Remembering Dale Brooks, Early Houston Punk Videographer

Dale Brooks, center, with "Robot" Burtenshaw (left) and Ted Barwell at Brooks' 2013 wedding
Dale Brooks, center, with "Robot" Burtenshaw (left) and Ted Barwell at Brooks' 2013 wedding
Photo courtesy of Ella Tyler

When the first wave of punk swept through America and Britain during the rather moribund mid-1970s, it became so fertile because punk was inclusive, participatory and democratic. Into its ranks swept musicians, fashion designers, artists, radio personalities, photographers and writers, as well as filmmakers and documentarians.

Dale Brooks, who passed away on November 19 at his home in Marble Falls (age 60), was a seminal character from those times. I met him while he filmed the Island reunion gig a few years back, and Brooks' audiovisual skills and vision helped propel local acts like the Hates into the video age and caught touring acts like the Dils during their rare, short-lived jaunts into middle America. Though Brooks was a longtime supporter of electric cars, eventually becoming president of the Houston Electric Auto Association, today Rocks Off would like to shed light on his forays into local music.

Like many, he began his pursuits by preparing well in advance of punk's zero hour.

Dale Brooks, second from right, with the Hates at Instant Karma in 1999
Dale Brooks, second from right, with the Hates at Instant Karma in 1999
Other photos courtesy of Christian Arnheiter

"I first met Dale Brooks after he graduated in 1973 from the old High School For the Performing and Visual Arts [one year before noted roots-rocker Robert Earl Keen]," says Christian Arnheiter, founder of iconic Houston punks the Hates. "I'd recently stopped playing funk with Nathan Faulk and started making tentative musical steps forward with Robert Kainer when I was introduced to Dale."

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Dale had a show called Taking Over Television at KTRU-Rice Radio. According to his brother, Glen Brooks, the slot featured "Dale holding forth on production equipment, camera techniques and his theories on the future of the media."

"Robert and Dale had become fast friends while at KPFT," he continues. "Dale had a show called 'Taking Over Television,' at Bellaire Cable Television, which helped familiarize him with studio equipment. A few years later, Robert and I teamed up for our own show, 'Destroy All Music.'"

Dale's outlook seemed to gestate at this time, balancing between artful pursuits and social consciousness. As Arnheiter explains, "Dale seemed born to be involved with video before he'd even left high school he'd made a video of the downtown tunnel system, which was brand new at the time. He also tackled other projects such as a film about female prisoners in Texas and a collaboration with Ted Barwell on a performance-art project that was being pitched to the curator of the Museum of Fine Arts. [Note: the previous three paragraphs have been modified after original publication to correct some factual errors.]

Some of Brooks' handiwork: The Dils at Houston's Rock Island, June 1979

As punk took hold in Houston, Brooks' own technical prowess became indispensable, paving the path for preserving the cultural zeitgeist -- the fans, the bands and the venues.

"Coinciding with the birth of the Hates came the Video Boyz, made up of Dale and Ted, who would not only film Hates shows at the Island but also would set up televisions on the stage and play videos between sets," And eventually the Video Boyz added a third member: Robert Burtenshaw." [Note: Burtenshaw soon became the primary owner of Numbers, where he was much better known as "Robot." He passed away in July 2013.]

But music and VHS were by no means Brooks' only passion.

"In addition to wild music, the technical aspects of video, and the occasional foray into late '70's/early '80s drug culture, the three of them shared a great love of motorcycles," Arnheiter says. "Ted favored British touring bikes, Dale preferred German motorworks, and Robert loved Japanese street bikes. They made quite the entrance wherever they went."

Story continues on the next page.


Brooks and his brother Glen
Brooks and his brother Glen

Still, if one band was positioned to benefit from Brooks' insight into production, eventually spotlighted by national media, it would be the Hates. Christian Arnheither picks up the story.

Dale's first 'real' video for the Hates was 'Science's Fiction. He used a recording of the very last practice that Robert, Glenn Sorvisto and I had together before that lineup faded into history along with video of me that he shot on equipment from the cable company where he was working at the time. He even got an award for it from MTV.

Throughout our many years of collaboration, he shot about a dozen videos that still get hits on YouTube every day. Sure, band members come and go, like a revolving door, but Brooks was steadfast on the scene, always ready to help.

After the Hates' second lineup dissolved, Dale came to me with an offer I couldn't refuse. A colleague of his at Channel 13 named Charles Shannon, who also taught television production at the Lincoln Institute, proposed to give Dale some free recording time. And that was how Xenophobia was born.

Helping to produce that EP seemed to power a light within Dale. He borrowed Ted's four-track recorder with the idea producing another one. When former Hate's bassist Paul Minot heard that we were going to use such 'primitive' equipment, he offered to let us use the recording studio that he'd built in his house in Austin. New World Oi!, Texas Insanity, and Greatest Hates were created there with Dale's help.

Perhaps more importantly, Dale was not just a dependable guy that adeptly worked complex equipment, he was a compadre and sidekick. We were not only music fans together, but we were also traveling companions. Dale and I went abroad twice, and spent a substantial time in Wales, spending time with mutual friends.

He even opened up his home to me once when a sudden change in my circumstances left me without a place to stay for a while. While living with friends can sometimes be awkward, I will always be grateful for his generosity at that time in my life.

Brooks on the job
Brooks on the job

Many in Houston punk agree, including Torry Mercer of Anarchitex and Beatless; Chuck Roast of Vinal Edge Records; J.R. Delgado of Screech of Death and Doomsday Massacre; and Jerry Anomie of Legionaire's Disease, all of whom left kind words memorializing him on Facebook. Indeed, Brooks was a singular kind of man.

"Dale was a highly intelligent, creative, restless, and complicated man who has had a profound influence in my life and the life of my music," affirms Arnheiter. "Even though we were not as close in these last few years as we once were, the mark of his place in my world is indelible.

"I hope with all of my heart that he now finally knows the peace that sometimes eluded him in his life," he concludes.

A memorial for Dale Brooks will be held Sunday, January 11, 2015 from 2-5 p.m. at the Houston Arboretum, 4501 Woodway.


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