June 16, 2015
Frankly, it wasn’t the greatest night for a rock and roll show. Tuesdays rarely are, and the threat posed by hurricane season’s first named storm kept more than a few people safely at home, gassing up their generators. But while the promised rains amounted to little more than a steady drizzle last night, there was still plenty of thunder booming inside of the Continental Club. Josefus, the heavy blues act tabbed by rock historians as perhaps Houston’s first metal band, had come together once more. A little flooding? Hell, the band has weathered much worse than that since getting together back in 1969.
Doug Tull, Josefus’ loudmouthed original drummer, passed away in 1991 — he was found hanged in an Austin jail cell. Original bassist Ray T. suffered a stroke just a few years ago that left him unable to play. But boy, singer Pete Bailey and guitarist Dave Mitchell can still go, and they’ve been jamming infrequently with a couple of ringers for decades. Bassist Mark Weathers and drummer Leesa Harrington-Squyres joined the group for a recording session in 1989, and on Tuesday, it was clear what a great additions they’ve made in the years since. Both players still bring plenty of heavy-handed snap to Josefus’ sound, which boomed thick and clear from the Continental’s terrific sound system — still loud as all hell all these years later.
Bailey’s vintage stage moves are a little creakier these days than perhaps they once were, but the front man was energized from the start on Tuesday, shimmying ecstatically and tossing off a few karate kicks during the stomping “Country Boy” from the group’s Dead Man album. He hit the right notes, too, and added some terrific blues harp on a number of tunes for good measure.
“We might be a little rusty, so please forgive us,” Bailey begged of the diehard fans in attendance. “We only play every millennium.”
But they didn’t sound rusty. They sounded heavy. Dave Mitchell’s Fender still smokes, and the rhythm section was locked in all evening. Josefus played two sets, both filmed for some kind of video release. The first set was highlighted by some late-‘70s stuff, including the devastating crunch of “Slave of Fear” and the odd-time rumble of “Gamblin.’” A lot of much younger metal bands in this town wish they could pull off 5/4 time signature transitions like that.
The second set was dominated by a couple of long, interstellar jams, including the seminal “Dead Man” and their signature live tune, “Louisiana Blues.” Mitchell shone on these, unleashing powerful, endless solos that never seemed too long or too indulgent. It was some rich headbanging fodder, for sure.
Young record-collector types, bobbing their heads enthusiastically, captured every note on their smartphones; no doubt eager to share the rare performance with their YouTube subscribers as soon as it was finished. After all, one can never be sure that any Josefus concert won’t be their last, and it’s been that way for a very long time now.
Then again, they might just outlast us all. The band has survived not because they were the first, but because their music is so good. Most of their more famous contemporaries are long gone, but Josefus is still with us. And rain or shine, they can still kick some ass.
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SHOW ME HOW
Personal Bias: I definitely don’t remember the ‘60s, and I assure you that’s not due to drugs.
The Crowd: Small, but boisterous.
Overheard in the Crowd: “Do you know if they’re going to do any signings afterward?”
Random Notebook Dump: God bless the Continental Club.