Month: February 2014

Roky Erickson & the Explosives Record Live at Rock Island in Houston (1979)

In the winter of 1979, Roky Erickson, on tour with the Explosives, played a two-day gig at Rock Island, a short-lived name for Houston’s legendary punk dive, or, as the flyer suggested at the time, “Cultural Rock Club.”

Tracks from the 1979 Island performance were later released on Rocky & the Explosives’ LP, Casting The Runes, in 1987 on UK label Five Hours Back.

As noted on the album, “The Wind and More,” “Night of the Vampire,” “For You,” “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” “I Walked with a Zombie,” “Bloody Hammer,” and “Stand for the Fire Demon” were recorded live at Rock Island in Houston, December 22, 1979, and the three remaining tracks at Soap Creek Saloon in Austin, November 27, 1979.

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(Original flyer courtesy of Wild Dog Archives.)

Houston Yippies Present the Disease, Plastic Idols at Paradise Island (1979)

By early 1979, the Island had become a mainstay for Houston’s first wave punk scene with bands such as Legionaire’s Disease gigging there regularly. The Disease made even earlier appearances at local Yippie events, including a “Be-In” organized by Henry Weissborn and the UH Direct Action Committee held November 18, 1978, at Lynn Eusan Park on the University of Houston campus; the outdoor event, which included Texas punk legends Really Red, drew a crowd of around 500 supporters.

Not long after, Houston’s first Rock Against Racism (RAR) event was planned for April 1, 1979. An original flyer promoting a Legionaire’s Disease show with Plastic Idols on the bill lists a date (March 25, 1979) a week prior to this seminal event, indicating that “punk & the Direct Action Committee” were affiliated or had at least banded together for a time.

Within weeks of the RAR show, Weissborn reworked the final copy for ULTRA (what would have been a fifth installment), instead launching his first music fanzine, WILD DOG #1, in late April 1979.

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(Original flyer courtesy of Wild Dog Archives.)

Houston Underground: Space City!, Direct Action, and Ultra Zine (1978)

Epicenters like San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury and New York’s East Village are well established in the lore of fervent counterculture. Despite popular consensus, Houston, Texas, held its own as a locus of bohemian life and political activism from the late 1950s through the early 1970s.

Faced with a brutal police force and a roster of reactionary Klansmen, Houston’s alternative press railed against injustice in all its forms. Apropos of its mission, SPACE CITY NEWS (later SPACE CITY!) displayed Pancho Villa on the cover of its first issue, which debuted on the Mexican revolutionary general’s birthday, June 5, in 1969.

Born in 1955, Henry Weissborn was 14 when SPACE CITY! first appeared on newsstands. The paper was published by members of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and a coalition of other radical youth groups active in Houston and Austin at the time. In addition, the Youth International Party (YIP or Yippies), fronted by Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Ed Sanders, and Paul Krassner, was formed in December 1966. All of these forces, combined with radical movements around the world, would shape Weissborn’s political identity throughout his life.

SPACE CITY! was an outlet for the counterculture in Houston. Anti-war, anti-police state, and pro-civil rights perspectives earned many of the newspaper’s staff death threats, police intimidation, and even bomb scares. By the mid-1970s, concerted efforts of police intervention, commercial redevelopment, and the general lack of cultural expression would stifle Houston’s underground.

Space City!

Weissborn became aware of the Yippie movement in his early exposure to SPACE CITY!. Central to the cause, the Youth International Party tied the Hippie movement of the late 1960s to the New Left, and the high point of its activity occurred at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. By the mid-1970s, the issues had changed.

By 1976, the end of the draft and the Vietnam War had quieted much of the angst from the preceding movement. The most aggressive activists had either been imprisoned, voluntarily exiled, or were living under assumed identities. National countercultural icons were maintaining a voice in academic circles through literary writings and speeches. Musically, the world had changed. Acid/Psych Rock evolved into Prog, and the airwaves were co-opted by Disco. Top 40 music killed the experimental edge that had emerged a decade before.

Primary Yippie activity revolved around marijuana legalization, although widespread hysteria surrounding its usage had waned. A dozen pot-smoking Yipsters were ignored at the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City. In April 1977, the Youth International Party’s 10th anniversary “Be-In” was held in New York City’s Central Park with a turn out of only 200 members compared to 10,000 in 1967.

Despite the drop in numbers, the Yippies were finding new avenues of protest in the late 1970s. “The Yippies are the only truly authentic New Left group that has survived,” Weissborn said in a Dec. 6, 1978, interview with THE DAILY COUGAR, the University of Houston’s student-run paper. The core of the movement was rooted in action and not ideology, Weissborn underscored, and its strength lie in influence and not numbers. UH’s Yippie Chapter comprised only three members — Weissborn and brothers Jeff and Dave Stewart. Texas Tech University in Lubbock had the only other Yippie faction in the state.

