50 Houston Music People We Love

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In a town clouded by endless distractions, where local music too often feels like a footnote, making people care about the scene is probably the most difficult task of all. Houston has no shortage of headliners — far from it — but no one should ever forget the managers, publicists, promoters, venue and label owners, box-office managers, security and everyone else with a behind-the-scenes stake in getting audiences to show up. These people especially deserve fans’ eternal thanks.

The Bayou City is blessed with a wealth of such people, so much so that, in the course of discussing them (which we do all the time, pretty much), the Houston Press decided to have a go at recognizing 50 of our favorites — though there could have easily been 50 more. Yes, it’s an arbitrary number, but 50 is big enough to approach an accurate reflection of what a dynamic, industrious, idiosyncratic and often unruly music scene this city really has. Anything smaller probably wouldn’t do that, and anything bigger might start to get redundant. Fifty, though, sounds just about right.

So enjoy, salute, debate and tip your cap to the Houston Press’s “50 Houston Music People We Love.” Just to be different, we present them in reverse alphabetical order.

GERRITT WITTMER: Formerly of Oakland crushers Deathroes and similarly unhinged Names, here at home Gerritt Wittmer goes by his given name, keeps a reasonably low local profile in between international tours and avant-garde appearances, and perambulates avenues of sound and performance that are more medicine man or alchemic rite than straight noise. TEX KERSCHEN

MATT WILLHELM: If it’s music-related, Willhelm does it: as an artist in many projects, but most notably popeNQM; and as a producer, sound engineer, promoter, journalist and music instructor. He’s a well-regarded figure in Houston’s musical underground, and his steady presence and influence allow the artists he encounters to deviate creatively from the norm. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

BRANDON WALSH: The wunderkind behind YouTube channel Punk With a Camera, the flagship effort of which is the DIY Sessions, a music-video series that has racked up nearly a million views in a few short years. He and business partner Makena Janis are young, talented, driven and now parlaying their online success into a label, Rib Fest Records. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

ERIKA THRASHER: The siren of Studded Left and Indian Jewelry before that, Erika Thrasher might set her tenacious guitar against her mates’ roiling rhythms and brain-fogging effects, or else be mixing it up with the rest of them. She’s Chanel chic in a group that sounds like a rave invaded Deer Park or Brazosport. CHRIS GRAY

Clockwise from top left: Gerritt Wittmer; Continental Club GM John "Goodtime" Smith; "Chopped Not Slopped" maestro OG Ron C; Studded Left siren Erika Thrasher
Clockwise from top left: Gerritt Wittmer; Continental Club GM John "Goodtime" Smith; "Chopped Not Slopped" maestro OG Ron C; Studded Left siren Erika Thrasher
Clockwise from top left: Photo courtesy of Gerritt Wittmer; Photo by Jay Lee; Photo by Marco Torres; Photo by Jackie Green

ANN-MARIE TCHOLAKIAN: Tcholakian is dedicated to bringing quality sounds to MKT Bar, part of the Phoenicia Specialty Foods brand she and her family own. Live acts and DJs grace the bar’s stage practically every night or afternoon; “I gravitate to music and will do what I can to see it flourishing locally,” she says. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

RYAN TAYLOR: Seeing the lead singer of Thug Boots or Black Coffee live is a guaranteed face-melting good time. But Ryan Taylor’s thrashing ways of close to 20 years aren’t relegated to music venues; he owns East End Barbershop, where he helps keep people looking tight, and co-owns Wired Up Records and Books. JACK GORMAN

T2 THE GHETTO HIPPIE: T2 the Ghetto Hippie walks a tightrope: His music balances on the razor’s edge between the easy hedonism of the Houston rap scene and its disconcerting malaise. He’s smart, he’s driven and he’s doggedly committed to his own authenticity. That’s why he’s able to make some of the best new music this town has seen in years. KATIE SULLIVAN

JOHN “GOODTIME” SMITH: The Continental Club consigliere is the sharpest-dressed GM on Mid-Main, juggling bands, bartenders and beer trucks while outfitted like a Guys and Dolls extra. Unless, that is, he’s paradiddling the snare in the oom-pah-pah parade known as Polish Pete & the Polka? I Hardly Know Her Band. Prost! CHRIS GRAY

