Rocker Robbery

When John Evans came back to his Montrose-area apartment after a recent gig in Victoria, he looked at the spot where his equipment trailer used to be and thought there had been some kind of misunderstanding.

"At first I thought maybe the lady across the street had gotten mad and had it towed," says the tall, bespectacled rockabilly/honky-tonker. "I went and asked everybody on our street, and they all said, 'Naw, that trailer never bothered us.' So I called the police and asked them if they towed it and gave them the VIN and the plates, and they said, 'No, it's not towed,' so we reported it stolen."

Before the Victoria gig, Evans had played the Hideout at the rodeo. Evans left his trailer at the rodeo that night and picked it up the next morning. He drove the trailer to his house and parked it there before he and his guitarist sped off down Highway 59. "We were back by noon the next day," says Evans. "And the trailer and the whole nine yards was gone."

Over the last 12 months, the Derailers and Eleven Hundred Springs also have had their trailers stolen. It seems that the Texas alt-country movement is plagued by a ring of professional thieves. Evans thinks that whoever stole his trailer, at any rate, is no rank amateur. Evans washes his truck once a week, and a few days after the heist he noticed something odd. "I looked down at the rear tire rim, and there's what looks like one of those balancing weights on the side of the tire, except there was a piece of two-way tape on it and it was placed on the inside of my rim. A week ago I had washed my truck and it wasn't there then. Somebody just put it on my tire.

"I don't know what it was; it could have been somebody running a trailer scam at the rodeo," Evans theorizes. "Maybe they had a bug inside, an electronic device where they could track where you go after you leave. So that's my conspiracy theory. But there was no reason for that thing to be on my rim. It's really odd."

Evans estimates his losses at $10,000 worth of equipment, including a stand-up bass, a drum set, numerous amps and speakers, and various road cases. (He is happy to report that the miscreants didn't grab his guitars, as those traveled with him to the Victoria gig.) He says the bass and drum set are both distinctive, so if you see a big bass fiddle that's burned on one side in your local pawn shop (his bass player routinely sets the thing alight during their shows), call the cops. The same goes for the drum kit; the bass drum is emblazoned with a John Evans Band logo bordered in painted flames. The snare drum is also unusual. It's made from a rack tom and is eight inches deep and fitted with an extrawide band on the bottom.

And if any thief is stupid enough to pull Evans's trailer around in public, we'll know that Mr. Darwin was wrong. Someone dumb enough to sport a stolen trailer that's painted black with Holstein steer markings on the door surely isn't fit enough to survive.

The theft capped an awful week for Evans. "Ann Parsons [a.k.a. Mrs. River Oaks Redneck] died, and then my good friend who used to come to all of my shows -- 'Tequila Dave' Willis -- died the night after Ann's funeral," Evans says. "He went home that night and didn't wake up in the morning."

Evans was shaken up, but he hoped that an awards ceremony later in the week would cheer him up. In addition to being a musician, Evans was a star athlete, Lamar University's all-time leading passer, in fact. The Beaumont college decided to put him in its Hall of Honor, but fate rained on that parade too, in a pretty horrendous way. "My good friend who was gonna present me couldn't make it because his sisters were killed in a double murder," Evans says.

Evans remembers being at Austin's Mardi Gras celebration later that week and wondering if the sky was falling. "With all the cops in riot gear and on horseback, it looked like Beirut," he says. "So there we are three blocks from the state capitol in Austin, and we got a cowboy in the White House, and I was thinking maybe this is The End. I thought, 'We're gonna live it up tonight, and if we survive, we survive.' "

As the old Fats Domino song says, "(Blue) Monday is a mess." There is no day more blues-racked than Monday. Five long and hard work days loom ahead. One scarcely dares dream of the weekend to come. So why not continue last weekend instead?

For many years that's just what many blues musicians have been doing. Photographer James Fraher and local author/ Press contributor Roger Wood's new installation at Project Row Houses celebrates this tradition with words and photos and hopes to win new recruits to the tradition along the way.

The installation is a sidebar to Wood's book on Houston blues, to be published later this year by the University of Texas Press, and it has a tight focus. Though it takes in the past as well as the present, it's solely based on Blue Monday jams in the Third Ward. "There'll be some written elements that will deal with the legendary Shady's Playhouse and also on a joint called Nola's and a few other clubs," says Wood. "And also the more recent stuff at Miss Ann's Playpen."

Wood hopes that people will get the Blue Monday bee in their bonnet after seeing the exhibit. "We're also going to be encouraging people who might see the exhibit to go over to Miss Ann's over on Dowling Street and go to a Blue Monday," he says.

The award-winning Fraher, who has been published in dozens of periodicals and has shot over 100 album covers, has made 15 photo-shooting trips (at his own expense) to Houston since meeting Wood at an Arkansas blues conference in 1993. Fraher, a Chicagoan who was once as arrogant as all of the Windy City's blues devotees ("Whaddaya mean dey have blooze somewhere else?") had his world turned upside down by the Houston blues gospel Wood preached at the conference. After one trip down here, Fraher and Wood started working on Living Blues editor David Nelson to expand his coverage of the Houston scene, and as a result America's foremost blues journal published two Houston-themed issues in 1997 and 1998, for which Fraher provided the bulk of the pics and Wood the better part of the prose.

Scuttlebutt Caboose

Local rapper Lil' Flip and Suckafree Records have signed a distribution deal with New York City's Loud Records, making Houston's own "Freestyle King" a labelmate of Wu-Tang Clan, Xzibit and Mobb Deep. Flip is scheduled to drop the follow-up to 2000's The Leprechaun in late spring or early summer…Local hard rockers elsa mira will kick off a ten-city Gulf Coast tour with a CD release party at Fitzgerald's on February 8. Their debut disc will be self-titled…Local rockers the Southern Backtones are set to release The Formula, their second CD, next month. According to advance press, the album layers Spanish, surf and modern hard rock sounds atop their patented "Texas voodoo rockabilly" style…Make that the Clumsy Drivers: The Clumsy Lovers, scheduled to appear at Fitz's on February 21, canceled after wiping out their van on a patch of ice between Salt Lake City and Phoenix. Nobody was hurt, but their van and trailer were totaled. The band is rescheduling their Houston date…East Texas native Don Henley says he is to blame for the state of modern country radio. Speaking to the L.A. Times, the off-and-on Eagle said that the likes of Faith Hill and Shania Twain are outgrowths of his band's sound, and he is sorry that they have knocked George Jones and Merle Haggard off the air. "It's our fault, I'm so sorry, I apologize to the entire universe," Henley said….Former UH Cougar basketball scrub Master P was forced to sell his unfinished $10 million Baton Rouge recording studio to settle a $200,000 debt owed to a Louisiana contractor. It's the latest in a series of setbacks for the New Orleans-born hip-hop mogul, as his move from the Big Easy to Baton Rouge in 1997 has been a disaster. He owes his neighborhood association $14,000 in fees and the state of Louisiana $1.5 million in unpaid income taxes. Last May he entered into a consent judgment with Bank One for $740,000 after falling behind on a million-dollar promissory note.

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax