On Sunday, Houston’s heavy-metal community will mourn the passing and celebrate the life of one of the scene’s biggest champions. Scout Bar will host an all-day memorial concert to help raise funds for the family of Bill “The Master” Bates, one of the city’s longest-running and best-loved DJs.
Bates was a Realtor, a music promoter and a diehard heavy-metal fan, but he was best known as co-host of the Sweet Nightmares radio show on 90.1 KPFT, a gig he faithfully held down for nearly 30 years. In the pre-Internet era especially, it was one of the very few places that Houston headbangers could hear extreme and underground metal being broadcast — and even have their own music played on FM radio. Renowned Houston metal outfits like Helstar, deadhorse and Imprecation received their first taste of radio exposure from Bates and his longtime Sweet Nightmares co-host, Blaspherian’s Wes Weaver.
“If it wasn’t for Bill, these bands would not have had a place on the air, because the music he played was, frankly, what a lot of radio stations would pass on,” says Herman Garcia, one of the organizers of Sunday’s memorial show. “It was not radio-friendly; it wasn’t the type of music that would fit their programming. So Bill decided that he and Wes Weaver would have a place where these unsigned bands that wouldn’t get airplay anywhere else could get a break.”
Bates had a rough go of it in his final years, suffering from a string of health problems. Garcia stepped in as host of Sweet Nightmares last year after the Master sustained a brain aneurysm that kept him in the hospital for about a year. He never fully recovered before passing away on February 20. But as often as he could, Bill Bates would still get out to local metal shows to support the music and the scene that he loved.
“He had been suffering from some physical issues — he’d had several strokes over the years,” Garcia says. “It had taken a toll on his body. But people would see him walking around with his cane, and they knew he was determined to go see a show and that he was determined to be a part of the scene. Even with a stroke, that was not going to do him in.”
Oceans of Slumber drummer Dobber Beverly, who knew Bates for more than 17 years, says that the DJ’s health issues often masked a vivacious and fearless personality.
“Later in his life, with his ailments, he seemed like kind of a frail, timid guy, but he wasn’t, really,” Beverly says. “He generally always carried a pistol on him. He was like an old gangster, almost. He was a pretty wild dude. Counted cars, liked to play poker, liked to gamble. He definitely liked heavy metal, and the rumor was that he liked to get naked anytime and anywhere he got drunk.”
Beverly discovered Sweet Nightmares in his early teens — a four-hour treasure trove of wisecracks and underground metal that appeared every week to introduce listeners to some of the gnarliest music on the planet.
“There wasn’t an Internet; there wasn’t hardly anything,” the drummer explains. “The only thing you could do was trade tapes or know somebody. To be able to turn the radio on and they’re playing fuckin’ Deicide and Deeds of Flesh and Tattered Remnants and all this severely underground stuff was fucking amazing.
“You’d have Bill crackin’ on shit and making funny little observations about stuff, and then they’re playing this super-brutal, underground, Satanic death-metal and black-metal records that you always wanted to hear,” Beverly adds. “It was kind of like having our own Buzz for metalheads, but it only lasted for four hours every Thursday night at midnight. The mystique was still there — it was like these guys had these coveted treasures, these albums that you could never find unless you were into the tape trade or something. It was special.”
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Oceans of Slumber will be one of the headlining acts at Sunday’s memorial, playing tracks from their new album, Winter, as they prep for a European tour with My Dying Bride. The top-billed band of the night will be Sabbath Judas Sabbath, the top-notch power-metal cover band starring Helstar’s James Rivera — another longtime friend of Bates’s.
The show will be a celebration for all of Bates’s many friends in the metal scene, featuring a donation cover charge, a raffle drawing and a silent auction to raise funds for his family. But even if you never met the man or heard his radio show, Herman Garcia says that the master would still want to see you there.
“He didn’t judge people,” Garcia says. “He accepted you. If you were a metalhead, right away, you were part of the family. He didn’t make you prove yourself or anything like that. A lot of times there are cliques in the metal scene, or the music scene in general. He didn’t care about any kind of clique.”
Scout Bar (18307 Egret Bay Boulevard) hosts the Bill Bates Memorial Show and Tribute this Sunday, March 20. Lineup includes Sabbath Judas Sabbath, Oceans of Slumber, The Scourge, Immortal Remains, Spectral Manifest, Desecrate the Faith, Brutally Mutilated, Aegis, Blood of an Outlaw!, Serpientes DE Fuego and Orchiectomy. Doors open at 1 p.m.; $5 donation suggested.