March was exceedingly tough on the local music community. As noted in this column two weeks ago, Texas Music News scribe Bill "the Boneman" Gonce passed away on the ninth. Since then, three more Houston music luminaries have died, each one tragically: Celtic music institution Lloyd Gibson, world music maven Julie De Rossi and young jazz guitarist Stefan Schultz.
On March 17, Gibson, a fiddler-guitarist, was killed in a car accident on the Southwest Freeway near the Mandell overpass. In addition to his performing and teaching duties, Gibson founded the local chapter of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, a group that promoted traditional Irish music and dance, sold hard-to-find Irish and Scottish CDs on his Web site Bandstore.com, and ran a label called Abacus Records. Gibson, who was 53, came from a musical family -- his brother Zip, who survives him, was Steve Earle's bass player in the early 1980s and his lead guitarist on the Copperhead Road and Hard Way tours. (Incidentally, it was Zip -- thanks perhaps to something he learned from Lloyd -- who came up with the Irish-sounding keyboards-as-bagpipes intro to "Copperhead Road.")
"Lloyd never tried to make anything from the music," says former Clandestine piper and current solo artist E.J. Jones. "He would rather teach people who knew nothing to play guitar or fiddle. He was very self-effacing, a servant to the music."
Earlier, in the wee hours of the same day, about eight miles south along the same Southwest Freeway, 44-year-old manager-promoter Julie De Rossi also was killed in a car accident, rear-ended at the Hillcroft underpass by a speeding drunk driver. An ardent lover of world music, especially West African and Latin stuff, De Rossi ran Motherland Entertainment, and through the company managed and/or booked and promoted Buddhacrush, Drop Trio, Dubtex, Corey Stoot, the Nigerian rapper Weird MC, Grupo Fantasma and others. De Rossi was a lady of great style, class and honesty. She had a keen sense of fairness and very big ideas. Just before she died, she was plotting starting up a yearly international music festival to rival, and she hoped one day surpass, the Houston International Festival.
"She was always there for the bands she believed in," says Grupo Fantasma guitarist Adrian Quesada. "She had nonstop energy about her favorite bands. And a lot of what she did, she did out of love for the music. Sure, she got paid when she would promote our shows here, but she always took our press kits and handed them out to people for nothing."
On March 23, 27-year-old jazz guitarist Stefan Schultz was found dead in his bedroom, a casualty to drug addiction and mental illness, as his obit frankly stated. An HSPVA grad and a former student at the Berklee College of Music, Schultz toured with Chuck Mangione, was the first Berklee student ever to get a cut on a sampler CD issued by Jazziz magazine, and played locally at Helios with the Trade and at Brasil with other combos.
"It was so unnecessary," says local vibraphonist Harry Sheppard. "Oh, he had some problems, but he always had the nicest smile for you. Just a wonderful, warming smile. He used to always ask me to tell stories about the old-timers. He'd go, 'Tell me about so-and-so, did you ever come across him?' He loved that He was just so sweet. I just cannot believe it."
And it wasn't just his disposition that was sweet. So was his gift. Whatever "it" is, Schultz had it. "God, he was some talent," Sheppard says. "And as great as he was, he hadn't even begun to develop. He had incredible chops, and his technique was far beyond his years. Far beyond his years. He was never afraid. I don't know how much he practiced, but he was never afraid to jump in over his head."
There is some good news in town. Marshall Preddy is hosting a new monthly local showcase at the Proletariat. Called the Happy Hour Invitational, the gig is, well, just that. The show starts at 6 p.m. on the third or fourth Monday of each month, and you have to be invited to perform. Preddy, whose "Custom Drinker" alter ego is the host of the show, describes the event as a cross between open-mike night and a full-on show. "It's booked in advance, but the sets are short -- 30 minutes or less," he writes via e-mail. (We can't talk at length, 'cause he has a day job.) "It's not an acoustic hour, though. Instead, we encourage local musicians to step out of their bands and do something new -- a solo show or a one-off project with other musicians -- whatever, as long as it's different."
Preddy says not to worry if you don't have a band right now. "Just get some people together, learn some songs and play them in a low-pressure setting in front of friends. Other than that, anything goes. Any instruments or no instruments, it's all acceptable, I'm willing to book anyone who puts something interesting together." To submit material, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Admission is free, the musicians don't get paid, and since the event takes place during happy hour at the Proletariat, the drinks are double -- no, make that triple -- cheap. Preddy also wants to stress that all genres are encouraged to submit their music for consideration -- from the Prolo's staple indie rockers and undie rappers to blues, country and anything else, so long as it isn't your usual format or lineup.
The first showcase, on March 22, featured solo gigs from Will Freed, Andrew Morgan and Ryan Chavez, while the next one, on April 19, will feature Spain Colored Orange singer Gilbert Alfaro, the local supergroup AWESOME! and former Lucky Motor Benjamin Davis Murphy.
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Pete Gordon -- One-Man Baseball Team
Interesting how the subconscious works. About a decade ago, Houston Post music scribe Claudia Perry complimented local pianist Pete Gordon by calling him "dazzling." Trouble was, she got his name wrong, and thus the "Dazzling Pete Gray" of El Orbits fame was born. One week ago, yours truly, confused by an erroneous entry from God knows when in his Rolodex, referred in this space to Gray/Gordon as "the Houston Continental's Pete Browning." Chalk it up, in both cases, to baseball joneses -- the real Pete Browning was a 19th-century diamond star. And the real Pete Gray? He was the one-armed outfielder for the St. Louis Browns. At some point in the past, I had heard "Pete Gray," thought subconsciously about the Browns, and entered "Browning" into my files. (I had separate entries for Pete Gray and Pete Gordon, too. And at least I didn't enter Gordon as "Jim Abbott.") That's how it happened anyway, but why two local music writers have attempted to rename Gordon after long-dead baseball players is anyone's guess. "Hey, I'm two for two!" Gray-Gordon-Browning said. "Pete Rose is next!" And for my part, I'll just stick to Mojo Nixon's nickname for him: "Wet Dog."
Isn't that the guitar part to "Let Him Roll"? Could it really be him? It is him! My God. Honey, get in here quick! Guy Clark got a commercial! What's he talking about? Is this some new song called "The Randall Taco"? (My reaction on seeing Clark plugging Taco Cabana during a King of the Hill commercial break last week.) Perfect marriage of artist and company: late-night Tex-Mex and late-night music. See you at Taco Cabana after the bars close. I'll be humming "South Coast of Texas." On a similar "I didn't know heartless megacorporations had so much soul" note, Kelly Willis is starring in Chevy ads in the Austin area Speaking of country, Sheila Marshall survived another tough week on Nashville Star. She's now in the final eight, and lately the judges have been kinder to her. Two more contestants will get whacked this Saturday. So far, a question that has gone tragically unasked on the show is this: Contestant to the Warren Brothers: "Who are you to judge me? "Funk Jazz Fridays" at Brasil kicked off last week with a performance by Drop Trio. Austin's Gnappy plays this Friday, Drop Trio returns on April 9, and Righteous Buddha brings the Baton Rouge B-3 funk on April 16 Meanwhile, way up on the northwest side, drum 'n' bass has at last found a place to perch. Tuesdays at Cube Pizzeria and Sports Bar are now the domain of the rat-a-tat music. Cube Pizzeria is located at 9804 Jones Road, two blocks south of FM 1960, right across the street from Sonic. For more info about the night, call Resonance Productions at 832-476-8704.