The Improbable Return of Houston Prog-Rockers Chameleon

Courtesy of Craig Gysler
The latter day Chameleon at the Texas Opry House: Craig Gysler (keyboards/vocals), Spencer Clark (guitar/vocals), Rick Huey (bass/vocals), and Marty Naul (drums/vocals)
Houston has a reputation for and kindness toward some music genres more than others. Blues, blues-rock, rap, metal, country and even psychedelia have all flourished in various clubs both still running and long-defunct across the city and its outskirts.

But the Bayou City has never quite cottoned to progressive rock bands, and especially those playing original tunes full of complex movements, multiple instruments, lyrics dealing with space and time, and tunes running in the ten-plus minute range.

In the late '70s, though, one local band of proggers who had paid their dues for nearly a decade seemed poised for a breakthrough; just one more gig, one more demo, one more audition before things could get really, really better. And then -- just like so many other bands before and after them -- Chameleon imploded.

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Black Sabbath's Ongoing Journey Into Evil

Billboard magazine/Wikipedia
Original evil: Black Sabbath in 1970 -- Geezer Butler (bass), Tony Iommi (guitar), Bill Ward (drums) and Ozzy Osbourne (vocals)
Black Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe
By Mick Wall
St. Martin's Press, 400 pp., $27.99

In one of the most memorable scenes of the fictional rock mockumentary This is Spinal Tap, the clueless heavy-metal rockers endure some disastrous and embarrassing stage incidents involving a Stonehenge stage set that is far too small. And then comes the appearance of some dancing dwarves jigging around who...well...dwarf what was supposed to be an impressive and looming mound of stones.

That the real-life Black Sabbath once had a Stonehenge set that was too big for its stage, and a dwarf dressed as a demon baby whose (usually scripted) screams went on a little longer than normal one night -- the stack of mattresses that normally broke his planned fall from atop the set were not in place -- gives the band today a comical edge. Original lead singer Ozzy Osbourne's befuddled reign as a reality-TV patriarch also did Sabbath no favors.

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For Dennis DeYoung, It's Still the Best of Times

Courtesy of
Dennis DeYoung today
To many classic-rock fans, it would seem a bit of unnecessary clarification to bill a Dennis DeYoung show as "Dennis DeYoung: The Music of Styx."

After all, as the band's main vocalist, chief songwriter and keyboardist, anyone with a ticket to the show surely knows they will hear the headliner belt out classics like "Lady," "The Grand Illusion," "Babe," "The Best of Times," "Come Sail Away" and -- yes -- "Mr. Roboto" in that utterly distinctive voice.

Despite all that success, though, DeYoung himself felt that his name alone doesn't have enough familiarity; thus the extra wording he is allowed to use after some messy legal wrangling upon his unceremonious 1999 ouster from the band. After all, it's his legacy too.

"When I was replaced, I had to find a way to work it out. I worked really hard at promoting a certain four-letter word my whole life," DeYoung says today. "And there is a genuine honesty to Styx music. It was heartfelt. We weren't trying to be ironic or smarter than anybody. And I'm proud of that."

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The Five Worst Bands to Listen to at Work

Photo by Bob Ruggiero
Joe Walsh of James Gang and the Eagles, consistent purveyor of bullshit.
The doldrums of the day job. Everyone knows this struggle, including all your favorite bands. Chances are if you're reading this, you like more than a few bands who simply can't make enough money to fund themselves through touring, record sales and merch in 2015, so they work day jobs, too.

Yes, we all feel the suffering of the boring day job, and the one thing that's a respite for many is the radio. If you're lucky, you can tune in to whatever you like. If you're like most of us, you have to listen to a preordained playlist created by a company like Pandora, or, even worse, commercial-supported radio. Either way, there's probably some songs you like, and probably a good deal you hate.

However, no bands are better for ruining an already terrible day at work than these five. These are the bands we'd all love to hear leave the airwaves forever, regardless of what chart they managed to top 30 to 40 years ago.

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The Illustrated Side of John Lennon

All images copyright Yoko Ono/Used by Permission
"But I'm One of Your Biggest Fans"
John Lennon drew long before he was in the Beatles, becoming an accomplished student at one of the UK's leading art schools. When the iconic band split up, Lennon put his musical activities aside for several years to spend time with his new family but kept right on drawing; maybe more than ever. If he had never even met Paul, George and Ringo, someone in an excellent position to know thinks Lennon would have done at least as well in the art world as he did in the recording studio.

"Most definitely," says Lynne Clifford, curator of the traveling exhibit "The Art of John Lennon," which opens today at Houston's Off the Wall Gallery.

"Yoko has sometimes said [that] I think he'll someday probably be known equally well for his drawings as his music," adds Clifford. "I mean, he was really a renaissance man -- I know people throw that terminology around a lot, but he was a composer, a musician, a poet, an artist. I mean, there wasn't anything that he couldn't do."

