Only in Houston
5. Heights Vinyl (3122 White Oak, www.heightsvinyl.com)
Houston's newest record store opened in late 2011 and has quickly climbed the ranks, winning "Best Vinyl Shop" in the 2012 Houston Press Best of Houston® awards and establishing itself as a serious pickers' destination.
Owner Craig Brown is meticulous in caring for his stock, ensuring that every used record is cleaned, re-sleeved and bagged before hitting the shelves. The High Noon Stage hosts in-store appearances and acoustic performances, which are often accompanied by free adult beverages. The pricing model is a bit unorthodox — records are categorized into price ranges (named for the characters in Reservoir Dogs) — which can result in a bit of confusion. For those with an armload of finds, it can be a chance to strike a deal.
Heights Vinyl also has a surplus of vintage turntable and sound equipment and a huge back stock of cartridges, and Brown will go to great lengths to track down whatever parts are needed to repair your turntable or simply tune it up to make sure it's in proper working order.
4. Sound Exchange (1846 Richmond, www.soundexchangehouston.com)
Down on Richmond Avenue in a small two-story Montrose house sits Sound Exchange, a bastion for the local musician. In business since 1977 – although it has changed locations several times through the years — this fiercely independent record store does it all, except carry major labels.
They'll fix your turntable, host your band for an in-store, help you track down records and even sell your music, no matter how ridiculous the packaging. There are bins of dollar records in the back for digging through, rare releases stretching along the walls, a large selection of local music that spans decades at this point, and bins of sorted vinyl stock, all worth a picker's time.
3. Sig's Lagoon (3622-E Main, www.sigslagoon.com)
Run by the lovable Tomas Escalante, this eclectic record store benefits from being surrounded by cool bars and music venues. Dealing in a swath of vintage vinyl, toys, tiki mugs and more, Sig's is a small joint that's packed to the rafters. Seriously, prints are crawling up the walls, and a trek up the stairs leads to another landing jam-packed with more records.
Escalante also brings in new stock and re-pressings, including pretty much everything from the Norton Records catalog. Sig's is a bit too tiny to host in-store appearances, but there's always great music-related art crowding the walls, and the depth of the stock is surprising. You could even snag a gem and a tiki mug and take them next door to Double Trouble, play the record and score a drink. Sig's also garners bonus points for being open until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
2. Vinal Edge (239 W. 19th, www.vinaledge.com)
Once an Outer-Loop destination, Vinal Edge finally made the jump into the Heights in the summer of 2012. Owned by Chuck Roast — one of Houston's most knowledgeable music lovers and certainly one of the most interesting with whom to converse — the store now resides on 19th Street.
The larger space gives Roast the opportunity to hold more in-store appearances, and has provided more breathing room for those navigating its ample supply of records. The selection is one of the most diverse clusters you'll find, and more stock is constantly arriving. Subscribers to the shop's e-mail list will also know that Roast occasionally releases some of his personal collection for sale, and alerts customers when newly acquired collections hit the floor for the first time.
1. Cactus Music & Video (2110 Portsmouth, www.cactusmusictx.com)
The standout favorite among Houston's fine music dealers is Cactus Music, which has something for everyone. There's a litany of in-store performances gracing the calendar, with free-flowing Saint Arnold beer accompanying each one. The Record Ranch performs double-duty operations as both vinyl digging grounds and an art gallery.
Cactus's staff is chock-full of friendly folks with an abundance of musical knowledge, from owner Quinn Bishop down to the many local musicians who work behind the counter. Stock is plentiful, there are giveaways and you can even buy tickets for local concerts.
It's hard to imagine someone walking out empty-handed, because there's such an astounding variety and depth to the stock. Cactus has been a frequent Best of Houston® winner and certainly for good reason, so stop by already.
See stores No. 6-10 on the Web at http://blogs.houstonpress.com/rocks/houstons_top_10_record_stores.php.
The Rocks Off 100
Girl from the North Country
Singer-songwriter Shellee Coley joins our ring of honor.
Jef with One F
Shellee Coley is a folksinger from Houston's northern suburbs who crafts some of the city's finest acoustic music. Her first EP, The Girl the Stencil Drew, was a stripped-down, soft piece of poetry that hinted at fantastic things to come. This time last year, she let loose with a full-length release, Where It Began, that was one of the best albums of 2012. With a voice like wind through dead trees and some really fantastic Southern-Gothic despair in her approach, she remains one of our treasures.
It's big-folks music that will appeal to the grown-ups. Coley's angsts and desires are not the feelings of teenagers but the laments of parents and spouses, good stuff that you won't regret checking out for a second. If nothing else, download her ode to the beautiful insanity of daughters in "Conversations with Z." The song will have you tearing up if you have even only the tiniest sliver of humanity.
Most of the time Coley crafts her tunes curled up in bed with her guitar. For performance, she likes Main Street Crossing and Dosey Doe, big venues for other northern acoustic acts like Kathryn Hallberg and Mason Lankford. Coley enjoys the incredible sound engineering and clarity available at the spots, which is important for her as a lyricist.
Good War Story
"Hmm...does sibling war count?" she asks. "My sister and I have had some pretty good knock-down drag-outs. One year at Thanksgiving, there was a lot of wine thrown and people left before pie was served.
"There was no blood, but there could have been if my mother had not threatened us with our lives," she adds. "And yes, we were full-grown adults at the time and I think it had to do with the game 'Catch Phrase.' STUPID GAME!"
