The Rocks Off 200: Alex LaRotta, Crate-Digging Fistful of Soul Brother
Welcome to The Rocks Off 200, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See previous entries in the Rocks Off 100 at this link.
Fistful of Soul's Alex LaRotta
Who? Until Neil DeGrasse Tyson invents the time machine, the rare wax and vintage threads on display each month at Midtown's monthly Fistful of Soul dance party are just about the best escape Houstonians have got back into the golden age of conked hair and skinny lapels. For nearly five years, Joe Ross and Stewart Anderson have been mixing choice cuts from their vast vinyl collections into the city's finest revue of classic funk, R&B and soul music on the third Friday of every month, starting at the Mink and now residing at the Big Top Lounge.
Alex LaRotta is the Fistful brotherhood's Johnny-come-lately, having joined forces with Ross and Stewart last year. He's hardly a newcomer to spinning hard-to-find 45s from the '60s and '70s, however, having amassed more than 5,000 records in his years-long quest to become one of Texas' top authorities on the stankiest tunes from that bygone era.
"I got into DJing from kind of a different angle," says LaRotta. "I bought turntables when I was 15, and at that time, I was really into hip-hop and hip-hop DJs. Through that, though, I got really into sampling and I was really trying to understand where that music was coming from.
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"I really liked kind of funky hip-hop tracks," he continues. "So I started going back from there and educating myself through vinyl. I kind of just find myself getting more and more rooted in that music."
Home Base: "Born and raised in Houston, where I currently reside," LaRotta says. "Most often I play at Big Top on Main.
"I started playing with Stewart and Joe, who are the two other DJs of Fistful of Soul, last summer," he adds. "Prior to that, I was living in San Antonio doing a kind of similar '60s soul party once a month. I knew Stuart and Joe through that, because we sort of networked there. When I moved back to Houston, I got to talking to them, and basically they invited me onboard to see if I wanted to join up with them."
Good War Story: "I would say one of my most memorable experiences was playing at Bogota Soul Club in Bogota, Colombia, in the summer of 2012," LaRotta says. "It was a pretty huge turnout, and everyone was dressed to the nines -- sharp crowd. This particular event was at this underground rock club in this seedy part of northern Bogota, in what used to be a male brothel -- there was a stripper pole in the middle of the dance floor.
"The booze kept flowing well into the late night, and people still wanted more by the time we were calling it quits," he continues. "It was so wild, because some people were dancing on the tables and chairs and just all-around frenzied--a riotous scene, really. A lot of good dancers, too."
Why Do You Stay in Houston? "I love it here," LaRotta says quickly. "My family is all here; and my wife, too, her family is all here. When I finished grad school, we wanted to come back here and be with our friends and family. We just have a lot of ties here, family ties.
"I really like being here, and I think there's so much going on," he adds. "It's really a first-class city. There's endless things to do here."
Story continues on the next page.
Fistful of Soul out back at Shoeshine Charlie's Big Top
Music Scene Pet Peeve: Unsurprisingly, LaRotta says his biggest music scene pet peeve is the DJ's age-old enemy: the dance-floor drunk.
"As a DJ, we're very much aware of what the people who come out are doing and trying to keep an eye on the agitators bringing everybody down," he says. "It's usually caused by the drunken buffoon that's coming up and asking us to play Miley Cyrus at a soul party. That's something that's actually happened to me.
"It's the annoying request guy, or the really drunken idiot that's stumbling all over the place and ruining everyone's time," LaRotta adds. "Those characters are probably the biggest pet peeve at the DJ nights we do."
Five Desert Island Discs:
• Kashmere Stage Band, But Still Burning
• Mickey and the Soul Generation, Iron Leg: The Complete Mickey and the Soul Generation
• Bobby Bland, Ain't Nothing You Can Do
• El Michels Affair, Sounding Out the City
• Funkadelic, Maggot Brain
Best Show Ever: Long before his soul fixation took hold, LaRotta says he caught the party-rocking bug permanently back in 2001, when he was playing his Kingwood High classmates' weekend blowouts.
