I'll Second That Fab Motion

Down in the Houston Warehouse District, where scrawny cats and rock bands ply their trade, some long-lost characters are gathered around tacos and Red Stripe, preparing for rehearsal.

They haven't been this group-dedicated in years. "We got together again in January," the guitarist says, informatively.

"It was?" the singer buzzes him.

"I'm guessing."

Yeah, something like that. When you've shared the rock and roll dream through the dank-club circuit from Chattanooga to Hoboken and you break up and drift apart and then years later the music flirts again and all you remember is that rock and roll is too important to take seriously.

"There's no grandiose expectations," the singer says.

Except, perhaps, at a Rudyard's gig two days off. Time to go make noise.

"I'll get the 12-pack," the bass player offers.

The postcard addressed to the Houston Chronicle rock critic is dated October 1988. "Howdy," it begins in remarkably legible script, "we rocked CBGB's on Wed. now we're in Hoboken, NJ. The tour is going great. We seem to get tighter every night. I'll tell you all the new zany Fab road stories of which there are many…"

Back then Fab Motion had a vision. They were confused, like all smart rock bands, but they chased that vision down the road.

Five years earlier during an X show at Numbers, guitarist Todd Leger and vocalist-guitarist Toby Blunt decided to hook up. Leger contributed his inspired list of bad band names: Big Lar & the Percolators, the Casual Nazis, Autopsy Turvy, Armed & Hammered, the Downbeat Syndrome, Powder Mongolia.

They wound up nicking the title of a Leger composition: Fab Motion.

In 1986-7 they released two EPs, a self-titled and, with new drummer Greg Daileda and bassist Greg Mausser, Howdy, Can I Bum a Smoke? Then they hit the trail in a Dodge van, entertaining strangers and schlepping for places to crash.

"It was a great life," Blunt says with a straight face. "It's the hardest work I've ever put in, but I learned more about playing music in two years than anything before: how to adapt to situations, dealing with an array of people."

Road stories: At CBGB they got a parking ticket while unloading. The Living Room in Providence charged for Cokes when they arrived. After three months in the wasteland, they were not in the mood.

"We looked in the paper and they didn't promote the show," Mausser says. "It was a Sunday night. It was not promising." They looked at one another and split.

On a Tuesday in Ohio they basically played for the bartender's girlfriend. The vodka-medicated club owner -- surprise! -- didn't have their dough. They waited at his bank the next morning.

In Birmingham they opened for guitar idol Eric Johnson. "I hit the first note and broke a string," Blunt recalls, "and all these guitar techies are in the first row, all guys. You know they were looking at us going, 'I can do that shit.' "

In Mississippi a nice man invited them to crash at his place. "This guy," Blunt says, "had cat shit everywhere. 'Come on in!' He had to clear a spot on the floor for us to walk."

While camping in remote East Tennessee they had a Deliverance moment. In deepest night a car slowly approached up the dirt road, wigging out the boys. A guy got out, a guy with no teeth. "Y'all seen a beagle answers to the name of Rusty?" he asked, innocently.

They actually returned home friends and roommates, though there was "some distance" with girlfriends. And in 1989 the Press named Fab Motion Band of the Year.

But it was not sustainable. As happens, Fab disbanded shortly after missing their Big Chance.

"We went to South By Southwest and really did good for some strange reason," Blunt says. "We had one of those moments of clarity. The chick from Sony came up, 'You guys are great.' Solicited a bunch of material. Then we went to Dallas and had another great show, ripped up this club. She calls us up, 'Man, I heard you guys were in Dallas and were just rocking and I really wanted to see you.' So we go up there about two weeks later and fall apart onstage. Our keyboard player got drunk and fell over. The Sony lady got up and walked out in the middle of the set. We lasted about three months after that."

And this great career move: "We turned down a Mammoth Records recording contract. 'Oh, they're too small, let's hold out.' " Mammoth then was bought by Disney.

By 1990 it was over. Toby and Greg D mutated into Blunt, playing occasionally brilliant music with paranoid tendencies, recording Further. In 1994 Toby opened Mary Jane's on Washington, home for the hearing-impaired. ZZ Top did play a private show there. "I was cleaning toilets," Toby relates, "and heard a knock on the door and it's Billy Gibbons. I said, 'I don't know if you want to be shaking my hand.' "

But generally, Todd explains, everybody settled down and "went to monasteries."

"Figuring out the meaning of life?"

"How to earn money."

"Without prostituting yourself too much."

"It's all a matter of degrees. Playing music's probably one of the worst cases of prostitution there is."

Rehearsal building sign: "If you want to be a punk rocker, well, that's cool, but don't be a punk. Let's keep the halls clean, or someone will certainly Iggy Pop your ass."

In room 1-D a bare hanging bulb illuminates a padded cell for hopeless musicians -- windowless, carpeted throughout. Thundering through the wall is a badass metal band. "I think they're stealing our songs," Toby says. "That's what rock and roll is all about," Todd assures him.

Behind Greg D's kit is a butt-piled ashtray, a sack of sticks and a first-aid kit. For bleeding fingers? "No, they only bleed when you're 12. Then you've got calluses for life."

A crumpled set list lies on the floor. One selection is called "Death. "

"Are you guys gonna be loud?" the visitor inquires.

"Yeah, we have to be. The answer is yes."

After they destroy one tune Toby declares, "That's some pretty bombastic rock and roll."

Bombastic, everyone nods, indeed.

"Any advice for Saturday, like not show up?" Greg D solicits the visitor regarding their first Rudyard's gig in, oh, a million years.

"Just wait until the crowd's drunk."

"We should buy them beer," Toby says, "since only two will show up. We'll schmooze 'em, the Catskills thing. 'You're a lovely couple, where are you from?' "

"You can always fall down between songs," Todd suggests.

Rudyard's, May 31: Fab Motion is rocking, guitars droning and squalling and rearranging atomic particles. The singer even remembers the words. Girls dance, boys dance to the bar. Soundman is former Fab knobbie Skinny Joe, bat wings and lucky charms atop his equalizer stack.

They rattle the furniture till closing. It's late, again. It always got that way, back when all was blurry. "Well, we managed to run everybody off," the guitarist says triumphantly.

Fab Motion appears Saturday, October 4 at Rudyard's, 2010 Waugh Drive. Los Fantastics open. For more information, call 713-521-0521.

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Marty Racine