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The Rocks Off 200: Roby Deaton, Open-Mike Pocket of Cool

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.

Roby Deaton
Roby Deaton
Photo by Kristy Rogers/ Courtesy of Roby Deaton

Who? There's a lot of music talent in Houston, and a bunch of it frequents our city's numerous open-mike nights. When you're the guy who stands out from the others at any of these gatherings, it's a bit of a badge of honor. That's a badge that's been shined up and handed over to Roby Deaton by many who have caught his act.

Deaton was born in Louisiana and, at age three, underwent heart surgery. Two years later he was plunking at a piano and learning what his heart really belonged to.

"I started piano at five and taught myself guitar as a teenager, then learned violin as an adult," he says. "I did a five-year stint in the Air Force and moved to Houston in 1991 to pursue music."

Initially, Deaton teamed with CINEMA. He played keys for the local prog-rockers, whose biggest gig may have been opening for Dream Theater in 1993 at the Tower Theater. A year later, Deaton started his solo career, and 20 years into it has now released five albums. Pockets of Cool, his most recent, came out in April.

The all-instrumental album features Deaton playing "fingerstyle" guitar, which our friends Wikipedia say is "plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails or picks attached to fingers, as opposed to flatpicking." I saw Deaton doing this at an Avant Garden and was mesmerized -- the whole time I was imagining Rodrigo y Gabriela, if they'd grown up on Emily Remler or Alex Lifeson instead of Metallica. At the time, Deaton was practicing for the Canadian Guitar Festival.

"Four years ago, I came across Andy McKee and the percussive fingerstyle genre of guitar," Deaton explains. "I had the pleasure of taking lessons from masters of the style, Antoine Dufour, Erik Mongrain, Jon Gomm and Michael Dawes. When I participated in the 2013 Canadian Guitar Festival in Kingston Ontario, I used that inspiration to write the material for the new CD. My goal for competing in the festival was to write enough new tunes for a CD."

Mission accomplished. The new album features nine original tunes and a groovy cover of Nik Kershaw's "Wouldn't It Be Good."

Home Base: "I perform regularly at Ben's Beans," says Deaton. "I love playing Houston's local open-mike nights,"

Music is Deaton's day job, too. He's taught piano and violin at H&H Music and now teaches every day of the week at Tempo School of Music.

Good War Story: "While performing in Dallas with CINEMA, we were told by the hotel we were staying at to never come back," he recalls. "It seems there was some streaking and skinny-dipping that resulted in having the police called. After that weekend no out-of-town bands were allowed to stay there anymore."

Why Do You Stay In Houston? "Houston has such a diverse culture. Those influences show up in my music," he says. "As a teacher I have the pleasure of teaching and learning music from other parts of the world."

Story continues on the next page.

 

The Rocks Off 200: Roby Deaton, Open-Mike Pocket of Cool
Photo by Arjun Beleva/Courtesy of Roby Deaton

Music Scene Pet Peeve: "Houston is so large that the local music scene is spread out too thin in such a wide area," offers Deaton. "I wish all live music venues were centralized to create a strong music scene, such as Sixth Street in Austin."

Five Desert Island Discs:

Emerson, Lake & Palmer, "Welcome Back My Friends..."

Kansas, "Point of Know Return"

Michael Hedges, "Aerial Boundaries"

Rush, "Power Windows"

Antoine Dufour, "Existence"

Best Concert You Ever Saw: "Emerson, Lake and Palmer, 1992 at the Woodlands Mitchell Pavilion," Deaton says. "After the show I had passes to get me, my son and mom backstage to meet my idols."

First Song You Fell In Love With: "Tarkus," Emerson, Lake & Palmer -- "As a young musician, I was tiring of playing classical music and wanted a challenge that appealed to me," he says. "I heard 'Tarkus' and thought, 'Wow! This is what I want to do when I grow up.'"

First Guitar Song You Fell In Love With: "Tractor Pull," Preston Reed -- "When I heard that it changed the way I thought about playing guitar," Deaton notes. "This song is like playing piano on the guitar."

See the rest of the Rocks Off 200, and the Rocks Off 100's 2013 alumni, on the next page.

  THE ROCKS OFF 200

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Tony Vega, the Big Easy's Barnburner Leslie Krafka, Onward Through the Fog Michael Anthony Shanks, Houston's Merry Shankster DJ Baby Roo, Vegetarian Hip-Hop Veteran Rachel Bays, Filming Them Softly Punk-Rock "Newcomers" Screech of Death Erin Rodgers, the Keys to Glass the Sky Alex LaRotta, Crate-Digging Fistful of Soul Brother 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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