The Rocks Off 200

The Rocks Off 200: Roby Deaton, Open-Mike Pocket of Cool

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? There's a lot of music talent in Houston, and a bunch of it frequents our city's numerous open-mike nights. When you're the guy who stands out from the others at any of these gatherings, it's a bit of a badge of honor. That's a badge that's been shined up and handed over to Roby Deaton by many who have caught his act.

Deaton was born in Louisiana and, at age three, underwent heart surgery. Two years later he was plunking at a piano and learning what his heart really belonged to.

"I started piano at five and taught myself guitar as a teenager, then learned violin as an adult," he says. "I did a five-year stint in the Air Force and moved to Houston in 1991 to pursue music."

Initially, Deaton teamed with CINEMA. He played keys for the local prog-rockers, whose biggest gig may have been opening for Dream Theater in 1993 at the Tower Theater. A year later, Deaton started his solo career, and 20 years into it has now released five albums. Pockets of Cool, his most recent, came out in April.

The all-instrumental album features Deaton playing "fingerstyle" guitar, which our friends Wikipedia say is "plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails or picks attached to fingers, as opposed to flatpicking." I saw Deaton doing this at an Avant Garden and was mesmerized -- the whole time I was imagining Rodrigo y Gabriela, if they'd grown up on Emily Remler or Alex Lifeson instead of Metallica. At the time, Deaton was practicing for the Canadian Guitar Festival.

"Four years ago, I came across Andy McKee and the percussive fingerstyle genre of guitar," Deaton explains. "I had the pleasure of taking lessons from masters of the style, Antoine Dufour, Erik Mongrain, Jon Gomm and Michael Dawes. When I participated in the 2013 Canadian Guitar Festival in Kingston Ontario, I used that inspiration to write the material for the new CD. My goal for competing in the festival was to write enough new tunes for a CD."

Mission accomplished. The new album features nine original tunes and a groovy cover of Nik Kershaw's "Wouldn't It Be Good."

Home Base: "I perform regularly at Ben's Beans," says Deaton. "I love playing Houston's local open-mike nights,"

Music is Deaton's day job, too. He's taught piano and violin at H&H Music and now teaches every day of the week at Tempo School of Music.

Good War Story: "While performing in Dallas with CINEMA, we were told by the hotel we were staying at to never come back," he recalls. "It seems there was some streaking and skinny-dipping that resulted in having the police called. After that weekend no out-of-town bands were allowed to stay there anymore."

Why Do You Stay In Houston? "Houston has such a diverse culture. Those influences show up in my music," he says. "As a teacher I have the pleasure of teaching and learning music from other parts of the world."

Story continues on the next page.

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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.