Bob Marley at 70: Does Houston Have a Reggae Problem?

Categories: Miles-tones

Photo by Adrian Boot/Fifty-Six Hope Road Music, Ltd./UMG
To date Bob Marley has sold an estimated 75 million albums -- an overwhelming amount of them after his death in May 1981.
[Updated Friday at 4:30 p.m. with comments from a former Houston reggae promoter who asked to remain anonymous, because "I still have hopes of continuing in the Houston reggae industry." His comments are underneath the original story.[

Today would have been the late Bob Marley's 70th birthday. A simple Facebook search yields dozens, if not hundreds, of celebrations in the reggae icon's honor across the globe, places like Austin; Brooklyn; London; Baltimore; Knoxville, Tenn.; Key West,Fla.; and even the Ukraine.

But Houston...not so much. Not only is no quasi-official birthday party scheduled, there's not even a reggae band playing in town tonight that we could find. However, fans looking for somewhere to gather and soak in Marley's one-love rastaman vibration can head to Club Riddims on West Bellfort, where CEO Fadda Owen says a DJ will be spinning Bob's tunes all night; "of course we will." Its shopping-center neighbor, the Cool Runnings Caribbean cafe, is also a likely candidate; downtown's newly opened Nightingale Room is also playing all Marley tonight. But even the leader of one of Houston's top reggae groups -- and there aren't that many to start with -- says they have an open date this evening.

"We can't find anybody," says Idiginis singer/guitarist Aauzraam Levi, meaning a gig. "If we knew of anything that was happening, of course we'd love to be a part of anything."

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Wow..."We Are the World" Is 30 Years Old

Michael Jackson, looking appropriately regal in the "We Are the World" video
If you '80s children need a reason to feel extra-old this week, here's a good one: "We Are the World" is exactly 30 years old. In 1985, the evening of the American Music Awards -- which back then were in late January instead of right after Thanksgiving -- Quincy Jones emptied his Rolodex, partially at Michael Jackson's behest, and stars from Kenny Rogers, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson to Hall & Oates, Billy Joel, Tina Turner, Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis & the News and Bruce Springsteen turned up, among a host of other stars at the time.

Inspired by Band Aid, in which Sir Bob Geldof invited/guilt-tripped a who's who of mid-'80s UK pop stars (Duran Duran, Culture Club, Spandau Ballet, Sting, Bono) to record the seasonal pop song "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and donate the proceeds to help fight famine in East Africa, mainly Ethiopia. The song was an instant hit and one of the biggest media events of the decade, although some critics later argued that those most in need actually received a shamefully low percentage of aid compared to the millions of dollars that were supposed to have been raised.

Nevertheless, to date, Geldof has updated "Do They Know It's Christmas" three times for various causes, including last year with a cast topped by Sam Smith, One Direction, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay's Chris Martin, Ellie Goulding, etc., and recording as "Band Aid 30." The funds raised were earmarked to fight Ebola this time.

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Remembering Rozz Zamorano, Houston's Bass-Guitar Giant

Photo courtesy of Greg Davis
L-R: Fondue Monks Denver Courtney and Rozzano Zamorano
Note: this Christmas, Rocks Off is remembering some prominent members of Houston's music community we lost this year.

Houston's music community is still reeling after popular bassist Rozzano Zamorano was found dead in his Montrose apartment on February 19. Friends say Zamorano failed to show up for a gig with Vince Converse that night at Dan Electro's Guitar Bar, leading police officers alerted by his family to break down his door and discover him unconscious in his bed. Zamorano had just celebrated his 44th birthday the previous weekend at a gig with his band the Fondue Monks, also at Dan Electro's.

"Rozz to not show up at a gig -- that never happened," says Fondue Monks singer Denver Courtney, who had been Zamorano's bandmate since the group formed in 1991. "I've been onstage with Rozz when he had a 103-degree fever and was puking off the back of the stage."

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Remembering Johnny Winter, Beaumont's Blues Lightning

Categories: Miles-tones

Michael Weintraub/Sony
The quintessential Texas bluesman: Johnny Winter
Note: this Christmas, Rocks Off is remembering some prominent members of Houston's music community we lost this year, which we extended to include the legendary Winter, who passed away July 16. This article originally appeared on February 11.

A December 1968 edition of Rolling Stone featured Texas musicians who were at the time making inroads into the magazine's home city of San Francisco. Featuring a cover photo of cowboy-hatted Doug Sahm (balancing toddler son Shawn on his knee), it mentioned players and singers both known (Janis Joplin, Steve Miller, Boz Scaggs) and others familiar only to hardcore fans.

But it was a mention of a shit-hot blues player, Johnny Winter, that seemed to generate the most buzz. Soon, the Beaumont native found himself in demand. The article described "A cross-eyed albino with long, fleecy hair, who plays some of the gutsiest, fluid blues you ever heard."

