Houston Music

A Musical Guide to Post-Secession Texas: Houston and "Brazoria"

The final installment of our Five States of Texas project brings it all back home, to the new state of Brazoria, encompassing all of Southeast Texas from the Brazos Valley to Sabine Pass.

Patron Saint: Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. A master of rock and roll, country, Cajun/Creole, blues and jazz, no one area musician sounded more like Southeast Texas. That he spent his life moving all over the area, on both sides of the Sabine, only serves as evidence in favor of one of our geographical hypotheses: In the grand scheme of things, Southeast Texas is less truly Texas than it is Greater Louisiana.

Lesser Icons: Destiny's Child/Beyonce, ZZ Top, Janis Joplin, George Jones, Clint Black, Tracy Byrd, Bobby Blue Bland, Big Mama Thornton, La Mafia, DJ Screw, the Geto Boys / Scarface, Devin the Dude, Chamillionaire, Paul Wall, Mike Jones, Lil' Keke, Lil' Flip, Fat Pat, South Park Mexican, BJ Thomas, Roy Head, Kenny Rogers, Johnny Bush, Floyd Tillman, Johnny Lee, Mickey Gilley, Clifton Chenier, UGK / Bun B, Johnny Guitar Watson, Albert Collins, Johnny Clyde Copeland, Arnett Cobb, Milt Larkin, Illinois Jacquet, Kirk Whalum, Eddie Cleanhead Vinson.

Also: Sippie Wallace, Peck Kelly, Big Moe, Slim Thug, Z-Ro, Trae, the Big Bopper, Blind Willie Johnson, Mance Lipscomb, Lightnin' Hopkins, Calvin Owens, Joe Scott, Fever Tree, Archie Bell and the Drells, Johnny Nash, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams, Rodney Crowell, Esther Phillips, Robert Earl Keen, the Judy's, Texas Johnny Brown, Goree Carter, Joe Guitar Hughes, Lil' Joe Washington, Percy Mayfield, Joe Tex, Ted Daffan, Jimmy "T-99" Nelson, Charles Brown, Lyle Lovett, Fito Olivares, Baby Bash, Amos Milburn.

And: Gene Watson, Mickey Newbury, Hersal Thomas, Harry Choates, Bubble Puppy, the Crusaders/Joe Sample, K-Rino, Brooke Valentine, Leela James, Hayes Carll, Dobie Gray, Ivory Joe Hunter, Yolanda Adams, Mark Chesnutt, Barbara Lynn, Johnny and Edgar Winter, Clay Walker.

Bastard Sons: Blue October, H-Town.

State Song: "Tighten Up," Archie Bell & the Drells

Other Notable Songs: Houston Oilers fight song; "On My Block," Scarface; "Highway 87" and "Beaumont" Hayes Carll; "Galveston," Glen Campbell; "Telephone Road," Steve Earle; "Houston," Johnny Copeland; "Houston is Hot Tonight," Iggy Pop; "The Front Porch Song," Robert Earl Keen & Lyle Lovett; "Galveston," Glen Campbell; "Tops Drop," Fat Pat; "Just and Dog" and "Purple Stuff," Big Moe; "Southside," Lil' Keke; "Ain't Livin' Long Like This" and "Telephone Road," Rodney Crowell; "Midnight Special", Leadbelly; "White Freightliner Blues," Townes Van Zandt.

Also: "La Grange," ZZ Top; "Beaumont Rag," trad.;  "Underground," and "Short Texas" (and others) UGK; "Houston the Action Town" and "Stay off Lyons Avenue," Juke Boy Bonner; "Blues de Port Arthur," Cajun trad.; "Raining in Port Arthur," the Gourds; "Grapeland Gossip," Albert Collins; "Groesbeck Blues," Lightnin' Hopkins; "Galveston Bay," Bruce Springsteen; "Buenos Noches Nacogdoches," Billy Walker.

Notes: Southeast Texas is one of the most underrated musical regions in the world. It is indisputably the birthplace of zydeco and screwed hip-hop, and some have argued that is the birthplace of rock and roll, with Houstonian Goree Carter's 1949 single "Rock Awhile" as the first rock and roll record. (And prior to that, tragic Fifth Ward-bred teenager Hersal Thomas invented the piano style that came to be known as "boogie-woogie"; his innovations continued to echo right down through the birth of rock.)

Texas City's Charles Brown was an enormous influence on the young Ray Charles, and also composed two of America's most enduring holiday classics in "Merry Christmas Baby" and "Please Come Home for Christmas." Houston's Amos Milburn was another piano-pounder Charles loved, and Milburn was the biggest name in R&B in the late '40s and early '50s.

During the mid '50s, Johnny Guitar Watson, Joe Guitar Hughes, Albert Collins, Little Joe Washington, Johnny Clyde Copeland and Lightnin' Hopkins were living a few blocks from each other in Third Ward. In the early and mid- '70s, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell and Lucinda Williams were all knocking around the Montrose/downtown folk scene.

In "Mind Playing Tricks on Me," the Geto Boys had the first respectable single from the South to break big nationally. (By "respectable," I mean not by Vanilla Ice or 2 Live Crew.) Today, Houston's hip-hop scene dominates Texas and is second only to that of Atlanta in the states of old Dixie.

While Northeast Texas trumps Brazoria in country music, any region that can count George Jones - the greatest honky-tonk singer of all time - among its number is not doing too bad. Beaumont can also claim Mark Chesnutt, Tracy Byrd and Clay Walker. For its part, Port Arthur is not just the home of UGK and Janis Joplin, but was also instrumental in the evolution of Cajun swing and country, in much the same way Creoles fused rural sounds with more modern ones in Houston and invented zydeco.

No rock band from Texas has ever been bigger than ZZ Top, no group - period - has been bigger than Destiny's Child, no Texas film at least in part about music has done better than Urban Cowboy, few black-owned record labels have been more successful than Houston's Duke-Peacock and Rap-A-Lot. No white jazz pianist was ever better than Peck Kelly, no song ever written was more magical than Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefty" and no dude was ever badder than Johnny Guitar Watson.

While Austin might get all the cool points in the national eye, no region of Texas has accomplished more than Houston/Beaumont. We just aren't quite as good at bragging about it.


"Palo Duro": The Panhandle

"Trinity": The Metroplex and Northeast Texas

"New Texas": Austin and the Hill Country

"Rio Grande": South Texas, including San Antonio, Corpus Christi and El Paso

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax