Category Archives: Bayou City Soul

The Jukebox at Eddie’s Snack Bar

Last year, I raided an old Jukebox Distributor here in Houston that operated from the sixties until the demise of the vinyl jukebox in the late eighties. When CDs promised to offer ten times the amount of music in the same physical space as a vinyl 45rpm jukebox, well the format war was waged and vinyl lost faster than you can change sides of a record.

What’s a jukebox Distributor you ask? Generally, when bars have jukeboxes, pinball machines or video games like Ms Pac-man, they are owned, operated and repaired by a third party. A company that supplies your local watering hole with the entertaining gizmos so to speak and repairs broken flippers.

One of the most important facets of the jukebox distributor was to provide their groove-boxes with all the new tunes that were currently burning up the radio waves that they could get. Remember, in 1976, there were no ipods or satellite radio for bartenders to inundate you with their poor tastes in music. In this era, the jukebox was the heartbeat of your bar and keeping it well-stocked with the latest and greatest singles was imperative to its survival.
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A Paper Trail of Whoppers and Toronadoes

In my efforts to dig deep into the history of Houston soul music, I’ve regularly found myself mining seemingly endless paper caches. Some reveal little while others seem to tell you a story from start to finish. The latter are the ones I pray to find. Though most artists from this bygone era of music have nothing short of Mark Twain-esque tales to tell, when it comes to dates and who played what on specific recordings, their uncertainty is unfortunately all too common. Paper trails, while not 100% perfect, can shine a light of knowledge on forty plus years of darkened history. I figure it’s time I share a few of the more interesting things I’ve found.

By 1970, the TSU Toronadoes were one of the meanest bands in Houston. The local soul group recorded on Skipper Lee Frazier’s Ovide label and he also functioned as the group’s manager as well as booking agent. With major releases on industry titans like Atlantic and Volt (a subsidiary of Stax), the group garnered quite the heavy following. They were a hardworking, professional band in every sense, none of the members held any sort of day job but a lack of hits sitting on top of charts insured they weren’t selling out concerts at the Apollo either.
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Dance Your Way Across Texas










Feel like dancing next weekend? I hope so and if you find yourself in Austin or Houston, consider it on. Friday night in Austin, I’ll be playing some records alongside my friends Greg Most and Second Line Social at our regular Soul Happening night at the Legendary White Swan. A fantastic old juke joint that’s steadfastly stood at the corner of 12th and Chicon for well over 40 years. Saturday night, back in Houston, I’m honored to have my Dallas-based compatriot, Rerog play some fine soul 45s alongside me. I promise both shows will be chock-full of Houston’s funkiest 45s. Why not just come out to both for a super soul-filled weekend? Now who wants to carpool to Austin and back?

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R.I.P. the Texas Twister

Guitarist Melvin Sparks

Though it had been many years since he called Houston home, it still deeply saddens me to report the Texas Twister himself, guitarist Melvin Sparks left this mortal coil yesterday. Tuesday March 15th 2011, Melvin Sparks passed from complications related to diabetes one week before he was to turn 65 years of age.

If you ask anyone that saw Sparks perform in his early years here in Houston, they all will tell you the same thing. It was always apparent he was destined for great things. He cut his teeth playing alongside as well as studying under the tutelage of the Elder Statesman of Houston soul and jazz, Leon Mitchison. After which Sparks joined Grady Gaines’ The Upsetters Band (Gaines still performs to this day around Houston) where he backed nothing short of a laundry list of some of the greatest singers and musicians the world has ever seen including Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, The Supremes, Little Richard, Solomon Burke, Stevie Wonder, Wilson Pickett and Jackie Wilson amongst others.
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Houston, Put on Your Dancing Shoes

This Saturday, come out to Boondocks 1417 Westheimer for another dose of some of the best soul 45s imaginable. Of course I’ll be playing a load of Houston’s finest efforts and whatever else that can make folks move it on the dance floor. Free as always, hope to see you there.

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Kashmere Stage Band Documentary Screening & Performance

Finally, after its SXSW premier back in March, Houston will get some soulful recognition, paid in full tonight. Mark Landsman’s documentary Thunder Soul, the story of the Kashmere Stage Band will screen this evening for free at Discovery Green Park as part of Houston’s year-old Cinema Arts Festival. I was fortunate enough to be present during the shooting of the film and have been eagerly awaiting its local unveiling. Afterward, there will be some words with Landsman and the KSB director’s son, Conrad Johnson Jr as well as a performance by the band.

If you find yourself in Houston tonight, you should really be here. It’s a great moment for civic pride and a hugely important part of the history of Houston music. If you’d like to learn more about the story of the Kashmere Stage Band, here’s an article about the group I wrote in an August issue of the Houston Press titled The Thunder Rolls. And no, I didn’t name the story, yes the editor did in fact name it after the Garth Brooks song and no, I will never forgive him for it.

Things kickoff at 6:45 at Discovery Green Park and you can learn more about the event at the Cinema Arts Festival website.

