The Sacred Music of Houston Record Mogul Don Robey

The cover of a 2010 Duke/Peacock compilation assembled by DJ Flash Gordon Parks
Houston's Don Deadric Robey -- half black, half Jewish, all gangster -- beat Berry Gordy by ten years to become the first African-American record mogul. A gambler and a hustler, he did not get there by playing fair, but Robey put out some of the greatest gospel, R&B and rock and roll records of the 1950s and '60s from a building in the Fifth Ward. As Stax would later define Memphis grit, Duke/Peacock was raw, black Southern music for an audience more into jubilation than assimilation.

The 2809 Erastus Street address housed Robey's sophisticated Bronze Peacock Dinner Club from 1945 to '53, and in a back office he launched Peacock Records in 1949 after his discovery Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown didn't get much promotion on two singles for L.A.'s Aladdin label. Peacock first made its name in the gospel field, then hit it big in R&B in 1953 with Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog," predating the sensational Elvis Presley cover by three years.

After he acquired the Duke label in the early '50s, Robey's stable of acts contained not only Gatemouth, but Bobby "Blue" Bland, Junior Parker, Johnny Ace, Roscoe Gordon, Memphis Slim, Johnny Otis, Big Walter and the Thunderbirds and O.V. Wright.

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For These Fans, Cake Beats Game of Thrones By a Mile

Photos by Francisco Montes
House of Blues
April 12, 2015

After a weekend of sporadic downpours and questionable weather, Houstonians could have easily opted to stay tucked in Sunday night for the Game of Thrones season premiere or yet another marathon of Bar Rescue. Quite the contrary: Cake's House of Blues show was completely sold out, overflowing with fans so dedicated they would have swum to the venue if needed.

Upon walking into House of Blues, it was clear why Cake still sells out shows 20-plus years after forming: fans everywhere were preemptively singing their favorite songs, giddy with anticipation for the California alt-rock vets to take the stage. The excitement among the crowd was almost enough to be happy that so many people got to experience this show, but frankly there were too damn many people in the venue. Overhearing tall men comment on how the place was too packed was commonplace.

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What Can Jay Z's New TIDAL Service Do for You?

When you're a 45-year-old mogul, partying with Taylor Swift is usually a business decision and not one made for pure recreation. Earlier this month, Jay Z decided to take a risk that was a) bigger than losing 92 bricks and bouncing right back; b) crazier than trying to convince us that Memphis Bleek was his true successor; and c) financially bold enough to grab headlines. He spent $56 million on Aspiro, a Swedish-based tech company. One of its subsidiaries, Tidal, made its way across the pond last fall.

Why was Jay Z partying with Taylor Swift? To promptly reveal to the world his latest business venture, an online streaming service where high-quality audio and video will beat out his competition.

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Hashtags Are Officially #Over. So Now What?

Photo by Marco Torres
Jennifer Lopez, shown in 2012, hopped on the hashtag bandwagon with 2013's "#liveitup."
PREVIOUSLY: Why #Hashtags Are So Damned Irresistible to Record Companies

This social sphere of readily available media makes it easier for artists to reach their fans on a whole new level, but it also makes those fans able to reach other things with just the click of a button which in turn lessens the modern day music listener's attention span by a pretty big percentage.

The only way Katy Perry's new #smash would benefit from its hashtag would be if her listeners constantly banded together and sent out thousands of tweets about the song to make #smash a trending topic on Twitter, which we all know people besides her diehard KatyCats would not do.

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Why #Hashtags Are So Damned Irresistible to Record Companies

Photo by davitydave via Flickr
This "human hashtag" is proof that even a great idea can get out of hand.
Picture this: you are in a Capitol Records executive meeting. Katy Perry is sitting at the table with her big shot manager L.A. Reid right next to her. It's the final meeting before the label drops the press release announcing Katy's huge comeback single, and there are papers with different versions of the single cover scattered all around the table, white boards with graphs predicting one of the largest first week sales in music history, and Ms. Perry with pen in hand, ready to sign the papers that will give the label the "go."

