I first Met Dennis Clapp aka Applehead in Rehab back in February of this year on my birthday; no not the type of Rehab you are thinking of but the Houston watering hole and music venue known as re:HAB Bar On The Bayou owned by Grace Miller from Scotland. Hanging out at the bar listening to music on the jukebox and talking, Clapp revealed that he was a musician who played there frequently so I took down his contact information with plans to go see him perform live at re:HAB but then Coronavirus (COVID-19) hit as you readers are well aware of and I never got a chance to do that for obvious reasons.
Clapp plays guitar and provides lead vocals for two bands, Hipwaders Flying Circus and Applehead, which he named after himself.
Applehead are scheduled to play their next show at re:HAB Bar On The Bayou on June 14th
“Applehead, that’s actually my nickname I got early on when I was 21 hittin’ the blues clubs. Two bass players were having a conversation and came up with my pointless nickname,” says Clapp. “It’s actually been my bluesman nickname ever since. People know me by that name as well as my own. So I decided to make it the band name too.”
Applehead performs original blues music and covers; Clapp describes their music as “HTX Blues, its blues but the HTX is you know, from Houston. Just anything goes. That’s pretty much what that stands for.”
The rest of Applehead the band consists of Andrew Saad on sax, Alfred Kennedy on bass, and Miles Towns on the drums. This was the band I had planned on going to see play live; they have been together since September 2017.
Hipwaders Flying Circus includes Clint Boyd on sax and harmonica, Art Elder on bass, and Bob Armour on drums.
“I’m like the front man for Hipwaders Flying Circus,” explains Clapp with a slight laugh. “It’s their band but I’m kinda like their front man. They’re cool guys and their great friends of mine too and the kind of music they play is kind of more like '50s rock and roll and you know, Gulf Coast blues and variety.”
Clapp, 37, is a veteran of the Houston music scene, having started out at Houston Blues Jams when he turned 21 and was able to get into bars and get up on stage and play; Mojofromopolis was one of the first bands he formed with guys he met at the blues jams and he also has played with The Sonny Boy Terry Band for years.
“Whenever I first started the band (Applehead) I’ve always loved Albert Collins, and my bass player is a pretty funky guy and I figured if I get me and Alfred together and I get a saxophone I could be like the Albert Collins Band so that’s like one of my main influences as far as like setting up a band and my sound but there’s a whole lot of other influences I have as well,” explains Clapp. “But Albert Collins is probably one of my favorite Houston blues musicians of all time but I used to get onstage with guys like Texas Johnny Brown, Earl Gilliam, I.J. Gosey, so I learned from a bunch of the old school cats, they were really helpful.”
“This one time I was over at Earl Gilliam’s Doghouse, out in Tomball that’s where he lived and the Doghouse is actually a big, giant garage shed on his property and we’d all go out there and play blues music and we’d be playing dominoes and we’d eat soul food and Earl would drink his gin,” says Clapp with a laugh. “And this one particular afternoon Milton Hopkins was there and I swear it was like between Earl and Milton Hopkins that was like Blues School 101, it doesn’t get any better than that really. And Milton is still with us but Earl has long since passed away.”
Clapp also cites The Hightailers and Little Screaming Kenny as influences that helped him out a lot and says he was was glad to be a part of that family as well.
Clapp got started off early in music in high school playing tuba in the band and also played guitar at home; he played several different types of music on the guitar before finding blues as his voice.
As a non-musician I asked Clapp how difficult it is to learn how to play the guitar well; it’s something I think many music fans who have never actually played an instrument wonder about.
“It’s an ongoing process and it is pretty difficult actually it’s something you really gotta work at I think,” explains Clapp. “Some people look at me and they say you make it look natural and I’m thinking well I’ve been playing since I was a teenager so it’s still something that’s always ongoing, your education on the instrument.”
During the down time right now when his bands are unable to perform live due to the virus, Clapp has been working on a debut album for Applehead.
“In the process right now I want to really, since I’ve had this band together for like a couple of years I need to put out an album so that’s exactly what I’m doing right now so like I said it’s a nice time to pause and actually get something done,” Clapps says. “So that’s what I’m getting done right now is working out this record so I can go into the studio whenever it’s safe. I don’t know I haven’t talked to any studio owners I know yet to see how they are doing business wise, what they are doing. “
Clapps says he has the new album written so he won’t have to waste a lot of time and money in the studio once he gets ready to record it; he says he might call it HTX Blues which I mentioned previously has been his slogan and motto for the kind of music his band makes.
Like many musicians locally and worldwide, big and small, Clapp and Applehead have performed some livestream shows on Facebook. Fans of the band can donate tips online as well to help them out and show their appreciation. No one is quite sure when the local music scene might get back to normal so the band can perform before a live audience in a bar or music venue again.
“It’s hard to keep a positive outlook on this because between what the experts say and what you’re actually seeing as they gradually open things up I don’t think live music is in the near future. Smaller live music venues, the neighborhood bars if you’re going to have to be at a certain capacity and everything’s gotta be sanitary whose gonna want to go out?” asks Clapp.
“How are you going to make a profit off of that, you know only 25 percent capacity how is the bar going to make a profit and how are they going to pay the band so what a lot of guys have been saying is if worse comes to worse were going to have to start volunteering ourselves and then work for tips, put it up online a live stream from the actual venues. For musicians I think it’s going to be some serious work ahead. “
Clapp points out that life for everyone has been put on hold due to the virus; a lot of plans have been cancelled including all of the bands throughout the world who have had to cancel tours. Clapp has played some live music at several BB's Tex-Orleans Cajun food restaurants around Houston and we both agreed that it would be cool if more local restaurants could bring in local musicians to play to help each other out. I even suggested The Showboat Drive-in Theater down In Hockley could maybe have some live bands perform before or after a movie on some nights to help each other out. What do you think Showboat?
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“A good place if a bar is going to start having live music it would be outdoors if they have a big patio area,” says Clapp. “More social distance space you know. This is how bars could have live music if they want to start doing that in the near future.”
Clapp and Applehead are scheduled to play their next show at re:HAB Bar On The Bayou on June 14 which is not for certain since although the venue reopened on June 1 live music is not yet back on the schedule. The bar is now requiring social distancing and asking all customers to wear a mask.
If you would like to help out the bartenders who work there, owner Grace Miller has set up a Go Fund Me page. So far they have raised a pretty good deal of money but have a little ways to go to reach their goal. And now that the place has opened back up you should definitely check it out and support Applehead and all the other great local bands who play there.
“I just wish people would have a little bit more humility right now because if you’re going to go out right now because I used to work in the industry when I was younger so any industry worker that’s working for you make sure that you treat them well, that you tip them well and make sure that they are appreciated,” says Clapp. “Very much so, that needs to happen especially in this time. And just support local live music. That’s all I’d ask, when it gets going again.”