All the catchy songs

Even now, all these years later, David Bean still gets letters and phone calls from fans who wonder where he is, what he's up to, why he disappeared. Perhaps they've heard the stories about how he became a recluse after he left the stage, which isn't true at all. More likely they just want to discover for themselves what happened to the boy from Pearland, Texas, who became, for a brief, spectacular moment, a Rock Star without ever having to leave the state. Those who go to the trouble of tracking him down are now adults whose childhood rock-and-roll memories dance to the sparse, quirky-jerky pop-and-roll beat of songs that Bean and his old bandmates wrote when they were barely out of high school. They still hum the off-key melodies, still know all the words to "All the Pretty Girls" ("...in high school make me sick!"), still hope for a reunion that may--or, more likely, may never--take place.

The phone calls and the notes do not creep out David Bean; he rather likes them, and he's flattered by the attention paid to a band that died a handful of times throughout the 1980s before finally running out of breath in 1991, somewhere along the highway connecting Pearland to nearby Houston. "I am really impressed," the 36-year-old Bean says. "It must have really meant something. But part of it just escapes me."

It all seems so long ago, a lifetime stuck back in the past: Every now and then during the early 1980s, this band from suburban Houston came to Dallas and played the Wintergarden, the Hot Klub, the Agora, or the Arcadia and packed them with locals who knew every word and sang along like teen-beat children on a rock-and-roller-coaster ride. The Judy's were native heroes, the best pop band to hail from Texas during the 1980s--so much better than the Nelsons and so many other one-hit where-are-they-nows? who played the circuit back then. The Judy's opened for The B-52's, Devo, and the Talking Heads, and though they were so much younger than those bands, they seemed so much smarter.

Their music was austere, lean, clean, catchy; they banged out the beat on pots, pans, and smashed lightbulbs that went pop, pop, POP in time to the music. They wrote songs about Gary Gilmore ("How's Gary?"), happy hostages ("Vacation in Tehran"), Son of Sam serial killer David Berkowitz ("Dogs"), Jim Jones ("Guyana Punch," with its call to come "freshen up, freshen up, freshen up"), television's wasteland ("Reruns," "T.V."), stalkers ("Trixie and the Killer"), and sex-change bliss ("The Grass Is Greener"). As a result, they had thousands of words spent on them in the Houston, Dallas, and Austin newspapers; and in September 1981, Texas Monthly remarked of them, "These kids have talent, humor, and originality in abundance."

Yet The Judy's released only two official full-length albums during their career: Washarama in 1981 and The Moo Album four years later, both on the band's own Wasted Talent label. These albums were bookended by a barely released EP recorded while the boys were in high school (Teenage Hang-Ups in 1980, which features an early version of "All the Pretty Girls"), the six-song The Wonderful World of Appliances the same year, the "Girl of 1000 Smells" single (the B-side's in Russian), and a 1991 farewell CD that barely waved goodbye. Now their albums sell for hundreds of dollars to collectors who skip over them in the Half-Price Books and Records racks, where they often show up for pocket change.

Yet Bean, who still maintains Wasted Talent, plans to release all the albums on CD sometime in the near future--before the end of the summer, he says with a shrug that implies, Don't hold your breath. "When it happens, it happens," he says, laughing. "I've been telling people for years, 'Oh, they'll be out in several months.'"

Eighteen years since the band's inception in a Pearland garage, The Judy's still live on, a new-wave zombie too stubborn to die. Josh Venable, host of "The Adventure Club" on KDGE-FM (94.5), says he still gets requests for The Judy's every week; he's also such a lunatic fan that he attempted to reunite the band earlier in the year for his radio show's anniversary concert, and he would have succeeded had it not been for a scheduling conflict.

"They were hilarious," Venable says of the band. "They had a punk ethic and a pop mentality. I don't understand how anybody who likes the Undertones can't like them. The Undertones were singing about candy bars and dumb stuff like that, and The Judy's were singing about Jim Jones. They were great. Everything they did was absolutely brilliant, and I found it to be extremely cool they were putting out records when they were seniors in high school."

George Gimarc--whose "Rock and Roll Alternative" show on KZEW-FM back in the day pointed a generation of Styx fans toward a new-wave future--has been trying for years to get Bean to re-release all the Judy's albums on CD. For the past two years, Michael Wilson, a Nashville-via-Houston Internet programmer, has maintained a fetishistic Web site that contains every single Judy's song sampled, in its entirety, at CD-perfect quality. (The Web site's address is maddancer.com/thejudys.) "The Judy's site gets more action than my business site," says Wilson, who just last week made available a crude Judy's screensaver.

And over the past three years, the Seattle-based indie-pop band Tullycraft has covered the Judy's on three separate releases: In 1995, the band remade "Guyana Punch" for the compilation When I'm Hungry I Eat: Songs About Food, then recorded "Mental Obsession" on 1996's Old Traditions, New Standards, and issued "She's Got the Beat" this year on a Japanese-only vinyl single.

"People send me tapes all the time," says Tullycraft's Sean Tollefson, "and someone in Alaska sent me a tape of Washarama. They said, 'I listen to your band, and this sounds like the same stuff you're doing.' Well, the tape sat there a few weeks, and then I popped it in and was just amazed. Since then, I've been looking all over for [The Judy's] records. I've had to go to the Web site, and I've downloaded all the songs and have them on cassette. I mean, they were just so stripped down--the bass and drums are the whole backbeat. And David Bean is just a really great songwriter."

