Houston Band Cartography
Dig it: Virtually all of Houston's rock music today can be traced back to either Little Screamin' Kenny or Sprawl. We always suspected as much, but with a little scavenging of the annals of local music lore, the hypothesis came into ever clearer focus. Hell, it seems that most musicians in town are six or fewer degrees away from both Sprawl and LSK.
Here are a couple of examples: Sprawl principally consisted of Nick Cooper, Joey Salinas, Matt Kelly and Dan Robinson, who left the band early in its career.
Since then, Cooper started up Free Radicals. Drummer Ilya Kolozs has appeared on all three of those CDs, and Kolozs also has drummed with Arthur Yoria, who sometimes collaborates with drummer Paul "Falcon" Valdez, who also drums for Tody Castillo. Castillo worked at Cactus Music & Video for a time alongside guitarist Derek Dunivan, who once took guitar lessons from -- Little Screamin' Kenny.
Matt Kelly's post-Sprawl bands include Middlefinger, which also included guitarist-keyboardist Dave Cummings, who appears on Michael Haaga's The Plus and Minus Show with Chris King and Leesa Harrington-Squyres, both of whom were once members of Carolyn Wonderland's Imperial Monkeys. As wasÉLittle Screamin' Kenny.
As for Salinas, before his time in Sprawl, he was in the Joint Chiefs with Harrington-Squyres. You know the rest. Little Screamin' Kenny awaits, just a degree away.
And enough. We could come up with dozens of other cases here, but it got us thinking about the incestuous nature of the Houston music scene, a milieu as rife with inbreeding as any West Virginia family reunion. We even set out to come up with an ultimate Houston band family tree, but such a task, when attempted under a fast-approaching early deadline, threatened to send us to a psych ward.
But with the launch of our blog, we will have time enough to plug away more or less at leisure. Indeed, we have a chance to create something very much like Allmusic.com for Houston bands, an encyclopedia of the Houston music scene past, present and future, with thumbnail bios of every band that amounted to something here, complete with pictures, discographies and their relationship to other Houston bands. And we're not just talking rock -- we want it to encompass blues, jazz, Latin music in all its forms, hip-hop, country, zydeco, R&B -- everything, from all eras, from the 5th Ward Boyz to ZZ Top. And we'll have histories of clubs and other venues, too.
To get all of your creative juices flowing, I've compiled a crude map of a small portion of today's scene. Over time, I hope this will grow into something like an atlas of Houston music -- precise, correct, ever-changing along with the ebb and flow of time. Each of the names below will have its own entry, and each will be cross-referenced with its scenemates, and each of the entries will be loaded with info.
Grandiose? Yes. Doable? Maybe. And let it be known from the outset that the progress on this endeavor will be of the slow and steady variety rather than fast and furious. But hell, let's get started.
H-town Honky-tonk Confederacy
Bands: John Evans Band, Sean Reefer, Johnny Falstaff, Hilary Sloan, Miss Leslie, Mando Saenz, Hayes Carll, Opie Hendrix, Davin James, Greg Wood
Characteristics: H-town's twangmeisters run the gamut from hard-core traditionalists (Reefer, Sloan, Miss Leslie) to more modern honky-tonkers (James) to rock-edged stuff (Hendrix, Evans, Saenz) to Carll's rowdy folk. Carll has the most momentum on the national stage right now -- he just inked a deal with Universal imprint Lost Highway -- but this year keep an eye on Johnny Falstaff. This guy's like a cross between Chris Isaak and Dwight Yoakam, and Racket has a feeling that the lanky singer-guitarist -- on whom Greg Wood based the song "Tall Walkin' Texas Trash" -- could be in store for a very good year.
Principal clubs: Continental Club, West Alabama Ice House, Blanco's
Most overlap with: Continental Club Crew
Continental Club Crew
Bands: the El Orbits, Allen Oldies Band, Light Rock Express, Beetle, Banana Blender Surprise, the Aqua Velva, Los Skarnales (bassist Nick Gaitan lives above the Continental), Chango Jackson (bassist Tino Ortega sits in with Beetle), Drifter, the Small Sounds, Flying Fish Sailors, Little Joe Washington, Clouseaux, Molly and the Ringwalds, the El Toros, the Umbrella Man
Characteristics: Having a cover band for every conceivable occasion seems to be the goal of the people who work, play and, in some cases, live in the Continental Club. Going sailing on the bay? Get ahold of the Flying Fish Sailors and they'll turn your afternoon into a pirate adventure. Or maybe you'd rather tool around on your yacht -- book the Light Rock Express and revel in the "Summer Breeze." Beetle covers the Fab Four, Aqua Velva the B-52s, and the El Orbits and the Allen Oldies just about everything in between. (The former is the more suave of the two, the latter is positively manic.)
All of these guys are traditionalists to some degree. Echoes of the blues, country, rockabilly, surf, Tejano, swamp pop and all rock up to and including punk and new wave can be heard from the CCC's original bands, and blues wildman Little Joe Washington is a bona fide living legend.
Principal clubs: Continental Club, naturally, but also the Big Top, Stag's Head and private occasions without number, in the El Orbits' case both here and in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. And then there's Los Skarnales, who play all over Texas and into Mexico. Most of the guys in this multiethnic clique are from the older parts of Houston, and virtually all of these people are H-town to the bone.
