From Bruce Kessler's Rockin' Houston archive, ZZ Top in April 1980
From Bruce Kessler's Rockin' Houston archive, ZZ Top in April 1980
Photo courtesy of Bruce Kessler

Bruce Kessler's Incredible Houston Concert Photo Archive


Bruce Kessler's is quite simply the best collection of Houston's rock and roll concert past, period. Kessler, a former Pace Concerts house photographer, has amassed a database of every show that he and others shot in Houston from 1965 up until 2005.

The works of the late Larry Lent and James Townshend are also sprinkled throughout the site. Townshend, who passed away around 1990, shot Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, no big deal. Lent passed away in 2000, and after he died, it was Kessler who went about bringing the departed photogs' body of work to light.

Kessler stopped shooting shows in 2005. He continues digitizing the rest of his archive, and right now on the site you can view his pictures all the way up to 1983. He's currently working on 1984, including some killer Jacksons reunion tour shots from the Astrodome.

He has a long way to go until 2005, but it's a labor of love. Kessler wants the site to be a reference source for Houston rock fans and their kindred all over the world.

His mini-bio on the site even reads like a Hollywood movie: Young, in love with rock and roll, and ballsy to boot.

While taking pictures, he learned all about access. Having never heard of a backstage pass — let alone a photo pass — Kessler quickly learned from Lent how to gain better access to the front of the stage by impressing concert promoters or road managers with his photo portfolio.

The site is a wondrous time-suck, with thousands of images of some of the greatest rock shows to come through Houston, at venues that have long since been torn down for the sake of progress. Of course Numbers and Fitzgerald's are still standing.

Did you know that Stevie Ray Vaughan played on the same stage that your local favorites play on every weekend? (Fitzgerald's.)

As a rock writer in Houston, my brain aches at the idea of having been able to cover some of these gigs. Iggy Pop at Cullen Auditorium. U2 at Cardi's. T. Rex at the Houston Music Hall. The Clash at Hofheinz Pavilion. Bruce Springsteen at Liberty Hall. The Doors at the Sam Houston Coliseum.

Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana, Stephen Stills, Ringo Starr, and Isaac Hayes all at the Astrodome for Dylan's "Night of the Hurricane" benefit concert in 1976? Man, Rocks Off would have needed three photogs and two writers there. And the tweets would have been flying furiously.

And the photographic documents these guys kept are top-notch. Backstage happenings, scans of the tickets, press badges and record-store appearances, all in beautiful, colorful scans. Kessler also hints at a lot of debauchery behind these shots.

Check out the shots of the after-party that Keith Moon attended in 1975 after the first rock concert at the Summit. Ahem.

Plus, the site is easy to use and navigate. Obviously you cannot right-click and save these shots, and Kessler says that he does not intend to sell prints of these. All the same, I could see signing over my power of attorney for a glossy, matted, ZZ Top print from 1971, 1976 or 1983.

Kessler's body of work is utterly jaw-dropping, but in his opinion, what's the best thing he ever shot?

"There isn't one," he swears. "Just when I thought it couldn't get any cooler, it did. When you have told Elton John how to pose for a backstage shot, or shot Jimmy Page and Robert Plant onstage together, you cannot pick one thing."


5 SXSW Keynote Speakers Who Would Be More Fun Than Dave Grohl

By Corey Deiterman

It's official: As of November 16, your 2013 SXSW keynote speaker is Dave Grohl. He's a reliable choice who commands a great deal of clout and respect in the music industry, the same as speakers of years past such as Bruce Springsteen. I'm sure Grohl will do a great job, and I have only one little complaint: He's not a fun choice.

Grohl is a safe choice, like when they chose Paul McCartney for the Super Bowl Halftime Show the year after the Janet Jackson debacle. He's good and solid, but we already hear from him regularly and know that nothing too crazy will happen. Were I choosing the speaker, I would go the more, let us say, interesting route.

Fiona Apple: Fiona Apple has been on the outskirts of the music industry for most of her life, plugging away at masterful records that only make themselves known every once in a while. She's recognized as being an incredible artist whose music has just a touch of madness that makes it great. In a way, she's like a young, female Tom Waits, twisting pop music to suit her particular form of experimentation.

She's also awesome when she speaks. She often speaks in metaphors only she understands, and bluntly calls out bullshit for what it is.

Prince: The hard part here would probably be getting the Artist to do it. Prince seems to speak where and when he feels like it, rather than when people want him to. That being said, though, if it could be arranged, it might just be amazing to hear what the man has to say about the music industry.

This is a guy who claims that the Internet is a dead medium and chooses to release his albums in newspapers, then somehow manages to keep making money and staying relevant whenever he chooses. Clearly he knows something we don't.

Axl Rose: Like Prince, Axl Rose rarely chooses to speak to the media, but we all lap it up when he does choose to come down and bestow upon us some kind of words of wisdom. He's elusive, he's possibly nuts, he's possibly a genius and he's possibly an asshole, which is why we're all so damned captivated by him all the time.

Kanye West: Anytime Kanye West opens his mouth, it's a show. The man oozes controversy with every word he speaks. He's also just damned entertaining to listen to. He's been in the music industry on both sides of the pop world as it stands today, performer and producer, and has remained on the cutting edge through a few musical evolutions.

So not only would Kanye probably have some interesting insights into the state of the music industry, he would also be edgy and unpredictable. You also never know when he's just going to pop off with a "George Bush doesn't care about black people" comment or a strange comparison between himself and Hitler, and that's what makes him so much fun to listen to.