SHEA SERRANO: The former Houston Press writer turned New York Times-bestselling author still keeps his ear tuned into Houston’s music scene. Thanks to him and the ever-expanding FOH Army, Serrano’s blessing could net an artist a whole new legion of fans. BRANDON CALDWELL

CHUCK ROAST: Owner of Vinal Edge in the Heights, Chuck Roast has done it all: played in bands, cultivated one of the most impressive vinyl selections this side of the Mississippi, and hosted KPFT’s notorious Funhouse show. With a heady experimental music knowledge that puts Google to shame, Roast remains one of Houston’s music people to know. VERONICA ANNE SALINAS

VOCKAH REDU: Vockah Redu has enough style and charisma to lend to the rest of us; we don’t have to come up short anymore. He’s an MC with a light touch and total control; he’s a tireless, amazing dancer; and as an overall showman he is unparalleled, which is to say, free of right angles and other inhibitions. TEX KERSCHEN

RABIT: East Coast-raised, Gulf Coast-placed electronic-music producer Rabit, born Eric Burton, is better known in Berlin and London than in his adopted hometown of Houston. His productions concern the atmospheric deployment of dark matter and negative space jammed up with hard rap beats and noise sizzle. His recent appearances at the Station Museum and his live collaborations with the House of Kenzo — equal parts Danceteria and Hellfire Club — have claimed some pretty hefty chunks of psychic realty. TEX KERSCHEN

NATHAN QUICK: His late father introduced him to the blues, notably Houston’s own Lightnin’ Hopkins, helping Nathan Quick craft a signature sound out of his affinity for old country and rock. Despite his booming vocals on wax, the singer-songwriter is one of the most soft-spoken, easygoing musicians about town. MATTHEW KEEVER

PHIL PETERSON: We recently learned that Phil Peterson — better known as Bassman Pep — studied ballet as a youth. It’s no wonder. He routinely pirouettes between big events like Madness on Main and Yes, Indeed!; two fests he curates; and the nightly offerings he promotes, touring and local acts alike, that keep this city grooving. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

ZACK PALMER: There will never be another Pam Robinson, but Walter’s is all her son Zack’s now. He treats the seminal underground outpost as not just his birthright, but Houston’s as well, stocking cool shows night after night and even bringing in Deep End Records. And after a million hardcore throwdowns, he still looks happy to see you show up. NATHAN SMITH

OG RON C: After DJ Screw, no one is more tied to the idea of “chopped not slopped” than the Swishahouse co-founder. Drake’s go-to when he wants his own material chopped not slopped, OG also helped push himself and the Chopstars all the way to chopping up a soundtrack for the Oscar-winning Moonlight. BRANDON CALDWELL

What does Bun B know that you don't?
What does Bun B know that you don't?
Photo by Marco Torres

CRAIG MICKLE: Whether heading up the Bad News Bears of noise-rock, Cop Warmth; tightening up his metal chops in Thundertank; or signing glossy 8x10’s at fan meet-n-greets with the rest of modern hardcore supergroup Lace, Craig Mickle has been holding a place for Houston in a particularly damaged kind of punk-rock sweepstakes for years now. TEX KERSCHEN

KELSEY MCDANIEL: Every self-starter needs an outlet for his or her passion; McDaniel has two — her radio program, The Tuesday Special, on All Real Radio; and HustleGrade, a Houston-centric creatives blog that is the one emerging brand helmed mostly by women. What’s her key mission? Focusing on the now rather than strictly paying homage to the past. BRANDON CALDWELL

MO MCRAE: Recently introduced to friends as “one of the best bartenders in town” (by us), McRae deflected the praise with professional humility and by handing us beers. Easily one of Houston’s friendliest as well, she’s become highly recognizable to Continental Club patrons, who share our opinion, for nearly 15 years now. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

AYANNA MCCLOUD: An anomaly on this list, McCloud maneuvers through the disciplines of sound, text and installation. Providing a community-driven platform for the arts with projects such as La Botanica and experimental writing workshops, she weaves a space for female sound artists and writers to come together. VERONICA ANNE SALINAS