Or was: Bean has long since abandoned music, having become a water shiatsu massage therapist, a hobby that turned into a rather successful career once The Judy's disbanded for good. He has not recorded since 1991, when he took a bastardized version of The Judy's into the studio (bassist Jeff Walton and drummer Dane Cessac were long gone by then) and recorded Land of Plenty. The album, the lone Judy's record available on CD, came and went, which is perhaps just as well: Where the band's earlier recordings were angular gems, Land of Plenty is Big Pop, a thin Joe Jackson record that trips over its own conventionality. Songs such as "Riding in a UFO" and "Superman" are far less charming than their lunatic predecessors; listening to them is like watching an old friend grow up, get fat, and break out in a rash. Perhaps it was inevitable that a career with such promise would end without much fanfare--always seems to happen to the great ones.

"Trying to get the album done was a nightmare," Bean recalls. "I was growing more and more distant. I thought, even if I made it big, I'd be miserable so, why am I doing this? The last show was a horrible frat fest, and beer got thrown all over our equipment. The band got pissed off, and I had trouble collecting the money. It was like the universe was saying, No."

The Judy's began as most teen bands did in the late 1970s, a punk-rock hobby playing to the lawn mowers and other junk stored in the garage. But after Bean spent a summer in Austin and heard The B-52's playing over a record-store speaker, he returned to Pearland and told his buddies of a new, terse sound that left plenty of room for the punch lines. So The Judy's were born, taking their possessive name and their sound from the Athens, Georgia, band that, even now, refuses to die. (The B-52's play with the Pretenders July 25 at Starplex.)

"It wasn't like we said we were going to be The B-52's," says Bean, "but we were struck by the minimalism." Indeed, when second guitarist Sam Roush (who appears on Teenage Hang-Ups) died in a car accident in 1980 (the week before the EP's release, no less), the rest of the band decided not to replace him--fewer musicians to clutter up the sound. "We were scheduled to play before the school dance in the cafeteria the week he died, so we had to cancel the show," Bean says. "It was a big blow. We never performed live with him."

The band sold copies of the three-song Teenage Hang-Ups (with a full-band version of "All the Pretty Girls," Bean's vocals reverbed to death) in the school cafeteria, and recorded The Wonderful World of Appliances not long after. George Gimarc recalls getting the album at the Zoo in March 1981 and playing the hell out of it from the get-go. A few months later, at Christmas 1981, "Rerun" became the first of a handful of songs from Washarama to make it into regular rotation on "Rock and Roll Alternative."

"When I got the first tape, I thought, 'We got a local B-52's here,'" recalls Gimarc, who's currently hosting an oldies specialty show on KRLD-AM on Saturday nights. "I was a big fan of The B-52s, and here was a Texas band doing the same goofy stuff." Gimarc became so enamored of the band, he eventually sent out letters to record-label A&R reps, trying to get the group signed to a deal. "Remember these guys when you need new life round your label," Gimarc wrote in the missive, which he still keeps in his estimable files.

For a short time, rumors did circulate about a pending deal with Warner Bros. Records, but they proved to be nothing. Gimarc says he had arranged to have a representative from Polydor come out to see the band play in Dallas--only to have the band break up on him just before the scheduled concert.

But Bean insists The Judy's never sought out a record deal or, for that matter, a manager. They were content enough releasing records on their own label and touring the regional circuit, playing just seldom enough to make every show seem like An Event--the last thing they wanted was to be a club band, making the scene in hopes of getting noticed by someone looking to buy their souls for a few thousand bucks.

"We never knew of being close to any kind of deal," Bean says. "We didn't want to focus all our energies on that. We didn't want to make demos and go to L.A. If there was interest, that was good, but we were always around other musicians who talked about this deal, and it was like they weren't interested in being where they were and entertaining people. I was just never interested in chasing after something like that. There was enough in front of us that kept us happy. But believe me, we would have welcomed a major-label deal, but we also thought, 'Who would sign us?' We knew we weren't commercial. Majors always said, 'The production's awful,' but we said, 'Of course it is. We paid for the records and recorded them in three hours.' We thought we sucked too bad to get signed."

The Judy's would disband in 1981 after Washarama, then again in '83, get back together once more in '85 for The Moo Album, then slowly disband again till all that was left were Bean and a gang of impostors for Land of Plenty. The band regrouped here and there for the occasional gig--their last appearance was at the Raul's reunion show at Austin's Liberty Lunch in the early '90s, celebrating the long-defunct punk hangout. Bean isn't averse to doing a few reunion shows here and there, but he worries that a man in his 30s will have little tolerance for songs about high school girls and Three Mile Island; if anything, he'd like to record some of the new music he's writing and, yeah, release Washarama on CD for the few thousand who might want such a brilliant relic.

"Jeff, Dane, and I were in the studio together not long ago working on another project--it wasn't Judy's stuff," Bean says. "But we get together and see each other time to time, both socially and musically. We don't see each other so often that we're, like, the best of buddies, but there's so much history there. We knew each other in grade school. I mean, just sharing all those years of incredible experiences--to be in your teens and have all this stuff happen, and going from Pearland to semi-successful regional rock band. We got to see all kinds of things we never dreamed of. I think that's still back there.

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