Sometimes called Houston’s “First Lady of the Blues” or “First Lady of Soul,” the dynamic Trudy Lynn was still in her teens when she sang onstage with “Iceman” Albert Collins’s band and opened for Ike & Tina Turner. Even so, her recent success has arguably put the sixtysomething singer in the prime of her career.
Lynn grew up in Fifth Ward, where her mother ran a beauty shop next door to one of Houston’s leading R&B clubs, Club Matinee on Lyons Avenue. After she got a little older, she sang at small clubs and military bases around Texas and spent five years as the featured singer in The Rhythmaires, the popular band led by guitarist and Duke-Peacock alum Clarence Green.
Lynn went solo and worked steadily but only recorded sporadically until the late 1980s and 1990s, when she released several well-received albums on Atlanta-based “soul blues” label Ichiban Records. By the turn of the century, she was appearing regularly at blues festivals nationwide and recording every so often; 2006's I'm Still Here found Lynn fronting the big band led by beloved late Houston bluesman Calvin Owens.
In September of last year, Royal Oaks Blues Cafe, which mixes autobiographical songs “Every Side of Lonesome” and “Down In Memphis” with selections by obscure female artists like Clara Smith, Eloise Bennett and Bea Booze, hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Blues Albums chart nearly a year after its release. (A followup is due this fall.) It's been quite a journey, but Lynn understands more than most that a taste for the blues can take a lifetime to develop.
“With what’s going on in the world today, everybody got the blues a little bit, they just don’t realize it,” she told the Defender’s Monica Coleman in 2012. “I tell everyone – young people included — just keep living. One day you’ll get the blues.”
Once a Texas Playboy, always a Texas Playboy. Herb Remington joined Bob Wills’s legendary Western Swing outfit after he got out of the military in 1946 and stuck around long enough to play on one of the group’s best-known songs, “Faded Love.” However, it’s the B-side, “Boot Heel Drag,” where Remington’s steel skills really shine. While with his next group, the band led by hillbilly-boogie singer Hank Penny (“Bloodshot Eyes”), he composed “Remington Ride,” which became a signature song for both Remington and the steel guitar itself. It has since been recorded dozens of times, including by blues great Freddie King and Colorado jam band the String Cheese Incident.
A little further into the ‘50s, Remington settled in Houston and joined the house band of Houston’s Starday Records, appearing on singles like George Jones' “Why Baby Why.” Besides a number of solo albums (1966’s From Houston to Nashville, for one) he has also recorded with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Floyd Tillman, Sleepy LaBeef and the Swingfield Playboys, among many others. In 1979 Remington was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame.
Remington is equally accomplished on Hawaiian steel guitar, and equally respected in Hawaiian-music circles. For many years he and his wife, Mel, led a band called the Beachcombers that toured far and wide, tropical destinations especially. And when he isn’t playing one, Remington runs Remington Steel Guitars out of a house in Third Ward, near where he once recorded all those Starday sides at Gold Star Studios (now SugarHill). Examples of the company’s signature model, the Remington Steelmaster, start at $995.
Harry Sheppard has kept Houston swinging well into his eighties, and ranks alongside Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson among the greatest vibraphone players in jazz history. He's also known for his technical wizardry, outfitting his instrument with effects pedals and electronic pickups that allow him to control the volume of each bar. In his younger days, Sheppard played with Billie Holliday, Coleman Hawkins, longtime Tonight Show bandleader Doc Severinsen and in the band for Barbra Streisand’s first televised performance. He joined Benny Goodman’s orchestra in the early 1960s, and told Houston’s Channel 8 his time with the group was “the dream of my lifetime, never to be forgotten.”
Sheppard moved to Houston in the mid-‘80s to care for a daughter who was battling cancer, only to lose her a year later. Several years later, talking about the move to the Press’s Brad Tyer in 1994, he said, “to this day I’ve never given it a second thought.” In the mid-‘90s he befriended Randall Jamail, owner of Justice Records, and was awarded the star-crossed label’s only lifetime contract. He also fell in with perennial HPMA Best Jazz winners Free Radicals and has appeared on several of their albums, the latest being 2012 HPMA Best Album winner The Freedom Fence. Although he beat back a cancer scare a few years back, Sheppard is still out there playing regular gigs at Cafe Brasil Monday nights, Sundays in his duo of more than 25 years with flutist Bob Chadwick, and selected dates with the Radicals.
“With Harry it was the first time there was a happy-go-lucky feeling while playing, and the audience picked up on that,” Chadwick told another of Sheppard’s frequent collaborators, Free Radicals leader Nick Cooper, in a 2013 Free Press Houston article. “With Harry, people are smiling, whether they know anything about music or not.”
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