Uncertain Justice... It's hard to know what's in the stars for Houston's once-mighty Justice Records these days -- what with all the rumors of stormy major-label courtships and deals falling through. Needless to say, it's not looking good: Label A&R activity is at a virtual standstill, and the long-awaited sophomore release from Justice golden child Jesse Dayton is on indefinite hold.
For his part, Justice head Randall Jamail hasn't been doing much to alleviate the more negative gossip, remaining tight-lipped on the fate of the label for well over a year. And if his sullen acceptance speech for the Label of the Year award at the '98 Press Music Awards ceremony is any indication, Jamail is as frustrated as the rest of us. After all, he originally got into this thing for the love of it, and there's not much to love about layoffs and artist discontent.
But now, after a few weeks' chill time in Colorado with his family, Justice's embattled honcho is finally offering some details -- and the emphasis is on some.
"There was a company that we thought was going to end up being [the one] we were going to work with; but then another company jumped in at the last minute," says Jamail, confirming that negotiations with the majors are still very much alive. "So we slowed down. A number of scenarios have come up, one of which is: Will every artist be a part of the situation? And I've been trying to prepare each of my artists for everything that could happen. I've got to spend my time in a positive way, trying to facilitate what's best for everybody. I can't spend my time out in the streets going, 'We're not going under, we're not going under.' That would clearly signal the kiss of death."
Jamail's first order of business is finding Dayton a new home, so that his upcoming album (working title: Wayward Soul), which has been ready to go for months, can be released sometime before the next millennium. Cutting loose one of Texas's premier C&W talents -- who may well be on the cusp of stardom -- hardly bodes well for Justice's longevity. But Jamail says he has only the best interests of his friend in mind. "It's my belief -- and has been now for a while -- that Jesse's record is going to come out on a major, with Justice as an imprint," he says.
As for the fate of Justice's other Houston mainstay, hippie-blues diva Carolyn Wonderland, Jamail is not about to let her and the Imperial Monkeys twist in the wind. "Our plan is to move forward with a new record. They're ready to take their thing to a new level," he says.
But Jamail is concerned about how Wonderland's unrefined bar-rock stance might work in the corporate arena if and when a deal is struck -- especially in light of the proven records of legendary Justice old-timers like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings and Ray Price: "Any time you're talking about a big major label, the younger artists on the roster are always going to have the hardest time breaking in. If I feel like the people I'm talking to are not going to get behind Carolyn, I have no problem cutting her out and finding a new deal."
Even so, the more Jamail yammers on about devotion to his artists, the more it becomes apparent that he'd like to take Justice off his hands -- no matter what the arrangement. "I'll be honest with you, there is a scenario that could take place where the whole label gets absorbed," he says. "Frankly, I'm trying to get myself in a position to get back to what I want to do, which is produce records."
Or it could be that Jamail is simply looking to avoid another uncomfortable Music Awards appearance?
They're baaack... So much for fond farewells: The Jinkies, Houston's loneliest garage-popsters, are reassembling for a one-time reunion gig at Rudz! Sunday. Now living in New York, leader Carlos DeLeon is returning to Houston for a few days to pick up some personal belongings. So what the hey? How 'bout a show? Back in the Big Apple, DeLeon is working for a company that produces syndicated radio shows. Not very rock and roll, really.
And while he is playing the occasional solo acoustic gig on the side, "I kinda miss having musical excursions locking up my weekends," DeLeon confesses via e-mail from the East Coast, adding, "Doesn't a certain amount of time have to elapse before calling something 'a reunion' -- ten years or something?"
Whatever, it's a reason to get out of the house.
-- Hobart Rowland
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