At the time of the interview, Weissborn was President of UH’s Direct Action Committee and a self-proclaimed Yippie leader. A major issue of concern in 1978 was the anti-nuclear movement. The Yippies along with other activists, including Jimmy Bryan, helped organize the Mockingbird Alliance, which was Houston’s first anti-nuclear protest group. In October 1978, the group held an “Anti-Nuclear Tribal Stop,” which Weissborn described as a five-hour music festival of life. Attendance was a challenge for many of these early events. A “Be-In” held at Houston’s Lynn Eusan Park in November of that same year drew a crowd just above 500. This event was marked by early appearances of some of Houston’s first punk bands and featured a speech by Aron Kay “Pie Man,” the Yipster known for throwing pies in the face of Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy among others. “The ‘Be-In’ signaled a new wave of protest in the Gulf Coast region,” Weissborn told THE DAILY COUGAR.

It’s clear by this early interview that Weissborn advocated direct action and raising social consciousness. Though he admits, “certain members of the Direct Action Committee resent the major involvement of the Yippies, saying DAC is a YIP front concerned with pot smoking and putting on rock concerts.” While the Yippies were actively involved in marijuana law reform, Weissborn said, “we’re not just a group that goes out and smokes pot.” He added, “It would be a weakness to be solely focused on pot legalization because the media and the public wouldn’t take us seriously.”

Other social issues central to the Yippie cause included the Equal Rights Amendment, gay rights, government spying, and racism. To chronicle what actions were being taken around the country and internationally on these issues, Weissborn founded ULTRA, the official underground zine for UH’s DAC. Weissborn debuted this first iteration of his DIY magazines in April 1978 and published the fourth and last issue of ULTRA in January 1979. Coverage ranged from local dope prices to national news on labor movements and hunger strikers across the Atlantic.

It is difficult to surmise how much influence ULTRA may have had on the Houston populace and UH student body. The zine stands out as a not-so-common artifact of social protest during an otherwise stagnant era in Houston.

In THE DAILY COUGAR interview, Weissborn announced plans in the making for a Rock Against Racism rally, to be held April 1979. The event would prove transformative for Weissborn. Abandoning his Yipster identity and long hair, Henry “Wild Dog” entered the scene.

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(Original issue of Ultra #1 courtesy of Wild Dog Archives.)

Wild Dog Zine: NOLA’s Red Rockers and Police Intrusion at the Island (1981)

“I saw the Sex Pistols when they came to the Kingfish in Baton Rouge [in 1978]. That was the beginning. Then The Normals were the only punk band in town, and I really liked them alot [sic]. They were something different. Their music was a big influence.” – Darren “Derwood” Hill, bassist and backup vocalist, Red Rockers (From a 1981 interview in WILD DOG)

Originally formed in 1979 as The Rat Finks, the Red Rockers were the most successful band to come out of New Orleans’ early punk scene.

In 1980, Red Rockers recorded two of its original songs, “Dead Heroes” and “Red Star,” on the No Questions, No Answers compilation released by FINAL SOLUTION zine editor Larry “the Punk” Holmes’ Vinyl Solution Records. That same year, the band recorded its first EP, Guns of Revolution, on Larry the Punk’s New Orleans label before relocating to San Francisco in 1981. Red Rockers’ first LP, Condition Red, was recorded in 1981 on San Francisco label 415 Records and featured guest vocals from Jello Biafra on a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Red Rockers gigged at the Island in Houston in 1981 while on tour. Henry “Wild Dog” Weissborn and contributing interviewer Marjorie were “fortunate” to party with the band during their stay, according to an interview in WILD DOG zine, in which Darren “Derwood” Hill discusses The Clash’s influence, opening for The Dead Boys at Houston’s Whiskey River in 1979, the changing New Orleans scene, and dedicating a song to the Houston Police at the Island performance.

Deeply rooted in progressive and underground movements, Weissborn steered many of his interview questions toward punk politics and the band’s social message. “Anarchy is fine, but you can’t be an anarchist for anarchy’s sake,” Derwood said in response to whether the band held anarchist or Marxist beliefs. “You’ve got to have something behind it. You can’t destroy everything because then you destroy yourself.”

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(Original galley courtesy of Wild Dog Archives.)

