Another Day of the Dead is upon us, and it would seem to offer us the chance at creating a unique intercultural Houston tradition.
Mexicans and Mexican-Americans use Day of the Dead as an opportunity to tend the graves of their ancestors and loved ones and honor their memories. Blind Lemon Jefferson, the legendary Dallas blues singer whose image graces the state-authorized "Enjoy Texas Music" license plate, once asked the world to "See that My Grave Is Kept Clean."
So here's what we should do in Houston: Turn Day of the Dead into a memorial festival for Houston musicians. By day, we could listen to their recordings, visit and decorate their graves and make sure they are being kept clean. By night, we could have tribute shows in the clubs, which in turn should get with the program by having artists build shrines to the honorees.
In keeping with the spirit of the real Día de Los Muertos, it would not be a day of sadness, but one of rejoicing. Hell, people have been saying our scene is dead for years. Let's show them that no scene can get any deader, by being fucking alive!
And on top of that, as this city fills up with more and more branch banks, nail salons, condos, drugstores, cell-phone storefronts and other such mundane crud, we badly need some weird pagan ritual.
There's heaps of cash for a lot of different people in this. Liquor stores, florists, nightclubs, artists, bakeries, candle-makers and many more merchants and craftsmen are in for a big payday if we make this thing into a reality.
To kick-start the festivities, I've tracked down the gravesites and/or death sites of a bunch of Houston and southeast Texas musicians, sorted by cemetery.
I'll see you at one or two of them next Friday.
(If you know of a musician you would like to see included, write me and I will put it in the blog. All sites should be within 100 miles of Houston.)
516 Pacific St., Houston
Site of the 1978 murder of former 13th Floor Elevator guitarist Stacy Sutherland. After the Elevators' dissolution, Sutherland moved to Houston, formed a band called Ice and became addicted to heroin. He was shot and killed by his wife in this house.
10400 South Dr., Houston (Near Beltway 8 and Bissonnet)
Site of Fat Pat's murder in 1998 (see below).
8100 Commerce Park (near Beechnut and Gessner)
DJ Screw's recording studio, where he was found dead one morning in November 2000.
Site of Big Hawk's murder last year (see below).
Paradise South Cemetery/Houston Memorial Gardens, 16000 Cullen, Pearland
Bobby Byrd: James Brown sideman and leader of the Famous Flames who sang along with the Godfather on "Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved" and "Licking Stick — Licking Stick," "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine" and other songs. Byrd's family got Brown sprung from juvenile detention in Augusta, Georgia, and the rest is history. (Byrd's widow, Vicki Anderson, is a Houstonian; he is interred on her family's plot.)
Patrick "Fat Pat" Hawkins: Screwed Up Click rapper murdered in 1998, just when his song "Tops Drop" was about to become a huge hit. "Tops Drop" was recently named in the Press's Houston 100 list as one of the finest songs ever to come from Houston.
John "Big Hawk" Hawkins: Screwed Up Click rapper and brother of Fat Pat, eerily slain eight years later just as "Swang," a hit featuring his vocals, was climbing in the charts. Still more spookily, the song was a tribute to Fat Pat.
Kenneth Moore, a.k.a. Big Moe: Hefty Screwed Up Click rap-singer who helped put screwed and chopped music on the map with songs like "Purple Stuff."
Jimmy "T-99" Nelson: A singer in the mold of Big Joe Turner and a songwriter in the mold of no one else, Nelson passed away earlier this year at age 88.
Arnett Cobb: Jazz, blues, R&B and jump-blues sax master; was known along with Illinois Jacquet, Tom Archia, Herschel Evans and Booker Ervin as one of the "Texas Tenors." Toured with Lionel Hampton in the early 1940s; his and Jacquet's wild sax work on "Flyin' Home #2" is cited by some authorities as the first example of recorded rock and roll music.
Johnny "Clyde" Copeland: Fiery guitarist and powerhouse singer whose sanctified vocals and natty suits earned him the nickname "The Preacher of the Blues." Won a Grammy in 1986 for the Albert Collins/Robert Cray collaborative album Showdown!; often toured Africa in later years.
Brookside Memorial Park, 13401 EastTex Fwy. (Lauder exit), Houston
Therman "Sonny" Fisher: Rockabilly artist whose songs included "Sneaky Pete," "Rockin' Daddy," "Pink and Black" and "Rockin' and a' Rollin'." Enjoyed a comeback in the British/European rockabilly revival of the early 1980s.
Forest Park Cemetery, 6900 Lawndale, Houston
Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins Needs no introduction. Plot: Section 23 (Lawn View), Lot 266, Space 11.
