Researching what the Houston music scene was like 20 years ago has been an eye-opening experience, to put it mildly. In that benighted era, the world was very analog. Musicians could design a gig flyer or type up some lyrics on their computers, maybe fiddle around with some primitive MIDI-type software, but that's about it. To communicate, people had to use a telephone tethered to a wall jack or use the good old U.S. Postal Service. The telephone poles of Montrose and the Heights were littered with those flyers.
The way the Houston Press covered music back then was also vastly different. The paper did not have a full-time music editor, and some weeks the music pages were completely given over to classical music; a few weeks there were only club listings. Apart from those listings, weeks could go by without a local artist being mentioned at all, and then it came in bunches; several recent local 7-inches reviewed all at once, for example.
And yet somehow, Houston musicians managed to make and sell records, book shows, occasionally go on tour and get reviewed in the local paper just like they do now. It's still a scene full of people hoping to make it big while looking for just a little respect.
And the more we looked over the listings, the more familiar names we found. Places like the Black Forest Tavern & Gardens, Fabulous Satellite Lounge (which opened that year) and the Axiom may be long gone, but Last Concert Cafe, Dan Electro's Guitar Bar, Fitzgerald's, Anderson Fair and McGonigel's Mucky Duck haven't gone anywhere, and may never.
This week Rocks Off combed through the 1992 issues of the Press to see which bands and musicians were making news back then. We like it the way it is now just fine, but it must have been something to walk into the Black Forest and see Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown wailing away, or mighty funk lords Sprawl tearing up the Axiom. Especially since you can imagine what might happen if you Google "Sprawl Houston" today.
Atomic Opera: The third leg of the King's X/Galactic Cowboys Katy prog-metal triangle, Atomic Opera eventually toured with Dio and got some MTV play for their video "Justice." The group is still out there, although AO seems to be semi-retired from performing and touring. See more at www.atomicopera.com.
Deadhorse: Known for their twisted T-shirts and relentless battery of riffs, deadhorse was making serious inroads in the national metal underground by 1992 on the back of their 1991 LP Peaceful Death and Pretty Flowers. Singer Michael Haaga left a few years later, but the Horse steered by Scott Sevall soldiers on and plays occasional shows like this summer's When We Ruled H-Town weekend.
De Schmog: Public News favorite de Schmog must have been seriously warped by the '70s, and in 1992 put out The New Johnny Bravo 7-inch. Dixon called it "fun, goofy (in a cool sorta way) pop with sung/spoken vocals; think maybe early B-52's as a reference point." Today, you can watch de Schmog's October 1997 farewell show at Rudyard's on YouTube.
Infected: Twelve From Texas: This all-Houston compilation, save stone Austin freaks the Zendik Farm Band, featured Bleachbath, Frequent Friars, From Now On, and many others. "Got grunge written all over it." the Press' Brian Dixon wrote in March.
King's X/Galactic Cowboys: These Katy prog-metal bands, managed and produced by Sam Taylor, co-headlined a show at the Music Hall in June 1992. Impressive. "The show wasn't quite a Stryper scene, complete with busloads of church youth groups, but four-letter words were noticeably lacking," our Jeff Tomich wrote. The Cowboys are long gone, but we think King's X may have done OK for themselves.
Pain Teens: People still talk about this psych-punk/industrial/goth group steered by Bliss Blood and Scott Ayers, with good reason. No less than Sub Pop anointed the Teens' "Death Row Eyes"/"The Smell" its single of the month for April, although it did not hit the streets until May. "It continues the band's morbid fascination with the disturbed and demented side of life," Dixon wrote. The band were also at work on their Trance Syndicate LP Stimulation Festival, released that year.
Peglegasus: One of Houston's top alt-pop bands for a good long spell. In '92 they put out the Angry Neighbor 7-inch "Inlet/Chief?" "'Chief?,' with its spacey, melodic Husker-ish chorus is a keeper - a very cool song," Dixon wrote in April. "Kraftwerk fans take note: With no keyboards in sight, the band plows through a faithful, souped-up cover of 'Autobahn' on the flip."
