Houston Music

Aquarium Drunkard (Snarkily) Remembers the Fabulous Satellite Lounge

For a solid decade, Washington Avenue's Fabulous Satellite Lounge was Houston's go-to spot for roots-rock, alt-country and pretty much anything else that might get covered in the late, recently resurrected online No Depression magazine. Though he was living in Austin throughout the Satellite's run (it closed in January 2003), Rocks Off remembers a Dick Dale/Drive-By Truckers gig that was especially sick.

Turns out other people remember it as well. Reflecting on his love of Wilco (hear hear), attorney and Paste magazine contributor Jeff Leven shared a few florid memories of the Satellite - which he says "scurried at the frayed edges of Austin's shadow, literally on the wrong side of the tracks on the deader side of downtown's outermost sprawl" - on L.A.-based music blog Aquarium Drunkard last Saturday. Reminiscent of the Truckers' "I never saw Lynyrd Skynyrd, but I did see Molly Hatchet" lyric, Leven never saw Wilco at the FabSat, but he did see Son Volt.

"If my teenage bedroom was the cauldron where my obsession with music was concocted," he says, "for a time the Satellite was one of my most consistent markets for new ingredients."

(Feel free to leave your own Satellite memories in the comments, by the way.)
"The Fabulous Satellite Lounge in Houston, Texas scurried at the frayed edges of Austin's shadow. Literally on the wrong side of the tracks on the deader side of downtown's outermost sprawl, it was housed in what I was always told was an old bank building. Rockefeller's - the upmarket showcase club next door - lived in relative opulence in what used to be the bank lobby, while the Satellite, was, unequivocally, what used to be the vault.

"Décor consisted of a few oil lights spiraling against the concrete, and the bar ate half of the ample floor space. If my teenage bedroom was the cauldron where my obsession with music was concocted, for a time the Satellite was one of my most consistent markets for new ingredients. In a town where the glint of new oil money had slapped fresh varnish across the face of the innumerable strip malls that sprung out of the prairie mile-by-mile across an astounding radius, the Satellite was soulfully dank, that slight bit lonesome and thrillingly almost urban.

"It wasn't a scene per se - there was a mild teenage punk rock scrum at a few venues well up the street. The classic Townes n' blues scene had all but died, only to occasionally revisit Rockefeller's for $50 a ticket. The Geto Boys were about at their peak but well off my radar. Occasionally you'd catch Billy Gibbons buying floppies at the Compuserve near the Galleria.

"But most of the time you'd drive and drive through the humid wall of air blaring Rush's 'Subdivisions' on KLOL and wondering how a trio of Canadians had so well figured out a place where they undoubtedly had never spent more than a week. So when the Satellite stumbled into its mid 90s alt country booking jag, it was a slapdash stroke of small "d" destiny.

"I never saw Wilco at the Satellite. The Internet tells me they played there, apparently including the night of my 18th birthday, and then again the next November. Instead I saw Son Volt.

"As a kid learning to play a relative bad blues rock guitar, I always had a special affinity for the twangier edge of the hard rock and alternative scenes. The Black Crowes' first two albums lead me into a space where I had at least a passing familiarity with the Jayhawks, and then a glancing few looks at Son Volt's "Drown" video on MTV of all places got me to a show at the Satellite. It was 21 and up and I went with a group of about six 17 and 18 year old guys.

"We were mostly sliding by on the Satellite's relaxed door policy until the four foot seven guy got to the door and called the whole scheme into question. After a bit of begging and pleading and loudly protesting the fact that half of us had already paid, we cut a deal whereby X's on our hands and a promise to stay seated at the one and only booth in the room where they could keep an eye on us got us around both law and policy. At least until we walked in on Son Volt's sound check only to get immediately kicked out by a surly Farrar.

"Our privileges were thankfully reinstated when the doors finally reopened and I spent the rest of the night nervously watching my friends try to rub off their X's and slink to the bar while I looked at my watch and hoped Jay would get to 'Tear-Stained Eye' before the bouncers caught wind of it all.

On the tiny stage, Farrar's lack of movement wasn't as palpable as it would later be and with the allure of the nearly forbidden blending with the concrete heft of the room and the overwhelming ricochet of an over-amped PA it was actually damn near heart-skipping amazing. Enough so to commend the purchase of the issue of No Depression with the band on the cover and to launch me down the reedy road of alt country fandom."

Read the rest of Leven's Wilco diary here. Thanks to Annie Zaleski at St. Louis' Riverfront Times and A to Z for hipping Rocks Off to the article.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray