Not fade away
Ours is a reissue society now, a collection of lost tapes and found masters and other such detritus being wiped off, polished up, and sold as new; the music business has given up on selling us interesting new todays, so they just throw out more and more yellowed yesterdays and hope we're suckers enough to think it'll do--which it probably will. The digital age means nothing goes out of print anymore, especially 1960s garage-rock, which has become the fodder of choice. Seems the European craze of latching onto discarded American rock from that decade has finally caught on over here--then again, sooner or later, every trash heap becomes a gold mine.
In recent weeks, discs have been issued from the likes of Collectables Records (a shady reissue label based out of Pennsylvania), Crypt Records (based in Germany with offices in Los Angeles), and AIP Records (also L.A.-based, distributed through the respectable Bomp label) featuring dozens of lost (and then some) artists from the 1960s. And then, on September 15, the environmentally friendly Rhino Records, which never met a piece of debris it didn't love, will issue a four-disc collection built around Lenny Kaye's (in)famous Nuggets compilation, the only album on Rolling Stone's list of top-200 albums never before released on CD--till, of course, now. The boxed set will feature more than 100 lost proto-punk tracks from the '60s, ranging from such well-knowns as Sam the Sham's "Wooly Bully" and the Kingsmen's "Louie Louie" to the abandoned likes of Gonn's "Blackout of Gretely" and the Blues Magoos' "(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet."
But all four collections have some value where Dallas and Texas bands are concerned; if nothing else, such backward-glancing reminds us that local rock and roll did not start the moment Edie Brickell jumped up on a stage and stole the New Bohemians from themselves. Crypt's Teenage Shutdown series contains contributions from two Dallas-based bands from the 1960s: The Five Americans' "Slippin' and Slidin'" and The Esquires' "Come On, Come On." The Nuggets box also features the Five Americans (this time with "I See the Light"), in addition to Mouse and the Traps' "A Public Execution" and "Maid of Sugar, Maid of Spice" and Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs, fronted by the East Dallas-born Sam Samudio.
The Pebbles, Volume II two-fer from AIR features at least one Texas band, Neal Ford and the Fanatics from Houston; God knows how many more of the 53 bands are from around here--the thing is so shabbily put together, the liner notes might as well be in Braille. (Perhaps we'll make a call to Andy Brown in Houston, a damned talented writer who has spent the last forever putting together the first volume of his recently debuted fanzine Brown Paper Bag, dedicated to researching and preserving Texas' garage-rock past--now there's a man with time, hahahaha, on his hands.) Three Dallas bands are represented on Collectables' Green Crystal Ties, Volume 2: Oak Cliff's The Penthouse 5 (with the folksy rocker "You're Always Around"), Dallas' Sounds Unlimited (whose "Roll Over Beethoven" is talent very limited), and, again, The Esquires, with the groovy psych-out "Judgment Day" and the pretty (weird) "These Are the Tender Years."
"God, I haven't thought about The Esquires in years," says Chuck Snellings--who was, 30-plus years ago, the guitarist and co-songwriter in...The Esquires. "But, you know, one day a guy from New York City called me and told me 'Come On, Come On' was the No. 1 requested song on this cult underground oldies station up there. And I hear we're pretty big in Germany."
Snellings long ago put the band behind him; he lives in Eugene, Oregon, where he sells instruments, plays in a couple of bands, and tries to keep the past from catching up with him. Until he was contacted by the Dallas Observer, he had no idea the band was being reissued on two brand-new collections; no one called and asked for his permission, and no one will be sending him or his old bandmates a royalty check. But, believe it or not, that's just as well with him.
"I've got other things happening," he says. "I'm an author trying to get things published. I do wonder who will get the money. I mean, that seems to be a pretty slick deal to put these things out and not have to pay the authors. But we didn't make anything back then. If it does something now, it'd be kind of nice to hear something, but I'm not going to worry about it now."
Chuck Snellings, like his old bandmate Wes Horne (now a teacher in Burleson), was a hard man to track down. Not too many old-timers remember The Esquires. Until these reissues, they were lost to the past, just another Dallas band come and gone during a decade when every teenager seemed to join a band and record a single. There were hundreds of bands like The Esquires back then, some of which spat out future stars. Jimmie Vaughan and Doyle Bramhall played in the Chessmen; ZZ Top's Frank Beard and Dusty Hill played in The Warlocks and American Blues, while England Dan Seals and John Ford Coley were in Southwest FOB (the singular subject of their own recent reissue).
More often, these bands have long since faded to brilliant echoes. The best of their lot--including the likes of The Jades, The Briks, Scotty McKay, Mouse and the Traps, and a few others--mean almost nothing to today's audience, which might well be surprised to discover that punk existed in town long before Deep Ellum turned into a strip mall.
Yet it's odd how much The Esquires have been compiled--all three of their singles, A- and B-sides, also appear on a 1984 vinyl release from the Cicadelic label--and how little is known of them. Even so many of their contemporaries from back then do not recall the name. "The who?" says David Dennard, once in The Novas.
The Esquires' story is a rather typical one for 1965: Four buddies from Irving High School--Snellings, Horne, Dick Thornbury, and Terry Hall--get hooked on the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, and the Animals, then start a rock-and-roll band in the garage. Snellings' father, Don--once a publicity man for RCA Records, a self-released country artist himself, and for a while the manager of country singer Hank Snow--funds a small label (Glenvalley, so named for the Snellings' street in Irving). He pays for the boys to record in Tyler with the legendary producer Robin Hood Brians, and then releases and promotes the records all by himself. From 1966 to 1967, The Esquires recorded three singles, got a little play on KLIF-AM with a horns-laden remake of the Gershwins' "Summertime," and turned their Brit-rock fetishism into a handful of psychedelic-punk masterpieces, including "Judgment Day," which wasn't so far removed from the sounds being made by Roky Erickson and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators in Austin at the same time.
Like most bands of the period, they played their gigs at LouAnn's on Greenville or the old Studio Club in North Dallas; they also had their share of frat parties. By 1969, they were the house band at the Cellar clubs in Dallas and Fort Worth, the ought-to-be-legendary dens of iniquity where rock-and-rollers played in a tiny pit while waitresses go-go stripped for acid-soaked patrons who melted into bean-bag seats. (The Dallas Cellar was located at the corner of Commerce and Central Expressway--or two blocks down from police headquarters.) The Esquires played there till 1971--from 7 p.m. until 4 a.m., six nights a bloody week.
"We didn't quite connect enough with whatever it took to get into the spotlight," Snellings says. "But it was like we liked that almost. We liked being an underground band, even though we were trying to make the money the above-ground bands were making. Dick and I talked about how cool it would be to find a hole-in-the-wall place and just do stuff for fun. Then we had a job at the Cellar and didn't like it after the second year. We didn't get paid anything. It was like it's a privilege to play there. The place had some kind of aura. One night, Bugs Henderson and I played a shuffle that lasted two hours, and it was at the speed of light."
The band would last till the mid-1970s, evolving into a soul band and then an experimental trip. But never once, in more than a decade of playing music, did any of The Esquires have to go out and get a day job. They made a living playing rock and roll in Dallas, without ever being known outside--or, hell, inside--the city limits; indeed, by 1973, they were the house band at a local studio, sessionmen laying down tracks for the likes of Tejano superstars Little Joe Y La Familia. Their final gig came in 1974 at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin; by '75, Snellings was in Phoenix working as a bouncer at a club.
Wes Horne finds it almost hysterical that there are labels out there still releasing The Esquires' music decades after even the band members forgot it. But he also finds it a little appropriate--after all, he says, his band and their peers were the first generation of punk-rockers, makers of the real alternative music, even if was just a sloppy, half-assed variation on England's second-hand version of American blues. And yes, every now and then Horne does regret being known for being forgotten.
"We were very young and naive," Horne says. "I don't think we knew what we really could have done, and I just don't think we knew what we had. There's no doubt in my mind today that had we really followed up with a tour and then got on a bigger bill, had we done that, we could have done something and got some good songs out. I regret it. I have to admit I do. I regret being stupid. Of course, I regret that every day." He laughs. "But that's just the way it goes."
