Houston Legacy: Lomax On Lomax Comes To Houston

The Lomax family is widely regarded as music history and folklorist royalty. Their work goes back four generations beginning with John Avery Lomax who recorded and pushed for the inclusion of traditional cowboy songs and in particular the contributions from African Americans to folk music.

Lomax’s children John Jr, Alan and Bess went on to do their part in recording and preserving folk music from around the world and contributing to countless publications, liner notes and books their entire lives.

His grandson, John Lomax III is doing his part to continue the tradition of his grandfather and father before him with his one man show Lomax on Lomax. Lomax will be performing at The Mucky Duck on Tuesday, May 2 and in Galveston’s Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe on Sunday, May 14 during his special Texas Tour.

“No one has actually sat down and done what I'm trying to do with the show, to show the whole family not just Alan, Bess or my grandfather or my dad, but to roll it all up into one huge accomplishment and add it all together that's what I set out to do really,” says Lomax III.

“My grandfather started giving these lecture performances in 1923 so we are a hundred years off. I just thought it's time to do this before it's too late because I'm 78 now.”

Lomax III focused on performing songs a cappella and telling his family’s story in chronological order beginning with his grandfather’s interest and push for traditional cowboy songs. He moves through the years of the family’s history, forever woven with music history, towards the songs of Lead Belly and the recordings done by his aunt Bess and uncle Alan all while telling stories and singing songs with a visual presentation to complement it.

(He'll be dedicating his show to his son John Nova Lomax a well known Houston journalist who formerly worked for several Texas publications including the Houston Press and is now hospitalized in the ICU after significant health problems. He has a gofundme page to assist in his recovery.)

“The pattern is structured but not written out so there is a degree of spontaneity between songs and yacking. I’ll usually do several songs in between yacking at people,” says Lomax III who through this process learned that it was his uncle Alan who first recorded the song “Sloop John B” made famous by The Beach Boys but originally written in the Bahamas in 1935.

The original Lomax led an impressive life and his love and dedication to folk music was passed on to his children. Lomax spent his life traveling around the country discovering the roots of folk music and preserving the recordings of songs, discovering Lead Belly in the process.

Lomax Jr. co-founded the still active Houston Folklore & Music Society where he performed traditional songs with no accompanying instrumentation only at times hitting a stump with an axe to Lead Belly’s “Take This Hammer.”

Lomax III, encouraged by a friend in the music industry, began performing at house concerts in Nashville. Just last year he, like his father before him, had his first “professional” performance at Rice University in the Fondren Library organized by the Houston Folk Archive.

“I did an hour and a half and it was a lot of work to learn the songs, especially since I have no background as a singer, but it went over and people liked it. I got through it without major trauma and without missing huge chunks of songs so I thought let's give it a whirl.”

Though Lomax III has lived in Nashville for over 50 years now, it was Houston that served as his home in his youth, graduating from Lamar High School before heading to the University of Texas. The entire legacy of the family has deep roots in the city.

“I’m trying to draw people's attention to it,” he says. “And it also makes me feel closer to my dad and mother who have been gone for 50 years. Listening to my dad sing and singing along with him, it's almost like he's in the room with me and I feel like there's some sort of spiritual thing helping me to do this,” he says crediting this as the strength behind him just belting it out with no fear and no one “throwing rotten fruit” at him.

"Listening to my dad sing and singing along with him, it's almost like he's in the room with me and I feel like there's some sort of spiritual thing helping me to do this.”

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During his time in Houston, Lomax III worked for the underground paper Space City! while working at the Downtown Library. He went on to manage Houston prides of the songwriting community, Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle before launching his own music distribution company which focuses on providing hard to find music to buyers outside of the United States, a business which he admits has been crushed by streaming.

For his return to Texas, Lomax III is adding some special material to his set list to incorporate the special songs on his repertoire that have Texas connections. It would be a safe guess to think that selecting which songs to include would be a great challenge but for Lomax III, it’s weeding them out that is the hardest part.

“You really start to develop a relationship with these songs and I've got way more than I can actually do in a set so things get left on the sidelines and I hate that but I can only do so many.”

His relationship to these songs not only comes from his personal, family ties but the countless hours that he has spent practicing and focusing on his singing, a newer skill and one he is happy to feel is improving with time and effort all while being living proof of what his family has chased in music for so long, the emotion behind the words.

“I just think, learn the words, do the best you can with the singing and put some passion in it because I feel the passion. I emphasize certain lines that I feel are very important and make sure people can see that I'm feeling this and try to transfer the emotion of the song to them.”

John Lomax III will perform Lomax On Lomax on Tuesday, May 2 at The Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 7 p.m, $120-30 and on Sunday, May 14 at The Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe, 413 20th Street, 2:30pm, $20.