Houston Music

Retro Musicians Still Make Houston Swing

Louis Armstrong once said, "The memory of things gone is important to a jazz musician. Things like old folks singing in the moonlight in the back yard on a hot night or something said long ago."

Bittersweet in its achy nostalgia, the saying is quite fitting for some of Houston's retro musicians. On vintage instruments, these players resurrect the memory of music long gone, bringing new life to the words of Etta James or Bob Wills, paying homage to the old swing and jazz greats.

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One such act, the Belmont Four, is a prime example. With a catalogue of old songs, these talented four musicians -- Bart Maloney, Nick Gaitan, Robert Rodriguez and Rajiv Grover -- have made it their mission to pass along songs from decades ago. You can almost hear the crackle of the old record playing when the group breaks out an old American standard like Hoagy Carmichael's 1927 hit "Stardust." It's a strange feeling, being transported to an era you never belonged to, but somehow, among the slicked-back hair and the hum of that old music, it works.

Even with only a handful of shows under their vintage belts, it's amazing the following the Four has built. There must be something about hearing "San Antonio Rose" on an old steel guitar -- Maloney has been playing his 1954 Fender Triple Neck Stringmaster for the past decade or so, to be precise -- that draws in the growing crowds.

But it's not just the steel that people are lining up to see. It's also Rodriguez's old squeezebox, an instrument long forgotten on much of the local scene, the tap-tap-tap of Grover old drums, and multiple HPMA winner Gaitan on that old bass -- where he'd be tonight were he not in the midst of another tour with Billy Joe Shaver -- that lure them in, one by one.

That's precisely what Maloney and the band aim to do: draw a crowd to hear songs even their grandparents are probably too young to remember.

"You know, it's really about trying to keep the tradition alive," the steel man says. "It's music that a lot of people aren't introduced to,"

And he's right. These days songs like "Sleepwalk," by '50s rock-and-roll musicians Santo and Johnny, are rare just about anywhere. But you might hear it at a Belmont Four show.

With a catalogue as varied and as eclectic as the one that Maloney keeps in his back pocket, it's impossible to know just what they'll whip out. Except that it will be a vintage tune, of course.

"There's something really cool about getting younger people into this music," laughs Maloney.

There is indeed. And The Belmont Four are hardly the only ones who know it. Take Allison Fisher.

Story continues on the next page.

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Angelica Leicht
Contact: Angelica Leicht