The Houston Music Hall of Fame's Class of 2015 is largely composed of performers whose chosen style is not altogether fashionable with today's mainstream audiences, although one of them had a No. 1 Billboard album as recently as last year. In a way, that's exactly why we created the Hall: to celebrate longtime performers whose vintage work holds up over time, but who have also continued to nurture their talents into the present. Therefore the Houston Press is proud to induct the following three artists (and one artist-nurturing couple) into the Houston Music Hall of Fame. Three more will follow in a separate article later this morning.
RUSTY & TERESA ANDREWS
Obamacare may have its critics, but not at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck. A couple of years ago, the owners of the small singer-songwriter club near 59 and Kirby signed up for the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), a part of the Affordable Care Act that allowed the bar to offer health insurance to their employees by shouldering more than half of the cost of the premiums. After a quarter-century of treating their staff like family, the ACA presented Rusty and Theresa Andrews a chance to prove it.
“To me, the best part of it is knowing that the kids who work here are insured,” Rusty said in an interview with the Department of Health and Human Services this past January "They feel good about it; we feel good about it.”
After Rusty managed the Churchill Pub above the Red Lion Restaurant on South Main, where the first happy-hour act was the brother of one of their son’s teachers, the Andrews officially opened the Mucky Duck on June 1, 1990. On opening night, the club was packed with fans who came to see a trio of musicians who have since played the Duck’s many, many times — Shake Russell, Jack Saunders and Dana Cooper, who donated their evening's earnings to the couple as a kind of seed money. Countless musicians have followed, from future superstars the Dixie Chicks to the local musicians who take part in the weekly open-mike night and Irish Jam nights. Periodic visitor Lyle Lovett once showed up to see Terry Allen and Guy Clark, who quickly called him to the stage. Today the walls are lined with framed photos of proud Duck alumni, many bearing a fond inscription to the Andrews.
“We hold a unique place in the Houston music scene,” Rusty said in Houston History magazine’s Fall 2007 issue. “We are not hot and trendy. We never have been. We are as comfortable as an old shoe, and this may just be our strength.”
BENJAMIN J. BUTLER II
Even among the famously flamboyant ranks of marching bands at historically black universities, Texas Southern's “Ocean of Soul” is special. Anchored by the super-size drum line known as the “Funk Train,” the Ocean has swept through endless parades, homecomings, battles of the bands, and even halftime at Super Bowl XXXVIII (although Janet Jackson's nipple stole the show) to stand as one of Houston's most exciting and enduring musical institutions.
TSU's music department has produced a long list of players who have gone on to great things, among them jazz/funk legend Joe Sample; Conrad O. “Prof” Johnson, longtime director of the mighty Kashmere High School Stage Band; Grammy-winning saxophonist Kirk Whalum; jazz flautist Bobbi Humphrey, a star in the “smooth jazz” world since the 1970s; and B.B. King's longtime bandleader, trumpeter James “Boogaloo” Bolden. Many of them, including the Ocean's current director Richard F. Lee (“The General”), were taught by Benjamin J. Butler II.
Before Butler took over in the summer of 1969, the marching bands from opposing schools would sometimes laugh at TSU's band during halftime. But in October of that year, the Ocean inspired a standing ovation from the Rice Stadium crowd of 15,000 fans at the game between TSU and Tennessee State, Butler's previous school. Jet magazine remarked that “few [in the crowd] knew that Butler built the bands from 60 members to 125 strong and the sound from mediocre to its present fantastic level.”
Butler went on to guide the Ocean of Soul through more than two decades of halftimes, bowl games, competitions, trips abroad and performances in the Astrodome, earning the Ocean an international reputation for peerless showmanship and style. Today he remains an Associate Professor of Fine Arts at TSU, where he works with woodwind players; he also leads the Gulf Coast Concert Band, which is about to start its fall season. Thanks to the generosity of TSU alum Michael Strahan and actor/comedian Kevin Hart (who was made an honorary band member), last year the Ocean traveled to Canton, Ohio to perform at Strahan's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Butler himself was inducted (alongside former student Lee) into the Ocean of Soul's Hall of Fame in 2013. At the time, he told a TSU video crew that he had received many honors and awards over the years, but kept only one in his office: a photo, taken in the Astrodome, of another marching band on the field spelling out the letters “B-E-N.”
