The Clash In Houston, 1979: A Case of Legionaire's Disease
The Clash and Joe Ely (center) in Houston
Photos courtesy of Andy Abbott
By the time The Clash hit Houston's Cullen Theater on October 5, 1979, Lester Bangs had described their tour-de-force as "desperation uncontrived, unstaged, a fury unleashed on the stage ... real pain that connects with the nerves of the audience."
Yet Texans had already been enthralled by the Sex Pistols' tumultuous Southern jaunt in 1978. Though the Clash, also a legacy band from punk year zero, were dubbed "The Only Band That Matters" by their record company, Houstonians were a bit more discerning, it seems.
The London band found itself paired with Legionaire's Disease Band (also known as Legionaires Disease), likely the most notorious band in the Bayou City. By some accounts, the local firebrands stole the show, especially since the Clash seemed inebriated and off-kilter, as argues Torry Mercer of Anarchitex. Jerry Anomie, singer of Legionaires, still doesn't buy into the Clash mystique overall. On Facebook, he characterized guitarist/singer Mick Jones and bass player/singer Paul Simonon as "sissies" and "pussy assed." Some backstory is necessary.
Legionaires readily accepted the $350 guarantee and grabbed an extra $200 to make and distribute flyers made by Byron C. Haynes. On the red handbills, Legionares were depicted in large print as the headliner.
Only around 150 tickets had been sold when Legionaires signed up, so the aim was to get 900 people to the auditorium. Part of the deal included local radio play for the ribald openers, whose music was then rotated by D.J. Crash on K101. Ultimately, an estimated 1,000 people witnessed the rendezvous, ultimately cementing the date in Texas punk lore.
The Clash arrived late to the venue, so only opener Joe Ely and the headliners could test the room's sound system. Jones sauntered up in a derby hat, like a rock star incarnate, according to Anomie. He also glared at the Houston punk icon after Anomie complimented his "fashion" choice. Both Simonom and Jones later matched that glare after the show.
Neither seemed to appreciate Anomie flashing "his cock around like a lasso roping a redneck," after his duct-taped clothes came apart, which became part of the pre-Clash spectacle that night. Or perhaps they were chagrined by the swastika and "LSD" graffiti on Anomie's chest.
Post-gig, Anomie taunted the pair, "Where's your hat [Mick]? ... You should wear that hat cause when you hit this town that's all you had going for ya." Simonom retorted, "You ain't seen shit man, you don't know nothing!" The brash Anomie upped the ante: "Show me something, motherfucker." The two Clash simply departed.
The notorious Legionaire's Disease Band
Joe Ely, who met the Clash in 1978 at the Venue Club in England, was next on the bill. He too donned a hat, plus blue jeans tucked into cowboy boots. In 1980, he would warm up for The Clash in England at The Electric Ballroom and Hammersmith Odeon, but for now he joined them on stage for tunes like "Fingernails."
Most famously, he later recorded the landmark "Should I Stay or Should I Go" with the band in 1981. Yet, for subculture rockers trying to squeeze all the vitriol from punk music in 1979, his rural West Texas country was too much to bear. In fact, Strummer chastised the audience for their dereliction of duty: they seemed to lack respect for honest music in a dishonest time.
Some fans, though, still bristle and slag Strummer's lecture as "weak." Equally weak, it seems, was the PA at Cullen Auditorium, which, according to the likes of Stew Cannon of local renegades AK-47, caused a disastrous sound, .
More on The Clash's Texas two-step Thursday.
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