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.
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.
After a successful career as one the most popular radio deejays in Texas and producing Archie Bell and the Drells’ seminal hit “Tighten Up,” Skipper Lee Frazier did what anyone else would do, he ran for political office. In the early seventies, Frazier made an ill-fated bid for Harris County Commissioner Seat, Precinct 1 here in Houston.
On a visit over at his house in Sunnyside a few years back, I found this small handbill within a cardboard box mixed in amongst other ephemera. When I asked Frazier about his attempt to get into the political arena he smirked at me and gently remarked “I thought I knew how to fight dirty but then I tried my hand at politics. It’s a whole other level of crooked and I suggest you never try such a foolish thing.”
Very well Skip, I like you better as a radio deejay and hit-maker anyways.