Tuesday night is famous for being dull and dead from a music point of view. Somehow we've wandered into Christian's Totem (7340 Washington, 713-864-9744) -- part bar, part cafe and, tonight, part open mike haven for some rough rock and rollers. Corrugated steel wraps around the bottom of the bar, with a wood plank worn smooth from countless elbows and bellies topping it off. A blonde in a blue jean shirt sprinkled with crystals stands at attention at the cash register, passing out beers and taking money. In another life, she would have been Miss Kitty and this would have been Gunsmoke.
From where we're sitting, I can see eight television screens. Three are tuned to the Rockets vs. Some-damn-body. Three are tuned to a football game (not the Texans, so who cares?). And two are tuned to talking-head sports analysts. The talking heads are periodically replaced by slow-motion replays of the recent Knicks/Nuggets brawl. There are a couple dozen guys scattered around the bar nursing beers while they watch the games. Since everyone is watching something different, the "Yea!" and the "Ah!" shouts all come at different times, like an out-of-sync booster club. One guy is off by himself, shouting at the wall (a projector has turned a blank wall into the largest screen in the room).
I'm sitting at a table with the biggest chili cheeseburger I have ever seen and my friend Liz. My burger is huge. An inch-thick patty is sitting on two open-faced toasted buns, smothered in chili, cheese and onions, with a half pound of fries on the side. There's an art to chili cheeseburgers. The trick is to get the meat and buns smothered in chili without having the whole thing go soggy before you're half done eating. Most cooks fail miserably. Christian's cook (undoubtedly an angel in disguise) has succeeded spectacularly.
"This used to be one of my dad's beer stops," says Liz.
"Umm hum," I mumble at her, melting cheese and mayonnaise oozing from the corners of my mouth.
"He said it used to be the store for Camp Logan, from WWI," she goes on. "There used to be a bunch of Christian's Totems, but now there's only this one and one downtown. One of the guys from ZZ Top is part owner, I think." Liz looks over at the stage (actually just a corner that's been more or less cleared out). "They're going to do open mike in a few minutes. Wanna stay?"
Since I'm only halfway through my burger (which is still not even slightly soggy), I nod madly. Looking around, I can't think they're going to get many takers on the open mike. Everyone here looks like they belong on an oil rig or at a rodeo. Roughnecks and roustabouts don't usually sing, do they?
Then they walk in -- two guys who are undoubtedly rock stars. One of them has tattooed sleeves peeking out from under his Harley-Davidson shirt, while the other one is in a long-sleeved tee and jeans. They're followed (like all good rock stars) by a pretty blonde with long, windswept hair hanging down her back. The guy in the tee plops a bucket of beer down on the table just in front of Liz and me, and they all sit down.
The music starts, and except for one blazing guitar solo by a guy named Allen, it all goes on with the usual open mike meandering and off-key fumbles. Outside, a drunk has wandered up to the window and is watching. He starts bouncing his head up and down like a bobble head doll on acid. Behind us, the wall guy shouts, "Put some dirt in it!" I'm not sure if he means the band or Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy.
"I bet they're a band," I tell Liz, pointing to the two guys in front of us. "I'm gonna go talk to them."
"Sit down!" Liz hisses at me. "Can't we ever go anywhere without you talking to everybody?" She's still hissing by the time I tap one of the guys on the shoulder. "Ah, are you going to play?" I ask, hoping my onion-chili-cheese breath isn't too bad.
"Yeah," he tells me.
"What's your band?" I ask.
"Moral Minority. I'm Bobby Ray and he's Tim Gautier," he says. "We're not gigging yet, but we're hoping to be playing by February."
"Is it just you two?"
"No, Casey Bates is our drummer, and Brian Manry is our other guitar player. All four of us sing, mostly me and Tim, but all four switch off on vocals."
"This your first band?"
"No, no. Me, Tim and Casey have all been in other bands. I've been in a lot of bands in the last ten years around Houston and Austin, but we've been working on the project for the last few months. We had a couple of other people in the band, but it didn't work out. They were smoking pot and all that; we're not about that. We're real serious about the music."
It looks like it's his turn up on stage, so I go back to my seat and wait. Liz is still hissing at me. "You don't even know that guypeople in bars don't want to be bothered"
Bobby Ray starts strumming on the guitar, then stops to retune. "New strings, sorry," he says into the mike. Finally he's ready. Tim nods at him, and they launch into Stone Sour's "Through the Glass." Liz shuts up mid-hiss.
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"'Cause I'm looking at you through the glass / Don't know how much time has passed / And all I know is that it feels like forever," sings Bobby Ray, with Tim on backup.
"They're good," Liz says, a little dumbfounded.
"Why wouldn't they be?" I smile at her. "You don't think Billy Gibbons is going to let just any old body up on his stage, do you?"
For more information about Moral Minority, visit www.MySpace.com/MoralMinorityBand online.