No one begins writing music from a blank slate. What you’re hearing as a “new release” today has been formulating for years, often going back to the first songs your favorite musicians heard and loved.
This notion is not lost upon Nick Gaitan. He’s one of Houston’s most successful musicians, notable for playing bass with country-music legend Billy Joe Shaver and sharing the stage with diverse acts like Los Skarnales, Joe Ely, Girl in a Coma and Willie Nelson. With his band The Umbrella Man, Gaitan has carved out his own place in the city’s music history.
His newest project, Nick Gaitan’s Tune Parlour, pays homage to the Gulf Coast roots music that influenced his sound. As part of the initiative’s curation efforts, that music will be front and center at the Gaitan-assembled "Sounds of Tejas Roots Music," a show slated for Saturday at House of Blues.
“Tune Parlour is a collective of my efforts to bring a vibe, a soundscape, something that we all grew up with but seems to be underrepresented in mainstream media,” Gaitan says. “It all comes from our region and roots.”
The show will spotlight San Antonio’s Chicano soul specialists Los Nahuatlatos, whose blend of familiar South Texas accordion-driven music with soulful harmonies is arresting, offers Gaitan. Also on the bill is his own new band the Tune Parlour House Band, also featuring members of The Umbrella Man, Flamin’ Hellcats and Los Pistoleros de Texas, whose gumbo of Tex-Mex, swamp pop, zydeco and cumbia should be particularly tasty. Reggae/rocksteady act The Skatastrophics slip in ahead of DJ Simmer Down’s Tejas Got Soul, an all-vinyl sound system that will spin classic Tejano, Chicano soul and conjunto oldies. (Cactus Music, 2110 Portsmouth, hosts a sneak peak of the show at 3 p.m. Saturday.)
DJ Simmer Down, aka Isaac Rodriguez, says there are some very good reasons to honor these musical styles. For one, the music is excellent and gets people dancing, which we saw first-hand at Simmer Down’s annual Halloween show at Eastdown Warehouse. His song selection that night had people moving their costumed bodies all over the dancefloor. Aside from that, Rodriguez says the music is culturally significant for Houstonians.
“It's important because I feel like it's good for us, as Chicanos, to keep our tradition and culture alive," Rodriguez says. "These artists have put in hard work into making their music and we cannot let it die. This music was made in our own backyards, yet most have forgotten about it or have never heard of it. Right now, I feel like it's my job to push this music out to the public, which is why I started the Tejas Got Soul campaign — to get the music back in their ears and to get them dancing in the process.”
Gaitan is one of Houston’s busiest musicians. But preserving this music, the songs he heard growing up on Houston’s East End, has become a passion he plans to follow even if it means clearing his calendar a bit. As in the past, he’s networked to bring things together, teaming with Killem Collective and Pure Peach Marketing on the initiative. He hopes to curate a Tejas roots show for SXSW in the spring.
“The Tune Parlour was created in the midst of all I have been working on for the past several years,” Gaitan says. “When I jumped on the scene 15 years ago, I was just starting to play an upright bass. After that, I would observe a few of the ins and outs of music when I could and how bands can run, with regard to booking and managing.”
Now, the goal is to “elevate our music beyond neighborhood bars and ice houses,” Gaitan continues. “Latin music represented in the mainstream is not reflected on the streets. We play everything from country, cumbia, Tex-Mex, Chicano soul, ska [and] conjunto. We sing in English, but our sounds are Latin-influenced. This combo only gets radio play on reggaeton stations.”
If “Tejas roots” seems like a nebulous term, Rodriguez offers some clarity and a few choice samples of the music you can seek out before Saturday’s show. Consider it a crash course, courtesy of Professor Simmer Down.
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“If someone was new to the Tejas Got Soul sound, they could expect to hear different genres of Texas music such as conjunto, early Tejano and Chicano soul,” he explains. “I'd have to say that these are three of personal favorite spins: 'Love Me,' by The Royal Jesters from San Antonio, 'Foolish Things' by Big Lu y Los Muchachos from Houston and 'Smile Now, Cry Later,' by Sunny and the Sunliners from San Antonio.”
That Sunny song brings back some memories for me. At Simmer Down’s Halloween bash, Gaitan, Rodriguez and I chatted about the songs and how we first heard them. For Gaitan, it was by way of his grandparents. My folks wore the grooves down on albums by Jimmy Edward, El Chicano, the Boogie Kings and, of course, Sunny Osuna, who played their wedding reception.
“What got me started was my aunt. A couple of years ago, my aunt gave me two boxes of 45s that she's had since the ‘60s. I took them home, cleaned them up, and immediately fell in love with what she gave me. It was Joe Bravo, Jr., Jesse and the Teardrops, Sunny and the Sunliners and Augustine Ramirez, just to name a few,” says Rodriguez, who has been spinning the music for more than a year now. “I then started to research these bands and was able to find out about many other artists through them.”
Nick Gaitan's Sounds of Tejas Roots Music unspools this Saturday, November 28 at House of Blues' Bronze Peacock Room. Doors open at 8 p.m.