Why Do You Stay in Houston?
Coley actually headed out to Nashville to make her mark as a musician when she was a teenager. On a trip home one year, she found herself surrounded by people who made art, not just music, in the Houston scene, and it inspired her more than Nashville ever did. She's been here ever since.
Music Scene Pet Peeve
"That point when musicians start to get popular because of what they are doing well and then all the indie people start hating them because they 'sold out' or went mainstream," says Coley. "And the business people want to keep pumping them for more 'hits' or whatever and they start burning out.
"It is so hard as an artist to find the balance," she says. "We all want a certain amount of success, even if that is just having a steady stream of income to keep doing what we do...but nobody wants to be considered a sellout, either."
First Song You Ever Fell in Love with
"[Johnny Lee's] Lookin' for love in all the wrong places," Coley says of the Urban Cowboy tune. "I had it on a 45 record and would lie on the floor and listen to it over and over again when I was a kid."
Shellee Coley plays 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 2, at La Carafe, 813 Congress.
A Life in Punk
Christian Kidd, singer of long-running Houston band the Hates, pens a memoir.
As the singer, guitarist and chief songwriter for the Hates — Houston's most enduring punk rock band and a local institution — Christian Kidd (nee Christian Arnheiter, Christian Oppression and Christian Anarchy) has seen a lot.
And as the band nears its 35th anniversary (with Kidd as the only constant), the man known even among non-music fans downtown as "the guy with the huge Mohawk" has put pen to paper for a memoir written with wife Alexis Kidd, Just a Houston Punk.
More a series of snapshots of his and the Hates' musical career than straight bio, it offers a lot of recollection and reminiscences of the city's music scene of years gone by, from clubs like the Axiom, the Vatican and Pik-n-Pak to bands that once gigged across the city with names like Legionnaire's Disease, Jerry Falwell and the Vibrating Crosses, and Chernobyl Sunrise. The book takes the Hates' story right up to the band's performances at recent Free Press Summer Fests.
"Some books are really boring that have all these details. I think people want to read about my time in the Hates and the city," Kidd says.
"I think it's really special that Houston had its own identity and underground scene for punk," he continues. "I mean, I'm not trying to slight that the Ramones and the Sex Pistols got big record deals, but they eventually became pop stars.
"We had this melting pot in Houston that was all artists and way-out people. And that's what was great about the Houston punk scene," adds Kidd. "It wiped the slate clean."
Now nearing 60 years of age and retired from his day gig working for the City of Houston's Building and Permits division, Kidd enjoyed looking back for the book, but is always on the hunt for the next Hates gig. But, as he points out, those in the punk scene could be just as strict in their outlook as fans of any other music genre, as Kidd saw when the Hates veered toward rockabilly at one point.
"I could go and on with so many stories of people who had bad reactions to that. People are territorial. You have to look and act a certain way," he says.
Of all the big names in punk, Kidd says the Sex Pistols — who he saw in San Antonio on their infamous 1978 Texas tour, right before they broke up – were the best.
"They took it to the hilt. They created the fashion, the politics and the sound," he says. "No one could top them."
In the book, he also laments the passing of the old-school Westheimer street festivals of the '70s and '80s, where curious suburbanites would descend on Montrose to witness Houston's other cultures of gays, drag queens, weirdos, space cases, burnouts, and half-naked guys with iguanas or snakes on their shoulders.
"It was really a unique time. It's a shame that someone hasn't capitalized on doing something like that again," he says. "I guess it wasn't family-friendly enough; there were too many elements over the boundaries of good taste. But you clean it up, and you lose the environment."
Just a Houston Punk is available at Cactus Music & Video, 2110 Portsmouth, and through Amazon.
Ask Willie D
A reader seeks advice on handling a difficult stepdaughter.
Dear Willie D:
I wanted to know your thoughts on how I should deal with my stepdaughter. The problem is that the mother of the child, my husband's ex-girlfriend, frequently keeps up unnecessary drama. An example of that is when she went off on my husband for being five minutes late dropping the little girl off to her.
Another example is when she said my son physically abused her daughter so that the court would take away my husband's rights to visitation, but she wanted my husband to still pay child support. That issue affected our marriage deeply.
When the accusations were made, we got a lawyer and filed for visitation rights. The outcome was that we proved to the court the accusations were false. As a result, my husband received standard visitation.
My question is, how should I treat my stepchild, who is now showing some of the same characteristics as her mother, and how do I go about loving her as my own when there are so many things getting in the way of my love for her?
Your husband needs to put his big-boy pants on and check his daughter and her ignorant mother. First, he needs to lay down the law with some house rules for his daughter, and enforce consequences if she doesn't comply.
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Then he needs to put the child's mother on notice that her days of bringing chaos into his home are over. But threats alone will not get it; he'll have to have a firm follow-through. If that means giving her a taste of her own medicine by putting the police and the courts in her life, so be it.
Loving someone else's child as you would your own can be accomplished if you train your mind to view the child as if you were responsible for her conception. If your biological child robbed a bank or got strung out on drugs, you wouldn't disown her or throw in the towel.
Instead, you would fight for her and use every resource at your disposal to support and get her on the right track. Although your situation may be complicated, the answer isn't. Unconditional love is the only way to love your stepchild as your own.
See more advice from Willie D Thursday mornings on Rocks Off.