Rodney Crowell Goes Geographic on "East Houston Blues"

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Photo courtesy of New West Records
The Houston Kid tapping into the bedrock once again
Leave it to the Houston Kid, Rodney Crowell, to debut a new song about his former home town live on BBC. Rocks Off received a message from local music savant Father Sean Horrigan early Wednesday with a link to Crowell's performance.

Crowell, whose work has always been informed by his early life in the Bayou City, debuted a brand new composition, "East Houston Blues," on BBC's Another Country with Ricky Ross program earlier this week. So far the video only has about 100 views.


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RIP Blues Man Don Kesee

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photo by Sherman Hatton
Don Kesee (far right) with Texas Johnny Brown, Little Joe Washington, Milton Hopkins (standing), Eugene Moddy, George Brown at the Big Easy, August 2011
Longtime Houston bluesman Don Kesee, known by all who met him for his good nature and huge, friendly smile, passed away Wednesday afternoon after an extended illness. He had been on dialysis for some time and, according to folks who saw him at a benefit in November, he had not looked at all well lately.

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photo by Sherman Hatton
Don Kesee
Kesee was one of the elder statesmen of the local blues scene included in our August 31, 2011 cover story about the Houston blues community.

Kesee was born near Hempstead and began playing guitar when he was 9. His father had been with the Five Blind Boys of Alabama for some years. After a teenage apprenticeship in blues bands in Hempstead and LaGrange, Kesee moved to Houston in the early Sixties, joining The Esquires.

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Remembering Little Joe Washington, Houston's Last Real Bluesman

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Photos courtesy of Ray Redding/TexasRedd Photography
Little Joe Washington at KPFT's Anniversary Party, April 2013
Note: this Christmas, Rocks Off is remembering some prominent members of Houston's music community we lost this year.

Houston is a little less of an action town after Little Joe Washington, the mighty-mite of the local blues scene passed away the afternoon of November 12. Washington's death is believed to be due to diabetic complications; he was 75.

I could prattle on here with the nuts and bolts of an overview of Joe's life: his birth on Velasco Street in Third Ward, his roots in the local scene here backing up guys like Albert Collins and Joe "Guitar" Hughes back in the day, his crazy days in the bars of El Paso and Juarez with pal Long John Hunter, his salad days in Los Angeles recording for Syd Nathan and Specialty Records, or his long slide into addiction and homelessness.

But screw it, I have better memories than that.


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Do One Kind Favor for Little Joe Washington

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Photo courtesy of Ray Redding/TexasRedd
Little Joe Washington tears it up at the 2008 Houston International Festival.
I'm sad and grateful with tears for Marion Washington, better known by his nickname "Little Joe." I am grieving more deeply than I would have guessed for what was obviously inevitable, given his 75 years and his frail and failing health in recent months.

If you want to understand where this talented musician was coming from -- sonically and otherwise -- listen to some early Johnny "Guitar" Watson, another late Third Ward phenom. Check out that guitar tone, the raspy vocals.

Our Little Joe was original and unique; yes, he was, but he -- just like his mentor Joe "Guitar" Hughes -- was profoundly influenced by Watson. Little Joe was the last link in that lineage, the final articulation of a combination of sounds we will not hear again live on local (or other) stages.


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Little Joe Washington: The Stories Never End

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Photos courtesy of Ray Redding/TexasRedd Photography
Little Joe Washington at KPFT's Anniversary Party, April 2013
Houston is a little less of an action town today after Wednesday's passing of Little Joe Washington, the mighty-mite of the local blues scene. Washington's death is believed to be due to diabetic complications; he was 75.

I could prattle on here with the nuts and bolts of an overview of Joe's life: his birth on Velasco Street in Third Ward, his roots in the local scene here backing up guys like Albert Collins and Joe "Guitar" Hughes back in the day, his crazy days in the bars of El Paso and Juarez with pal Long John Hunter, his salad days in Los Angeles recording for Syd Nathan and Specialty Records, or his long slide into addiction and homelessness.

But screw it, I have better memories than that.


