Legendary Houston Music-Business Figure Don Gomez Passes Away at Age 91
Don Gomez (left) and B.B. King at King's final Houston performance at House of Blues, 2014
Photos courtesy of John Escamilla
Veterans of the Houston music scene who have been around for decades are mourning the loss of Don Gomez today. The former owner of Rockefeller's nightclub and a promoter, booking agent and manager for Houston-area artists for half a century, passed away earlier Friday, according to one of his good friends, longtime Houston talent buyer John Escamilla. He was 91.
"You know I went through four different ownership groups in my 17 years at Rockefeller’s," says Colleen Fischer, onetime talent buyer of the legendary Washington Avenue venue and now for ACL LIVE in Austin, where she is also general manager. "Don was certainly the most colorful. I remember him taking apart Edgar Winter’s rider. He added up how much all the liquor was and came to something like $500. He told the agent. 'If I supplied $500 worth of liquor Edgar will be dead drunk by the time he hits the stage.'
"Don always called me on my birthday and told me he knew I was doing really well in Austin now with ACL LIVE," Fischer adds. "He would always tell me how proud of me he was."
Besides Rockefeller's, which he owned from the late '80s to 1994, Gomez also ran his own talent agency in the '60s and '70s. He was associated with Houston City Live in the '90s, where he booked the likes of Merle Haggard, Hiroshima and Chaka Khan, and most recently Big Productions. In the photo below, which he says is one of his favorites, Escamilla says “knowing Don the way I do, he's probably telling Chuck Berry to shut up and play...”
Chuck Berry (left) and Gomez at Mardi Gras Galveston, 1998
Photo by Jude Ramirez
Andy Zotos, a former Rockefeller's employee who was helping Gomez get his affairs in order, remembers him as someone not only key to helping break Tejano in Houston but helped to give several performers some of their first breaks in show business.
"It wasn't just one genre...he gave a lot of people their starts," he says. "Even the local and regional artists, Don would give them a lot of opportunities to make it, if you will."
A link to concert trade publication Pollstar lists Gomez as a 1992 Nightclub Talent Buyer of the Year nominee for Rockefeller's.
In more recent years, says Ali Flint — another former Rockefeller's employee who remained close to Gomez — Gomez continued to book events such as the Spring Crawfish Festival and Galveston Island's Mardi Gras celebration. He grew close to the family of Moses "Mo" Jeloudarzadeh, proprietor of large Katy honky-tonk Mo's Place, and booked shows there regularly. One of his shows at Mo's is actually tonight, the Randy Rogers Band, while several others including Stoney LaRue, Kyle Park and the Josh Abbott Band are still on the books.
“He lived to book music," says Flint. "Whenever I needed to cheer him up in the nursing home I would pull out a list of bands [he had booked].”
Zotos says Gomez grew up in Galveston and served two tours in the armed forces between the end of World War II and the Korean War. According to Flint, Gomez never married and had no children, but is survived by a number of nieces and nephews. Then there are his many friends and admirers, several of whom have already paid tribute to Gomez on his Facebook page today:
Banana Blender Surprise, The El Orbits
He lived an amazing long, vibrant and influential life and never quit doing what he loved; promoting great music shows and being around his many close friends. Don was the head honcho at Rockefeller's Night Club in Houston and gave me not only my first opportunity in 1991 to succeed in the music business, but decades of great advice, great friendship, great gigs and great times. There is no way to properly state the impact Don made on music in the Houston area and beyond. There is no way to state properly his impact on me, either, but I can tell you that every day I went to work at Rockefeller's from 1991-94 was a day I was proud to be there. Everyone who knows Don will miss him. I am so grateful to have him as a lifetime friend.
New Jack Hippies; South by Due East
I'll always remember some road trips we took together, especially a couple to Austin to see the 13th Floor Elevators in the early days. Don didn't want to drive, but he really loved Roky. I mean, he REALLY loved Roky. And then, there was the night that I married Charly, my first wife (actually the only one I actually married). After the wedding, we returned back to a one-bedroom apartment for a party with my close friends. Michael Knust was in one corner rolling joints on top of the album cover from the gift he had just given us , Traffic's 'The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys', released just the day before, and everyone was getting high.
Everyone except Don.
After an hour of partying, Don pulled me aside and asked why everybody seemed fairly normal, although they were smoking lots of marijuana.
I replied, "What did you expect? Did you think we would all be walking on the ceiling?"
Don looks at me and gives me a funny little facial expression, and said, "I was waiting."
Turn To Productions; former Meridian owner
A legend in the Houston music scene. He was a mentor to so many in the industry and a true gentleman. He helped make Houston music better and will be sorely missed.
SONNY BOY TERRY
Houston blues veteran
Yesterday, I went by a nursing home to visit the legendary agent Don Gomez. He used used to book Rockefellers during one of it's hey days. He continued booking me on many special events around the city more than 25 years. Every time, I performed at Central Market, I would see him walk by waving as if it were a ritual. He passed away this morning. I know many folks in the music biz will feel his loss. RIP Don, I am grateful I got to visit yesterday. Sad to see you go. It was a life well spent.
Finally, this anecdote comes from the Houston Architecture Information Forum, in a June 2008 message noting the death of rock and roll pioneer Bo Diddley. The author, posting under the name “Escapee,” claimed to be a former Rockefeller's employee:
My office was up on the 3rd floor next to Colleen Fischer, one of the talent buyers. Bo Diddley was scheduled to play that night. About noon, a disreputable looking fellow came to my door and asked to see Don Gomez, who had booked him. Not being musically literate, I asked him who he was. He replied, "I'm mumble mumble mumble." So, I asked him again, and this time I understood "Bo Diddley." So, I sent him down to Don's office. Then I hear this gale of laughter coming from Colleen's office thru the connecting door. "Not only did you not know who he was, you had to ask him twice.!
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.