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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Field Notes on Houston Music, 1830s-1920s

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Terrific flights over ponderous elephants, poster for Forepaugh & Sells Brothers, ca. 1899
Around Tin Pan Alley-era Houston, sheet music was exchanged for the most part among music fans and aficionados, versus the then-fragile but burgeoning cylinder records (phonographs). Sadly, the true sound of musicians who improvised has been lost, but from street musicians to the thoroughly classical, here's the rest of what I heard.

The first dramatic theater performance in Texas took place in Houston on June 11, 1838. Back in that day, these performances were generally most popular.

One of Houston's first stars was Madame Thielman, née Louise Ehlers, a German opera singer and universal favorite. Houston newspapers showered her with compliments, and she toured Houston and the world in the mid-to-late 1830s.


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The Rice Hotel Speakeasy: Houston Music During Prohibition

Note: This is Part 2 in a series that timelines through bits of the first century of Houston's nightlife until about the start of what was found to be Houston's oldest running bar.

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Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Rice Hotel dining room
The Rice Hotel (now the Post Rice Lofts) is located where the first capital of the Republic of Texas once stood. The Rice Roof at the Rice Hotel was one of Houston's top dance clubs among local elite and whatnot for some time.

By the time Prohibition came about in the early 1920s, the Rice Roof was where much of Texas' elite supposedly kept their private stocks of alcohol in individual cabinets. The Rice Hotel Dining Room Orchestra played here as well as several jazz "territory bands." One such group was Peck's Bad Boys, an influential local group led by Houstonian John "Peck" Kelley. They never recorded, though they were said to be largely popular while remaining generally ahead of their time. They possibly played at the Rice Roof and at college nights at the Lamar Spanish Dining Room, too.

Prohibition-era nightclubbing in Houston was said to happen in speakeasies made out of houses located in the Neartown area along present-day Westheimer, better known today as Montrose.


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Gunfights and Ragtime: The Houston Music Scene of 100 Years Ago

Note: This is a two-part series that timelines through bits of the first century of Houston's nightlife until about the start of what was found to be Houston's oldest running bar.

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Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
City Hall and Market House, 1904
For the first century since Houston's birth in 1837, happenings of music and revelry were advertised word-of-mouth. Music journalism generally consisted of classical reviews, and most of those who could chat about those times have passed, making it harder to find what's left today.

What's left are library reserves of research volumes alongside torn pictures and captions tucked and scattered throughout a small variety of nice, browned scrapbooks. Looking through dozens of those, this is what we found.


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Elderly Local Bluesmen I.J. Gosey, Little Joe Washington Both Ailing

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I.J. Gosey around 2009
Two of Houston's last surviving bluesmen have recently suffered significant health setbacks, according to members of the blues community.

Guitarist I.J. Gosey, once a member of the session crew that produced a slew of R&B standards for Houston's Duke/Peacock records in the '50s and early '60s, has had a series of minor strokes, says Houston Blues Society president Glyn Westcott. Gosey anchored popular Sunday-evening residencies at C. Davis Bar-B-Q and then Mr. Geno's on Cullen before a bigger stroke sidelined him a couple of years ago.


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There Goes the Blues: Tributes Pour In For Texas Johnny Brown

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Even for an 85-year-old bluesman who wrote his best-known song during the JFK administration, Monday night social media was full of love for Texas Johnny Brown, the soft-spoken, sharp-dressed guitarist who passed away earlier in the day after a relatively brief battle with liver cancer.

"It is with great sadness and heavy heart that we share the news of the passing of an American treasure and true blues legend," said "Blues Hound" James Nagel, host of KPFT's Sunday-afternoon show "Howlin' the Blues," on the Houston Blues society's open Facebook group. "His accolades are many, but his true legacy lay behind his beautiful smile, warm heart and undying love for his family, fans and the music that brought all of us so much joy."

On Twitter (above), Houston restaurateur Bryan Caswell remembered Brown, who wrote smoky Gulf Coast R&B standards "There Goes the Blues" and "Two Steps From the Blues," as "one of the guys who hooked me on live music."


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R.I.P. Texas Johnny Brown: Smoothest Houston Bluesman Dies at 85

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Photo by Jason Wolter
Texas Johnny Brown at the Big Easy in 2011
Hearts are heavy in the Houston blues community tonight as word spreads that 85-year-old Texas Johnny Brown, one of the classiest acts on the scene and the author of Bobby Bland's epic "Two Steps From the Blues," has passed. Brown's son Shawn had been handling his father's care, and he tweeted news of Brown's passing to members of the Blues Society around 7 p.m. Monday.

According to one follow-up message we received, Brown passed in his sleep and without pain.

The diminutive, dapper bluesman has been a fixture on the Houston blues scene since arriving here from Mississippi at the tender age of ten with his father, who was a blind blues musician. Brown worked with his father for some time before beginning a successful solo career.


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R.I.P. Bobby "Blue" Bland: R&B Singer With Deep Houston Ties Dies at 83

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Bobby "Blue" Bland, the legendary R&B singer who made some of his finest records for Houston label Duke/Peacock -- including arguably his crowning achievement, 1961's Two Steps From the Blues -- has passed away at age 83, according to reports.

Citing a report from the Memphis Music Foundation, that city's CBS-TV affiliate WREG posted a notice of Bland's death at 7:49 Central Time. Despite rumors of his death being an Internet hoax, it was also reported and later updated by the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Bland's son Rodd told the Associated Press, via the San Jose Mercury-News, that his father, a 1992 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, had died at about 5:30 p.m. Memphis time.

A pure singer in a genre when not playing some sort of instrument could be a liability, Bland became one of the blues' most recognizable names and biggest stars in the '60s and '70s. He rarely crossed over to the pop charts, but sent dozens upon dozens of songs and albums into the R&B Top 10, a few all the way to No. 1. Bland often toured with friend B.B. King, with whom he made the classic 1975 album Together Again For the First Time... Live.


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Lightnin' Hopkins Finally Wins a Grammy

Categories: Catfish Reef

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Photo by Matthew Keever
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.:


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A Young Person's Guide to Houston's Historic Blues Venues

Categories: Catfish Reef

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Photo by Jim Olive/GHCVB
Not pictured: Blues venues.
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.

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