PAIGE MANN: Joking her title should be “Dream Crusher” when she’s forced to turn away last-minute fans hoping to purchase tickets for a sold-out show, the House of Blues box-office manager still never lets her more unfortunate duties dampen her passion for music. MARCO TORRES

Trudy Lynn at the 2014 Houston Press Music Awards
Trudy Lynn at the 2014 Houston Press Music Awards
Photo by Marco Torres

Late bloomers everywhere have a sterling role model in Miss Trudy Lynn. Not that we would ever reveal her age (if we even knew), but the dynamic singer has been righteously turning heads in Houston since opening for national R&B acts like Ike & Tina Turner in the late ’60s. Even before that, the Fifth Ward gem born Lee Audrey Nelms found her formidable voice singing in neighborhood joints like Walter’s Lounge, where she impressed legendary “Iceman” Albert Collins, and studying under bandleader Clarence Green, who had been on staff at Don Robey’s landmark Duke-Peacock Records.

She never lacked for gigs after that, eventually landing a deal with Atlanta’s Ichiban Records, where ’90s albums like Come to Mama and 24 Hour Woman drew comparisons to greats like Etta James and Koko Taylor. All those years of dues ultimately paid off with Royal Oak Blues Cafe, which slowly climbed Billboard’s Hot Blues Albums chart until it hit No. 1 in September 2014. Two more equally dynamic albums have since followed, last year’s I’ll Sing the Blues for You and 2015’s Everything Comes With a Price.

Listening to Miss Trudy sing, it’s hard not to argue that it’s been worth it; her recent success has upped her profile on the festival circuit, both in the United States and overseas. Today, dressed to the nines and brimming with positivity, she rules H-Town’s blues scene as a down-home sort of queen, most at ease holding court at no-frills venues like the Big Easy. CHRIS GRAY

VANCE LAWRENCE: One of the nicest people around the electronic scene, and the busiest, Vance Lawrence always has a smile on his face and is willing to lend a hand or share his vast industry knowledge with anyone who asks. Catch him opening for the biggest acts at Stereo Live or playing festivals. JACK GORMAN

Clockwise From Top Left: Venomous Maximus' Christian Larson; The Hates' Christian Kidd (with wife Alexis); Giant Kitty's Miriam K.; veteran South Park Coalition rapper K-Rino
Clockwise From Top Left: Venomous Maximus' Christian Larson; The Hates' Christian Kidd (with wife Alexis); Giant Kitty's Miriam K.; veteran South Park Coalition rapper K-Rino
Clockwise From Top Left: Photo by Violeta Alvarez; Photo by Jeff Myers; Photo by Francisco Montes; Photo by Eric Sauseda

CHRISTIAN LARSON: Christian Larson would be a local heavy-metal legend thanks to his galloping riffage for the mighty Venomous Maximus alone. But the longtime Pegstar talent buyer/promoter is also, perhaps, the most influential man in town when it comes to which heavy acts are seen on some of Houston’s most important stages. NATHAN SMITH

MICHAEL LACOUR: Much better known as B L A C K I E, and without a doubt the Bayou City’s most enigmatic artist. His work isn’t for everyone, but its uniqueness remains a striking facet of our local scene, which is richer for it. His stunning FPSF 2011 performance, in which he wrapped himself in a U.S. flag and berated the nation for killing its children, was the talk of the town for years. MATTHEW KEEVER

K-RINO: More than 30 fully independent years in the game say it all. K-Rino of the South Park Coalition still draws inspiration from his southside environs so consistently that he put out seven original albums in one week last year — just one more thing K-Rino was the first Houston rapper ever to do. NATHAN SMITH

CHRISTIAN KIDD: Whether at a local show or riding his scooter around Montrose, the Houston punk icon has been a backbone of our city since 1978; his band, The Hates, has paved the way for the rest of us misfits for decades to come. Diagnosed with Stage 3 squamous cell carcinoma this spring, Kidd remains as positive as can be, recently telling the Press, “I just want to make sure everyone knows how much I appreciate all of the positive messages, good wishes and prayers.” MATTHEW KEEVER

