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

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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 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.

Five Desert Island Discs:

  • King's X, Gretchen Goes to Nebraska
  • Tom Waits, Heartattack & Vine
  • Chris Whitley, Living with The Law
  • The Beatles, Magical Mystery Tour
  • Wes Montgomery & Jimmy Smith, Smokin' at The Half Note

Best Concert You Ever Saw: "I was ten years old and my mom and I were dropping my brother and some friends off at the Sam Houston Coliseum to see Van Halen's 'Fair Warning' Tour," Vega recalls. "We dropped them off and just as we were pulling away, my brother comes running back to the car and asks my mom if they could take me to the concert.

"They had an extra ticket and didn't want to have to go through trying to sell it," he adds. "It was a dream come true for a ten-year-old. I'll never forget that rush I got when I first entered the arena. And the volume."

First Song You Fell in Love With: "That would have to be 'Rhinestone Cowboy' by Glen Campbell," Vega says. "My parents had a Mexican restaurant when I was a kid. It had a juke box that with the latest 70s hits. I would go to the cash register, grab a quarter, put it in the juke and play "Rhinestone Cowboy" as often as I could."

The Tony Vega Band releases Shakin' at The Easy! 9:30 p.m. on May 10 at The Big Easy Social & Pleasure Club, 5731 Kirby Dr. For information, visit tonyvegaband.com.

See the rest of the Rocks Off 200, and the Rocks Off 100's 2013 alumni, on the next page.


Leslie Krafka, Onward Through the Fog Michael Anthony Shanks, Houston's Merry Shankster DJ Baby Roo, Vegetarian Hip-Hop Veteran Rachel Bays, Filming Them Softly Punk-Rock "Newcomers" Screech of Death Erin Rodgers, the Keys to Glass the Sky Alex LaRotta, Crate-Digging Fistful of Soul Brother Alycia Miles, Triumphant Soul Singer DJ Piam, Poison Girl's Bacon-Fat Funk Specialist Mister Insane, Host of The Insane Show Jake Rawls -- Kemo For Emo Is Back Santos Pastrana, Sound Engineer and DJ Ninja Heading Upstream with RIVERS' Chris Tamez DJ Dayta, Keeper of That Good Good Matthew Davis Buehrer, Runaway Sun's Globally Thinking Bassist Fat Tony, Third Ward to "BKNY" Noon, Rapper With a Lot on His Mind Matt Cash, Clear Lake's Cassette Tape Wailer Jason Smith, Alkari's Space City Rocker DJ Penetrate, All Lit Up in "Neon Lights" Catch Fever Is Catching On Renée Jonard, Princess of Noise Pollution Junior Gordon, Big Man With a Big Sound Chad Smalley, Blaggards' Barse Player Damien Randle, K-OTIX Man of Action Kevin Anthony, 45 Southbound Man DJ Good Grief Knows How to Have Fun Robert Kuhn, the Well-Traveled Islander 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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