The Rocks Off 100: Nick Gaitan, Upright Bass-Plucking Umbrella Man

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.

Who? The Umbrella Man's Nick Gaitan, "native son of Houston Town," grew up in Southeast Houston's Pecan Park. He began playing upright bass in college at U of H. Gaitan has been a working musician since 1999, playing with Los Skarnales, The Octanes and Billy Joe Shaver as well as Umbrella Man.

"There have been many more bands and musicos I have played with, for gigs and sessions," he says. "Music has taken me through so many parts of the country and a several parts of the world."

Home Base: "I perform very much in the downtown area, but will have a residency more times than not on the 3700 block of Main," says Gaitan about the home of the Continental Club, Big Top and Natachee's Supper & Punch. Currently Umbrella Man plays Thursdays at the Big Top, and one Friday each month at the D&W Lounge in Second Ward.

Gaitan, named Musician of the Year in the 2010 Houston Press Music Awards, also enjoys playing Discovery Green and shares a rehearsal space with two other bands in a Chinatown studio.

Why Do You Stay in Houston? "I stay in Houston for so many reasons," Gaitan says. "It's a hard, hard city that knows diversity from its origins. It has a rich history and all that diversity still exists. Working-class roots in Houston will never die, either.

"It's a friendly place," he continues. "One of the friendliest places I have known. But, it's also a place where you can get your ass kicked real good (or worse) if you get out of step with someone. Houston will always be my home."

War Story: "Well, let's see..." he mulls. "I played with Los Skarnales for around seven or eight years. I had to do this a few times, years ago but this one I remember the most. Some asshole promoter that thought he was hot shit and wanted to bring a band into town did so without securing his guarantee, promoting the event or even having a decent sound system.

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At the end of the night, he was taking so long to pay us and I saw him huddled in a corner with his partner squirming. I went over to ask,"What the hell is taking so long?" and he came up with a thousand excuses and started pointing fingers and getting shitty with me. He wouldn't even tell me how much we made at the door or how short he was!!

Since he was so rude, I just grabbed the money right out of his hand and counted it. Now he was only short a few hundred. I guess he felt the pressure cause he started getting pissed and nervous at one point asking me "What the fuck do you want me to do?" That's when I noticed there was an ATM in the room.

I got him to pull his ATM card out [and] get our cash from his personal stash. I didn't care where it came from. As this was happening, I saw his weasel-ass friend trying to slide out the door. I look up and told him that I would catch him if he took off, so he decided not to run.

We got our cash and went on our way. I used to have to watch out for bad business all the time. Now, I can see it coming a mile away.

Music Scene Pet Peeve: "Being asked to play an event that planned everything else and still didn't consider music/entertainment as something that they needed a budget for," he says. "Yes, people do have the audacity to ask working musicians to do an event for free, or for food and beer.

"They do like your work, right? People are confusing that way!" he adds. "There are a few other ones I have, but this is a classic. It's been a while, but no matter what kind of record you have, someone will come along every now and again."

5 Desert Island Discs:

  • Doug Sahm, Groover's Paradise
  • John Coltrane, A Love Supreme
  • Los Lobos, A Time to Dance
  • Jimi Hendrix, Are you Experienced?
  • Black Sabbath, Paranoid

Best Show Ever: "My favorite shows usually involve a lot of people dancing to our tunes," says Gaitan. "There have been many but this year I would say opening for Garland Jeffreys, Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, and the Texas Tornados were my favorite shows. There is a thrill sharing the stage with the greats."

Since It's Thanksgiving, What Is He Thankful For? "I am thankful for life, family [and] music," he says. "I am thankful for my parents who are both still with us, for my supportive family, for the teachers that have shared knowledge and have been a most positive influence in my life.

"I am thankful for the passion that I was given to me by the most high, the creator," adds Gaitan. "I am thankful that I can share this and let that good energy move on in the world. I am thankful for so many new things every day."

Gaitan & the Umbrella Man play the D&W Friday, December 14. The band's newest album, Bridges & Bayous, was released earlier this year.

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