JAGI KATIAL: In case you heard otherwise, Free Press Summer Festival co-founder Jagi Katial still supervises its booking. And yes, White Oak Music Hall did receive that permanent outdoor stage permit. As such, Jagi and his Pegstar colleagues will continue to be the folks most responsible for who you see on Houston’s biggest and best outdoor stages for the foreseeable future. NATHAN SMITH

MIRIAM K.: No disrespect to Miriam’s fellow Giant Kitty members, but the group’s fierce aesthetic seethes outward from center stage. Already adept at most punk-singer cues — the foot-plant, the arm-thrust, the rear-back — Miriam’s closer is this winking look that lets the audience in on the joke even as she screams her lungs out. CHRIS GRAY

Clockwise From Top Left; Athena Anesti, aka Love Athena; B L A C K I E at FPSF 2011; everyman rapper Kyle Hubbard; Warehouse Live's Hunter Heimburger
Clockwise From Top Left; Athena Anesti, aka Love Athena; B L A C K I E at FPSF 2011; everyman rapper Kyle Hubbard; Warehouse Live's Hunter Heimburger
Clockwise From Top Left: Photo by Cesar Lozano; Photo by Marc Brubaker; Photo by Daniel Jackson; Photo by George Street

LEVI JOHNSON: You know those rad concert photos we run with our reviews? Levi Johnson is one of the many who help make that happen. Every live show is really just a bunch of moving parts, and Levi is one of the best behind the scenes at helping Houston shows look good. CORY GARCIA

RUBEN JIMENEZ: A hip-hop encyclopedia as DJ BabyRoo and a font of flinty music-biz wisdom as RooLogic Records’ CEO, Ruben Jimenez is living proof the “H” in H-Town stands for hustle. The label’s earthy, eclectic roster — Genesis Blu, Giant Kitty, Space Villains* — offers but a hint of his keen, curiosity-guided taste. CHRIS GRAY

DANIEL JACKSON: Houston’s scene has a lot of champions, but Daniel Jackson seems to have not only an endless stream of energy but an endless list of local bands that everyone needs to check out. Seriously, his knowledge and appreciation of our city’s scene is beyond impressive. CORY GARCIA

KYLE HUBBARD: Kyle Hubbard can rap, yes, but he’s also legit hilarious away from the mike. In a time when everyone needs a social-media account, Hubbard is probably the very first name you need to follow, not only for what he’s working on but for a good laugh from time to time. CORY GARCIA

ALLEN HILL: Houston’s King of the Oldies also runs one of the city’s more indispensable booking agencies, whether you’re getting married soon or just need lively tunes for your next corporate shindig. Disguised as manic, if natty, rock and roll jesters, his Allen Oldies Band are actually pop archaeologists without peer. CHRIS GRAY

HUNTER HEIMBURGER: The happy man behind the glass at Warehouse Live, Hunter Heimburger has contributed to the scene by working for publications and promoters, and ultimately being a fan, for close to a decade. It’s refreshing to see someone love his job so much, a quality that makes him a huge credit to Houston’s music community. JACK GORMAN

COFFEE GUZMAN: Coffee Guzman is to music what a shot of espresso is to your heart rate: an uplifting boost of wild energy. The kung-fu master turned percussionist aims to inspire people through the positive vibes he creates as part of the Gio Chamba experience. Elevating Houston one conga at a time! MARCO TORRES

Billy F. Gibbons at the 2017 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
Billy F. Gibbons at the 2017 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
Photo by Eric Sauseda

Billy F. Gibbons gets around. He might be jamming on your TV, sitting in with a famous friend on an episode of Austin City Limits (which ZZ Top, incredibly, has never played). Not that long ago, he had an acting gig on long-running Fox forensic drama Bones. He might pop up at a car show. You might even catch him at one of ZZ’s rare nonrodeo Houston-area appearances, for example September 10 at Sugar Land’s new Smart Financial Centre.

