photo by Nick de la Torre
Genius, madman or both, I had always hoped to someday get to interview Huey Meaux and clarify many remaining mysteries surrounding local musical lore. Sadly, Huey Meaux passed away this morning after several months of declining health. The man knew how to make a hit record and nothing short of legions owe some part of their careers in music to him. From Barbara Lynn and Sunny Ozuna (of Sunny & the Sunliners) to Freddy Fender and the Sir Douglas Quintet, Meaux could hear the potential long before their songs were ever laid to tape. It was Meaux who upon first hearing Archie Bell & the Drell’s “Tighten Up” recognized the gravitas it held and took it to Atlantic on Skipper Lee Frazier’s behalf.
He had his demons too and those demons sent him to prison for fifteen years. The enigmatic Cajun has left a legacy in his wake. A body of work that is nothing short of staggering. I hope we Houstonians and citizens of the world will try to remember what was so bright about this man’s life and attempt to look past the sullen shadows that crept around it.
Andrew Dansby wrote a nice piece about Meaux’s passing this morning for 29-95 you can read here.
One of the ugliest parts of the Vietnam War was the havoc it waged right here on the home front. A discriminatory draft system promised legions of African American men would be forced to leave their girlfriends, wives and children and head off to a questionable war they wouldn’t return from for a minimum of twelve months. And that was the upside of the situation.
Uncle Sam was hell-bent on stopping the spread of Communism, much to the detriment of the American Solider. Sadly, many wouldn’t come home alive and some of those who did, brought home new demons like drug addiction or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
For the loved ones back home, it could all just be too much for a relationship to bear. It’s easy to become lonely when there’s an ocean between you and the world you know. The Dear John letter became all too commonplace in this incomprehensible era of callous Cold War.
Vietnam was an all too-real part of life if you lived in the sixties or seventies. Your best friend was there, your brother was there, your son was there, and your husband was there. You could be going there. It’s no wonder that the Southeast Asian war inspired countless artists to write some of their best material.
While I remain much more comfortable on the interviewer’s side of the tape recorder than the interviewee, I’m honored to have played a roll in today’s story in the Houston Press. Craig D. Lindsey was kind enough to pepper me with question for his article about today’s deejays playing soul music alongside my friend and Fistful of Soul founder Stewart A. Anderson.
“The way I see it is, if I do something, I want to do it right,” says Koshkin. “And I just wanted to know that it’s going to be appreciated. And I know Houstonians, you know, who appreciate that sort of thing. But, at the time, when I started doing it, there was nothing like that going on in town.
“And I was really curious,” he adds. “I mean, it just seems so out of left field, you know. There’s this random white guy playing a bunch of weird, ’60s soul music for people. How are people gonna respond to that?”
You can read the entire story here.
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.
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.
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.
Look at File 58
Not too long ago, I went on a record hunting safari in Southeast Texas alongside some good friends. Though many East Texas towns have become rather malnourished and storm-beaten shells of themselves over recent years, this was quite the fertile soil musically speaking for many decades. From Port Arthur soul artists like Al Trahan to Beaumont garage rock scene runners SJ & the Crossroads, the guardians of our Eastern border forged sounds of their own and tended to do it well. Many artist traveled West to Houston for exposure and many local labels traveled East to the Golden Triangle to discover new talent. The symbiotic relationships produced such musical fruit as Huey Meaux catching a deal with Atlantic for Barbara Lynn and James Kelly Duhon recording for Mainstream.
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.
I just received the following message from the Cinema Arts Festival Houston:
Due to inclement weather, “Thunder Soul” has been postponed to Sat @ 6:45 pm. We apologize for the inconvenience and we hope you will join us on Saturday at Discovery Green.
I guess I’ll see you there come Saturday.