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Houston Remembers Little Joe Washington

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Photo by Marco Torres
Little Joe Washington made the rounds...he even stopped by our place once in a while.
Whenever someone important like Little Joe Washington dies, an easy way to gauge just how much impact they had on their community is to see what people were saying about them right before they passed. Enter social media.

In Washington's case, it was a site called Funky Blues Radio, an Internet station that uses its Twitter feed as a log to track songs played, and apparently went on a bit of a Little Joe kick Tuesday. After he passed, people far and wide paid their respects -- but not surprisingly, an overwhelming amount of them were musicians.


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Houston's Historic Starday Records: The Earliest Singles

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Handbook of Texas Online/Texas Historical Foundation
Houston businessman Harold "Pappy" Daily's sons Don and Bud founded Cactus Records in 1975.
In 1952, Houston jukebox operator and record distributor Harold "Pappy" Daily and Jack Starnes, Lefty Frizzell's manager, formed their own record label. A combination of both men's names, the tiny Starday actually began recording operations in Starnes' house in Beaumont and released its first 45, Mary Jo Chelette's "Gee It's Tough To Be 13" b/w "Cat Fishing," in early 1953.

Over the next five years, Starday went from a bedroom operation to one of the most important regional labels in the country. Along the way, it would serve as a regional springboard for the popular new craze known as rockabilly as well as a label noted for its roster of important regional artists and eventual national country stars.

Daily and Starnes released 16 singles in their first year of operation, and seem to have skipped over No. 8 and No. 13, as no information is available on those series numbers. Several of these were by the same artists, as it was not unheard of to release several singles per year to feed the bulldog that is mainstream radio. While only one of the tunes from the first year caused much of a ripple outside the Gulf Coast area, they do give a fascinating representation of the sounds that certainly filled local joints and radio stations, and also offer a measure of how much talent there was in the local market.


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The 25 Best Songs About Houston

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Ron Riering via Flickr
Lots of songs down here...
Bobby Bare, "I Can Almost See Houston From Here"
One of the great homesick songs, Bobby Bare infuses this one with downtrodden ennui as he pines for the warmness of his old hometown. Usually veteran Houstonians are forced to deal with some newbie from Portland telling us all the things that are wrong with the Bayou City, so this one is a refreshing twist; Bare pines to get back to his old hometown and leave the Denver cold behind. It also contains the drop-dead perfect honky-tonk realization: "Funny how much better I can see without my pride." WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH

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10 Houston Acts to See Before You Can't

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Photo by Mark Britain
Little Joe Washington
The passing of Texas Johnny Brown last year hit me and a bunch of people pretty hard, so the September 12 death of Crusaders pianist Joe Sample was another slap in the face that many of Houston's musical heroes are closer to the end than the beginning. The latest bad news is that bluesmen I.J. Gosey and Little Joe Washington, as well as monumental drummer, educator and community leader Bubbha Thomas, have been in poor health, although Little Joe's prognosis is looking pretty good if he maintains his dialysis schedule.

All of this brought on some surveying of the local landscape and wondering how much longer some of our oldest artists have, and in turn the following list of artists that you need to get out and see while you still can. Nothing morbid here, just the cold, hard facts of time marching on. As Houston's Mike Stinson sings in one of his new songs, "Time is a relentless marching whore." Believe me, I'm on the front lines.


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UPDATED: Liberty Hall Founder Michael Condray Recuperating After Brain Surgery

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Photo courtesy of Bob Novotney
Michael Condray (far left in white t-shirt) and the staff of Family Hand
UPDATE (April 11, 2:15 p.m.): According to Lonnie Brantley, Condray will be released from ICU this afternoon.

I last saw Michael Condray five years ago at his home outside Porter. I was working on a story about his legendary Houston venue, Liberty Hall, where Bruce Springsteen found his first success in Texas and where a budding guitarist named Billy Gibbons would occasionally work out. Condray loaned us some significant photos for that article.

One of the quiet giants of Houston's music scene in the late '60s and '70s, Condray is in Hermann Memorial Hospital following an emergency brain surgery to relieve pressure Wednesday night, according to an email from his friend Lonnie Brantley.

Brantley added that Condray is suffering from both brain and lung cancer, and is in dire condition. Informal vigils are planned for this weekend.


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