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Jimi Hendrix Has New Music Out...and It's Legal

Experience Hendrix/Legacy Recordings
Before the fiery guitars and feather boas, Curtis Knight & the Squires: "Jimmy" Hendrix (left) with (clockwise) drummer Marion Booker, Bassist/Tambourine player Ace Hall, and singer Curtis Knight.
Before he became a psychedelic shaman and the most lauded guitar player or his (or, arguably, any) era, Jimi Hendrix was "Jimmy" Hendrix.

A jobbing, wandering axeman for hire, he spent lean years lending his brewing talents onstage and in the studio by backing acts like Little Richard, King Curtis, the Isley Brothers, Don Covay and even Joey Dee and the Starlighters. One of his more lasting relationships was with the Harlem-based R&B combo Curtis Knight and the Squires, with whom he both performed and recorded numerous sides in 1965-'66.

That was before ex-Animal bassist Chas Chandler whisked him away to England, where he became a sensation and the most talked-about American import since Elvis. And then returned him to these shores for Monterey Pop and worldwide success. Now, fans can finally hear a number of those cuts with Curtis Knight and the Squires -- legally, and after decades of litigation -- on the new compilation You Can't Use My Name: The RSVP/PPX Sessions (Experience Hendrix/Legacy Recordings).

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Confidant's Janis Joplin Memoir Is One of the Best Yet

Photo by John Byrne Cooke
Janis Joplin, spreading her wings in 1968.
On the Road with Janis Joplin
By John Byrne Cooke
Berkley, 432 pp., $26.95.

Popular conception of Janis Joplin is that of the bluesy, boozy, hey-lawdy-mama who was a fireball onstage in a swirl of hair, sequins, fringe, and Southern Comfort. And with a raw, raspy voice that could take tunes by songwriters ranging from George Gershwin and Jerry Ragovoy ("Time Is On My Side") to Kris Kristofferson to church hymns and make them her indelible own.

That conception is true. But, as this exceedingly well-written and descriptive memoir by Cooke -- her former road manger, friend and confidant -- makes clear, that was hardly the only side to the girl from Port Arthur, Texas.

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J. Geils Band Throws a Raucous German Haus Party

Photo by Manfred Becker/Courtesy of Eagle Rock
The elastic fantastic Peter Wolf's powers as a frontman are evident on this DVD.
The J. Geils Band
House Party Live in Germany
Eagle Rock Entertainment (CD/DVD), 68 mins. $19.98

They are likely best known -- and came into most general music fans' consciousness -- via their '80s MTV-era hits "Come Back," "Love Stinks," "Freeze Frame" and of course the No. 1 smash "Centerfold." But from their 1967 founding through the entire next decade, the J. Geils Band were a tough, tight and white R&B/blues band whose songbook included both originals and covers of long-lost deep cuts.

Filmed before a German audience in April 1979 for the Rockpalast TV show, this concert DVD showcases the Boston boys at the precipice between their two distinct eras of sounds. It is also possibly the most energetic captured concert I've ever seen.

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They Came From the '60s! The Zombie Invasion Continues!

Photo by Andrew Eccles
The Zombies today: Tom Toomey (guitar), Rod Argent (keyboards/vocals), Jim Rodford (bass), Colin Blunstone (vocals), and Steve Rodford (drums).
So imagine this sonic scenario. You are a member of a '60s British Invasion band looking to distinguish yourself from various Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Animals, Pacemakers, Hermits, Troggs and Pretty Things.

Your group has had a couple of Top 10 hits in America a few years before, both nothing that was sustainable careerwise; or reflective of the new, heavier, and trippier sound that is in vogue.

Then -- partially to the thanks of a well-known U.S. record-industry insider who brings a copy of your most recent record back across the pond -- one song goes into heavy rotation on radio and is picking up steam. Interest and curiosity in your band begins to surge, inquiries are made from promoters about tours, and the music press begins to take note.

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The Bitter Battle Over "Fifth Beatle" Billy Preston's Estate

"Billy Preston 1901720021" by Heinrich Klaffs is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Billy Preston in Hamburg, Germany
Written by Nate Jackson

On Nov. 21, 2005, the man known as "The Fifth Beatle" lay on a hospital bed, dressed in street clothes, thrashing and gasping for air. Billy Preston had just arrived at the Intensive Care Unit at Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital in Marina del Rey, Calif., rushed there from the Canyon, a nearby drug-rehab center. A large, frustrated nurse wrestled with the legendary, 59-year-old organ player (and native Houstonian), struggling to fit a black oxygen mask over his face. Eyes wide with fear, Preston dodged his head back and forth, unable to breathe.

Holding his hand at his bedside was Preston's manager, Joyce Moore. She tried in vain to calm him down.

"I gripped him tight and said, 'Boo, you gotta relax,'" Moore says. "I thought he was having a panic attack. I kept saying, 'Breathe with me...breathe with me.'"

But it wasn't a panic attack or the pangs of crack withdrawal. Years of drug abuse had culminated in malignant hypertension and pericarditis, the internal drowning of the area around Preston's heart. He mustered the strength to push the mask away, look up at Moore and painfully utter his last words: "I...can't!"

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