It was a real pleasure for Rocks Off and Lonesome Onry and Mean to bring you this week's Houston Press cover story, "Old School," but it was also bittersweet. Not to put too fine a point on it, but none of these people are getting any younger - although the men and women of "Old School" have exhibited a remarkable amount of stamina and longevity, illness, infirmity and old age in general have already claimed many of their peers.
That's why it was also nice to report that Houston may finally be overcoming its notorious allergy to saluting its rich musical past. Within the past year, enterprising individuals and nonprofits were able to secure (read: raise the private funds necessary to pay for) Texas state historical markers for country-blues immortal Lightnin' Hopkins, historic Third Ward venue Eldorado Ballroom and seminal Fifth Ward R&B label Duke/Peacock Records.
One of the more intriguing ideas on the table is creating a blues-themed "Walk of Fame," a series of plaques or markers patterned after the Mississippi Blues Trail and, of course, all those stars on Hollywood Boulevard. Two possible locations that have been mentioned are downtown around Discovery Green and the streets of Midtown around the Continental Club compound.
True, this Walk of Fame isn't much more than an idea at this point, but it's an idea that has already drawn unanimous support from the Houston blues community and at least one person in City Hall, District I Councilman James Rodriguez. But, you know, we'd need some names for this thing, and there's no better person to ask than local blues historian and Down In Houston author Dr. Roger Wood. Here are his suggestions.
TEXAS JOHNNY BROWN: Master guitarist and songwriter, capable singer, active in recording since 1949; played with a long list of blues stars dating back to the 1940s; wrote "Two Steps From the Blues" for Bobby Bland; leader of the Quality Blues Band since the 1990s onstage (in Houston and well beyond, including national festivals) and on recordings.
JOHNNY COPELAND: Great Louisiana-born guitarist, songwriter and singer who came of age in the Third Ward; recorded for various regional labels before breaking big in the 1980s and '90s on labels such as Rounder and Verve.
GRADY GAINES: Fifth Ward-raised saxophonist and bandleader, played with lots of blues/R&B/pop stars in the 1950s and '60s including Little Richard. Sam Cooke, Little Willie John, et al.; staged a late 1980s comeback by organizing a band of Houston blues veterans and recording acclaimed albums for the New Orleans-based Blacktop Records.
ROY GAINES: Fifth Ward-raised blues guitarist and singer, heavily influenced by T-Bone Walker, whom he imitated on local stages as a child; moved to California, where in the last two decades he has released numerous fine blues albums.
CLARENCE GREEN: Guitarist, singer and bandleader of the longtime popular Houston group The Rhythmaires; recorded for various labels including Duke Records starting in the 1950s.
CLARENCE HOLLIMON: Fifth-Ward-born guitarist who played with numerous Duke/Peacock stars such as Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, et al., as well as with Texas City-born blues crooner Charles Brown, the great jazz-blues bandleader Arnett Cobb, and the original Jazz Crusaders; in later years teamed with his wife, Carol Fran, as a blues duo on stage and on various recordings.
MILTON HOPKINS: Guitarist who backed B. B. King for years, including on the great album B. B. King and Bobby Bland: Together Again for the First Time; leader of his own band since the 1980s, especially during a lengthy tenure at the Reddi Room.
JERRY LIGHTFOOT: Guitarist, singer, and songwriter who played a key role in bringing together the relatively younger generation of white blues enthusiasts such as himself and the older African-American blues community; played for years with Big Walter Price; recorded several fine albums.
TRUDY LYNN: Fifth Ward-raised singer and songwriter, launched her career singing with Albert Collins while she was still attending Wheatley High School; has recorded over ten albums on various labels and played blues festivals all over the world; a mainstay of the Houston blues scene to date .
JOE MEDWICK: Widely acknowledged as the ghost writer (only occasionally credited, sometimes under the pseudonym Joe Veasy) behind countless hit songs recorded by the likes of Bobby Bland; also a fine blues singer who recorded for various local labels starting in the 1950s.
AMOS MILBURN: Fifth Ward-born and raised boogie pianist and singer, recorded national hits for Aladdin and other California labels in the 1940s and '50s, most famous for "Chicken Shack Boogie" and some great songs about drinking.
JIMMY "T-99" NELSON: One of the great blues shouters and songwriters, began recording in the 1940s, had a national hit in 1951 with his signature "T-99 Blues," and settled in Houston's Third Ward in the mid-1950s; launched a much-heralded comeback in the late 1990s with an album on Rounder subsidiary Bullseye Blues.
OSCAR PERRY: prolific songwriter, deep-voiced singer, and guitarist; recorded from 1960s through the 1990s.
BIG WALTER "THE THUNDERBIRD" PRICE: "The Bird That Flies So Swift from Coast to Coast," scored a national hit for Peacock Records in the 1950s.
TEDDY REYNOLDS: Third Ward-born piano player and singer, began recording in the 1950s, played with Junior Parker, Johnny Copeland, et al.
SHERMAN ROBERTSON: Still touring internationally, master guitarist and passionate singer, raised in Fifth Ward's Frenchtown.
LESTER WILLIAMS: Guitarist and singer who scored two nationwide hit records with songs that he wrote and performed, "Wintertime Blues" (1949) and "I Can't Lose With the Stuff I Use" (1951).
IVORY LEE SIMIEN: Raw, bluesy drummer, singer, and record-label owner.
JOHNNY "GUITAR" WATSON: Houston native who grew up in Third Ward, actively recorded for numerous labels for over four decades, starting in the straight blues/classic R&B mode and gradually evolving into one of the architects of post-1960s funk.
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KATIE WEBSTER: Houston-born "Swamp Boogie Queen"; played a raucous piano and sang many of her own songs on recordings and beyond; mainstay of Chicago-based blues label Alligator Records during its rise to prominence in the 1980s and early '90s.
HARDING "HOP" WILSON: Greatest lap-steel blues guitarist in Houston history, master of a distinctive sound first documented on recordings in the 1950s, composer of the classic "Black Cat Bone."