Also known as “The Houston Kid,” Rodney Crowell is acutely aware of just how far it is from the hard-luck streets of Jacinto City and Galena Park to the height of his profession. The singer, author and songwriter's songwriter grew up ducking an alcoholic musician dad who hauled his son (who often backed him on drums) into some of the roughest honky-tonks Telephone Road had to offer. Crowell moved to Nashville in the early '70s, falling in with other expatriate Texans who were interested in exploring country music's metaphysical side – people like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle. He also wasn't a half-bad guitarist, spending several years playing rhythm in Emmylou Harris' Hot Band.
Then he hit the big time. Although he had been placing his own songs into the lower regions of the country charts since the early '80s – often while other artists' covers of the same songs reached much higher – Crowell's 1988 album Diamonds & Dirt set a record that still stands when five different songs reached No. 1. But Nashville was changing as yee-hawing “hat acts” were on the rise; although Crowell's songs continued charting well into the 2000s, his commercial profile retreated as he slowly came to be seen as a sort of honky-tonk philosopher-poet. How much, if anything, he actually changed about himself is up for debate.
Either way, Crowell definitively unveiled this new persona on 2001's The Houston Kid, an album he expanded on in book form a decade later in the memoir Chinaberry Sidewalks. Subsequent releases like Fate's Right Hand and Sex & Gasoline saw him climbing Nashville's newfound Americana hierarchy further and further, until last year he and old friend Emmylou Harris won the Americana Music Association's Album of the Year award for 2013's Old Yellow Moon. Rodney Crowell is back on top.
The name Hopkins goes a long way in the blues world, but Milton Hopkins quickly realized he preferred the more textured, sophisticated sounds offered by the electric guitar over much older cousin Lightnin’s bare-bones country-blues style. In the early 1950s, the Fifth Ward native’s talents were noticed by Little Richard, who recruited him for a group called the Tempo Toppers, also featuring saxophone great Grady Gaines (a 2014 Hall of Famer). Hopkins also worked a staff musician at storied Houston R&B label Peacock Records, where he worked alongside his hero "Gatemouth" Brown and joined the touring bands for "Big Mama" Thornton and Johnny Ace. He was there when Ace accidentally shot himself backstage at Houston’s old City Auditorium on Christmas night 1954.
“Blues is the only thing I ever had any success with, right on down to today,” the soft-spoken, gentlemanly Hopkins says in Dr. Roger Wood’s 2003 book Down In Houston: Bayou City Blues. “That guitar hanging up on my daddy’s back porch — which he didn’t want me to touch — was my only way.”
Hopkins spent most of the 1970s on the road as the rhythm guitarist for B.B. King, whom he later called “the most gracious, kindest, caring individual you would ever want to be around.” In the early ’80s he started a Sunday-night jam session at Third Ward club Etta’s Lounge that for many years was one of Houston’s best places to see live blues; although Hopkins handed over the reins to Grady Gaines (a 2014 Hall of Fame inductee) after a few years, it stayed that way at least through the publication of Wood’s book some 20 years later.
To date, Hopkins’ eponymous 2012 album with another Houston blues treasure, 2013 Hall of Famer Jewel Brown, is one of the best-reviewed local albums of this decade. Even into his eighties, the guitarist maintains an active schedule, and will soon appear at a special “All-Star Blues Revue” October 15 at Discovery Green alongside Brown, Steve Krase and Trudy Lynn.
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Our Hall of Famers will be honored at the 2015 Houston Press Music Awards, this Thursday at Warehouse Live. See here for ticket availability.