He’s nationwide; or international, anonymously busking in Helsinki in easily the summer’s most awesome news factoid; or even intergalactic, according to several of ZZ’s ’80s videos, when this Lil Ol’ Band From Texas was at the peak of their platinum reach. The decade before that, they were bringing longhorn steers and rattlesnakes onstage with them, to the consternation of the bicoastal music biz.

Dusty Hill and Frank Beard have carried their fair share of the water, absolutely, but no single Houston musician more embodies the Bayou City’s musical spirit than the society orchestra conductor’s son whose career spans the Thirteenth Floor Elevators era of his Moving Sidewalks and, looking toward La Futura, the purple haze of DJ DMD’s “25 Lighters.” (Speaking of, Jimi Hendrix was also a fan.)

This global rock star in bluesman’s shades has never lost his love for old masters like Elmore James even as he’s indulged his more exotic influences. In 2015, with Frank and Dusty’s blessing, he stepped out to record the Havana-tinged album Perfectamundo, whose subtropical breezes still radiate the kind of smokin’ licks that put the “F” in BFG. CHRIS GRAY

DAVID GARRICK: As Free Press Houston’s chief music correspondent, David Garrick condenses each seven-day span of the scene into a column he perhaps generously calls “The Best of the Week.” Inexhaustible on social media and in the venues, constantly candid, Garrick ultimately serves only one agenda — bearing witness to whatever’s happening. CHRIS GRAY

Kam Franklin with the Houston Symphony, June 2017
Kam Franklin with the Houston Symphony, June 2017
Photo by Marco Torres

Kam Franklin’s voice is the pride of the bayou. It’s big and bold, yet still full of the singer’s signature tenderness. She’s able to plumb deep into the wells of her own vulnerability in one song, and then switch to an upbeat number with an easy sashay and a smile. She’s a star, plain and simple. It’s hard to imagine her band, The Suffers, reaching their current status without Kam at the front; her style, her charisma and above all else her powerhouse vocals are the linchpin holding the group together.

Still, the singer hasn’t let all the fame and success go to her head; you can still catch her out on the town when she’s not on tour, tipping back a beer at Eighth Wonder or licking barbecue sauce off of her fingers. Kam can’t help but keep it real.

Now that she has a successful album under her belt and is hard at work on the next, she’s taking her celebrity to the next level. When you catch her onstage, Kam makes a point to encourage young creatives, especially those from Houston, to keep hustling, even when things get hard. She reminds them that someone like her, who went to Texas public schools and worked an office job during her band’s early years, can make it to the top of the musical game. Not every artist remembers where he or she comes from, and certainly many don’t feel a sense of responsibility to the little guys they leave behind. But we know Kam slides on her cowboy boots before each show remembering she’s an H-town girl first and a celebrity second. And that’s what makes us love her so. KATIE SULLIVAN

FAT TONY: Better known by his stage name, Anthony Obi has been touting his hometown since 2010 debut album RABDARGAB. He’s since recorded with A$AP Rocky, Asher Roth, Kool A.D. and Bun B, among others, and remains one of Houston’s most approachable and friendly artists. MATTHEW KEEVER

SANDY EWEN: A key player in the Houston experimental scene, Sandy Ewen has developed a unique artistic career. When she’s not strumming the strings on her prepared guitar, she makes visual art and creates a community with Lady Band and Garden Variety. Word is she’s leaving for the Big Apple, so catch her while you can. VERONICA ANNE SALINAS

TOMAS ESCALANTE: Since 2004, Tomas Escalante has been curating an impressive, painstaking collection of records at his Midtown shop, Sig’s Lagoon. Comfortable in his kitschy tiki domain, Tomas never judges the vinyl in your stack, and he’s always glad to help you dig through crates to find your next sonic love. KATIE SULLIVAN

DJ AUDITORY: Parties and weddings aren’t the only avenues DJ AudiTory canvasses. Each week he locks himself into a daze, chopping and screwing the latest albums and mixtapes from a bevy of artists. Though he doesn’t consider himself a GOAT yet, due to his assembly-line release schedule, he may be one day. BRANDON CALDWELL

DAVID DOVE: The former Houston Press MasterMind winner is a leader of Gulf Coast improvisation and Houston’s experimental scene, serving the community with an unconventional musical education that prompts musicians to let go of doubt in order to create a safe space to explore sonic possibilities. VERONICA ANNE SALINAS

