Just about every city in Texas has its own Stevie Ray-style guitarslinger or an alternative act that's sure to be the next big thing. Most cities also have that commercially adaptive pop act that'll get a major record deal only to watch it fizzle within a year or two. In terms of straight-up rock, however, the closest thing most towns have is a half-brained metal act or a primping frathouse cover band.
Jimmy's Pawn Shop doesn't proclaim itself to be the last great rock and roll outfit in Houston, nor does it aspire to be. The truth is, though, it might very well be.
Such a statement will obviously earn eyerolls from JPS's bandmembers, but the trio's adherence to high-volume, R&B-based rock and roll makes it somewhat of a rare find. As bassist/vocalist Jimmy Dundon jokingly describes it, the JPS sound is "Plymouth Rock."
"None of it's a conscious effort," he says. "We're just playing the kind of music we like."
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Through the years, Dundon has been in several bands in Houston. His compatriots in Pawn Shop, guitarist Eric Dane and drummer Leesa Harrington-Squyres, are also local journeymen and women. Most may recognize them from their days with local favorite (now Austinite) Carolyn Wonderland. Dane spent eight years as one of Wonderland's Imperial Monkeys, while Harrington-Squyres monkeyed around for four.
Their familiarity with each other obviously lends itself to the trio, but to really understand Jimmy's Pawn Shop (named for Dundon's recurring habit of placing items in hock) catch its live act, which is not difficult considering the band plays every Thursday night at Silky's on Washington Avenue.
Don't be surprised to see orange cones and yellow "caution" tape draped across the front of the stage. The props are there to indicate that the group is still under construction, a work in progress -- though only because of their own exacting standards. On stage, all three have a fluid playing style and a laid-back charisma that makes them very audience-friendly.
Fronting the band, Dundon and Dane have what some scribes refer to as that "Mick and Keith" vibe. Or maybe even a Rod Stewart and Ron Wood vibe. Dundon's flamboyance and voice are a strong focal point. His awkward leg movements while playing the bass seem strangely disjointed, but he exudes a strong sense of confidence on stage. Meanwhile, Dane, tall and thin with spiky black hair, effortlessly riffs away on his Telecaster (which has faux-leopard skin print). Oftentimes, a smoke will be dangling from his lips or firmly implanted on the neck of his guitar.
Dundon shakes off the comparisons to the Stones or the Faces, although he's been told he resembles Rod Stewart, and Dane admits the Keith Richards label has been occasionally affixed to him.
"I can't play a role or be a poser. I can't do that," says Dundon. "The worst description you could give me is that I'm weird. The best thing you could say is that I'm unique. The Rod Stewart thing and the Faces kind of fell in. In bands in the past, we used to do a lot of Rod Stewart because people thought I sounded like Rod Stewart. I almost consciously try not to sound like Rod Stewart. He's become a parody of himself by now."
During the typical Pawn Shop set, the band's originals are the true gems. A blend of rock, pop and soul, the arrangements are simple yet memorable, while Dundon's lyrical hooks are solid. It doesn't do the band justice to drop names like the Stones or Faces when making comparisons, but those two bands immediately leap to mind. Elements of honky tonk and blues also sneak into the mix, and the group's rendition of Rufus Thomas's ever-funky "Walking The Dog" is a fun slice of soul, complete with Dundon's smooth delivery and Dane's rough guitar work.
Among the originals are the hard-edged rocker "Bad Melody," the semi-country jangler "My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own," and the melodramatic ballad, "Heard It All Before."
"We have a natural chemistry musically and in our stage personalities," says Dundon. "It makes sense when we're on stage. People come in and see the band, and they understand it. It just makes sense. That sounds like a simple thing, but being able to play an instrument real well doesn't mean you'll play real well with other people."
Consider this: Jimmy's Pawn Shop has yet to rehearse. Not to say that the trio is purely improvisational, just that the members are experienced enough to keep up with each other. Take, for example, drummer Harrington-Squyres; maintaining the beat is second nature to her, given that she's played in bands since the age of 15.
"I feel privileged to play with Eric and Leesa because they're excellent musicians," Dundon says. "Reading each other's mind is the easiest thing for us. We've never rehearsed, but that's in the works. Pretty much what we'd do is go to Silky's on a Thursday and work out a new song each week on stage. That's how our originals got off the ground. We're all good at winging stuff, but we play good together. There's not enough to say about that: It doesn't matter how good you are. If your instincts aren't there, it won't work."
Having the experienced combination of Dane and Harrington-Squyres is a blessing for Dundon. He says that when the band started to come together, he was concerned about losing Harrington-Squyres to any one of the many groups courting her, including the performance artists, The Blue Man Group. Famed country rocker Steve Earle also suggested that she might do well by setting up shop in Nashville. In the end, she stayed in her hometown of Houston.
Perhaps Harrington-Squyres sticks around so she and Jimmy's Pawn Shop can perfect the art of Plymouth Rock, which coincidentally is not as rigid as it sounds.
"A friend of mine told me that we're one of the funniest bands he's ever seen," says Dundon. "I like that aspect of what we do. We're loose, we can all play, and we're not going by a script. It's not going to fall apart on stage because we'll land on our feet every time. There's no pressure, so we have fun even if nobody in the club is having fun. Not that it's all about having fun, but it helps."
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