A guest appearance with Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper at the Fillmore East gave a major audience their first real look at this mythical figure. Columbia Records execs were in the audience, and it led to a then-unheard of advance for an unknown act -- a reported $600,000 -- resulting in Winter's 1969 self-titled debut.

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Remembering Pam Robinson, Music-Scene Queen and Mayor of "Pamland"

Photo courtesy of Walters Downtown
We'll miss you, Pam.
Note: this Christmas, Rocks Off is remembering some prominent members of Houston's music community we lost this year.

Walters Downtown owner Pam Robinson, a fan and champion of Houston musicians for decades, passed away following a long battle with cancer the afternoon of October 22. Her family released this statement the next day on Walters' Facebook page:

Yesterday afternoon we lost our beloved owner, Pam Robinson, to her battle with cancer. She was a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, an aunt and a Gaga. She was feisty, loving, badass, smart, passionate and a very understanding person.

We all loved her and what she did for the Houston music community, and through Pamland, she started to help shape many musicians and bands into who they are today. She gave to so many people without asking anything in return, and as Willow, from Hatetank Productions, put it, she was the "Godmother of the Houston Music Scene".

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Remembering Little Joe Washington, Houston's Last Real Bluesman

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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Remembering Joe Sample, Fifth Ward Jazz-Funk Great

Photo by Marco Torres
Note: this Christmas, Rocks Off is remembering some prominent members of Houston's music community we lost this year.

Joe Sample, the Houston native whose masterful keyboard playing made him a leading figure in the jazz fusion movement of the '60s and '70s and a top session musician in jazz, R&B and pop for several decades, passed away September 12, according to his Facebook page. His family announced his death with the following message:

[Wife] Yolanda and his son Nicklas would like to thank all of you, his fans and friends, for your prayers and support during this trying time. Please know that Joe was aware and very appreciative of all of your prayers, comments, letters/cards and well wishes.

Sample was a graduate of Wheatley High School, where he and some classmates founded a group they called the Jazz Crusaders in the mid-'50s. They moved to Southern California in the early '60s and became one of the most popular and respected groups in jazz thanks to albums like Freedom Sound and Looking Ahead. In the '70s, as their sound incorporated more and more elements of funk and R&B, the group changed its name to the Crusaders. Sample also took plenty of jobs on the side, appearing on classic pop-rock albums such as Joni Mitchell's Court & Spark, Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On and Canned Heat's Up the Country. It was not easy work, he told the Houston Press in 2013:

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Remembering Dale Brooks, Early Houston Punk Videographer

Photo courtesy of Ella Tyler
Dale Brooks, center, with "Robot" Burtenshaw (left) and Ted Barwell at Brooks' 2013 wedding
When the first wave of punk swept through America and Britain during the rather moribund mid-1970s, it became so fertile because punk was inclusive, participatory and democratic. Into its ranks swept musicians, fashion designers, artists, radio personalities, photographers and writers, as well as filmmakers and documentarians.

Dale Brooks, who passed away on November 19 at his home in Marble Falls (age 60), was a seminal character from those times. I met him while he filmed the Island reunion gig a few years back, and Brooks' audiovisual skills and vision helped propel local acts like the Hates into the video age and caught touring acts like the Dils during their rare, short-lived jaunts into middle America. Though Brooks was a longtime supporter of electric cars, eventually becoming president of the Houston Electric Auto Association, today Rocks Off would like to shed light on his forays into local music.

Like many, he began his pursuits by preparing well in advance of punk's zero hour.

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RIP Bobby Keys: Texan and Stones Saxophonist Dies at 70

Sean Birmingham via Wikimedia commons
Bobby Keys in 2009
Note: According to Ultimate Classic Rock, Bobby Keys passed away earlier Tuesday. The Lubbock-born saxophonist was a longtime side man for the Rolling Stones, first appearing with the band on 1969's Let It Bleed. Keys was especially close to Keith Richards, with whom he shared the birthday of December 18, and was also a longtime member of the Joe Ely Band during some of the Stones' more inactive moments of the 1980s.

We were lucky enough to talk with Keys, who was 70, before the reunited Ely group played Houston's International Festival in May 2011.

Born in Lubbock and raised just east in Slaton, Joe Ely's home town, saxophonist Bobby Keys left Lubbock in 1960 looking for kicks. At 14, he was playing with Bob Dylan influence, Bobby Vee, before moving on to a gig with seminal rocker Buddy Knox. Fifty-one years later, Keys will fly into Houston to play with Joe Ely at Houston iFest on Sunday.

"I was tired of Lubbock and Lubbock was tired of me," says the 67-year-old wild man from his home in Nashville. "Me and trouble were on a first name basis."

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Houston Remembers Little Joe Washington

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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