Houston in the '60s Was a Happening Place
The Larry Kane Show
Photos courtesy of Vicki Welch Ayo
One day, in the distant future, hopefully there will be a Vicki Welch Ayo to document Houston's present-day music scene. If so, that person must now be a dedicated and adventurous showgoer, someone who is enthusiastic about the current acts and venues, and who cares about local music enough to one day look back at it with unabashed love and respect.
That's what Ayo did for the 1960s Houston rock scene in her book, Boys From Houston. Released just over a year ago and weighing in at more than 400 pages, it's a glance back at the players who sowed the seeds for today's Houston music landscape.
"I was wondering what happened to the good old days and all the good live music that I would hear every weekend," says Ayo. "I Googled some names and the idea began to form to seek them out ask how they felt about their music days in the '60s."
She estimates Boys From Houston took a decade to research, edit and publish. Ayo tracked down and interviewed entertainers, clubowners, fans and even groupies, more than 200 people in all.
"Before the social media of Facebook or MySpace, I would track someone down and call or write to them. I did a lot of phone interviews, letting the conversation wander rather than posing questions," she said. "I took suggestions from seasoned entertainers like B.J. Thomas and Roy Head who knew the scene. After all, who knew the story better?"
The book includes a look at pivotal clubs like Love Street Light Circus and Feelgood Machine, the Catacombs, Taylor Hall and La Maison. She covers the battle between radio rivals KILT and KNUZ, which both supported local bands by playing their music on-air. She covers extensively Channel 13's Larry Kane Show, a local version of American Bandstand that aired for more than three decades and brought the bands to viewers at home.
And, of course, she covers the artists, such as the Six Pents, Neal Ford & the Fanatics, Fever Tree. Bigger acts in Boys From Houston include the Moving Sidewalks, 13th Floor Elevators, Roy Head and B. J. Thomas, as well as some of Ayo's personal favorites like Bubble Puppy, The Champagne Brothers, The Clique, The Coastliners, The Sound Investment and The T.H.E.
"Houston had a powerful and prolific music scene back then. Music was just everywhere, all kinds, all the time," says Ayo. "The bands had fan clubs that turned out to support their guys, and they spent hours dialing the radio stations to request their records. There was a lot of support for the music."
And there was plenty of music to support.
"There was just a natural evolution after the Beatles broke things out," she says. "Garage bands began to form, and there was a demanding audience of teens who were fanning the raging fires of the Houston '60s music revolution and could not get enough.
Fever Tree (L-R) :John Tuttle, E.E. (Bud) Wolfe, III, Michael Knust, Rob Landes and Dennis Keller
Photo courtesy of Dennis Keller
Teen clubs became popular, Ayo recalls, and plenty of bands arose to play them. Some of the larger all-purpose venues in the area like the Sam Houston Coliseum and Music Hall began booking concerts, and sometimes would add a local act or two to open for the national headliners.
"For a time, it seemed like anyone could attain fame if they learned how to play an instrument, joined a band and started 'living the dream,'" she recalls. "Every new musician and group thought they could be the next big thing, the new Beatles."
Story continues on the next page.
Some of Ayo's favorite shows from the time, she says, number a 1971 concert with Poco, Leon Russell, Badfinger and Lee Michaels at the Coliseum, another with Rod Stewart and the Faces, and Ike and Tina Turner at the Coliseum. Initially she was just a fan, a kid from Pasadena who liked to rock. But Ayo's devotion to her favorites -- and her father, who promoted shows for Pasadena's Elks Lodge -- made her a bit of an insider over time. Eventually she took the stage herself, as singer for the bands Haywire and Silver Eagle Express.
"A new club opened in Pasadena named The Vault, which was housed in an old vacant bank building," Ayo remembers. "Although the underground bank vault was abandoned and crumbling, it was just enough to be chic and happening. I remember when the 13th Floor Elevators played -- I was sitting in a cutout area next to the stage and my boyfriend and I kissed for the first time.
"I don't recall which song they were playing," she adds, "but I know it was a high energy tune filled with electricity and it was deafeningly loud."
Ayo now says working on the book's sequel with co-writer William DeLaVergne, tentatively titled Boys From Houston II, she plans to naturally progress into the 1970s Houston music scene.
"It was a happening time to witness the birth of the Houston music scene in the 1960s," she says. "I loved the creativity that was present, the innocence and honesty of the times. Even when a group emulated the Beatles or someone else, there was still a lot of originality present rather than merely copycatting.
"There was freedom to experiment and try new things," adds Ayo, "and some real gems emerged from our area with raw, natural talent,"
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.