AVERY DAVIS: Just to be totally honest, we’re jealous of Avery Davis, better known by his stage name -Us. The synth-pop singer’s latest EP, Contact, is a triumph of danceability, and his ear for production is sharp and smart. We can’t wait for him to win over the rest of the world, one glitter stripe at a time. KATIE SULLIVAN

DAVID “SYKO” CAGLE: Tall, bald, scary-looking David “SyKo” Cagle, security regular at various venue barricades, looks like an extra in The Hills Have Eyes, but is actually a kind man who cares for the patrons’ safety. His black tactical gloves aren’t for violence, but simply to get a better grip to help the guy crowd-surfing over your domes. JACK GORMAN

Bun B and a few friends at Discovery Green, December 2016
Bun B and a few friends at Discovery Green, December 2016
Photo by Marco Torres

Bun B rose to prominence in Houston as a rapper — half of the infamous Port Arthur duo UGK. Unfortunately, their trajectory was knocked off course when his partner, the late Pimp C, was sentenced to eight years in prison, which halted the duo’s ascent from regional favorites to international superstars. Following Pimp C’s release from prison, the duo put out a self-titled album — their last — which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, driven by the infectious hit “International Players Anthem (I Choose You).”

Fewer than four months later, in December 2007, Pimp C passed away barely a month shy of his 34th birthday. Somewhere along the way, though, Bun managed to transcend his artistry and become something of an unofficial ambassador for the Bayou City. From teaching about music and religion at Rice University to sharing screen time with former mayor Annise Parker (in a campaign warning of the perils of texting and driving), Bun has become a beloved icon about town. He has worked with local author Shea Serrano to produce Bun B’s Rap Coloring Book and even co-founded the foodie-centric website YouGottaEatThis.com.

These days it’s not uncommon to see Bun at concerts — even those of the local variety — or run into him at any number of Houston-themed events. And no matter what hip-hop act of note comes through town, fans would be wise to show up early. There’s always a chance that Bun is lurking backstage with an arsenal of Houston anthems, ready to hype the crowd. MATTHEW KEEVER

Mark C. Austin is arguably Houston's No. 1 music fan.
Mark C. Austin is arguably Houston's No. 1 music fan.
Photo by Ray Redding

Accountant, concert photographer, promoter, artist manager, overall music enthusiast — Mark C. Austin has worn many hats over the past decade, even gracing this very publication with some fantastic photography for a few years. Now he seems to have found the one that’s a perfect fit: a black 8th Wonder ballcap, its brim slightly bent.

Simultaneously a symbol of Houston itself, its most famous piece of architecture (the Astrodome) and one of the finest breweries in town, Austin’s cap works on many levels, just like the man beneath it. Under his guidance, The Suffers have performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Late Show with David Letterman and NPR’s Tiny Desk concert series. And that’s just one of the bands managed by Austin’s The Convoy Group, which also steers popular local acts The Tontons, Say Girl Say, -Us and Wrestlers. Not surprisingly, Austin can be found at just about any happening around town, from concerts and sporting events to the taping of Chingo Bling’s Netflix comedy special, They Can’t Deport Us All. (Look for him in the rafters.)

And with a beard so glorious that it would make ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons proud, he’s easy to spot too. Austin is one of the most approachable authorities on Houston music, and will gladly engage in conversation with Houston-scene veterans and newcomers alike. Looking for some local talent to enjoy? Look no further. MATTHEW KEEVER

ATHENA ANESTI: Her namesake is not only a war goddess, but a patron of the arts. So it’s fitting that one of Houston’s hardest-working supporters of the music scene is known as Love Athena, who provides an avenue for musicians, models and brands to succeed through her One Love Management Worldwide. MARCO TORRES

OMAR AFRA: The Free Press Houston owner and festival visionary has lately been hard at work building Day For Night, the music and light art experience that pushes the boundaries of what a festival can be. We’re lucky to have such a creative thinker putting Houston on the music-industry map. KATIE SULLIVAN

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