This weekend, one of the most beloved and memorialized clubs in Houston history throws itself a hell of a 25th anniversary party. From 1987 through 1991, the Axiom took a run-down former drugstore/motel in the still very seedy East End of downtown and created a home for punk, metal, thrash, noise and any other kind of alternative rock before Nirvana - who played the Axiom - blew the doors off.
Earlier this week, via email, Rocks Off spoke with three people who were central to the Axiom about the club's illustrious past: Lisa Sullivan, who published underground-music zine Rivethead "more or less as a gimmick to promote local bands" and saw it grow to a circulation of more than 10,000; J.R. Delgado, a member of the Party Owls who owned the club and is co-planning the reunion; and Julie Grob, the Axiom's publicist, booking agent and co-manager. Grob co-planned the Axiom 20th reunion at Fitzgerald's in 2007 and helped on this one where she could; today she's a librarian at U or H who oversees the DJ Screw collection, among other things. (R.I.P. Joe Claytor.)
Rocks Off: Explain a little more how the Axiom was part youth hostel.
Lisa Sullivan: The Axiom is a very old building that sits of the corner of McKinney and Live Oak. I believe that it had been a hotel at one time. When it was thriving - before the Maggot Colony (Francisco Studios) became a place for musicians to rehearse and squat - J.R. opened his doors to many young people who either worked for him or were part of the scene.
David Yammer (aka Kommando Poet) was a bartender and lead singer for Bayou Pigs and Academy Black who lived there for some time, along with his girlfriend who also worked at the Axiom. J.R. was like a surrogate parent, looking out for everyone around him. He is a little older than the rest of us and a patriarch in the Houston punk scene, playing for bands like Sugar Shack and the Party Owls.
Claire Richards, another notable Houston artist, also resided at the Axiom, although I am not exactly sure when.
J.R. Delgado: The building downstairs was originally Askew's Drugs Store. The upstairs was a motel/hotel; in later years it was more a brothel. When we occupied the building, there were still remnants of the previous business, a lobby with a counter to register, a handwritten sign about hourly rates, when rooms were cleaned and available sheets. The upstairs consisted of a lobby, one large center room, one communal bathroom, and nine small rooms. I made rooms available to employees and bands coming through town. I lived upstairs as well.
We had many bands stay there until there next gig. One musician in particular, pianist D. J. Lebowitz from San Francisco, made the Axiom his headquarters. He would play all the other Texas cities then return, then head east and return a few weeks later to play The Axiom again. DJ loved it there. Once Scream (Dave Grohl) played Numbers, then came to the Axiom afterwards to hang out and spend the night before heading out the next day. Most bands were welcome to spend the night if needed.
RO: Was the neighborhood as desolate and imposing as it seemed?
LS: The neighborhood was very desolate back then. Most of us were oblivious to that. I hear stories about things that happened back then that I had no clue about and am shocked. There were fights out front - sometimes skinheads would show up and stir things up - and probably some other pretty shaky things happening as well.
I used to park down Live Oak, past the railroad tracks, and never felt afraid. My mom tells me that was because she was on her knees praying every night. The bathrooms in the Axiom were pretty bad, so a lot of the guys would walk their girlfriends down the street to a local pool hall. The locals were always very cordial.
JRD: The area was a quaint little ghetto spot with row houses, a beer joint with soul food called Chat-N-Chew at one end of the block, the other block had a couple tiny bars, across the side street was a scrap-metal shop, Joe's (Peterson) Scrap Metal Shop. We had poor mostly black people coming by at all hours of the day and night with their noisy carts full of metal objects to sell.
For a while we had Charles as our security guard, a local lanky old white man with rotting teeth and thick yellow glasses that took his job seriously... He was great. During the later days of the Axiom, one of the local kids started selling crack; that's when the area started changing for the worse. The area did look desolate, but for the post part the locals were very friendly and rarely bothered Axiom patrons.
Julie Grob: Yes. It was on the corner of a block of shotgun shacks in an empty warehouse area east of the convention center. There was a scrap-metal business across the street and a barbecue place down the block. When you drove up, there would be packs of wild dogs running around. It had an air of danger just from its location. Sometimes people from the neighborhood would stop into the club for a beer.
RO: Why do you think people who were around the Axiom remember it so fondly?
LS: The Axiom always had their doors open to everyone. J.R. had a big heart and made you feel right at home. Plus the most amazing bands of that era were playing at the Axiom. Amazing touring acts - Mother Love Bone, Nirvana, Social Distortion, GWAR, Testament, MOD... and every metal, thrash, punk and hardcore band across Texas was playing there.
It was deadhorse's home base. Pain Teens and Bayou Pigs played there regularly. Sprawl, Spunk and their first incarnation Blind Ignorents [and] Sugar Shack all played there on a regular basis. It was an amazing scene that I have not seen duplicated.
Bands here were ahead of the curve as far as the trends go. A lot should have made it big but Houston seemed to be overlooked by the major labels. Some of the smaller, independent labels found their way here. The Axiom produced several compilation albums featuring Houston's best bands of that era. Houston Loud came out of there, along with a compilation named after the club.
JRD: The Axiom staff was a collective of artists, performance artists, musicians, music freaks and outcasts, all with great attitudes and a motivation to make things happen. All bands were treated right, all shows were treated as an event. We were void of nazi security/staff or uptight folks with expectations. Everyone was welcome.
JG: It was just a special place. The main room was large enough so that big touring bands could play there, but the front room gave people a smaller place to hang out and socialize. It was extremely unpretentious, but it also had a connection to the art scene and a philosophy of mixing up different genres that made it different from the average club. You might go there to see a touring punk band but find yourself watching the elderly Trower Magic Act, or take a break from sweating to a hardcore band to listen to the Cave Reverend playing silky Jimi Hendrix covers in the front room. Somehow it all worked.
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Tomorrow Rocks Off looks at the Axiom's legacy. The reunion featuring Pain Teens, Verbal Abuse, Dresden 45 and lots more is 8 p.m. both Friday and Saturday at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak, www.fitzlivemusic.com. See the links for Friday's lineup and Saturday's lineup.