The Houston 100: From Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown to Texas Johnny Brown
30. “Okie Dokie Stomp,” Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, 1954. Blistering big band jump blues with Gatemouth’s trademark Texas swing…Some have declared that this instrumental should be the Texas National Anthem. Gatemouth was one of the very finest electric guitarists from the 1950s on, and here he dips and dodges between punches from a huge horn section like Barry Sanders jitterbugging through linebackers. Brown re-wrote the T-Bone Walker book on Texas blues and rock guitar.
29. “The Road Goes On Forever,” Robert Earl Keen, 1989. More Texans between 30 and 40 probably know all the words to this song than any other cut in the past 25 years. It’s the “Livin’ on a Prayer” of Texas.
28. “Telephone Road,” Rodney Crowell, 2000. Out of at least five songs about the eponymous East End boulevard of broken dreams, Crowell’s is the best. The centerpiece of his autobiographical album The Houston Kid evokes Houston with a vividness that has seldom been matched.
27. “Hit the Road, Jack,” Ray Charles, 1961. Brother Ray’s second number one single was penned by Houstonian Percy Mayfield (and recorded around the time that Charles was living here) and remains a favorite with fans of all ages. The song is also used to taunt opposing players at major sporting events, and Suzi Quatro, Buster Poindexter, the Residents and Basement Jaxx have all covered it.
26. “Release Me,” Esther Phillips, 1962. A transcendent cover of a classic country chestnut, Phillips’s version transforms even the most drab of surroundings into a glitterball-lit dancehall where two lovers share their last dance. Her anguished yet resigned voice seems to drift above the lavish arrangement like a cloud of smoke. A must.
25. “She’s About a Mover,” Sir Douglas Quintet, 1965. Yes, the ultimate Texas rock song was recorded in Houston. It would certainly rank in the top three Houston songs ever if it didn’t sound so quintessentially San Antonio.
24. “LA Freeway,” Guy Clark, 1975. A devastating kiss-off to L.A., Clark yearned for the “dirt-road backstreets” of Houston in this tune that was later recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker. Ironically, today the song could just as well be sung about all-grown-up Houston and our own notoriously clogged freeways and smog.
23. “Rock Awhile,” Goree Carter, 1949. Most rock scholars cite one of four records as being the first rock and roll song of all time: Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock,” Elvis Presley’s “That’s Alright Mama,” Wynonie Harris’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” and Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88,” the most oft-cited tune.
According to late New York Times pop critic and rock historian Robert Palmer, the correct answer is “E,” none of the above. To him, the strongest candidate was the 1949 song “Rock Awhile,” recorded in Houston by native Goree Carter.
"The clarion guitar intro differs hardly at all from some of the intros Chuck Berry would unleash on his own records after 1955; the guitar solo crackles through an overdriven amplifier; and the boogie-based rhythm charges right along,” Palmer writes in Rock and Roll: An Unruly History.
“The subject matter, too, is appropriate -- the record announces that it's time to 'rock awhile,' and then proceeds to show how it's done. To my way of thinking, Carter's 'Rock Awhile' is a much more appropriate candidate for 'first rock and roll record' than the more frequently cited 'Rocket '88'"
And here you thought rock and roll was from Memphis. It’s not your fault. Memphis actually treasures its history, especially that made by local musicians. Here, we just build another CVS on top of it.
22. “On My Block,” Scarface, 2002. Fast approaching the top 20 all-time, this piano-driven rap remembrance of a South Park childhood rivals Rodney Crowell’s “Telephone Road” as one of the most evocative Houston songs ever.
21. “Two Steps from the Blues,” Bobby “Blue” Bland, 1961 / Texas Johnny Brown, 1997. Yet another immaculate Joe Scott arrangement graces this, the title track off one of the finest albums to come from here. (Not to mention one of the best Houston album covers of all time.) Texas Johnny Brown, the song’s creator, released his own extended version on his great late-90’s album Nothin’ But the Truth .
And now..."The H-Town 20.”
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