The Rocks Off 200

The Rocks Off 200: Tony Vega, the Big Easy's Barnburner

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 the original Rocks Off 100 at this link.

A guitar-playing older brother with a good record collection sparked Tony Vega, leader of the Tony Vega Band, to pick up a guitar at age 13. A few years later, a chance meeting with Albert Collins at the Heart of Texas Music Festival in Austin cemented his love of the blues. "Immediately after [I met him, I] bought my first blues record -- Albert Collins Live in Japan," Vega says. "It's been all blues ever since."

Vega, a winner of multiple Houston Press Music Awards, founded the Tony Vega Band in 1997. Multiple personnel changes have led to its current trio configuration with Larry "Lownote" Johnson on bass and Jeremy Pierce on drums while Vega handles guitar and singing duties.

With several successful European tours and a handful of CDs to his credit, Vega recorded his latest release, a live album called Shakin' at The Easy, last spring at The Big Easy Social & Pleasure Club, one of the last of the remaining blues venues in the Houston area and his band's home turf. The new disc gets its official release with a party at the club this Saturday night.

"The intent was to transpose the experience of going to the Big Easy for the first time, on a Saturday night when the place is bumpin', onto a CD," Vega tells us. "From the way it was recorded to the way it was mixed, the intent was for it to sound like you're in the middle of the dance floor amidst the people of The Easy. The dancing, the chatter, the hoots, the tossed bottles breaking in the trash, as well as the music -- it's all there!"

Home Base: "The Big Easy," Vega says. "It's my Cheers."

Good War Story: "Years ago, we were playing a festival in Holland and our set start time was 1 a.m.," He recalls. "We had another festival booked in Germany the next morning at 11 a.m. It was a six-hour drive. We took shifts driving all night to get there in time for sound check.

When we get there we're completely exhausted, disinterested and still in our gig clothes from the night before; bed heads [and] morning breath to boot. When it was time to play, there was an amazing electricity in the 11 a.m. crowd.

It was a beautiful morning in a festival tent. We were so relaxed and honest that from the first note, it was the best show we've ever played. We use this show as a measuring stick all the time.

Why Do You Stay in Houston? "Es mi barrio, homes." Vega says. "I've tried to leave. L.A. Austin -- I always come back. Funny thing now is the rest of the country is finally starting to come around. Everyone is moving here. H-town is suddenly this 'hip' city now."

Music Scene Pet Peeve: "This happens in any market -- musicians playing for free, or worse paying to play at a live music venue," he notes.

Story continues on the next page.

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Olivia Flores Alvarez