But right before she touches pen and paper, a scruffy intern with three empty cans of Red Bull next to him stands up with the most groundbreaking look on his face. "Wait, wait, wait everyone...should we add a hashtag?"

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"Surprise Albums" Might Be the New Normal

Photo by Marco Torres
Kendrick Lamar, shown at Warehouse Live in December 2012, has also been the subject of recent surprise-album rumors.
If you're reading this and are just now finding out about Drake's new album, you're a little late.

In your defense, the Canada-based rapper just dropped his new mixtape, If You're Reading This It's Too Late, via Twitter in the late hours of last Thursday night, creating a bit of a shock to fans who had been anxiously awaiting his purported album Views from the Six.

Because it's not your run-of-the-mill album, If You're Reading This It's Too Late is tougher to dive into when compared to prior Drake releases. With biting lyrics that are more aimed and specific, it doesn't pan out as smoothly and cohesively as his most recent effort, 2013's Nothing Was the Same. Even so, certain moments within the 17-song Too Late give the impression that this could contain some of the most important work in Drake's career thus far.

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Stop Complaining and Just Enjoy the Grammys

Photo by Groovehouse
Does Miley Cyrus deserve her Grammy nomination? Does anyone over age 18 even care?
This Sunday the 57th annual Grammy Awards will take place, which for me translates into an awful amount of unnecessary rants on social media and memes being posted over and over on Tumblr, but most of all lots of complaining. What is supposed to be "music's biggest night" has turned into a "Who Wore It Best?" competition combined with an Illuminati conspiracy-theory fest (oh, the big bad tyrannical music industry machine), and every year there seems to be more and more criticism the morning after the broadcast.

But is this because every year, the nominations are consistently getting more bland and lowbrow than the year before? Or is it just that the number of critical music bloggers has increased tenfold, making the awards show seem like the most awful thing ever to air on television and a disgrace to music itself? Really, it could go either way. It could even go both ways. But to better analyze the situation, we should take a look at the two different types of Grammy Awards viewers who come out to play every year.

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Music Trends That Should Stay In 2014

Photo courtesy of Big Machine Records
Will we hear even a little less about Taylor in 2015? One can only hope...
Despite what the editors of Rolling Stone want you to believe, 2014 was not, in fact, "another great year for music." In all honesty, it was one of the worst on record for new creations that innovated or inspired. Sure, there were some highlights: Jack White, FKA Twigs, Schoolboy Q, St Vincent. But overall, the year was somewhat of a bust.

The good news is that there is no need to abandon hope for popular music. All that needs to happen is that these dreadful pieces of 2014 need to stay on this side of the calendar when the clock hits midnight on December 31. Here's to 2015!

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A Few Things Local Bands Should Know About Opening for National Acts

Photo by Clever Cupcakes via Flickr
As close as a typical opening band might get to meeting KISS.
Your band has been playing shows for a while, and seems to be getting popular. Perhaps you're still just rising stars on the hometown circuit or have hit the road a few times to try your luck at touring. Eventually, the day comes when you get a dream gig opening up for a big national act -- a band with a certain amount of fame and success that you've always looked up to, or at least respected.

Does this gig mean Death Hippie has finally made it and superstardom is around the corner? Can you and your bass player finally quit your jobs cleaning up "accidents" at the porno theater where you both work? Will you at least make industry connections and become friends with your rock and roll heroes after your band opens for them?

Probably not. But as with most things involving the music biz, you'll probably learn some lessons along the way. I certainly did.

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Five Sample-Using Songs That Deserve Grammys Now

Photo by Marco Torres
Wu-Tang Clan
Recently the Grammy Awards announced changes to the annual music awards' criteria and categories, the most notable being now permitting songs that utilize samples in the songwriting categories, specifically Song of the Year. This is huge news for many electronic artists and rappers, obviously.

But why wasn't this always the case? It seems like the often stodgy judges behind the Grammys have unfairly excluded a lot of amazing works of art from winning awards just because they featured samples or interpolations. Here are some of the best songs which should have won that couldn't before this rule change.

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