Houston Underground

Houston’s Wild Dog Dancing to Austin’s Big Boys at the Island (1980)

Formed in 1979, The Big Boys led the vanguard of Austin’s emerging hardcore punk scene alongside fellow agent provocateurs The Stains (later named MDC) and The Dicks.

Ben DeSoto, an award-winning local photographer, activist, and chronicler of early punk imagery in Houston, captured these two photos of Henry “Wild Dog” Weissborn in the crowd at a Big Boys show held at the Island, Houston’s Main St. punk venue, in 1980.

This is Henry Wild Dog in his element, heavily politicized from the beginning.

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(A Wild Dog stare from the middle of a Big Boys crowd at the Island, 1980. Photo by DeSoto; Source: The Island – Punk Rock Houston)

George Henry Weissborn, Jr., who is completely unknown to many outside of Houston, was born in New Orleans in 1955. His family moved to Houston shortly after and he was raised in southwest Houston. At the age of 14, Henry’s adolescence was informed by the thriving countercultural scene happening in Houston in the late 1960s. In an article dated November 14, 1978, published in the University of Houston’s Daily Cougar, Henry cited his reading of SPACE CITY! in 1969 as the catalyst for his involvement in the Yippie! movement. While most of the evidence shows that the Youth International Party (YIP) had waned drastically from its late 1960s roots, Henry Weissborn proudly carried the flag in Houston as a student activist.

An avid collector, writer, and archivist, Henry amassed one of the largest personal collections of grassroots literature in the city. He joined the Socialist Revolutionary Anarchist Federation and the YIP, and he led a three-member Direct Action Committee on the UH campus through the mid- to late-70s. He collected pamphlets, literature, and handwritten letters from a number of similar groups throughout the country. In all, Weissborn documented the latter phase of the counterculture as it moved from the hopeful days of the late 1960s through to the Watergate era of distrust and the crushing blow of Reagan-inspired conservatism throughout much of the early 1980s. Among his archives are the street view of Houston’s underground with runs of SPACE CITY!, ABRAXAS, and MOCKINGBIRD–three renditions of alternative press in Houston that focused primarily on continued psychedelic awakening, civil rights activism, and an end to police brutality.

Henry Wild Dog also channeled that anger through his pen. In 1976, he was a junior studying Sociology at the University of Houston. At 21, he was connected internationally to a wide network of anarchists, socialists, and activists. His archives show that he avidly wrote letters, sent self-addressed stamped envelopes, and requested copies of virtually every newsletter, quarterly, and mail order catalog he could get his hands on that would provide him a means to expand his garage rock and punk collection of albums and ephemera and introduce him to new noise in the most obscure regions, not just the East and West Coasts. Weissborn was experienced on both an academic and esoteric level.

By most accounts, Weissborn was a card carrying member of any social justice cause he joined. His activist publication, ULTRA, evolved into WILD DOG zine after he helped organize a Yippie outdoor concert turned punk rock debut at the Paradise Island. Communication and political action remained common drivers throughout Henry Wild Dog’s life.

He passed away unexpectedly in 2008.

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(Henry Wild Dog (in white shirt), 1980. Photo by DeSoto. Source: The Island – Punk Rock Houston)

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: 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.)

Christian Oppression at Paradise Island (1979)

Christian Oppression, the second iteration of Hates frontman Christian Arnheiter’s band, perform at Houston’s Paradise Island club in 1979.

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(Photo by Glen Brooks; contributed by Christian Kidd.)

Taking Inventory (2012-2013)

From only a few of the boxes found in the Wild Dog Archives we managed to log some 193 news-based countercultural and music publications, including early issues of SPACE CITY!, ABRAXAS, HYMNAL, OVERTHROW, REsearch, and a full run of V. Vale’s San Francisco, Beat-funded SEARCH & DESTROY, quite possibly our favorite punk zine next to our own Houston’s WILD DOG.