Houston's Island of Misfit Bands Briefly Resurfaces
The Big Boys at The Island
Photos courtesy of Ben DeSoto
While the hallowed ground of Fitzgerald's has remained steadfast, becoming a seemingly permanent fixture in Houston's indie, punk and metal communities, other clubs have receded into the dustbins of history. Fortunately, the fecund eras of two - the Axiom and the Island - are being celebrated during November.
As the elder juggernaut of local lore, The Island is the one identified as the birthplace of Bayou City punk. From 1978-1983, and under three different names (Paradise Island, Rock Island, and finally, simply The Island), the former Mexican restaurant near Main and Richmond -- not far from the present-day Continental Club complex, itself nicknamed "The Island" -- witnessed the first wave of free-for-all punk diversity before the genre splintered and hardened into molds.
Hence, on any given night, political-savvy Really Red and kitsch-poppers The Judy's vibrated the walls of the dark, dank club, or Austin bands like the Big Boys and The Inserts invaded briefly, or touring icons like UK Subs, the Cramps and Black Flag thrilled faithful local fans with their incendiary brand of rock and roll dissent.
Like many first-wave punk clubs, Paradise Island still had one foot in an earlier era.
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"It still had the cheesy palm trees covering the columns and the décor of a tropical Mexican dive," tells veteran Don Price. "We played opening night for Phil Hicks, the owner/manager. At that point, Jon Saxon and I were still playing mostly covers in a band called Crash Street Kids.
"It was a mish-mash of Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, Mott the Hoople (from whom we lifted the name), and a spare Hendrix tune thrown in here and there," he continues. "We were just starting to write originals and had one or two per set."
The overall setup remained do it yourself.
"Bands had to provide their own PA, and I think the lights were a row of track lights like you would see on a patio," recalls Price.
Others, though, recall a more stellar sonic site.
"The Island always had amazing sound," recalls Trish Herrera, guitarist and singer of art-punk pioneers Mydolls, who were regulars at the club. "Bands from all over the world played there."
Still, the overall place remained dilapidated, Herrera confers.
"The ceiling tiles would be falling on your head during the gigs," she says
Hicks, who held muffin parties for the Mydolls and helped them gain a solid footing in the local scene, steered the club into punk history, though not without causing friction.
As Jerry Anomie of Legionaire's Disease recalls, "After our first song, Phil Hicks walked slowly to my mike, and with his back to audience, told me, "We can't have this kind of thing here."
"I replied, 'We'll do one more song.' He looked relieved and said, 'okay.' That's when I climbed on top of the PA speakers, climbed up in the rafters, and 'carefully' walked on the 2x4s, not an easy feat on LSD, until I was right over the middle of dance floor and kicking the ceiling tile out and hung over the floor' singing all the time."
Despite such prickly moments in the thick squall of makeshift nights, some musicians feel the venue did stoke their creativity.
Come back for Part 2 tomorrow. Vinyl Edge Records will be hosting an exhibit of Island-related flyers and photography by Ben DeSoto throughout November. The opening night, November 9, will feature free live music, a record release party by Doomsday Massacre, and door prizes.
The Island reunion show featuring Mydolls, Anarchitex, the Hates, Doomsday Massacre, AK-47, the Degenerates
the Introverts, Bevatron, and Gary Yokie and Vex is Saturday, November 10 at Walter's, 1120 Naylor.
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