Bob Dylan: This could potentially be amazing as long as we can understand a word he says. Dylan's words of wisdom in recent years have been just as cynical and entertaining as they always have. He's the same old Bob: Still bitter, still salty, just now an actual old and grizzled veteran.

He may not have many insights into the record industry, though. After all, this is a guy who for the most part still seems to rely on the tried and true way of releasing music. But even if he just spoke on songwriting for an hour and a half or so, I think we'd all be elated to hear whatever he has to say.


Paige Mann, House of Blues' Box-Office Diva

By Chris Gray

Who? A former sales manager at doomed Houston record distributors Southwest Wholesale, Paige Mann has been House of Blues' No. 1 "Box Office Diva/Dream Crusher" since the Houston Pavilions venue opened in September 2008. The Austin native says, "Houston is 100 percent home" and she's been in the local scene for "many, many moons."

Home Base: When not at the box-office window, Mann says her haunts include The Davenport, Absinthe and El Gran Malo, and "not often enough" at Dirt Bar across the street from HOB.

Good War Story: Mann's story is pretty recent and, she says, has an "odd ending." It's about the Garbage show this past April (almost) and then October (for real).

"Having to postpone out a sold-out Garbage show in April roughly three hours before doors due to an emergency in a band member's family [is] never an easy thing to pull off on short notice, and [it's] certainly no fun putting 1,700-plus people instantly in the bummer tent!" Mann opens.

"The upside was that since the band had just recently begun touring again and were also early in their tour schedule, they used the Music Hall as a big ol' rehearsal studio and ran their entire set list that afternoon...for about ten of us," she says. "I'm still fairly certain that the people who were arriving for the now-postponed show were wondering why we were playing so much Garbage music inside. Little did they know..."

Why Do You Stay in Houston? "Because I really, really effin' love it!" Mann says. "Friendly people, no work on 'snow days,' great museums, restaurants out the wazoo, the Texans, a 45-minute drive to the coast, and two airports to get me the hell outta here when I need a break!"


Cypress Hill Sounds Off Before a Loco Scout Bar Show

By Marco Torres

Amidst the cacophony of talented rappers and rap crews who have emerged from the West Coast, one group has been breaking barriers with a distinct style and voice for more than 20 years. Cypress Hill, with their hyperrealistic street poetry and smoke-filled party records, continues to speak to the weedheads, the Lowriders, the Latinos and anyone else within earshot of their rhymes.

Rocks Off spoke with MCs B-Real and Sen Dog on a surprisingly smoke-free tour bus prior to their November 19 show at Scout Bar.

Rocks Off: Throughout your career, your sound has been constantly evolving, from straight-up OG West Coast rap to rock, psychedelic/hardcore, Latin and now dubstep. Can you explain why this is necessary for your success?

Sen Dog: We don't worry too much about labels or formats. We are who we are as a band. We try our best to cross lines and transcend with the music and rhymes. At the end of the day, we're hip-hoppers...and always will be.

B-Real: We can't afford to discriminate on our music anymore. It's not the '90s, when everyone pretty much stayed in their clique or circle and did the same thing over and over. Nowadays, you need to listen to a lot of different stuff and stay current.

RO: You guys took a long break between 2003's Til Death Do Us Part and Rise Up in 2010. That's a long time for anyone, especially for rap. What caused that break, and did you benefit from it in any way?

SD: Our run with Sony Music pretty much came to an end. Neither party has any interest to continue the relationship. We also changed management during that time, and dealt with a few legal issues over some samples. I'm not gonna lie; I was worried, but the adversity made us stronger.

BR: We also continued to tour, and that way the fans were never totally without our music. There is a lot of competition in this business, so you can't be out of sight for too long. We did our thing on the road, took care of some business and then came back strong with Rise Up.

RO: The Lowrider culture has always been a big part of your fan base, yet it seems to be at a standstill or on the decline. Do you think that demographic will ever die, and what is your dream car/vehicle?

BR: You can never stop Lowriding. The spirit of the Lowrider will never be played out. The economic downturn makes things like parts and transportation more difficult, but nothing beats riding slow in a nice old car. It's a piece of the American culture. My dream car is a '57 Bel Air.

SD: I'm a chopper guy, so a '47 Harley Panhead, dropped with ape hangers, that would be my choice.

RO: Any plans/thoughts about retirement?

SD: Naw, man. We still have lots of energy and passion. As long as we are competitive and have fun, we will continue this run as long as we can.

After the interview, I hung around and was once again amazed by the sheer amount of energy Cypress Hill leaves on the stage during their shows. Scout Bar was packed shoulder to shoulder, and the fans bobbed their heads, waved their hands in the air and rapped along to every song. The ages ranged from barely legal to almost geriatric, bikers to stoners, cholos to chulas. It was one big, happy family, held together by their love for the Latin Lingo.

"Are y'all ready to get crazy, Houston?! Wanna get CRAZY?! Let's get crazy!" shouted B-Real in his nasal stage voice. The unmistakable sounds of "Insane in the Brain" caused the crowd to erupt, and Cypress Hill's litany of hits played on for a full 90 minutes. Sen Dog's menacing baritone complemented the dynamic, and DJ Julio G. and percussionist Eric Bobo tried their best to keep pace.

Was I ready to get crazy? Of course! Don't you know I'm loco?!


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