David Rice: The highly touted singer-songwriter, then 21, debuted with the album Orange Number Eight. "Acoustic-based pop along the lines of Michael Penn and Toad the Wet Sprocket," Dixon wrote. "The CD overflows with beautiful and extremely personal, image-laden lyrics." He went on to release the 1998 album greenelectric on Columbia, do music for film and commercials, and today runs the creative agency Flow Nonfiction in Austin.
The Road Kings: Jesse Dayton's hard-charging rockabilly bad boys were riding high and closing down the honky-tonks such as Telephone Road's Local Charm and Richmond joint the Pig. He still visits often and swears Houston is much cooler than Austin, where he now lives.
Sprawl: SSSSPRRRAWWWWWWLLLLLLLLL. An approximation of Sprawl's ubiquity and importance to the local scene in the early '90s.
Spunk: Axiom regulars Spunk released a four-song seven-inch full of "heavy-duty driving punk that occassionally veers into metal-land," Dixon wrote.
Sugar Shack: What you might expect from a group named after the Archies' most famous song, Sugar Shack, Sugar Shack was a reliable source of power-pop thrills for many years. In '92 they put out Fearless Frata Killer, a three-song 7-inch with "an in-your-face power groove that blows away anything on their first two releases," wrote Dixon.
The Mike Gunn: The legendary Houston stoner-rock gods steered by future Charalambides man Tom Carter released Hemp for Victory in '92. "Sure, it's got that slow, Sabbath-inspired grunge-oid feel with freaky vocals," said Dixon, "but these guys aren't afraid of tossing in a little melody every now and then."
Three Day Stubble: Nerdcore made an early appearance on the local scene. "This three-song single is a full six minutes and 11 seconds of inept, little-kid-style playing, annoying vocals and improvised-sounding songs that barely stay together," Dixon wrote. "Depending on where you're coming from, you'll either think it's pure genius or it'll make you throw up."
Trish & Darin: The sunny sibling folk-pop duo were one of the most popular Houston acts for years, and released Yes We're Open in early '92 as they held down a residency at the Black Forest. Trish & Darin still visit at least once a month as singing drummer and featured vocalist in Austin tribute band supreme Skyrocket!
Venus In Furs: In a rare feature article on a local band, the Press dubbed Venus "not Sprawl" in April behind their new release Margaritas In a Blender of Sound. "These six Rice dudes play straight-ahead, full-on, throbbing funk," wrote Dixon. "Their new tape, produced and engineered by Sprawl drummer Nick Cooper, is everything you'd expect from the genre: A little rap, a little reggae and a whole heap of that horn-driven funky stuff."
Carolyn Wonderland: This guitar-slinging Joplin-come-lately was just beginning to rule Houston's blues-rock roost. She won "Best Up and Coming" in the '92 HPMAs, setting the stage for many awards to come, and stuck around for well more than a decade before moving to Austin and releasing the excellent Peace Meal last year.
Also: Sad Pygmy, Global Village, Crazykilledmingus, Banana Blender Surprise, The Missiles, Toho Ehio, Zen Archer, Joint Chiefs, Twenty Mondays, Miss Molly & the Whips, Toy Subs
Still Kickin': Allison Fisher, Beans Barton & the Bi-Peds, Milton Hopkins & the Hit City Blues Band, Sonny Boy Terry, Flying Fish Sailors, Poor Dumb Bastards, Shake Russell & Jack Saunders (not together, though), Mango Punch!, Grady Gaines & the Texas Upsetters, Rusted Shut, ZZ Top
The 1992 Houston Press Music Award Winners
The '92 HPMAs were held August 24 at D2R at S. Gessner and Westpark, the current site of Latino discoteca Club La Boom.
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Best Up and Coming: Carolyn Wonderland Best Local Label: Justice Records Best Funk: Global Village Best Pop/Rock: The Basics Best Rap: Def Squad Best Jazz: Sebastian Whittaker Best Zydeco: Pierre & the Zydeco Dots Best C&W: Kevin Black Best Folk/Acoustic: Shake Russell & Jack Saunders Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal: deadhorse Best Blues/R&B: Miss Molly