Growing up, Trudy Lynn didn’t listen to the blues. Truth be told, the Fifth Ward native and blues icon would have preferred to hear Elvis Presley. But coming up in the ’60s and ’70s, her musical career spanned multiple genres. The blues followed a stint in R&B music, and it was with the blues that Lynn found a niche.
She hasn’t looked back since.
This past Saturday, the Houston History Alliance (HHA) hosted its sixth annual conference, this year titled "The History of Houston’s Musical Soul." A music panel featuring Lynn, Milton Hopkins and Grady Gaines was just one of the many happenings on the agenda. The day began with a keynote speech by Joe Nick Patoski, author of several acclaimed books on Texas music, and examined Houston artists' contributions to the realms of jazz, blues, country, rock, hip-hop and more through a series of panels. Other special guests included HSPVA alum Shelley Carroll, tenor saxophonist with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Kool & the Gang, and Johnny Bush, the Kashmere Gardens native who recounted the inside story of writing Willie Nelson's signature tune "Whiskey River."
Lightnin’s cousin Milton regaled the crowd with anecdotes from his ten years playing with B.B. King, and Gaines spoke of his long-running gig as a DJ on KTSU.
Later, a panel of University of Houston and Rice faculty members gave presentations on the city’s long-running music history during a session titled "From Rhythm and Blues to Chopped and Screwed…and Folk Music Too!"
Moderated by UH archivist Mary Manning, the presentation included the history of blues contracts from Peacock Records – which was named after the Bronze Peacock Dinner Club – courtesy of UH Libraries’ Vince Lee.
The success of Peacock Records actually predated Motown Records, though the latter label is much better known, an unfortunate theme throughout Houston's music history.
Julie Grob, the curator of the "DJ Screw and the Rise of Houston Hip Hop" archive at the University of Houston, presented facsimiled notebooks and original records used by the Houston icon. She also played chopped and screwed remixes alongside the original recordings in order to give the audience a reference point.
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She spoke of Screw’s affinity for West Coast hip-hop and the formation of the Screwed Up Click (SUC). The UH exhibit also features iconography from Big Hawk, E.S.G. and others.
Rice’s Norie Guthrie spoke on Houston’s folk scene and her efforts to archive the music. Much of it was written in protest, and Norie played a clip for the audience in which Don Sanders lamented the proposal of drilling for oil in Memorial Park.
HHA also had a pop-up Houston music history museum on display, showcasing SUC paraphernalia, original Lightnin’ Hopkins pressings and 50-year-old record contracts. Other events throughout the weekend included a screening of the documentary Texas Zydeco at Fifth Ward's newly refurbished Deluxe Theater, a free Saturday-night concert featuring Trudy Lynn, and a Sunday-matinee benefit for the Houston Blues Museum featuring saxophonist Evelyn Rubio.
For more information on the Houston History Alliance, see houstonhistoryalliance.org.