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The First Bayou City Soul Mix Download

I was recently asked by the kind folks over at to contribute a mix of a handful of some of my favorite Houston-related soul 45s. It was supposed to be just a short little thing to be used as a compendium of sorts for the engagement I did with Flash Gordon Parks over at 4400 Almeda. After three canceled sessions (sorry guys!) I finally spent a couple hours rummaging through my Houston 45s and an afternoon at Peaceuvmine Studios later, this recording is what you get. What you hear is nothing more than thirty seven minutes of exactly what I wanted to listen to that day. From gritty r&b to sweet soul records that should of been huge hits but never quite made it past the Harris County line.

Give it a gander and please let me know what you think.

Bayou City Soul Tracklist:

1. The Fantastics – High Note (Copa)
2. Bobby Williams – Baby I Need Your Love (Sure-Shot)
3. The Insights – Turn Me On Sweet Rosie (Peacock)
4. Ambassadors of Soul – Cool Sticks Beat (Pt. 1) (Ovide)
5. The Cold Four – Love And Care (Drells)
6. Leon Mitchinson and the Eastex Frwy Band – I’ll Take You There (Mitchtone)
7. The 4 Avalons – {I Don’t Wanna Be A} Playboy (Ovide)
8. TSU Tornados – Please Heart Don’t Break (Rampart Street)
9. Joe Hughes -May The Best Man Win (Boogaloo)
10. Johnny Adams – {Sometimes} A Man Will Shed A Few Tears Too (Pacemaker)
11. The Soul Brothers f/ Harold Bennett – Blues For A Belly Dancer (Copa)
12. Johnny Williams – Honey Child (Cinema)
13. Miss LaVell – Stop These Teardrops (Duke)
14. The Americans of 72 – Crackerjack (Part 1) (Libra)
15. Archie Bell & The Dells – Houston TX (Atlantic)
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Speaking on Houston Soul Music

Just a quick note for any of those out there who may be interested. Saturday October 23rd, I’ll be speaking about the history of Houston soul music and then playing some of the best examples alongside DJ Flash Gordon Parks. If there’s something you’ve always wondered about a group or record from Houston, feel free to email me and we can try and discuss it during the lecture portion or afterward. This is a community-based event and I welcome all the interaction possible. There might be a few surprise musicians in the house but I’m not making any promises as of now. The evening will start at 6pm and be over by 9pm, so make sure to get there in a timely manner.

Saturday October 23rd.
4400 Almeda
Houston, TX

Here’s some more information about the event from the press release.

ROOTamentary examines the cross-section of generations, races, and cultures being exposed to Blues, Funk, Soul, and Jazz music. The program also promotes the significance of the “mom-and-pop” record store and the importance of vinyl preservation. This experience is designed to create a hyperlink that connects success to the stories of those recording artists that built the foundation. Young artists will be exposed to their musical predecessors to draw inspiration that will enhance the quality of their musicianship.

This month we will be focusing on artists from Houston TX and also highlighting the contribution of Duke/Peacock Records to music and culture. This will be the final chapter in our series….Special guest DJ Brett Koshkin will be stopping thru to share some of his rare 45s…..You don’t want to miss this!

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The Mythical Unicorn: Duke 45 Sleeves

Duke 45 Sleeve

While vinyl relics from Houston become tougher and tougher to locate as the years pass, proving the existence of other ephemera from a bygone era can feel more fiction than fact at times. It would only make sense that a record company the size of Don Robey’s Duke imprint would manufacture their own 45 single sleeves. After all, Robey paid enough attention to Duke’s sister company Peacock that he used beautiful five-color labels on his 45s. A dauntingly expensive endeavor at the time for a record enterprise, as the more colors used for printing, the more expensive the label being stuck onto to the actual vinyl became. This is the reason many record companies, particularly independents ones, tend to use one-color labels to this day.

Records, being made of polyvinyl chloride or styrene tend to weather the storm of time decently enough. As long as the listener doesn’t toss them around like frisbees and returns them to their sleeves after playing them, there’s not much threat of degradation. Paper on the other hand seems to deteriorate at a much faster pace and paper 45 sleeves tend to be no exception to the rule.
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When Tejano Found Its Soul Power

While African Americans did the brunt of heavy lifting when it came to soul music in Houston, it’s a common misconception that they were alone in their musical direction at the time. Houston had its share of multicultural groups in the sixties and seventies that played along the same lines like Soul Bros INC and Masters of Soul. But, it was largely the Chicano groups that found inspiration and then their own interpretation with the genre.

I’ve asked compatriot, I’m Shakin Blog Man and Bayou City Soul Assistant Extraordinaire, Alex LaRotta to contribute a moment of his time to expound on the subject. LaRotta sent me three MP3s for your downloading pleasure and the following story that explains what happened when Chicanos put down the Accordion and started listening to James Brown records. -BK

Tejano Got Soul

As La Onda Chicana (The Chicano Wave) musical movement spread wide in America’s southwest in the mid ’60s, Texas was a breeding ground for a young generation of Chicanos making soul music their own groovy thing. Adding R&B beat and rock instrumentation into their musical repertoire, Tex-Mex soul/rock music legends like Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs, ? and the Mysterians (though from Michigan, recorded/produced in San Antonio with a distinct Tex-Mex sensibility), Doug Sahm and Sir Douglas Quintet, and El Bebop Kid (known popularly as chicano country star Freddie Fender) rose to pop prominence and inspired leagues of young Latinos to cut their own American-styled rock and soul records. In a matter of speaking–move over bajo sexto and accordion, I’ll take my guitar with an electric pickup.
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