're at the local Cactus Music looking for that new one from Calvin Owens or Ezra Charles or any other of your favorite Houston-based artists. You cull the racks for your faves, but all you see are CDs from 2Pac, Sheryl Crow and Metallica. What gives?
Well, the reason many local artists don't release anything during this commercially fertile period, somewhere after Thanksgiving and before December 24, is that it's plain suicidal. All major players and labels know music lovers are liberal spenders during the holidays and use this knowledge to push their products. This is why the 2Pacs and the Sheryl Crows and the Metallicas release their stuff immediately after the turkey and cranberry sauce is polished off. Houston-based artists, knowing they can't compete, simply stay on the porch. There's no sense in running with the big dogs when the big dogs bite.
"For a rock band, it's easy to get lost in the shuffle," says Greg Ellis, Southwest Wholesale spokesperson. "Why would you want to compete against, I don't know, Nine Inch Nails or whatever?
"A lot of those sales are seasonal," he continues. "A lot of people are in stores, but they're not shopping. They're just buying whatever's at eye level. There's no point in putting your record out, or wasting your marketing budget. It's not worth it."
The beauty of this waiting game emerges around this time of year, when many local artists begin coming out of their shells, records in hands, like snails on the, ummm, hunt. There is no official count, but according to Southwest Wholesale, the area's largest distributor, there are approximately 40 new releases from Houston-based artists on shelves this month or scheduled to be released soon. "That's about a 30 percent increase" in total volume, says Ellis.
And these numbers do not include those not distributed through Southwest. A few noteworthy local releases include discs by Latin-punkers Los Skarnales, one-man-art-rock-band Jody Hughes (see below), smooth-jazzer Shaakir and country-westerner Leslie Newman.
Not all this is to say no Houston-based artists release material during the holidays. Some do. Just this past season, nearly 30 artists in November, and about 25 the following month, put their wares on racks, according to Southwest Wholesale. Those are decent numbers.
It just so happens that many of these fearless cats, like South Park Mexican, Lifestyl and Michael Watts Presents Swishahouse, are rap acts. Since these artists typically get hot quick and burn out even quicker, they take advantage of their celebrity as expeditiously as they can. Whenever they can. If a rapper, like Lil' Flip, gets hot the week before Christmas, you can be damn sure he's gonna put out an album as soon as he can, Christmas Day, if he has to. Which is almost what he did this past year. He released H.S.E./Hustlaz Stakin' Endz one week before December 25.
And some artists who hold off may seem like they're playing the waiting game but really aren't. Pinche Flojo Records, Los Skarnales's label, which will release the band's new Suavecito Style, is timing the drop of the record not with the post-holiday blues but with a new deal. The label recently agreed to sponsorship by EMusic.com. The on-line-based digital music distributor is providing Pinche Flojo with tour support and some marketing funds. In addition to Suavecito, Thanx But No Thanx's Strike Two, No Balls and Vatos Locos's eponymous record will also be released early this year. "Now, we can get our bands tour support in time to get bookers involved with summer tours," says Joshua Mares, Pinche Flojo owner. (Los Skarnales plays Saturday, January 22, at Fitzgerald's.) "It's just timing."
Art Rocker -- But Not Like Genesis
Heidi Klum is a supermodel. She poses in lingerie for Victoria's Secret, in bathing suits for Sports Illustrated and in minimal clothing anyplace else T-and-A like hers is welcome. She, in the belief of local art rocker Jody Hughes, is just the right kinda gal to appreciate his music. "I read in People magazine that she really liked Moby," says Hughes, referring to the one-man-sample-band. "My new year's resolution has been to think of myself more as a professional. So I'm going to send my CD to all my favorite celebrities." Which includes, among others, sending his work to Heidi Klum.
The CD Hughes mentions, his first, is almost finished. It's called Jody Hughes (self-released) and should be out later this month. The 16-track record is an attempt to capture Hughes's off-the-page sonic collage work, which is especially amazing live. Not just because Hughes, a relatively normal-looking character, goes through various costume changes on stage, nor because he bounces all over whatever club he happens to be playing, but because he manages to deliver a symphony's worth of electronic and sampled rock music all by himself.
"I see myself as a random person," he says. "But when I jump around on stage, I'd like to think people think, 'I can do that.'
"Like the guy who performs in front of the mirror by himself," Hughes continues, "I do that on stage. I think people should be encouraged to do that."
As for People, Hughes doesn't want to just read it, he eventually wants to be in it: "I think celebrities have the ability to change the world. I mean, you gotta wonder what R.E.M.'s impact was on high school vegetarianism."
Jody Hughes performs at Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main Street, on Saturday, January 15, at 8 p.m. Free admission. For more information, call (713)528-4140.
Baller and Chain
Wonder why local media outlets, especially radio, have been so quiet about Lil' Troy's November arrest? Lil' Troy, who scored a national hit this summer with "Wanna Be a Baller," the Box's most requested song of 1999, is sittin' fat behind bars in a federal correctional complex in Beaumont; he's scheduled to chill until March 2001. Troy, according to the spokesperson at the prison in Beaumont, is serving an 18-month sentence for "using a communications device to commit a felony." She wouldn't clarify what the crime was or where it occurred but said it took place on June 18, 1998.
But best we can tell, the media hasn't said a word about it.
This isn't the first time Troy has been in trouble, though it is the first time Troy has been in trouble in a long time. Lil' Troy (a.k.a. Troy Birklett), according to Harris County criminal records, does have an extensive rap sheet, but it is completely made up of infractions that occurred nearly ten years ago.
Still, all is quiet on the Houston front this time around. Since Troy is the closest thing Houston has had to a celebrity since ZZ Top, perhaps local media mouthpieces don't want to spoil the attention. Troy was signed to Universal Records in May. His Short Stop release, Sittin' Fat Down South, has spent 38 weeks on Billboard's Top 200. And who wants to mow down a hometown hero?
Night of the Living Record Label
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Contrary to popular rumor, Justice Records is not now nor ever has been dead or defunct. So says Justice founder and owner Randall Jamail. The respectable ten-year-old local label, once the home of Carolyn Wonderland, went off the radar simply to pursue a major distribution deal. It scored. Beginning with a Ray Price release in April, all of Justice Records' music, including its back catalog, will be handled by BMG. Says Jamail: "We're not putting out punk; we're putting out mainstream records, which you can't do anymore unless you're a major or moving major amounts. That's why we went to BMG. Now [Justice] can go back to doing A&R, which is what I want to do. I like the A&R and the production, not the manufacturing and distribution." Justice's catalog includes work from Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Billy Joe Shaver.
It's official. Chris Miller will replace Eric Danheim on guitar for the Hollisters. Miller comes from Marcia Ball's band in Austin. And speaking of balls, Wreckshop Crew's "Ball Caps & Tennis Shoes Gala" takes place this Sunday, January 16, at Cloud 9, 9347 1/2 Richmond. The celebration is in preparation for the premiere of Wreckshop's locally made movie, The Dirty Third, which opens Monday, January 17, at AMC Studio 30 on Dunvale. -- Anthony Mariani
E-mail letters of encouragement to Anthony Mariani at firstname.lastname@example.org.