"One of the first times I really got hooked into it was playing a high school at my friend's Halloween party," he recalls. "It was a really huge turnout, a really fun party. In my mind, it's one of the best high-school parties we'd ever had, just a killer party. I didn't have that many crazy records at that time; it was just kind of a simple selection. But I was playing a lot of fun stuff. "
First Song You Fell in Love With: "I got a lot of my music through my older brother when I was younger," LaRotta says. "He got me into a lot of stuff, and I owe him a lot for my DJ career now, because he exposed me to a lot of music.
"Probably one of the first songs that was N.W.A.'s 'Boyz in the Hood,' he adds. "God, man, I loved that one. It was just a really cool track, and we only had the tape, so we'd listen to that a lot. Man, I used to listen to a lot of hardcore rap when I was younger."
In addition to their regular Big Top gig next Friday, April 18, the Fistful dudes will be playing at Free Press Summer Festival for the first time in a few weeks. They've got a special show planned for later in the year as well.
"In September, have our five-year anniversary show, so we're going to do a big blowout for that," LaRotta says. "We've got a couple things kind of up our sleeves for that. We're going to do a live show at the Continental Club. We're booking a couple bands, and we're going to be doing a pretty big celebration for that one."
Fistful of Soul returns to Big Top Lounge on Friday, April 18, at 3714 Main.
See the rest of the Rocks Off 200, and the Rocks Off 100's 2013 alumni, on the next page.
Alycia Miles, Triumphant Soul Singer DJ Piam, Poison Girl's Bacon-Fat Funk Specialist Mister Insane, Host of The Insane Show Jake Rawls -- Kemo For Emo Is Back Santos Pastrana, Sound Engineer and DJ Ninja Heading Upstream with RIVERS' Chris Tamez DJ Dayta, Keeper of That Good Good Matthew Davis Buehrer, Runaway Sun's Globally Thinking Bassist Fat Tony, Third Ward to "BKNY" Noon, Rapper With a Lot on His Mind Matt Cash, Clear Lake's Cassette Tape Wailer Jason Smith, Alkari's Space City Rocker DJ Penetrate, All Lit Up in "Neon Lights" Catch Fever Is Catching On Renée Jonard, Princess of Noise Pollution Junior Gordon, Big Man With a Big Sound Chad Smalley, Blaggards' Barse Player Damien Randle, K-OTIX Man of Action Kevin Anthony, 45 Southbound Man DJ Good Grief Knows How to Have Fun Robert Kuhn, the Well-Traveled Islander Gunnar Cushway, Insko's Feel-Good Utilityman Mario Rodriguez, Tax the Wolf/Bang Bangz's Wonky Power Monger John Smith, Goodtime Continental Club Manager Dwayne Cathey, A Good Man to Scare People With Walter Carlos, Guitar-Punisher of Funeral Horse Ryan James, Putting Up a Good Fight John Cramer, Guitar Apostle of Project Grimm Big Gerb, Houston's Hongree-est MC Steven Higginbotham, Hard-Working Wheel Worker Alisha Pattillo & Her Swaggering, Soulful Sax Brandon Ray, Punk Rocker Turned Filmmaker/Animator The Excitable Boys of Another Run Flash Gordon Parks, DJ as Funky Professor DJ Main Event, Kratez Crew JumpOff Man Odd Hours and Back to Back's Hank Doyle Legendary K-OTIX Producer Russel "The ARE" Gonzalez Dylan Bryson Sings the Blues (Rock) DJ Damon Allen, R.O.C.O. Fellow Tom Lynch, New Kid On the Block Ashley Worhol, Goth-Metal Queen of Katy Joe Ortiz, Clockpole's Master of Nonsense Marzi Montazeri, the Man Dimebag Darrell Called a Bad Motherfucker John Salinas, the Beat Beast of Only Beast Homegrown Cowboy Crooner Charles Peters Adam Bricks, NYC Expat Metal Journeyman and Blasé Bassist Alan Hilton Kyra Noons, Houston's Reggae Sunsplash DJ AudiTory, the Maestro of LuvItMane The Nephilim Terror's Death-Metal Growler Danny Carroll Tommy Grindle, Guitarist of Square and Compass The Bailout Bureau's Mysterious "Bob Bovary" DJ Twinkle-Toes, Won a "Dick-Measuring Vinyl Orgy" With Two iPods Beanz N Kornbread, Gmail-Loving Production Duo You(genious), Party Crasher Turned Musical Auteur Daniel Alexander, Klein's Backyard MC
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