Selena's Memory Lives on at Two Local Celebrations

selena pic.jpg
On April 16th, 1971, in the small Gulf Coast town of Lake Jackson, an angel was born whose parents named her Selena Quintanilla. Tragically taken from us at the young age of 23, she was a Latina superstar before J-Lo or Shakira or Ricky Martin. Selena's voice, full of love and joy and heartbreak, continues to capture the hearts of millions of fans around the world, Latinos and non-Latinos alike.

In celebration of what would have been Miss Quintanilla's 43rd birthday Thursday night, two local DJs played tribute sets to the Queen of Tejano at two different Houston clubs. DJ Angie Ramos played short Selena sets at the top of each hour at Barbarella (2404 San Jacinto), where she provided roses and sweet Tejano tunes to the large crowd who showed up to dance the night away. Down the road at The Flat (1701 Commonwealth), DJ Gracie Chavez entertained her audience with remixed versions of Selena's catalog. Both ladies did their part to keep the spirit and music of Selena alive, and we greatly thank them for their efforts.

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UPDATED: Liberty Hall Founder Michael Condray Recuperating After Brain Surgery

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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Revenge of the Music Nerds: Arcade Fire Wins

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Photo by JF LaLonde/Courtesy of Nasty Little Man
Arcade Fire: William Butler is second from right
Arcade Fire's William Butler admits he still gets homesick for Texas. Even the weather...up to a point.

"I miss how green everything was all the time always," he says of his youth in The Woodlands from his current home in Montreal. "You'd come home in December and the lawns would still be green, and there'd be flowers know, that feeling. I like one day of summer that feels like Houston, like one day where it's 100 degrees and 102 percent humidity, where you walk outside and you're just like, 'This is stupid.'

"I like that one day, or maybe three days," continues Butler, who is two and a half years younger than his brother Win, the band's front man. "But not necessarily in a row. I do occasionally miss that aspect of the weather."

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Buck Owens: The Country Cad Who Couldn't Quite Escape Hee Haw

Buck Owens (left) and the classic lineup of the Buckaroos: Don Rich, Willie Cantu, Tom Brumley and Doyle Holly

Buck 'Em! The Autobiography of Buck Owens
By Buck Owens with Randy Poe
Backbeat Books, 360 pp., $29.99

Music legend says that bluesman Robert Johnson made his deal with the Devil at the Crossroads. If that's the case, then country legend Buck Owens must have booked his date with Ol' Scratch in the cornfield.

As Owens (1929-2006) mentions numerous times in this autobiography -- drawn largely verbatim from nearly 100 hours of recently-discovered taped reminisces -- his 17 seasons as co-host of the cornpone country comedy/music show Hee Haw fattened his wallet and made him a household name.

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The Gospel According to Scott H. Biram: Nothin' But Blood

Photo courtesy of Bloodshot Records
The last time Rocks Off really caught up with Scott H. Biram, Austin's "Dirty Old One Man Band" helped us with our continuing mission to teach appropriate concert behavior to Houston audiences. We figured he was a good guy to ask because at the time (June 2011), he had just gone off on a fan via Facebook for being loud during a recent Memphis show, saying "if you don't like getting told to shut up at my shows...don't stand in front of the stage during quiet songs and talk about how often you wash your hair."

That's still good advice. Biram's extended list of behavior to avoid also included "throw beer or anything at me or my equipment," "clap along with no rhythm" and "steal merch and spill shit on the merch table." These days the 39-year-old singer-songwriter (who turns 40 next month) has a deep enough catalog that he's not quite sure what kind of crowd he'll see from night to night, he admits.

"I have a pretty eclectic fan base," Biram says. " time it will be more of a listening-type [audience], people who are there to actually listen, or it will be like Seattle the other night, [which] bordered on a mosh pit the whole time. I didn't know you could mosh to country music until I started playing."

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Safety and SXSW: Was the Mohawk Tragedy a Tipping Point?

