Somber News from Nashville

If you're picking up this paper on Thursday, you missed it by a day, but Linda Lowe's Writers in the Round songwriter series kicked off its fifth season on Wednesday the 28th at Main Street Theater. What was originally supposed to be a celebration, though, had turned into a more somber occasion after legendary songwriter Townes Van Zandt, who was scheduled to perform, fell ill on September 12 and entered the intensive care unit of a Nashville


Zandt, who was found to have a spot on one of his lungs, has been released from ICU, but remains hospitalized. As for the Writers in the Round concert, it was quickly transformed into a benefit to help offset Van Zandt's medical bills. Lowe also would like it known that contributions toward that end may be made to Writers in the Round, earmarked for the Townes Van Zandt Fund, at 2540 Times Boulevard, Houston, TX 77005.

All in the Family: You may have noticed (it was hard to miss) the ad in the Press of two weeks back plugging the September 18 Farm Aid concert held in New Orleans' Superdome. Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp (who canceled), Spin Doctors, Gin Blossoms, and way up at the top of the page, dwarfing everything else and accompanied by a special insert bumper sticker: Titty Bingo. Never mind the Press' questionable taste in allowing an issue in which the cover story concerned the disappearance of a waitress at a topless bar to hit the streets filled with Titty Bingo bumper stickers -- who the hell is this band? And how did they get on this bill? And how in God's name did this little band nobody's ever heard pay for a full-color, full-page ad? Last question first. Titty Bingo is anchored by Dahr Jamail, brother of Justice Records honcho Randall Jamail, and there has never been any shortage of cash in that family. As for the band, brother Randall (Dahr was unavailable for comment) offers that Titty Bingo is a nine-year-old venture made up of Dahr (guitar and vocals), Freddy Fletcher (drums), top L.A. session bassist Steve Bailey and guitarist Derek O'Brien, who also handles much of the guitar and production work for Austin's Antone's Records. "They're really the ultimate garage rock and roll band," offers brother Randall, though in this income bracket the garage is more likely a hangar. He's referring, I suppose, to the fact that until Farm Aid, the group had never played to a paying audience. Titty Bingo made the gig this time, according to Jamail, at the insistence of Willie Nelson, who guested during the group's set.

The question I had to ask Jamail, since he is a record producer/label owner and all, is: are they any good? "Yeah, they're good. They held their own at Farm Aid, I tell you that." Aww, I bet he says that about all his brothers...

Up Close and Personal... Check out in-store appearances at Cactus Records on Shepherd this week by Dave Alvin, 6 p.m. Thursday the 29th, and Don Walser, 6 p.m., Friday the 30th. Yes, they'll be playing. And yes, you'll want to buy albums by the both of 'em.

Tribute to Myself: There's no small number of "tribute" albums on the market, but new is new, and this is the first time I've seen a CD come across the desk that's conceived as a musical tribute to a visual artist. Contemporary photographer, painter, billboard manipulator and New Yorker Ron English is the recipient of respectful adulation on English 101 (Unkulunkie Records -- an English-funded vanity promotional project, by the way), and all told, 16 bands from across the nation contributed tunes that were in some way inspired by English's work. Observant local browsers will surely notice that track 12, "Last Lunch," is composed and performed by Austin's favorite Houston band, Banana Blender Surprise. "Last Lunch" is another BBS song about food, but, since it's named after an English painting, I won't complain, only mentioning that it's a damn funky tune, in a slow, crawling sort of way. But don't take my word for it. Ask BBS singer David Beebe, who claims frankly: "It's a terrible song. We all think it sucks." Other BBS news: last Tuesday, the band recorded a live set at Austin's Black Cat for a Christmastime cassette release and also issued a 7-inch single of new material. By the time you read this, the band will be on the road to New York before picking up with NRBQ for a Midwest tour.

Boob Tube... I hate to be a grump, but there's just so much objectionable crap in the press material accompanying the impending launch of "And the Beat Goes On..." -- a coproduction of local Big Productions and Houston Public Television set to air on Channel 8 for a month of Saturdays commencing October 1 -- that I have to kick myself to remember that intentions are good and Rome wasn't built in a day. Start with the program note: "Series celebrates Houston's Music Scene for Generation X." This is PBS, with a federally funded mandate to educate. This is what you learn: You are a marketing niche. Get used to it. Then there's that little blip about the subjects "that local bands have sung about for generations." To wit: "Love. Cars. Drugs. And, of course, patriotism." 'Scuse me? Where's that funding coming from?

But past the complaints, the fact is that Big Productions and Channel 8 are giving a temporary go-ahead to a program that walks viewers upstairs to Fitzgerald's and let's them watch as local acts perform to audiences that, truth be told, aren't what they should be (with the exception of the crowd for The Last Wish, who packed 'em in, and with good reason). October 1 features Rice grads and happy poppers Bee Stung Lips, followed on October 8 by Gypsy Tree -- a Dallas band, for God's sake -- with Trish and Darin featured on the 15th and The Last Wish on the 22nd. Showtime is 10:30 p.m. Talented bands all, but hardly an adventurous cross section of activity referred to as a "Houston beat" with "shades of funk, reggae, country and grunge." But remember -- the purpose of any pilot is to sell the damned thing safely; get adventurous when you can afford to. So just watch it. Maybe call PBS and tell them you really like the idea of seeing Houston bands on the tube. And make sure to tell 'em you're with Gen X -- that way you'll know your vote counts.

Leon "Pappy" Selph was born here in Houston in 1914, began his study of classical violin at age seven, and by the time he reached his twenties, had already taken a job teaching songs to Bob Wills' Texas Playboys, quit when Wills moved the band to Tulsa, and formed his own Blue Ridge Playboys, who were regulars on the regional radio programs of the day. Selph went on to be many things, including a bootlegger in the U.S. Navy and a Houston firefighter, but he never left music, and says he has never stopped learning the fiddler's trade -- first from Wills and later from fiddling eminence Johnny Gimble. To this day, Selph relates from his home near Humble, he practices every day. "If I miss a day, I can tell," he admits. "And if I miss two days, you can tell."

Selph doesn't miss many days, though, and if you've missed the Houston fiddle legend in action, it's worth noting that Selph and his band play the first Friday of every month at Goode Company Barbeque on Kirby -- a gig he's held onto for the last 18 years. But more than carrying on one of the longest-running gigs in Houston, Selph is known as one of the vital links between pre-war western swing and post-war honky-tonk. It's that role he'll be reprising this Friday night, September 30, at Miller Outdoor Theater, when Texas Folklife Resources presents the second year of Texas Country Roots, "celebrating the influence of traditional music on the first wave of commercial country artists in the Lone Star State." The evening starts at 7:30 p.m. with Pappy Selph and the Blue Ridge Playboys, followed by Johnny Gimble and Texas Swing, Austin's Don Walser and the Pure Texas Band, and headlining honky-tonk legend Hank Thompson. If you didn't see the hoedown the TFR folks brought to the park last year, don't make the same mistake again.

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