Billy Bizor: Hopkins's favorite harmonica player is likewise buried at Forest Park.
Ted Daffan: This pioneering honky-tonker played steel guitar and scored big hits with compositions like "Born to Lose" and "No Letter Today." Another of his songs, "Truck Driver's Blues," was a hit for Cliff Bruner's Texas Wandererers and is generally credited as the first trucker anthem. Plot: Section 20, Lot 244, Space 6.
Pappy Daily: Record executive who signed George Jones, Roger Miller, the Big Bopper, Jimmy Dean and Hank Locklin; also instrumental in the early careers of George Strait and Willie Nelson. His Glad Music publishing company still controls the rights to "The Party's Over," "White Lightnin'," "She Thinks I Still Care," "Night Life" and "Chantilly Lace." Sons Bud and Don Daily opened Cactus Music and Video in 1975.
Forest Park Westheimer
Kevin "Dino" Conner: H-Town singer of "Knockin' Da Boots" fame.
Michael Stephen Knust: Lead guitarist in psychedelic rock band Fever Tree, who scored a national hit with "San Francisco Girls" in 1968.
Forest Park East, 21620 Gulf Fwy., Webster
Katie Webster: Blues/boogie-woogie pianist and Alligator recording artist; passed away in 1999.
Veterans Memorial Cemetery, 10410 Veterans Memorial Dr.
Amos Milburn: Rollicking piano-pounder, played R&B/jump blues and pioneered rock and roll. Had a string of hits, often with lyrics about drinking liquor, such as "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" and "Vicious, Vicious Vodka." Plot: Section A, Grave 1271.
Rosewood Funeral Home and Cemetery, Rankin and Old Humble Rd., near Humble
Floyd Tillman: Country Music Hall of Famer and superstar of the late '40s. Pioneer of the electric guitar, and author of the first cheatin' song to hit big (1949's "Slipping Around"). Also scored big with "Drivin' Nails in My Coffin" and "I Love You So Much It Hurts." A huge influence on Willie Nelson, and likely the most important country music figure to have spent his life here.
Earthman Resthaven Cemetery, 13102 North Fwy.
Weldon "Juke Boy" Bonner: Blues poet who married a rapper's sensibility to a Jimmie Reed-style, harmonica-guitar, one-man-band beat. Sang explicitly about ghetto conditions in songs like "Stay Off Lyons Avenue," "Life Is a Nightmare" and "Struggle Here in Houston"; tunes like these are similar lyrically to those of the Geto Boys 15 years after Bonner's heyday. Died of cirrhosis in 1978.
Paradise North Cemetery, 9235 W. Montgomery
Don Robey: Duke/Peacock Records owner-operator who brought the music of Bobby "Blue" Bland, Junior Parker, Roy Head and many others to the world.
Suburban Houston and beyond
Longstreet Cemetery, Richards (Grimes County, at the intersection of FM 1486 and FM 149, about 30 miles north of Magnolia)
Alger "Texas" Alexander: A bellowing blues singer and running buddy/cousin of Lightnin' Hopkins, who also traveled the Depression-era southlands with Lowell Fulson and recorded with Lonnie Johnson, King Oliver and the Mississippi Sheiks. In 1928, he recorded "Rising Sun," the first version of the song later made famous by the Animals as "House of the Rising Sun." Folklorist Mack McCormick once said of Alexander that his "rough blues shouts" and "field hollers" represented "the "purest form of the blues tradition." Died in 1954, reportedly of syphilis.
Oakland Cemetery, North 6th St., Navasota
Mance Lipscomb: Farmer, amazingly accomplished guitarist, and "songster," whose varied repertoire included blues and also folk ballads, rags, reels, sacred songs and children's music. Went undiscovered until the folk revival of the 1960s, when he was in his mid-sixties, but then became a popular act on the hippie-rock circuit and star of Les Blank's documentary A Well-Spent Life.
Joe Tex: Soul singer, lightly tinged by country and steeped in gospel, best known for "Show Me," "Hold What You've Got," "Skinny Legs and All" and "I Gotcha." Also had a disco hit with novelty record "Ain't Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)." Changed name to Joseph Hazziez, reflecting conversion to Muslim faith.
Hollywood Cemetery, Simmons Dr. at West Curtis Ave., Orange
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Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown: The musical embodiment of east Texas and southwest Louisiana died here, in his boyhood hometown, shortly after Hurricane Katrina.
Forest Lawn Memorial Park, 4955 Pine St., Beaumont
J.P. Richardson, a.k.a. "The Big Bopper": "Chantilly Lace" singer who died in plane crash with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. Plot: First burial plot-Lily Pool Garden, Block C, Lot 31, Space 3.