Protopunk

Anarcho-punks Organize First Rock Against Racism Concert at UH (1979)

Led by a sociology student named Henry Weissborn, the three-member strong Direct Action Committee (DAC) at the University of Houston began organizing “Be-In” events in the spirit of the previous decade’s counterculture. Also know by the Youth International Party’s moniker “Yippies,” Weissborn, brothers Jeff and Dave Stewart and their fellow activist party banded together with some of Houston’s earliest punk bands to produce these underground music gigs.

There is cut-and-paste evidence that legendary Houston punk progenitors Really Red and Legionaire’s Disease performed at Yippie-organized Be-Ins, including an outdoor event held November 18, 1978, at Lynn Eusan Park, which drew a massive crowd of around 500 supporters, according to a report in Weissborn’s first DIY publication, ULTRA magazine.

Houston’s student Yippie chapter planned to launch the city’s first Rock Against Racism event on campus as documented on this flyer promoting ULTRA, but the “free rock and reggae” campus event was called off. The show took place instead at Paradise Island on April 1, 1979. Among some of the classic punk bands performing for the first time were AK-47 and Vast Majority, two of Houston’s most radical.

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(ORIGINAL FLYER COURTESY OF Wild Dog Archives.)

Ultra and Wild Dog Zine Original Artwork: Untitled Faces (1978-79)

Henry Wild Dog founded ULTRA, an underground DIY zine focused on the Direct Action Committee and other countercultural movements, in 1978. The fourth and last issue was published in January 1979, after which the long-haired, radical Yippie (Youth International Party member) was transformed into a Houston Punk.

WILD DOG #1 was launched in April 1979 as the first zine covering the emerging punk scene in Houston following the inaugural Rock Against Racism show at Paradise Island. A poet and social activist, Henry Wild Dog included poetry and ink drawn artworks contributed by a number of underground writers and artists in both ULTRA and WILD DOG.
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(Original Artwork/Galleys courtesy of Wild Dog Archives.)

 

Island Does Avant Garde, Club Mod, & Dada as Protopunk ‘Movement’ (1980)

Selected local happenings from 1980 as chronicled in the “History of Houston Punk” series — part recollection, part oral history –published by PUNX in 1986.

TRANSCRIPT:

“The Punk/Avant Garde connection is highlighted by a show at Rock Island…reportedly the best acoustic production ever held at the Island. The bands include the Ruse, Spermwhale, and Polyphony.”

“In April is the premiere of a new venue, the ‘ultimate hole in the wall’: Club Mod. The Tix host the Throb Prom at this dingy warehouse on Milam St…which has a single light hanging precariously from the ceiling. This party highlights the difference between sixties and eighties psychedelia: black and white nihilist clones in urban cage, but human nonetheless. Other bands to play here later are the Huns, Killerwatts, and Vast Majority.”

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“September 19 is a show of the Big Boys with Really Red at the Island. The Big Boys also play the Parade and Spit, and at the Spit, the management apparently does not like Biscuit’s brand of weirdness and pulls the plug.”

“On 10-15 there is a Post feature, ‘Punks, Wavers, and Posers’: interviews with W. Wolff, Christian Arnheiter, David Bean, Margaret Moser, Dick Long, Henry Weissborn, etc.”

“October’s issue of XLR8 features the first of two parts: ‘After the New Wave,’ which is a fascinating and intellectual look at punk and new wave. It explores the protopunk ‘movements’ of Dada, juvenile delinquency, and the street fighters of the sixties. It concludes with a positive encouragement for us to face the political and aesthetic challenge before us with integrity and individuality.”

“On Halloween an art-space at 3221 Milam plays host to Culturcide and Really Red.”

“On December 15, WILD DOG #4 is published and the Derailers make their club debut at the Parade…the club cuts them off early. This is the last punk show at Parade.”

PUNX

(Original zine images courtesy of Wild Dog Archives.)

 

‘PROTO-PUNX’ INFLUENCES & THE PSYCHEDELIC-PUNK CONTINUUM (1986)

Punx No. 2 (1986)

Henry “Wild Dog” Weissborn published the final issue (Vol. III, No. 1) of Houston’s first punk fanzine, WILD DOG, in August 1981. Published by Khosrow Amirazodi, PUNX magazine emerged from its parent ‘zine STUDIO X as one of several Houston underground publications filling the void as the underground music scene evolved from garage and experimental noise to hardcore.

Although this article in PUNX No. 2 appears less polished than previous writings, Weissborn contributed this editorial, “Proto-Punx…And Other Bizarre Facts About Animals,” as part of a series of important historical musings chronicling Houston’s early music and alternative press movements.

“Mus[i]cologists concede that Texas was an extremely fertile spawning ground for punk rock in the 60’s,” Weissborn wrote in 1986. “In particular, the 13th Floor Elevators loom large in the punk rock hall of fame.” A seminal punk and Texas underground influence, Roky Erickson and Elevators Tommy Hall and Stacy Sutherland set off the wave of acid rock that eventually peaked in the middle 1960s in San Francisco, “where the wave finally broke and rolled back,” leaving its high-water mark of a generation.

In addition to their contemporaries the 13th Floor Elevators, Houston’s own psychedelic rockers, the Red Crayola (later Red Krayola), also made a comeback in the New Wave, according to Weissborn. Red Krayola was formed in 1966 by a band of art students led by musician and visual artist Mayo Thompson from the University of St. Thomas.

In his “Proto-Punx” essay connecting the psychedelic and punk scenes, Houston’s Wild Dog had this insight to offer about urging on the underground momentum:

“Punk rock has always been ephemeral. This is its beauty. Here today, gone tomorrow. Anyone can do it. Bands come and go, but their legacy lives on forever on record. The challenge beckons.”

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(Original zine courtesy of Wild Dog Archives.)

Legionaire’s Disease Open for The Clash at Cullen Auditorium (1979)

“What we had going for us was that we put on wild ass shows. Anything could happen at our shows, and it usually did.” – Jerry Anomie, Legionaire’s Disease Band

Clash

(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.)