Most overlap with: Suspects in the Case of the 30footFALL; H-town Honky-tonk Confederacy
Suspects in the Case of the 30footFALL
Bands: the Suspects, Clouseaux, Three Fantastic, Sprawl, Magnetic IV, Janitor, Secret Agent 8, Zombilly, 30footFALL, Bickley, I-45, River Fenix, Latch Key Kids, Middlefinger, the Kimonos, Tread, I-Gents, Rugrash, Dragstrip Brothers, Les Saucy Pants, Michael Haaga, Joint Chiefs
Characteristics: Many of these cats hail from the city's north side, and many of the guys are Hispanic. Musically, this group ranges from the pure punk of 30footFALL to the Cypress Hill-meets-the-Beastie Boys "slip-hop" of I-45 to the "Tiki-lounge-exotica" of Clouseaux, whose singer Thomas Escalante also helps front the El Orbits. Also, "heavy mellow" pop-rocker Michael Haaga's multiple Press Music Award-winning album The Plus and Minus Show drew heavily from this group, as did the band that all-too-briefly showcased it last year. This is a heavily Sprawl-influenced tribe.
Principal clubs: Historically, Fitzgerald's for most. Today, a mix of Fitz's, Rudyard's, the Proletariat and the Continental.
(Adjunct group: gritty funk/punk/rap/ metal groups Dinosaur Salad, Simpleton, Faceplant and Taste of Garlic)
Most overlap with: Continental Club Crew; Montrose Front Porch Music Vanguard
Bands: Orange Is In, the Rehabiliteens, Jug O' Lightnin', the Green Beagle, Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys, Greg Wood Band, Horseshoe, Tab Jones, the Missiles, Fleshmop, Bloodfart, Joint Chiefs, Jimmy's Pawn Shop, the Good Luck Band, Opie Hendrix, Little Screamin' Kenny, the Hightailers
Principal clubs: Mainly Dan Electro's, Last Concert Cafe and Rudyard's, occasionally St. Pete's and the Continental. Formerly Mary Jane's, the Boatyard and Walter's.
Characteristics: Another roots-steeped bunch, similar to the Continental Club cats, but harder-living, more blue-collar and more oriented toward original material. (In some ways, this clique is like the Stones to the Continental Club's Beatles.) Wonderland moved to Austin a couple of years back and has gained some measure of fame in America and abroad, but too many of these people are unjustly obscure. Wood is one of America's finest living songwriters; former and current Imperial Monkeys Scott Daniels and Eric Dane and Jug's Aaron Loesch are elite guitarists; and the sidemen and women -- notably Chris King and Leesa Harrington-Squyres -- are also top-notch.
Most overlap with: H-town Honky-tonk Confederacy
Montrose Front Porch Music Vanguard
Bands: Medicine Show, JW Americana, Lowbrow, Two Star Symphony, Mod Fag, East Montrose Sterno Sippers, Bloodclot, West Alabama Candy Store Serenaders, Gun Crazy
Principal clubs: Rudyard's, Helios, Brasil, West Alabama Ice House, Candylicious
Characteristics: Where most of the other Inner Loop roots music cliques take their cues from the '50s forward, these guys often go for a more Prohibition-era vibe. If R. Crumb lived in Houston, he would frequent the Medicine Show's ongoing Monday gig at Helios, where the band treats an ever-growing crowd of tattooed young Montrosians to the music of people like Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers, Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt. Two Star Symphony brings punk spirit to classical strings, while Lowbrow and JW Americana infuse blues into their own brand of post-punk mayhem. Side projects abound, but it's probably safe to say if you see a punky-looking young freak strumming a banjo in and around the 'Trose, that person's probably affiliated with this bunch.
Most overlap with: Suspects in the Case of the 30footFALL
Fools for Britannia
Bands: the Jinkies, Westbury Squares, the John Sparrow/Inner Lights, the Cinders, Coterie, MenMechanical, Secret Sunday, Rubbur
Characteristics: Houston's Anglophiles -- Westbury Squares and the John Sparrow carried the mod banner for a few years, while the Jinkies were Houston's most Beatlesque original band. MenMechanical had more of a Bowie/Roxy Music feel. This group is not as active now as it was from about 1995 to 2002, and Houston's most prominent Anglophile band is probably Casino, which has never shared members with any of these other bands. That is, unless you count Spain Coloured Orange as full-blown Anglophiles.
Principal clubs: Historically, Mary Jane's. Today, the Mink (Casino) and Proletariat (Spain Coloured Orange).
Most overlap with: Indie Pop Posse
Indie Pop Posse
Bands: Sharks and Sailors, Lucky Motors, Panic in Detroit, Spain Coloured Orange/8Track Charade, We've Got Airplanes, Pop Deflation, Blueprint, Supermarket All-Stars, In Echoes
Characteristics: These are the more hook-laden indie pop bands. People like Gilbert Alfaro, Melissa Lonchambon, Ben Murphy and Ryan Chavez are among the heavy players, and the music ranges from Weezer-like power-pop of bands like the defunct Panic in Detroit to the '70s FM splendor of Spain Coloured Orange.
Principal clubs: The Proletariat, Walter's on Washington.
Most overlap with: Fools for Britannia
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