Only in Houston
It's not unusual for siblings to be in bands together. The Beach Boys, Jackson Five, Heart, Radiohead...the list goes on and on. Brothers and sisters have regularly joined forces to create incredible music. One kid finds a musical niche and his or her siblings voluntarily follow. Or the group is one member shy of a band and some sibling gets dragged in (usually to play bass — sorry, bassists) and stays on for the ride.
Or how about this? Maybe the kids are driving you crazy. You send them to music lessons to get a single hour's peace once a week and they buy into it big time. They then create one or several bands, which end up loudly practicing at your house for the next ten years. That didn't work so well, did it?
Here in Houston, it should be no surprise that a few of our many emerging music acts are built from bands of brothers and sisters. Here are a couple of families making your music scene better:
Josh and Micah Raught, The Dead Rabbits
I've been an admirer of the songwriting talents of these Pasadena-born-and-raised brothers for awhile now. Their former band, HaHa 90!, was an infectiously melodic and wildly funny pop-punk band. Today they are core members of The Dead Rabbits, reigning Houston Press Music Award Best Punk winners.
"There's me, Micah and we have two older sisters. Both of our sisters sing, and my oldest sister went to college for music for the longest time," says Josh. "When we get together at family gatherings, all of our siblings sing together."
That might seem a bit Von Trappish, but the Raught men don't just sing. Josh plays guitar, drums, accordion, piano and mandolin, which is his primary instrument in The Dead Rabbits and has earned him the nickname "Mando' Commando." Micah plays guitar, bass, trumpet and banjo (his band pet name? "BanJovi").
The Raughts' influences are broad — everything from 1970s prog-rock to NOFX, Gogol Bordello and Green Day. They're self-taught on most of the instruments they play, Josh says, thanks to their parents' strong music appreciation. All those sounds and a lot more should be evident on the band's approaching debut album, Tiocfaidh Ar La.
Josh says the writing process starts with an idea that he, his brother and bandmates Seamuis Strain and Danny Aschenbach develop until a song is formed.
"When Micah and I write, it's definitely as a team," he explains. "Even if one of us frustrates the other at some point due to too much beer or just a clash of ideas, we always end up coming back to the same song later and finishing it up," says Josh.
"The best part of having a sibling in the band with you is they can't blow you off like a lot of people seem to," Josh says. "I mean, they're family; they're stuck with you for life."
Here Micah chimes in.
"I always get drunk and leave my stuff behind at shows, and he's always the one who grabs it for me," he says. "Win!"
Xuan-Nhan, Nellie and Thuy-Linh Cornett, Pretty Turtles
I could tell you the story of the three remarkable sisters who collectively make up the blues-rock ukulele band Pretty Turtles, but they are all eloquent and it's their story. So I'll step aside.
"My siblings and I originally were born in New Mexico and raised in a small scientific community in the mountains called Sunspot. I know it sounds unreal, but it's true," says Xuan-Nhan, known as "Swan" to her friends and fans. "Sunspot is the location of Sacramento Peak, a national solar observatory. My father worked as the technical librarian up there. It was a very strange and beautiful place to spend our childhood.
"We moved to Houston when my mother and father divorced," she continues. "Most of us were already teenagers when that happened. Our mother is a singer of traditional Vietnamese poetry and chose Houston because of the large Vietnamese population here.
"The home we finally settled in is in the southeast side of downtown near the warehouse district. All the people we know are eccentrics and artists," Xuan-Nhan continues. "We basically just live in a swampy bohemian bubble. It's fantastic!
"I remember the first time [brother] Nathan, Thuy and I were introduced to straight improvisational jamming," adds Nellie. "It was at MECA, the arts school in Houston. The teacher just sort of opened our eyes that whatever noise you make can be music, and that big, open door really sparked a nerve.
"Before you knew it, we were all having lots of fun making strange noises with our voices and fists — whatever we had laying around, layering sounds and harmonies and rhythms in the car, around the dinner table, whenever we would go to school," Nellie adds. "It was a favorite pastime. We started with voices and hands, but it organically evolved."
Houston's grooviest vintage-R&B party turns four years old.
If you're seeking a scene, maaaaaaaaaan, you could do a hell of a lot worse than A Fistful of Soul, the monthly event wherein some of Houston's grooviest DJs drip vintage wax all over Midtown. Now steered by Joe Ross, Stewart Anderson and Alex LaRotta, Fistful dates back to the Mink in 2009. It hopped next door to the marginally bigger Big Top some time later and soon enough spilled over onto the Continental Club patio, where it celebrates its fourth soul-spinnin' anniversary Friday night. (Enter through the Big Top.) It's always no cover, and always all rare 45s.
"We get comments on that every time we play," LaRotta says. "We realize that some of our youngest patrons likely never grew up with a turntable in their house — much less obscure soul/R&B 45s, so there may be some old-school DJ 'hipness' attached to our analog ethos."
This thing is a happening, we assure you. Recently Rocks Off asked the Fistful guys to come up with a list of their Top 25 tracks, only the tightest of the tight and the funkiest of the funky (but in no particular order). Dig it.
