The Rocks Off 100: Crystal Toliver, Source of That Yello Echo You Hear

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Welcome to the Rocks Off 100, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See the entire Rocks Off 100 at this link.

Who? There is no voice in Houston like that of Crystal Toliver, maybe even the world. Think of it as a combination of Poe and Mary J. Blige, or maybe Aretha Franklin and Nina Hagen. It's a high, powerful instrument that dances the line between girlish and wanton, and Toliver delivers every note through an infectious toothy grin that makes seeing the weird indie-pop/disco thingamajig that Yello Echo does live a veritable hoot.

Toliver grew up around music. Her mother taught her and her sister to sing when they were very young. She performed in the church choir, banged around on whatever musical instruments were lying around, and wrote poetry. Sometime after Toliver's first band, A Temperamental Muse, split, she teamed with Mani Nezami (on his wife's advice) to form Yello Echo. They hit it off musically and have been putting out their particular brand of pop ever since. Their first music video is scheduled to be shot this month.

Home Base: Toliver writes whenever and where her music strikes her, and carries a notebook for the moments the muse appears. She's a compulsive creator who never slows down.

She likes playing the Continental Club a great deal, as well as Midtown wine bar Khon's. The band has always had a good time at both because of the warm atmosphere and the fact that people go there to specifically listen to the music.

Good War Story: "I dunno if this counts as one story, but there was one particular weekend or couple of weekends where we got kicked out of every gig we'd booked!" says Toliver. "One gig was this kinda artsy party that kicked out our drummer Chris [Bassett] and said he was too loud and we couldn't play, before Mani and I had even gotten there.

Then the next night we got two songs into a set and the police shut the whole thing down because of that noise ordinance B.S.," she adds. "Then the next weekend we got halfway into a set and all the power went out so we couldn't finish. It was just so ridiculous you had to laugh at it, you know."

Music Scene Pet Peeve: Like a lot of bands here on town, Toliver wishes there was a more centralized scene. They gig all over the city, constantly running into acts that they haven't heard of or haven't heard of them. The distance makes it harder to support everyone, she feels.

Five Desert Island Discs: "I'm always so bad at these kinds of questions and I'll probably think of better answers later on and be like, 'Awe I shoulda said that instead,'" shrugs Toliver. "But here goes anyway..."

  • Stevie Wonder, Hotter Than July
  • "any Nina Simone album"
  • Outkast, Aquemini
  • Queen, Greatest Hits
  • "Tracy Chapman's self titled album"

"... I think."

Best Show You've Ever Seen: "I see a lot of good local shows all the time, and I hardly ever go to concerts of big name bands or performers, so nothing really comes to mind as the best show. But I wish I could watch a show with '60s/'70s Aretha Franklin, '80s Stevie Wonder, '80s Micheal Jackson, '70s Nina Simone or go back in time to Woodstock or Monterrey Pop. Any one of those would be the best show to me."

Jef has a new story, a tale of headless strippers and The Rolling Stones, available now in Broken Mirrors, Fractured Minds. You can also connect with him on Facebook.

See who else has joined the Rocks Off 100 this year on the next page.


Mr. Castillo, Song-Sniping DJ

DJ Big Reeks, The Chief Waxaholic

Melane Gutierrez, The Coffin Queen

Folk Descendent Kevin Taylor Kendrick

Eloy Contreras, Deathrazor's Sharp Thrash Vocals

Robert McCarthy, Guitarist From Beyond

Justice Tirapelli-Jamail, The Manichean's "Quiet One"

Charlie Horshack, LP4's Guitar Warrior

Kathryn Hallberg, Little Girl Gone

Tessa Kole, PuraPharm's Voice and Vice

Richard Griesser, Vintage Camera Hound With Enviable Archive

Downfall 2012, Sci-Fi Metal Storytellers

Kevin Choate, Drum Like You're Screaming

DJ Rockwell, Booth Pimp and Party-Rocker

Ash Kay, the Freakouts' Punk Vocal Head-Butt

Pat Kelly, The Godfather of the Suffers

Michelle Miears of BLSHS, Siren In the Machine

DJ Remix, Genre-Hopping Mix Maniac

Kahna, Brutal Nation's Metal Booking Queen

DJ Ill Set, Enemy of Wack Tracks

Shane Tuttle, Updog Owner and Album-Cover Designer

Electric Attitude, Renegades of Funk

Sama'an Ashrawi, Trill Gladiator

Recon Naissance, A Rap While Matt's Guitar Gently Weeps

DJ Klinch Asks, "Can You Dig It?"

Jose "Chapy" Luna, Percussionist Con Corazón

Love Dominique, Wicked Heart R&B Chanteuse

Chris Gerhardt, Mastermind of Giant Battle Monster

The Jobe Wilson Band, the Boys From Chambers County

Kimberly M'Carver, Missouri City's Nightingale

DJ Panchitron, Stirring the Cumbia/Moombahton Melting Pot

D.R.I's Kurt Brecht, Thrash Zone Supervisor

Sloan Robley, The Last Houstonian Banshee

Jack Saunders, Dealer of Grit & Jangle

Richard Ramirez, Noise God and Black Leather Jesus

Mike Meegz, Scoremore's Houston Lieutenant

Jacqui Sutton, Houston's "Jazzgrass Lady"

Robin Kirby, Silk and Sandpaper Songwriter

Billy Dorsey, Grammy-Winning MARATHON Runner

David DeLaGarza, Don of Tejano Stars La Mafia

Jason Puffer, Your Psychedelic Sex Panther

Tobin Harvell, Fitzgerald's Unflappable Floor Manager

Walter Suhr, the Straw That Stirs Mango Punch!

Tony Garza, La Orquesta Salmerum Founder

OG Ron C, Chopstar King of the Purple Dome

Football, etc., Giving Emo Back Its Good Name

Angela Jae, Renaissance Artist

Shellee Coley, Voice of the Northern Woods

Blaggards, Houston's St. Paddy's Day House Band

DJ Meshak, Hongree Records' Sound Selecter

K-Rino, South Park Coalition's Southside Maven

DJ Candlestick, One Niceguy and a Very Busy DJ

Danielle Renee, Only Beast's Destroyer of Walls

Felipe Galvan of Los Skarnales

Kristine Mills, Houston's Brassiest Voice

Brian Davis, Punk Drummer, Horror Composer

Elroy Boogie, Top-Notch Turntablist

Sean Ozz, Wizard of The Abyss

Alyssa Rubich, Angel of Instability

Alphonso "Fonz" Lovelace, Righteous Drummer

Frank Zweback, Funkmaster General

OG Bobby Trill, Bombon Beatmaker

Beau Beasley, Organist for the End of Time

Rapid Ric, Mixtape Mechanic

Dwight Taylor Lee, the Wandering Bufalero

Coline Creuzot, Soulful Pop/R&B Singer

Cristina Acuna, Cactus Music's Twitter Fingers

Clint Broussard, Blues In Hi-Fi Man Now Back On FM

Nortnii Rose, Houston Ska's Greatest Hope

Ramblin' Chase Hamblin, the Man Who Will Be Paid

Chris Alonzo, Bringing Night Flight to Facebook


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