The Rocks Off 200: Robert Kuhn, the Well-Traveled Islander

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Welcome to The Rocks Off 200, 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 previous entries in the Rocks Off 100 at this link.

Who? They say it's difficult to be a writer, artist, songwriter or any other creative type without practical experience, which is something Robert Kuhn shouldn't have to worry about at all. The Galveston-based musician plays harmonica in Houston treasure Little Joe Washington's band, but has also just completed and released his first solo album, Everybody Knows. His bio reads like something Ernest Hemingway could have written 80 years ago.

Check this out: the Houston native left his hometown in 1997 for Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, where he studied English lit and mathematics before eventually winding up in New York. Around 2001 Kuhn struck out for points south -- Buenos Aires to begin with, then other South American locales, then Central America, where his jobs included "writer, teacher, street performer, puppeteer, grape harvester, carpenter, shop keeper, drug runner and just about anything else there is to do" before spending six years as a fisherman and organic farmer in Nicaragua. He returned to Houston in 2010 and worked at a shirt factory before moving to Galveston and linking up with Little Joe some time after.

Everybody Knows certainly sounds like an accurate account of Kuhn's life thus far -- a considerable Wilco fan who spent extensive time in Latin America and the Caribbean before linking up with one of Houston's most beloved bluesmen. (Little Joe appears on three songs.) It's worth checking out -- and, no doubt, seeing live. Kuhn will have an album-release party February 11 at the first 2014 concert of KPFT's Troubador Tuesday series, which has relocated to the Cottonwood bar near I-10 and Shepherd. Folk Family Revival will be there too.

Home Base: Kuhn picks one of the area's most historic venues, one often overlooked by Houstonians: Galveston's Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe, where he and his band play once or twice a month. "The place is loaded with talented songwriters and has great sound," he says. "Wrecks Bell, the owner, is a super-cool guy to hang with."

Why Do You Stay In Houston? "If you're gonna be in a city, Houston's about as good as they come," offers Kuhn. "It's packed with musicians of all genres, but there's still room because there's even more people. Its international and multicultural, and even though you've got to drive around, there are plenty of venues to play where you can get paid for doing what you love."

Music Scene Pet Peeve: "Cover bands and Red Dirt," he says. Simple enough.

Story continues on the next page.

Good War Story: "So there I was, singing ranchero and calypso songs with an Indian friend of mine named Abel in a dingy little pool hall on a little drug-running island in between Nicaragua and Colombia," Kuhn opens. "Things get hot and fight breaks out between a Spaniard and a Creole black man."

The Spaniard bites the other fella's ear and the fight breaks for a second as the black man, Fermin, runs out of the bar into the darkness. He enters the bar again through the doorway adjacent to the corner where I'm playing guitar. I try to grab him, but he's all slippery with sweat. He's holding a broken bottle and BAM, starts stabbing the poor boy in the belly.

A woman who's been buying us drinks all night and calling for more songs starts screaming. It's his mother. The boy jumps up, holding his stomach and runs out into the darkness. The woman is crying and the bar gets silent. We look at one another and eventually walk outside. The boy is laying on the beach with his sandy guts hanging out of his belly.

Someone gets a panga [fishing boat] and they take the boy off to the big island where a hospital is. That was the last I saw of him. Fermin turned himself into the police the next day but was shortly thereafter released.

Five Desert Island Discs:

  • Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
  • Bob Dylan, The Basement Tapes or Desire
  • Willie Nelson, Red-Headed Stranger
  • Manu Chao, Clandestino
  • Robert Kuhn, Everybody Knows

Best Concert You Ever Saw: "Jeff Tweedy solo in NYC at Irving Plaza," says Kuhn. "Amazing how much sound and resonating magnetism one man can put out with an acoustic guitar, harmonica, vocal chords and silence."

First Song You Fell In Love With: "Bob Dylan, "Up to Me" - "It's got like ten verses and it pretty much covers it all," reasons Kuhn. "If something's gonna happen, you gotta make it yourself. It's up to you. It struck a good chord with me when I was like 13, learning to play the guitar and being all nervous trying ask out girls."

Robert Kuhn plays with Little Joe Washington tonight at Boondocks, 1417 Westheimer, and the Everybody Knows release party February 11 at Cottonwood, 3422 N. Shepherd.

See the rest of the Rocks Off 200 and a link to the Rocks Off 100 on the next page.


Gunnar Cushway, Insko's Feel-Good Utilityman Mario Rodriguez, Tax the Wolf/Bang Bangz's Wonky Power Monger John Smith, Goodtime Continental Club Manager Dwayne Cathey, A Good Man to Scare People With Walter Carlos, Guitar-Punisher of Funeral Horse Ryan James, Putting Up a Good Fight John Cramer, Guitar Apostle of Project Grimm Big Gerb, Houston's Hongree-est MC Steven Higginbotham, Hard-Working Wheel Worker Alisha Pattillo & Her Swaggering, Soulful Sax Brandon Ray, Punk Rocker Turned Filmmaker/Animator The Excitable Boys of Another Run Flash Gordon Parks, DJ as Funky Professor DJ Main Event, Kratez Crew JumpOff Man Odd Hours and Back to Back's Hank Doyle Legendary K-OTIX Producer Russel "The ARE" Gonzalez Dylan Bryson Sings the Blues (Rock) DJ Damon Allen, R.O.C.O. Fellow Tom Lynch, New Kid On the Block Ashley Worhol, Goth-Metal Queen of Katy Joe Ortiz, Clockpole's Master of Nonsense Marzi Montazeri, the Man Dimebag Darrell Called a Bad Motherfucker John Salinas, the Beat Beast of Only Beast Homegrown Cowboy Crooner Charles Peters Adam Bricks, NYC Expat Metal Journeyman and Blasé Bassist Alan Hilton Kyra Noons, Houston's Reggae Sunsplash DJ AudiTory, the Maestro of LuvItMane The Nephilim Terror's Death-Metal Growler Danny Carroll Tommy Grindle, Guitarist of Square and Compass The Bailout Bureau's Mysterious "Bob Bovary" DJ Twinkle-Toes, Won a "Dick-Measuring Vinyl Orgy" With Two iPods Beanz N Kornbread, Gmail-Loving Production Duo You(genious), Party Crasher Turned Musical Auteur Daniel Alexander, Klein's Backyard MC



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