For Houston's modern rock community, 2003 opened with some great news. At long last, after years of slamming the door on local acts, Clear Channel station the Buzz announced that it will let them on the airwaves. Their new show The Texas Buzz debuted on January 5. Finally, Houston rock bands have a home on the mainstream dial.
Hosted by Pam Kelly, the one-hour show airs every Sunday at 11 p.m. Only Texans need apply, says Kelly, and Houstonians will be highlighted. "We're playing bands from everywhere in Texas, and a lot of them will be the big guns, but I'm trying to make at least half of the show be unsigned local bands." (Submitted CDs or MP3s should be professionally recorded -- no demos, folks -- and sent to Kelly's attention at KTBZ, 3050 Post Oak, suite 1200, 77056. More detailed info regarding submissions is available at www.thebuzz.com.)
Already, Kelly has been deluged with CDs from airplay-starved bands. "We have so much material right now that we've barely gotten through a quarter of it," she says. And the task has not been made any easier by the mailbags full of CDs from bands who apparently don't know what the Buzz is all about. "I'm getting light pop and country records," she says. "Remember, we're the Buzz -- we're modern rock, not too hard, not too soft."
Kelly's method of determining the playlist harks back to radio's old days. "We're real scientific about what we play," she jokes. "I have a group of friends -- Buzz listeners of different age ranges -- and I say, 'Okay, I like this track. What do y'all think is the best track on this CD?' And that's basically how we come up with the playlist."
On the show's debut, Kelly spun songs by non-Houstonians Drowning Pool, Vallejo, Bowling for Soup, Spoon, Baboon, the Burden Brothers, Ben Kweller and Canvas, but also locals Simpleton, Faceplant, Secret Agent 8 and the Hunger.
The last two bands on that list send two clear messages. The inclusion of ska band SA8 shows that as long as a band rocks, it can make it on the air, no matter its subgenre. "We want to mix it up a little," says Kelly. "A little ska, a little punk, a little emo."
And Kelly selected the Hunger as the first local band to air on the show in a salute to their professionalism and drive. Sadly, the Hunger's hunger is a rare quality among Houston bands. It often seems that too many of them are more interested in acting like rock stars offstage than on. "We've had local bands on in the past, and they have these ridiculous demands on their riders," Kelly says, referring to the backstage goodies musicians get before and after shows. "They want the full rock star treatment more than the big guns want it. That's why the first local band we played was the Hunger. They're a great example of local success. They're always professional, and they always give their all on stage. I've seen so many local bands that will just kick ass one show, and you'll go see them a couple of weeks later and they're just totally slacking. Their manager's not there or something like that or they just don't care, and you're like, 'That's not the band I saw two weeks ago.' "
Though at times she's been discouraged, Kelly has never given up on the local scene. In fact, she wanted this show to be even more H-town-oriented than it is. "When I started it, I wanted it to be all local," she says. "I wanted to call it Local Motives, but that got nixed, and this is the compromise. But still they're being pretty cool at the Buzz. They're behind it and they want it to grow, so they're letting me run with it, and hopefully it will grow. They're not promising anything yet, but down the line, if I do my end of it well, they're promising some good support."
Anyone who has more than a passing interest in the local rock scene is familiar with the catch-22 that has dogged Houston bands for years. Kelly has heard it ad nauseam. "I've been floating around Houston radio for about 11 years. One of the things I always hear from local bands is that there's no [radio support] for local bands, and if they want to make it they have to go to Dallas or Austin. And that's true. And from the radio and industry side of it, I hear people say, 'Oh, there's not enough good music out there.' I don't think that's true -- I just think the support hasn't been there."
It's amazing how music that was perceived as not good enough for radio suddenly sounds much better when it actually makes it on the airwaves. The industry suits are full of it -- there has always been more than enough great music in this town for a show like this, and there still is. While The Texas Buzz is a huge step in the right direction, it badly needs both an extra hour and a better time slot. If enough of us tune in, it might get just that.
In other local radio news, Hot 97, the weakest of Houston's four hip-hop/R&B stations, dropped out of the race at noon on January 3 and became Country Legends 97.1. In what had to have been one of the most jarring transitions in the history of American radio, the station segued abruptly from songs by Jay-Z and Ja Rule to infraredneck David Allan Coe's "You Never Even Called Me By My Name."
While the station's classic country format is hardly groundbreaking, it's nice to have around, and it seems a good business decision by station owner Cox Communications. For one thing, die-hard KIKKers will have a new preset. For another, the station's programming and geographical audience will finally match up. The signal from 97.1's transmitter -- located way up the Eastex Freeway in Cleveland -- starts to fade south of Washington Avenue and gets downright weak around the South Loop. Huge swaths of African-American Houston -- Missouri City, South Park, Fondren Southwest -- couldn't tune in to Hot 97, but people as far north as College Station could pick it up loud and clear. Racket is betting fans of Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash outnumber those who like to bust out the Outkast and Khia CDs in places like The Woodlands, Magnolia, Cut and Shoot and Splendora.
Memorial services were held last weekend for two local musicians who died very different deaths. Jazz drummer Rick Porter passed away of natural causes at the end of a long and well-spent life. Folk singer Colleen Cade died young as the result of two teens' moronic New Year's Eve "prank."
Cade, 28, was driving home in the wee hours of New Year's Day after playing a gig at Anderson Fair with her father. On Loop 494 near New Caney her Pontiac Firebird smashed head-on into another car and burst into flames. Rescue workers were unable to cut her free of the wreckage in time. Betty Arnold Burleson, the 43-year-old driver of the car Cade hit, was also injured in the accident but is expected to recover.
The reason for the collision? Orange traffic cones had been moved to redirect southbound traffic into the northbound lane. Ten minutes before the 4:40 a.m. wreck, a witness saw two teenage boys fooling around with the cones. The witness told a policeman when she arrived at the convenience store where she worked, but he got there too late to stop the senseless tragedy.
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Cade often performed at Anderson Fair with her father, Bill Cade, and the duo recorded an album in 2001.
Rick Porter was a heavy cat, onstage and off. Over the course of his 57-year career, he drummed for giants like Charlie Parker, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Thelonious Monk, Ray Charles, Nancy Wilson, Lester Young, Bud Powell, Chet Baker, George Benson and Sonny Stitt. And some of his more than 1,000 compositions were recorded by Cannonball Adderley, Slide Hampton and Frank Foster. In the 1950s, he often played with Vinson and other Houston jazz monsters such as Kenny Burrell, Arnett Cobb and Milt Larkin.
Somehow, he also found the time to be a war hero -- he earned a Purple Heart as a paratrooper in Korea -- and an expert on corporate psychology, a field that occupied much of the last 26 years of his life.
Porter's widow and his many friends and fans gathered Sunday, January 12, at Cezanne for a memorial jam session.