Slowly but surely, the Web site www.allmusic.com has become the permanent record your teachers always warned you about, the Encyclopedia Britannica of popular music. If you're a music scribe or other music professional or a dedicated fan, this free site is the first place you look to verify album titles and dates, get bare-bones bios, and even a little critical opinion. For new and/or obscure bands, getting an entry there is an arrival of sorts.
The site is seldom brilliant, but most times it is fairly effective and it has steadily been getting better at giving its users the correct basic facts. And it's a staggering enterprise they've got going. In the Allmusic database, there are 615,000 albums, almost 65,000 artist bios and more than six million album credits.
It's almost like the IRS or DPS database, and as anybody who has ever dealt with those two fine agencies can tell you, mistakes are made. Allmusic is no exception. And when it comes to Houston artists, Allmusic's errors are legion, and what's more, they're hilarious. Let's take a look at a few, shall we?
First, let's look at Chris King, whom must of us know as the versatile guy who led the collective Bloodfart, played bass for Carolyn Wonderland and most recently kept time on drums in Jug O' Lightnin'. But according to Allmusic.com, he's done all that and more. Did you know he co-produced DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's 1991 comeback album Homebase, which featured the rap classic "Summertime"? And did you know he also wrote the liner notes for Junior Walker's Essential Collection, and that one of his songs appears on the house music collection Gay Happening, Volume 4, and that he executive-produced another dance album called House Yo Mama? It even says he worked with bluegrass colossus Bill Monroe, though the details are skimpy. Platinum producer? Songwriter of gay-themed house music tracks? Music historian? That's what the site says, so it must be true.
Racket wondered why King was holding out on us. Why hadn't Houston heard more about this renaissance man? Reached at the pizza restaurant where he works, and hearing his Allmusic listing for the first time, King was pithy. "Dude, I wish I was me," he said. But what about working with Monroe? "We were on a prison road crew together once," he said.
John Egan is another one. Most people around here know him as a gruff-voiced Americana-leaning bluesman with a deft hand as a record producer. Allmusic's got all that in his entry. But little did we suspect those talents are the barest sliver of his spectrum of outrageous versatility. According to the site, he was also psychedelic rockers Ozric Tentacles' first-call flute guy, and a graphic designer whose album credits include Letters to Cleo's Aurora Gory Alice, Green Magnet School's Sub Pop debut, Blood Music, and Boston punkers Tree's debut, Plant a Tree or Die.
"Yeah, I really make the rounds," Egan said. "It's kinda my secret. I didn't really want all that to get out, but now you know."
John Evans is yet another cross-cultural mutha for you, not to mention a child prodigy. Not only did the then-five-year-old Evans play lead guitar on blues shouter Big Joe Turner's 1974 Pablo sessions, but he also mastered and produced Byron Lee and the Dragonaires' Soca Fire Inna Jamdown Stylee. And Evans's old bandmate Jack Saunders allegedly drummed for Eartha Kitt and Perry Como. And then there's Houston's hard-rocking honky-tonk poet laureate Greg Wood. Did you know that he released a new album this year called Focus, Surrender, Experience, Understand? (Focus was described elsewhere on the Internet as "heartfelt acoustic rock in the vein of Dashboard Confessional, Bright Eyes and John Mayer.") Did you know that he translated the lyrics of two Cuban son albums and played keys and sang backup for mid-'80s Def Jam soulster Tashan? That he produced the score for Terminator 3? That one of his tunes was recorded on quiet-storm balladeer Alexander O'Neal's Saga of a Married Man? That's all in his bio, so it has to be right.
Among the numerous writer-musicians and others who have contributed in these very pages there's yet another gold mine of misinformation. Who knew that the same Marty Racine who contributed 20 years of top-notch music writing over at the Chronicle also played mandolin, mandola and violin in the hard-driving French-Canadian folk band La Bottine Souriante, a group described by folkie mag Dirty Linen as "the greatest band in the world"? (His entry is under his formal name, Martin Racine.) According to Allmusic, the Free Radicals' Nick Cooper played trumpet with Texas blues guitar legend T-Bone Walker and dropped cello parts on tunes by Irish boy bands Boyzone and Westlife and British dream poppers Super Furry Animals. In his spare time, not only does freelancer Rob Patterson write liner notes for Austin friends such as Ray Wylie Hubbard and Don Walser, but according to Allmusic, he also has enough cash to bankroll sessions by George Clinton, the Dazz Band and the Ohio Players. ("Where are my royalties?" Patterson wants to know.) We knew Patterson dabbled as a performer too, but we didn't know he played a mean enough fiddle to contribute a track on Dean Martin's Lay Some Happiness on Me: The Reprise Years. Lance Walker's past involvements with Quick Step Maneuver and Port Vale are duly noted in his entry, but what caught us by surprise was his work as a singer on the Body of Christ Workshop Choir project.
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Then there are probably hundreds of smaller, though equally bizarre, errors. Blues-rocker Hadden Sayers is described as an electronica artist, and off-kilter punks Middlefinger are tagged as techno. Among the list of "similar/ related" albums to Sprawl's King of Parking are albums as unrelated and dissimilar to Sprawl (and each other) as Southern rocker Dan Baird's Love Songs for the Hearing Impaired and a Billboard collection of the top dance hits from 1976. (Baird is a touchstone for many Houston artists -- that same album of his was also listed as similar to DJ Sun's Baby Wants to Ride.) A few weeks ago, mod rockers the John Sparrow's self-titled debut EP was listed as similar to a collection of Romanian folk songs, though more recently Allmusic pegged them as being more like '60s-era, letter jacket-wearing Mighty Wind-like folkies the Campus Singers. One of the Suspects' records was likened to James Brown's legendary 1968 Live at the Apollo.
And enough. All of this stuff is fixable. All you have to do is click on www.allmusic.com/feedback3.html and report the errors, and Allmusic claims they will be fixed at some point in the next six weeks. As they say on their bug report form, Allmusic "prides itself on accuracy." We'll see about that. Send them your bugs, let Racket know when you do, and in seven weeks, Racket will give you a progress report.
The long-awaited, two-years-in-the-making Linus Pauling Quartet CD C6H8O6 is finally out, and it is a killer. Among the many highlights to be discussed in greater detail in these pages at a later date is what is in all likelihood a first in recording history: a psychedelic satanic death-metal tribute to La Tapatia. (The CD is available at Sound Exchange.) You hear it over and over again. What's wrong with the music scene in this town? Why is our scene so lame? What is to be done about the scene? Scene, scene, scene; blah, blah, blah. Last time I looked, the Houston music scene was doing fine. About a week ago, Beyoncé had the No. 1 pop single in America ("Baby Boy") and Baby Bash's "Suga Suga" was No. 9. How can a city with two simultaneous top ten hits from two different artists be said to have a lame scene? After all, that's two more hits than either Dallas or Austin has right now. Maybe, just maybe, the people who say the scene sucks here are just confusing what's going on at their favorite bar with what's going on all over Houston There seems to be a jinx connected with the Dr Pepper "Be You" ad campaign. Garth Brooks has retired from the music business since making that weird spot with the Freaky Old Guy two years ago. He got off lucky. DP next approached Run-D.M.C. for the spots, and Jam Master Jay was shot and killed after the trio filmed their spot. Next, the Waco-born soft drink concern recruited Celia Cruz, who filmed her ad and then keeled over from a brain tumor. Paulina Rubio, Anastacia and Cyndi Lauper should be nervous.