Is dead horse dead meat? In a word, yes. And this time, it appears, the Houston band has finally taken the proverbial stake through the heart. No more last-gasp reorganizations, no more resurrections; I've been assured by its founders that this time it's really over -- finito, done, kaput -- after its newest member, frontman Scott Sevall, recently tendered his resignation.

"The world can now stick a fork in us; we're done," wrote guitarist Greg Martin in a letter to the group's fans. (Band members aren't talking to the media about the breakup.)

To say the least, dead horse has been one of the more irrepressible entities on the Houston music scene. Followers of the band's ramrod mix of warped psychedelia and thrash-metal menace aren't hard to find, and they crop up in the most unexpected places. Case in point: One morning at last year's South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, I threw on a dead horse T-shirt before heading out. Big mistake. All day long I was greeted by pro-dead horse chants and thumbs-up gestures and fielded inquiries about the band's condition. Those I met came from as far away as California and New Jersey. Talk about grassroots support; this is a group that hasn't had a CD in national circulation since 1991's Peaceful Death and Pretty Flowers.

Horse freaks could very well be the most tolerant breed of fan in Texas headbanger history. Certainly, it wasn't easy being one of the faithful when, at the top of its game in 1995, the band all but dropped off the face of the earth. Four years earlier, dead horse had appeared off to the races. They'd signed a national recording deal with Big Chief/Metal Blade and were riding high on a growing swell of support from heavy metal pundits across the country. Then Big Chief folded just after the release of Peaceful Death, and the bottom came out of the group's game plan. Still, they plugged along, pounding it out on the road with very little financial return.

Two years ago, however, original singer/ guitarist/lyricist Michael Haaga lost his faith in miracles and bailed. The rest of dead horse responded by taking several months off, allowing rumors about the band's disintegration to proliferate before returning with new singer/guitarist Sevall. They recorded an EP, Boil(ing), for the local Sound Virus label, and began talking about a German tour. Then ... nothing.

Around the time of Boil(ing)'s release, Martin assured me that we were witnessing a rebirth of dead horse. They'd "made an investment in this now," he said. "It all feels new again." His tone reeked of hokey optimism. I couldn't help picturing the scene from Spinal Tap where bandleader David St. Hubbins hands a tiny audience the very same spiel. At that moment in their fictional career, I believe, the members of Spinal Tap were sharing a bill with a puppet show at an amusement park.

Then again, Spinal Tap never had its own beer. That's right, at one time dead horse peddled a personalized microspew they dubbed Horse Piss Ripped. Apparently, it wasn't a big seller.

But all that's over and done with, according to Martin.
"Our career has been plagued with wishy-washy A&R people, bullshit artists and labels that folded," he wrote in his letter to the fans. "But it's not all their fault. We have made some pretty fuckin' stupid mistakes on quite a few occasions. But, whatever it was, it's history now."

Release activity... Noches Asturianas is the latest CD from Houston's Syrinx, a modern jazz cooperative led by flutist Evan Bauman that features local guns Joe LoCascio (piano), Alexis Valk (bass), Joe Ferreira (drums) and Erich Avinger (guitar). Also sitting in on the project is Austinite Tony Campise, whose fluid sax lines bathe this collection in the appropriate amount of studied cool. The disc draws its material from a pool of Houston composers, among them some of the more high-profile players in town, including Paul English, Dennis Dotson, Warren Sneed and David Caceres. And while Syrinx does a provocative number on the Chick Corea fusion standard "Spain," the group lays into the local tunes with far more bravado. Especially frisky is the loose, lavish treatment of Caceres's "Innermost."

Local ska-punk threesome Los Skarnales landed a track on Puro Eskanol, a new underground Latin ska compilation on San Francisco-based Aztlan Records. As for the music, some of it is pure ska, some of it leans toward punk and some of it sounds like music you might hear blaring from the balcony of a Tijuana disco. All of it is sung in Spanish. But hey, grooves this intoxicating are a cross-cultural phenomenon anyhow. Think Specials on a tequila binge. La Mafia it ain't.

Etc.... There's a rumor circulating that Rockefeller's has been denied a spot in Bayou Place, downtown's amusement-mall-in-progress. The Rockefeller's folks decline to comment on the talk, as do the Bayou Place people. Word on the street, however, is that Rockefeller's, which planned on opening a second club in the new entertainment complex, is out of the running for a lease. Whether this turns out to be truth or only gossip, the club's management says the original venue is staying put.

-- Hobart Rowland

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Hobart Rowland