Photos by Marco Torres
A memorial to Thursday morning's crash victims outside The Mohawk on Red River Street
The last morning of SXSW 2011 was not a pleasant one. Not because of any kind of personal debauchery the previous evening; that had come a few days before. Reprimands had been handed down, wrists had been slapped, and tails were hanging between a few legs, these two included. The specific infractions have long since been forgotten, but what I remember now is sitting at Starbucks downstairs at the downtown Austin Hilton Sunday morning, watching one of the SXSW directors telling a local TV station that the festival might have to take it down a few notches. So I'm not the only one, I thought.

That cup of coffee was the one single moment when SXSW finally stopped being fun for me.

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UPDATED: Founders Hope New 1836 Fest Is a Texas-Size Hit

Photos courtesy of 1836 Fest
Sons of Fathers
UPDATE UPDATE (Friday, 3 p.m.): Although dogs are normally allowed at the Cottonwood, 1836 is a no-dog festival.

This sounds like a joke, but we'll find out soon enough whether it is or not. Did you hear the one about the three lawyers who started a music festival?

Well, they did, and this Saturday Mikey Bernick, James Brown and Bryce Duke will find out just how smooth or bumpy the transition from music fan to promoter can be. According to Bernick, none of the three has any kind of experience producing live-music events.

"None," he laughs. "We just went and did it."

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Your Two-Steppin' Guide to the Rodeo Cookoff Bands

All photos courtesy of Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo
Kevin Fowler
As one of the biggest entertainment-based enterprises on the planet, not just in Texas, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo is one of the few local events that people halfway across the country and around the world travel to see. As such, its concert calendar has become increasingly crowded with pop stars like Pitbull, Robin Thicke, Bruno Mars and the Black Eyed Peas, as well as the top draws Nashville has to offer. In recent years this strategy has allowed the rodeo to regularly smash its own attendance records, but it could also leave some of our many visitors wondering, "This is Texas...where's all the country music at?"

That could well be why that on the eighth day, the rodeo gods created the World's Championship BBQ Contest, the three-day event (or "cookoff" for short) that serves as a sauce-smeared, hickory-smoked prologue to the Rodeo proper and gets underway this very evening down in Reliant Park. Here among the invitation-only tents and savory smells is also all the twang you could possibly hope for courtesy of these dozen acts, many of them from right here in God's country. Look for it at the Miller Stage In the Garden and Rockin' Bar-B-Que Saloon.

So get your boots on. Hope you're ready to drink some beer.

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The Rocks Off 200: Junior Gordon, Big Man With a Big Sound

Welcome to The Rocks Off 200, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See previous entries in the Rocks Off 100 at this link.

Photos courtesy of Junior Gordon/Junior Gordon Band
Who? Junior Gordon first came to our attention last year, when his fans launched him onto our Houston Press Music Awards ballot in the Best Country category, and boy howdy is he country. Gordon's sound is about as big as the ten-gallon hat he wears on the cover of his album, BIG, which is in all caps because lowercase letters just couldn't contain him. Like Tracy Byrd or Mark Chesnutt before him, Gordon's brand of starched-Wranglers honky-tonk is a little too twangy for Nashville, especially these days, but Texas to the bone.

In other words, if you're looking at him, you're looking at country. Gordon describes himself as a "good, old-fashioned guy who has an astonishing love for Christ, his family and music...the type of guy who respects and is grateful for the awesome gifts in his life." The most recent single from BIG, "Sunday Morning," is currently bubbling under the Top 100 of the Texas Regional Radio Report, while Gordon's booking calendar is booked six ways from Sunday, including dates at Galveston's Mardi Gras weekend and March 12 at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo's Hideout Club.

He's also nominated in three categories, including Record of the Year, in next month's Texas Music Awards.

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Texas Guitar God Johnny Winter Is Forever True to the Blues

Michael Weintraub/Sony
The quintessential Texas bluesman: Johnny Winter
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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