The dedication of the Lightnin' Hopkins historical marker in Third Ward in November 2010
It took the Texas Historical Society long enough to appropriately recognize Houston bluesman Lightnin' Hopkins, but not as long as the Grammys.
As part of the run-up to Sunday night's 55th annual Grammy Awards, its governing body the Recording Academy announced that Hopkins, who died in 1982, will receive a 2013 award for Lifetime Achievement.
Wednesday, the Grammys released a statement under the byline of Texas blues musicians Doyle Bramhall Jr. and Gary Clark Jr.:
Houston is a sprawling metropolis of subdivisions and strip centers that retains a strong cultural hub. But this "cultural hub" has actually become more of a cultural sprawl. Especially music-wise, neighborhoods outside Loop 610 are often seen as culturally sterile, though some elements of Houston's more developed, inner-city culture have spread.
I was recently speaking about these things with my grandmother, who grew up enamored by the blues.
Despite the dust of time that usually befalls venues and lore from punk's rambunctious past, The Island has remained a steady icon of Houston's underground movement that swept to the surface as classic arena rock and cosmic country choked the FM airwaves.
While the hallowed ground of Fitzgerald's has remained steadfast, becoming a seemingly permanent fixture in Houston's indie, punk and metal communities, other clubs have receded into the dustbins of history. Fortunately, the fecund eras of two - the Axiom and the Island - are being celebrated during November.
As the elder juggernaut of local lore, The Island is the one identified as the birthplace of Bayou City punk. From 1978-1983, and under three different names (Paradise Island, Rock Island, and finally, simply The Island), the former Mexican restaurant near Main and Richmond -- not far from the present-day Continental Club complex, itself nicknamed "The Island" -- witnessed the first wave of free-for-all punk diversity before the genre splintered and hardened into molds.
Hence, on any given night, political-savvy Really Red and kitsch-poppers The Judy's vibrated the walls of the dark, dank club, or Austin bands like the Big Boys and The Inserts invaded briefly, or touring icons like UK Subs, the Cramps and Black Flag thrilled faithful local fans with their incendiary brand of rock and roll dissent.
She's never lived here, but Shemekia Copeland is Houston blues royalty all the same. Her late father Johnny Clyde Copeland was one of the guitar princes of the Third Ward scene from the '50s to the mid-'70s, lighting up clubs like Shady's Playhouse alongside Albert Collins, Joe "Guitar" Hughes, Johnny "Guitar" Watson and a young Little Joe Washington. Copeland moved to New York and became one of the blues' biggest stars of the '80s and '90s; Showdown!, his 1985 album with Collins and Robert Cray, won a Grammy.
Shemekia came along in 1979, a singer almost from the start whose father had her onstage at Harlem's famous Cotton Club at age eight. When his health began to fail (he passed in July 1997), she carried on the family line immediately. Last year she was officially crowned "Queen of the Blues" by Koko Taylor's daughter, Cookie, at the Chicago Blues Festival, and this February she sang alongside B.B. King, Mick Jagger, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck and more at the "Red White and Blues" command performance for President Obama later broadcast on PBS.
The first time Rocks Off heard Copeland it was singing with her dad at Antone's in Austin in 1996 or so; we remember thinking, "Damn!" She's only gotten better. Her latest, 33 1/3 (Concord Music Group), reflects both Copeland's age and her interest in the sound of old vinyl LPs even as it crosses beyond the borders of traditional blues and R&B.
Luck or Something Like It: A Memoir
By Kenny Rogers
William Morrow, 304 pp., $27.99
Having recently produced a television special commemorating his 50 years in show business, this memoir from the Gambler seems long overdue.
And indeed, during his '70s and '80s heyday, Kenny Rogers was an artist that would get played on country, pop and rock stations here in town, a crossover artist who -- like Harry Chapin -- took the "story song" ("Coward of the County," "The Gambler," "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town," "Lucille") to mass success.
Of course, since Rogers was born (at St. Joseph's Infirmary) and raised (at San Felipe Courts...now Allen Parkway Village... where a fence separated black and white housing) in Houston, there are plenty of local venues getting name-checked.
Above: Walter Barnes and the Royal Creolians, the first kings of the Chitlin' Circuit
Most music critics, writers, historians, and aficianados in Houston don't think this city has ever gotten enough credit for its contributions to blues, soul, and, the Holy Grail, the birth of rock and roll. Well, roll over, Beethoven, and dig Preston Lauterbach's The Chitlin' Circuit: The Road To Rock 'n' Roll.
Lauterbach's meticulously researched volume -- he spent eight years between "the light bulb coming on in my head" and the book finally going to the publisher -- is a must-read for those who revel in the minutiae and the back stories of rock and roll's pioneers. Houstonians of many stripes should rejoice in this wonderfully colorful history of an era that has always been talked about but seldom actually fleshed out in print in an understandable, sensible order.
The volume is chock full of barely believable characters, some straight out of Amos and Andy with a bit of Shaft thrown into the mix, some torn right from the pages of an Eliot Ness tale of G-men, bootleggers, hustlers, muggers, thieves, murderers, and crooked cops and politicians. The book can compete with any crime page-turner.
Artist Martin Miglioretti's digitally recreated vintage concert posters, part of the Houston Blues Museum's collection, were displayed at The Heritage Society's "Blues In All Its Colors" exhibit in June.
UPDATED (October 4, 3:55 p.m.) to correct the name of Blues for Two and the Billy Blues sign. The saxophone-shaped sign is in fact still in front of The Horn; the HBM owns a different Billy Blues sign.
The Houston Blues Museum is hoping to jump-start its campaign for a permanent home for its growing collection of recordings and other artifacts related to the city's rich blues history, which the foundation behind it hopes will become everything from a community center to a tourist attraction.
This month the HBM, a nonprofit founded in 2010, is co-sponsoring the "Blues and Burgers" series of free lunchtime concerts at Discovery Green. Each week the performances, which begin at 11:30 this morning with a set by local duo Tea Blues for Two, will highlight a different period from Duke/Peacock Records, the twin Houston labels that were a crucial influence on both rock and roll and soul music in the '50s and '60s via such artists as Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Johnny Ace, Big Mama Thornton, O.V. Wright, Bobby "Blue" Bland and Junior Parker.
Bobby Lewis, whose no-cover Blue Monday jams at his Third Ward juke joint Miss Ann's Playpen welcomed professionals and amateurs alike and became legendary among the Houston blues community, passed away over the weekend from a number of health problems. His age was unknown.
Reg Burns, Director of Finance and Operations of the Miller Outdoor Theatre Advisory Board, confirmed the news Sunday night via Steve Sucher of the Musicians' Benevolent Society of Houston; Sucher had spoken with Lewis' widow, Beverly, Burns said.
Local blues scholar Dr. Roger Wood, author of Down In Houston: Bayou City Blues, said Lewis had been in poor health and "getting worse for some time." Burns added that besides diabetes, Lewis had recently been diagnosed with Alzeheimer's Disease.
Of course, while the rest of the world has looked down its nose for years while imagining us to be little more than a city filled with men in large hats and stupid belt buckles, our un-permitted six guns blazing as we ride our gas-guzzler mechanical bulls to work while our beehive-haired, large-chested women mind the homestead and do a little daytime sport-fucking to pass the time, in fact, most of us who live here realize Houston is a lot more like a little rougher, steamier version of Portland or San Francisco than Los Angeles or Atlanta, more like Chicago than New York City.