Wild Dog Zine: Phil Hicks’ ‘Cage’ and No Wave Pop at the Island (1981)

“The overall concept of the band is two girls and alot [sic] of machinery…there is a discordant…there is a quirky element to it. It’s highly personal music, you know?…This is Mod-Art. Get up and dance.” – Mechanical Servants (From a May 1981 interview at the Island)

Releasing only one EP in 1980, New York’s Mechanical Servants consisted of two female vocalists with an arsenal of musical apparatus – Pamela Kifer on guitar, organ, and synthesizer and Victoria Harper on bass, typewriter, and synthesizer. According to Kifer’s Tumblr, where there are photos from a past gig at the Island and pool party with the Bongos in Houston, the tech no-wave duo self-recorded their four-song EP (and only known surviving record), Min X Match, on the Mystery Toast label.

A long-time fan of female fronted groups, Henry “Wild Dog” Weissborn attended the Mechanical Servants’ show Sunday, May 17, 1981, at the Island, after which the band joked about bruises from their performance, which featured male go-go dancers (what must have seemed an odd number at the mostly punk rock dive), and Island manager Phil Hicks’ bondage themed props. “Servants 1 and 2” also discussed plans to release a second independent effort, Zombies Go Home, a nod to NYC’s 3 a.m. crowd.

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(Original galley courtesy of Wild Dog Archives.)

Mydolls: Punk Idealism and Missing Teeth at the Island (1980)

Houston’s female fronted Mydolls was formed in 1978 by guitarist and vocalist Trish Herrera and bassist Dianna Ray. Linda (Bond) Younger, guitar and vocals, and drummer George Reyes complete the original lineup, which continues to perform today, nearly four decades later.

Inspired by protopunk legends from the early New York scene, Mydolls recorded their first single, Nova Grows Up/Therapist, in 1980. Their second 45 release, Exorcist/Imposter (1982), and 12″ album Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick (1983), also were produced on Houston independent label CIA Records, which was founded by Houston punk progenitors (and friends of the band) Really Red.

In 1986, the year Mydolls originally disbanded, PUNX magazine out of Houston published a three-part series on the “History of Houston Punk.” Part 3 focused on the year 1980, featuring short narratives from the city’s founding punks and first wavers, including Mydolls.

‘My Personal Anarchy’ (below) was contributed by Trish Herrera, recounting the female punk experience in Houston.

I was a rebellious back-up singer from Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys. Having been strip-searched and arrested for not putting on my blinkers when changing lanes, I was fairly oblivious to limitation.

“Mydolls’ friendship developed into 5 and a half years of expressing repressed emotions about our fucked up system. Being new and inexperienced became beneficial…we were oblivious of breaking rules. We didn’t care if we were viewed as fashion risks until one day Dianna’s teeth were knocked out by some Island tourist jock who shoved her, face first from the back of the dance floor, claiming she was a ‘fucking waver.’ This incident gave new perspective on the punk idealism, originally being ‘acceptance of any human being’…overlooking the problem that not many of us know how to behave as human beings.

“We always wore black as a memorial to the symbolism in Dianna’s missing teeth, and it stuck.”  

NOTE: According to an interview in Maximum RockNRoll #356 published in January 2013, Dianna Ray lost her two front teeth watching the Butthole Surfers perform at the Island in 1982.

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(Media courtesy of Wild Dog Archives.)

Wild Dog Zine: Island Owner Phil ‘Hix’ on Stolen Mics and Broken Glass (1979)

“There will be some regulations, rules, standards, or something of the sort – I hate to use the words ‘rules and regulations’ – about who helps clean up. We used to have popcorn in here. Instead of eating it, they threw it.” – Phil Hicks (From a 1979 interview in WILD DOG zine)

Paradise Island (Parasite Island), Rock Island, and later just the Island was Houston’s first designated punk rock venue, an exile’s dive on Main Street converted from a former Mexican restaurant. The club was run from 1978 to 1983, debuting many local first wave acts such as Christian Oppression (later the Hates, Houston’s longest running punk band) and AK-47 while also hosting nationally famous bands, including X, Black Flag, and Dead Kennedys.

In a 1979 interview by John Peters for WILD DOG #3, Island owner Phil Hicks spoke candidly about whether his club would survive overhead and damage costs from unruly punk crowds or sell out to disco investors, Austin versus Houston, Legionaire’s Disease’s notorious performances, and whether to leave broken glass on the floor in the spirit of its destructive shows.

“If rock’n’roll doesn’t pay the bills then I will be satisfied that I have experimented at all levels,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair for me to support a building and not to at least be able to experiment and try different things. I have never put popular rock’n’roll bands in here, not because of the budget, but because I started out with a game plan of having a place so that unexposed talent or bands could come in here, so they would have a place to play in front of people and could get a start. Momentumwise [sic], emotionally – so they could get out of their practice room.”

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(Original galley; first page out of six courtesy of Wild Dog Archives.)