If I were forced to choose a single favorite Houston musician, and no offense to all the others, I would pick Rusted Shut mastermind Don Walsh, easily. Rusted Shut has been a presence on the local scene for probably 25 years now, specializing in the kind of gruesomely loud and assaultive noise-rock that seems engineered to be as unpleasant to listen to as possible, and has no commercial aspirations whatsoever. Rusted Shut's most recent full-length, only the group's second, came out in 2009. It's called Dead.
Hey, some people get off on that stuff. There is a special kind of integrity that comes with simply not giving a damn. Probably in his mid-fifties now, Walsh is the sort of curmudgeonly character that every music scene needs, someone who keeps it honest and a little unpredictable. He used to call the Houston Press offices, usually on Friday afternoons, and we'd talk about everything and nothing for minutes on end. I wish he still did that.
I hadn't heard from Walsh for a while until earlier this week, when he sent me a Facebook message asking if I was going to see Zappa Plays Zappa -- the Frank Zappa tribute group led by Frank's son Dweezil and usually featuring several former Zappa sidemen -- at House of Blues this evening. It turns out, which in retrospect makes total sense, that Walsh is a massive Frank Zappa fan.
Staring in the mid-'70s through 1984 and once more in the late '80s, Walsh says he saw Zappa and the Mothers of Invention twice at Hofheinz Pavilion, the Joe's Garage tour at Sam Houston Coliseum and at the Summit in 1981. Walsh says he also traveled to Ausitn to see Zappa at the Armadillo World Headquarters in either 1978 or '79, "but that's a blur lol."
My quizzing Walsh on his Zappa memories (which he admits are hazy) turned into a two-day Facebook conversation he was kind enough to allow us to publish.
Rocks Off: What is it about Zappa that appealed to you?
Don Walsh: I quess that would be his amazing instrumental arrangements and his lyrical sarcasm. Dig that "Peaches en Regalia"!
RO: What were his concerts like?
DW: Just truly awesome. Buying that ticket a month before the show and then spend[ing] a month playing every record you had. Get to the concert with the anticipation, Frank any minute, and then you hear the guitar in the darkness of the stage and bam!!!. Just amazing, long shows with all the quirky stage dialogue. Awestruck events. You knew you had seen genius onstage.
RO: How old were you when you first saw him?
DW: I started going to concerts in '73 but i missed zappa when he came that year. I was 15 then, but didnt get to see frank until 1975. I was 17 then.
RO: How did your teenage brain process that stuff?
DW: I'd been listening to Zappa [and the] Mothers since '70, so it was well-seasoned by then.
I'd bike up to the local record store and the older hippie running the place was always playing strange wacked-out music. I'd say, "What the hell is that stuff?" He was playin freakout and absolutely free, etc. [An] older neighbor had a copy of that stuff and I borrowed them and put 'em on my turntable, or should I say the household turntable.
[My] parents kind of said, "What pray tell is that godawful music?" Haha. A year later or so got my own stereo and then began buying records from that hippie at Evolution Records.
I also had a real good friend my age that was real into strange, far-out music and we'd listen to that stuff after school let out. He turned me onto Anthem of the Sun aoxomoxoa, Can, Soft Machine. All that stuff sounds normal now, but back then... whoa!
RO: Where was Evolution Records?
DW: It was out on Memorial Drive around [the] West Belt.
RO: Are there any songs you're especially hoping to hear?
DW: Umm, let's see. "Trouble Every Day," "Willie the Pimp," "Brain Police," "Cosmic Debris," "Peaches en Regalia," "Let's Make the Water Turn Black," "Brown Shoes Don't Make It," and "Whippin' Post." That would be sufficient. Ha.
RO: Haha. Would you say Zappa had a big influence on your own musical endeavors?
DW: At the time of seeing him I didn't play guitar at all. I didn't start until '82, and it did involve playing crazy-ass noise and weird instrumentals, but nothing that sounded Zappaesque at all. Just a lot of hellacious avant-improv with friends.
RO: What about more... philosophically, shall we say?
DW: He was quite strict in what and how things were learned and performed. I didn't quite pick up any of those qualities when it comes to music playing.
Zappa Plays Zappa hits House of Blues, 1204 Caroline, tonight. Doors open at 7 p.m.