Losing the (rock) lottery
Some Denton artists are bruised over the Curtain Club's Deep Ellum Jam Sessions, a variation (they call it "rip-off") of the Good/Bad Art Collective's annual rock-and-roll fund-raiser, the Rock Lottery. Curtain Club co-owner Ed LaMonica, a Dentonian who knew something of the Denton-based art collective's original concept--throwing the names of local musicians into a hat, drawing them at random to create all-new, one-day-only bands that rehearse through the day and take the stage to perform that night--decided to bring the Rock Lottery notion to Dallas for a charity event. This one benefits the local chapter of Sweet Relief, an organization that helps musicians pay medical bills--which is all well and good. The thing is, LaMonica didn't bother talking to Good/Bad first, and adding insult, when he first started soliciting musicians and drawing up fliers for the August 13 event, he was even using the phrase "Rock Lottery" in the title--until Good/Bad members threatened LaMonica with a copyright infringement lawsuit.
LaMonica pleaded ignorance and quickly changed the name to its current moniker, one he hopes to use for future fund-raising events. He also deviated from the original low-brow conceptual art experiment in few other notable ways: While the Good/Bad version hosts such beloved members of Slobberbone, centro-matic, and Cornhole, the Curtain Club version reads like a who's-who of downtown shellac, a roster sure to please the Fraternity Row crowd: the Nixons, Doosu, Radish, Buck Jones, and Caulk, among others.
The musicians still only get one day to rehearse (Monday), though the four groups of four musicians were teamed up into color-coded "bands" a week in advance; indeed, the makeup of each band has already been advertised (for instance, the Green Band will feature Ben Kweller of Radish, Ricky Wolking of the Nixons, and Pete Thomas of Slow Roosevelt). Good/Bad's Lottery spawned some interesting full-time acts, namely La Cheenies. We can only pray the Dallas contingent won't be so inclined--imagine, a One Ton-Last Beat supergroup!
"I'm not real happy with people stealing stuff, but I think it's been worked out," says Chris Weber, the Good/Bad member in charge of organizing the Rock Lottery. "As long as the name has been changed, then there's no problem." Good/Bad honcho Martin Iles isn't so easily placated. "The whole situation is pathetic and dishonest," he says. "I just hope it's not representative of the whole modus operandi for the Curtain Club. [LaMonica] is staging a watered-down, retarded version of the original. It's the Deep Ellum theme park pushing the bounds of mediocrity. They should be proud."
Sam Paulos, a co-owner of the Curtain Club, knew little of the upcoming event, but remembered LaMonica mentioning a Rock Lottery in Denton and talking about bringing the concept to the Dallas club. "I don't know if he specifically cited Good/Bad," Paulos says. As for LaMonica? Well, he says, "I knew I wanted to do a charity event, and I knew vaguely of a lottery that had happened in Denton. It seemed like a good idea. I wasn't trying to step on anybody's toes."
Deep Ellum Jam Sessions takes place August 13 at the Curtain Club.
Last time I wrote about a record by Will Smokey Logg--which would have been about, oh, six years ago--I mentioned something about how the blues are dead, even frat boys would be bored, blahblahblah; after all, I do hate everything. So it's nice to report that Logg's most recent record wasn't a, well, log. Ghosts of the Totems, released late last year, is a rather nasty piece of work, what Sixty-Six might have sounded like if Bill Longhorse (now appearing in a Movie Channel ad on a television near you, and he sho' is purdy) sounded more like Billy Gibbons. Some of it's standard barrelhouse blues, some is funkier-than-thou ("Sawed-Off Shotgun" kicks its own ass), and all of it beats anything Bugs Henderson has done in a while, bless his heart. Logg says some music from the album may make it into a film he just completed shooting in Weatherford--Blood is Thicker, in which Logg plays a Klansman, and congratulations on that! He's also on the Nick Cave trip these days, having completed three novels (he says one is titled Lament of the Blood Centipedes, which should make for light summer reading) and his very own screenplay, a frothy romantic comedy (isn't it?) titled Kingdom Into Desolation. Logg & The Flamethrowers perform August 15 at the Hole in the Wall...
Speaking of reissues, David Dennard has released a second disc in his Legends of the Big "D" Jamboree series, following his well-received Gene Vincent-does-Dallas disc of a few months ago. This time, the corpse being dug up and handled with care is Johnny Dollar, among the lesser-known local rockabilly heroes of the 1950s. Mr. Action Packed contains Dollar's revved-up rendition of a few songs made famous by Ronnie Dawson (including the Blond Bomber's signature songs "Action Packed" and "Rockin' Bones"), in addition to live renditions of "Jailhouse Rock" and "Great Balls of Fire" performed live on the Sportatorium stage. For a full review, see next week's Out Here; till then, just buy it.
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