The Americans of ’71, “The Cancer Stick, Part 1”
And you thought it was only in the ‘80s when people got all self-conscious and started with the anti-smoking rhetoric - but Houston’s the Americans of ’71 were doing it back in, well, 1971. This talented local group probably had the most interesting naming scheme in Houston; as the years changed, so did its name.
They began as the Americans of ’68 with “Baby Baby Baby” (Ovide) and became the Americans of ’70 for “Toe Hold” (Libra). Far and away, the Americans have to be the most frustrating band to research, ever.
“Cancer Stick” tells the tale of their aptly-named drummer Sugar Bear who just won’t stop puffing away at his cigarettes, complete with repeated fake coughing. The song was soon picked up for national and international distribution by the Bell label, and came complete with a picture sleeve of a cigarette in an ashtray sporting a picture of a crab – for Cancer, of course.
But by the time Bell picked up the single, it was already 1972, so for the second pressing, the Americans thus became the Americans of ’72.
Bobby Bland, “These Hands (Small but Mighty)”
In my never-ending quest to unearth every possible recording by Houston’s slept-on and forgotten musicians, I occasionally have to stop and check myself. It can be all too easy to find myself dismissing yet another Bobby Bland 45 because of the shear deafening amount of records the man released.
Besides, there may very well be more Bland records in existence than any other soul or blues artist to ever live in our fair, humid city. He’s the people’s champ; Duke/Peacock owner Don Robey recognized this and pressed up every ballad, dancer or blues number Bland could lay to tape. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan. If I were going to be stuck on a desert island and could only take one album, Two Steps from the Blues would probably be it.
“These Hands (Small but Mighty)” was a 45-only B-side to “Today,” a nice cut from Bland’s 1964 LP Ain’t Nothing You Can Do. Why “These Hands” didn’t make it on the album – or even get the A-side treatment as a single – is beyond me. Maybe in ‘64, Bobby was too far ahead of his time. You be the judge.
Bobby & the Premiers, “Gotta Have a Reason”
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Somewhere southeast of Houston in the blue-collar town of Pasadena, a place known more for its skyscraping refineries and as location of Urban Cowboy, producer C.L. Milburn was busy trying to shatter that pipe-fitter stereotype. Milburn produced and released some rather incredible soul (the Brothers Seven, “Funky Smunk”) and garage records (the Knights Bridge, “Make Me Some Love”).
Seeing how Milburn was already going against the grain at the time, it’s no surprise he signed up a Mexican-American soul group from El Paso called Bobby & the Premiers. According to a brief interview with Milburn in the Austin Chronicle, the Premiers regularly opened for James Brown.
You can find the Premiers’ blistering, previously unreleased take on James Brown’s “I Got the Feeling” on the Jazzman Records compilation Texas Funk. The band released one other 45 before “Gotta Have a Reason,” also on the Souled Out label. – Brett Koshkin