Really Red Recalls the Early Days of Houston Punk
L-R: Really Red's Bob Weber and Dallas Holmes, the artist who designed the party for last Friday's release party at Vinal Edge.
Photos courtesy of Bob Weber
Thanks to Alternative Tentacles' new reissue of Really Red's entire discography on vinyl and CD, you can finally hear the local punk heroes' music blaring out of your handcrafted tube amp anytime you like, from the comfort of your own home. Or anywhere else, for that matter. In fact, the only place you still can't hear Really Red's collected works is onstage.
Yep, if you missed hearing the Texas Biscuit Bombs and Talk Sick Brats jam out some Really Red tunes at the release party on Friday at Vinal Edge, you're out of luck. Singer Ronnie "U-Ron" Bond, guitarist Kelly Younger, drummer Bob Weber and bassist John Paul Williams have no plans to reform, and they ain't likely to make any. They're not "on hiatus." They're scattered across three states, occupying themselves with things that very rarely require sleeping in vans.
"It almost seems like it was a past life," says Younger.
And that's part of what makes the new Really Red re-releases so astonishing, especially to those of us who weren't around to see them back in the day. As if sealed away in a time capsule, a whole gang of music has suddenly appeared from punk's golden era--still young, energetic and untainted by three more decades of break-ups, sell-outs, beer guts and disappointments.
Really Red got out at the right time: just before The Decline of Western Civilization became The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. Hearing the music they made in their six years together is as close as a punk can get to traveling back through time to the earliest days -- and possibly, the best days -- of Houston's punk scene.
"It was excitement, and it was freedom, and it was dangerous and scary at times," says Ronnie Bond. "It was a great time."
While it feels as though punks have been having a great time in Houston forever these days, there was a time when "punk" wasn't a thing in this town. In the early '70s, the foundations were still being laid, and Really Red hadn't quite come together yet.
"We started playing around 1971, and we had a couple of different band names and played cover songs," says John Paul Williams.
And then, as the '80s approached, music began to take an interesting turn.
"I joined in the band in '78, in the summer when things were really starting to happen in New York and L.A.," remembers Bob Weber. "Things were just starting to sizzle here. Really Red was a band searching for an identity, and I joined it at the right time."
Ronnie Bond describes a wave of new possibilities and creativity taking hold of the city's underground rock scene.
"Really Red's trajectory in getting into more alternative and punk and, later, hardcore was really fueled a lot in Houston by Legionnaire's Disease Band," says Bond. "Jerry Anomie and Legionnaire's Disease Band set Houston on fire and created a jumping-off place for Really Red and really inspired us. When we saw them playing and doing what they were doing, we went, yeah. They really kicked us in the direction we went."
Really Red had been searching for their movement, remembers Weber. Now, they had found it.
"We were inspired by everything that was going on in the new music scene, all of the New Wave and punk rock," he says. "All of us were music lovers from way back in the '60s and '70s, so there was a big love of music back then from all that. But also a real boredom with the system of music, the music industry and the promotion and the giant concerts and stuff like that. We wanted to get back where it was just fun again."
Soon, Really Red was writing some of the coolest shit to ever come out of H-Town. The only problem was finding a place that would allow them to play it.
Story continues on the next page.
Weber and ex-bandmate John Paul Williams (right) with their friend Leah Selvidge at Austin's End of an Ear Records.
"There weren't clubs, per se, to go play," says Bond. "It was all do-it-yourself. You had to go in and talk some dive bar that didn't have any clientele into having a rock and roll show. They'd go, 'Well, all right,' and then it would happen and they'd say, 'Get the hell out! Never again!' and you'd go to the next place."
Things got slightly easier once Houston's original punk-rock home base -- The Island -- opened on Main Street. But even then, playing punk rock made enemies in those days. Especially for any band associated with the Dead Kennedys.
"When we played the Island with Dead Kennedys, everybody has a grand time," says Bond. "It's over, and we start walking out the front of the Island, and the street was cordoned off by HPD. They had seven cop cars, and as people were walking to their cars parked across the street under the freeway, they're arresting people for jaywalking. And why? Because we were playing with the DKs, and the San Francisco Police Department had put a bug in the Houston Police Department's ear, apparently.
"It was like, gosh, we're just playing punk rock music!" he adds. "We're not destroying the world."
Still, not everyone was down with songs like "Teaching You the Fear" being sung by guys like Really Red. The threat of violent harassment from police or your everyday, average redneck was real -- not just in Houston, but everywhere they went. At best, most folks considered them weird. But that's not how they saw themselves, says Younger.
"It didn't seem all that weird to me, because all my friends were into it," he says. "I mean, you know, I didn't think we were on the cutting edge of some new, historic musical form that was going to shake the world or anything like that. We were just wantin' to drink beer and pick up some girls."
And when they were done, they'd helped to prove that independent rock bands in Houston could release their own records, book their own tours and stand toe-to-toe with the best punk bands anywhere. That wasn't always a given.
"I guess the punk scene in Houston, it was really exciting," says Weber. "Everybody was doing different things, because we just realized we didn't have to be slick bands. There was a lot of inspirational stuff going on in other towns, and people were starting to communicate with each other, so there was a whole lot of creativity happening.
"It's funny, I sort of get that same feeling in the last few years in Houston," he continues. "A lot of stuff in the independent music scene, all sorts of garage bands and bands just playing for fun, are doing some great stuff right now. I've been lucky to have the opportunity to see some incredible stuff."
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