Bettye Swann, "Make Me Yours"
The Isley Brothers, "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)"
The Fascinations, "Girls Are Out to Get You"
Jan Bradley, "Back in Circulation"
Sugar Pie DeSanto, "Soulful Dress"
Aretha Franklin, "Tighten Up Your Tie, Button Up Your Jacket"
Cliff Nobles, "Love Is All Right"
Johnny C, "Hitch It to the Horse"
Four Tops, "Seven Rooms of Gloom"
The Miracles, "(Come 'Round Here) I'm the One You Need"
Emanuel Lasky, "Welfare Cheese"
Chet McDowell, "I Guess You Don't Know"
Little Esther Phillips, "Mo Jo Hannah"
The Coasters, "Love Potion No. 9"
Joe Bataan, "Young Gifted & Brown"
Big Maybelle, "I Can't Wait Any Longer"
September Jones, "I'm Coming Home"
Johnny Copeland, "Suffering City"
Gloria Jones, "Tainted Love"
Rhonda Davis, "Can You Remember"
Archie Bell & The Drells, "Tighten Up"
The Sunglows, "All Night Worker"
Otis Rush, "Homework"
The T.S.U. Toronadoes, "Getting the Corners"
Carlos Guzman y Los Fabulosos Cuatro, "El Tren"
A Fistful of Soul celebrates its fourth anniversary Friday, September 20, at the Big Top Lounge, 3714 Main. No cover.
Lone Star State of Mind
Texas was a revelation to Herman's Hermits singer Peter Noone in the mid-'60s.
Even though in terms of British Invasion lead singers, he's about as English as English could be, Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits has always had a love of Texas music. Once he found out the tunes and performers he liked actually hailed from the Lone Star State, that is.
"Guys like Buddy Holly and Freddy Fender and Waylon Jennings were already on my radar when I was a teenager," recalls Noone today. "But I thought it was Nashville music! Then I got to Corpus Christi on one of our first tours of America, and I realized it was Texas music.
"When I got to Houston — and I don't remember if it was '64 or '65 — I wanted to meet Roy Head," Noone says of the "Treat Her Right" singer. "He was playing this little place, and it was probably the best show I'd seen in my life to that point. And I'd seen the Beatles and the Stones!"
"Then Roy took me to see B.J. Thomas and we went to these black clubs for days and days," he recalls. "It was quite amazing. There was a scene in Houston, just like Liverpool. And I could go anywhere because I had a cop. Brilliant!"
Herman's Hermits Starring Peter Noone perform at Stafford Centre (10505 Cash Rd., Stafford) on Friday, September 20. See staffordcentre.com for details.
Outside the Lines
With Bun B's help, a Houston Press writer becomes a coloring-book author.
If you've spent any kind of time on the Internet, chances are that something Shea Serrano has written, drawn or created has made you smile. The 32-year-old South Houston middle-school teacher writes and illustrates for several different outposts besides the Press, and over the last year has managed to catch fire online with side passion projects like Sex Questions from 7th Graders and Drake-ing Bad.
But the thing he's perhaps most proud of (and what could make him some actual money) is his collaboration with Houston/Port Arthur rapper Bun B of UGK. Bun B's Rap Coloring and Activity Book allows readers to play with images of their favorite rap greats and up-and-comers. Also games. And word puzzles. The book is a load of fun, and is sure to please rap nerds and crayon-wielding tykes alike. We hit up Serrano to see what makes his beautiful mind tick.
Rocks Off: How did the book come about?
Shea Serrano: Bun said he wanted to do a book, something fun and funny and smart because people never really get to see rappers acting that way, which, per him, is how a lot of them are in private. We met up and talked about different ideas. We'd considered doing this other book, a hip-hop survival of sorts, but never really pushed the idea into a good enough place. We spent maybe a year or so just thinking on it.
While coloring with my sons one day, I got bored, so I drew a couple of Houston rap guys. I posted them on Twitter and they got a nice response. I figured that if I could get Bun to agree to do a coloring book, we'd be in a good spot. He liked the idea immediately, so I downloaded Adobe Illustrator, spent a month or so learning how to get it to do what I wanted it to do, then started making pages.
RO: How did you first meet Bun?
SS: I write about music for a bunch of different places; if you write about music, you'll eventually end up interviewing Bun. He's that dude.
RO: Who is the target audience of the book? Do you think parents will buy it for their kids, or is it more geared as a novelty for rap nerds? Do you care either way?
SS: Man, it can go either way. I just want anyone to buy it; I don't care who. It's not built for kids; it's more for music fans. That said, we set it up so that if you wanted to give it to a kid, it'd mostly be okay. There aren't curse words or strippers or anything like that in there.
Bun B and Shea Serrano will sign copies of Bun B's Rap Coloring and Activity Book at 1 p.m. Saturday, September 20, at Cactus Music, 2110 Portsmouth. McManus, a former Press contributing writer in music and food, is now the music editor at the Village Voice in New York.
Ask Willie D
A reader wants help with her addiction to wearing makeup.
Dear Willie D:
I started wearing makeup when I was 12 years old and have been glopping the stuff on ever since. I started when I got my first five pimples, which came at the same time. I couldn't stand looking at them, so I covered my face with makeup to hide them. I couldn't walk out of the house without makeup. Later I wore makeup to look older so the older guys would like me. Now that I'm in my late thirties, I wear makeup to conceal the little, small imperfections of aging.
I hate having to rely on makeup. I can't count the times I've been late for events or almost had a wreck because I was applying it in my car while driving. I'm so used to wearing makeup that if I go to the Subway sandwich restaurant two minutes from my house, I have to have on lip gloss, eyeliner, foundation, the whole works. I'm sick of falling asleep with my makeup on and waking up to smeared pillowcases because I didn't want to spend the time taking off my makeup before I got into bed.
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For a long time I wore it because it made me feel confident. I'm over that stage now, but I still can't stop caking my face with that crap. My boyfriend has told me that I look better without makeup, but it's hard to change a habit that I've been living with for over 25 years. How do I end this messy addiction?
I would suggest that you start using less and less makeup each day. For example: You could stop wearing eyeliner. Then wait a few days and stop wearing lip gloss and so on. Some women and young girls like wearing makeup because to them it's a creative experience. If makeup is being used to hide scars or pimples, that's understandable, too. But using makeup as a security blanket is utterly unnecessary, especially when you're already smoking hot!
Ask Willie D appears Thursday mornings on Rocks Off.