John Lomax III

Duration: 1hr 55mins
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Interview with: John Lomax III
Interview by:
Date: July 19, 1979
Archive Number: OH 263

MI: [00:06] July 19, 1979, interview with Mr John Lomax III. I’d like to begin the session by getting some general background information. You’re a native Houstonian?

JL: Well, almost.

MI: (laughs)

JL: I was born August 20, 1944, in upstate New York, and after the war—well, I lived in Lodi, New York, for six months and Lodi, California, for six months, and then the war was over. My folks went to Dallas where my grandfather was living. And I’m not sure the reason why they moved to Houston, but we moved to Houston in ’45 or ’46 and put up the house that I grew up in in ’46 or maybe ’47. So it’s almost native. I don’t bring up the part about being born in Yankee land too often.

MI: (laughs)

JL: I figure the war took precedence over regional squabbles. I grew up—we moved over onto Vanderbilt Street in West University, and I grew up there and went to West University Elementary and Pershing Junior High and then Lamar High School, graduating in June 1962.

MI: And you went on to the University of Texas then—the University of Austin.

JL: At that point, I went to Austin and went to UT. I graduated there with a BA in History in June—May of 1967 then came back here—well, I went and enrolled in graduate school in history and did that for two months and didn’t like it and dropped out. I moved back down here and had a job as a computer programmer trainee for a while and then as an industrial paper salesman for a while—

MI: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

JL: [02:15]—and returned to UT in August of 1969 for library school and went for a year again and then came back here in 1970—I guess in August and September—came back to Houston and then landed a job. I couldn’t find the job where I wanted, so I went up East and found a job at the Mount Vernon Public Library doing general reference. And they had the—it was the cornerstone library of Westchester County. We had most of the resources of Westchester County in Mount Vernon with the exception of business library—which the bulk of the holdings there were in Yonkers.

MI: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

JL: And I did that for eight months—basically killing time waiting for a position here to open up that David Hennington and I had discussed—and when he was able to hire me, I came back here. And that would have been in April of ’72, I’d say. Let me think for a second—’69, ’70. April of ’71.

MI: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

JL: I worked here about 18 months then moved to Nashville in June of ’73. And the gap there in the time period in between the time I left the Houston Public and the time I moved to Nashville was mainly due to some severe illness in the family—in my mother and father. So my brother—at the time—was in Algeria, so I stayed here tried to help hold things together—but eventually he got—it was an alternative commitment to a military service program—international volunteer services—and eventually we got word to him, and he was able to come back here to help look after the family. Then I moved to Nashville in June of ’73 and lived there basically ever since—coming back here two or three times a year to keep my roots renewed or just to see old friends and visit the home. I never liked to get too far out of touch with Houston because there was a lot happening here, and you stay away too long, you can’t find your way home. (laughs)

MI: Right.

JL: There’s a new building or a new freeway where the old one used to be.

MI: Let me go back a bit, and we’ll talk some about your musical background. Obviously, your father and grandfather were well known in the field—folklorers.

JL: [05:20] Well, that’s a little confusing. My grandfather, John Avery Lomax, first started studying folk music when he was a young boy in northern Texas, and the cowboys would come through on the cattle drives, and he was fascinated by the songs and the stories they would tell around the campfire and begun to systematically collect them, which entailed sitting down and writing them down. There were no copy machines and no tape recorders. (laughs) For a period of years, he endeavored to have this considered a serious pursuit and was pretty generally rebuffed by all scholars saying that this was not a legitimate field of inquiry until he eventually was able to get to meet Professor Kittredge at Harvard, who encouraged the study and helped open some doors.

In the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, he was joined by my uncle Alan—my father’s only brother—who at that point was very young—who went out in the field on the collecting trips with him, and they would go—they worked out a deal with the Library of Congress to collect recorded sounds of the American people, and they had a Model T Ford and a 350 pounds worth of tape recorder and a bunch of—I guess you’d call them whackers now. It was done direct-to-disk in the sense that they had a machine cutting the grooves while the artist was singing. The first year, they had ten disks to go out and record. As the years went by, they obviously got more disks. And Alan and John Avery were more or less the directors of what’s now called the Library of Congress Library of Recorded Sound. Between them, they were second and third directors—I think from the early ‘30s up until the ‘40s—and the bulk of the collection still—I believe—represents more things that they brought in than anyone else combined. And this was field recording done in the southern part of the US and also in the mountain regions of West Virginia and the Carolinas and Virginia back in the backwoods—looking for authentic American music and recording it.

So along the way they—by the luck of the draw or good sense or whatever—were able to run into people like Lead Belly and Muddy Waters and Blind Willie McTell and Blind Willie Johnson and a lot of the revered names in blues, particularly. So I grew up kind of with that in the background but without any pressure to go into music, but I was—on the other hand—exposed to an awful lot of it, and it was all good. In other words, I grew up with pretty well defined standards of what is and isn’t good in music, which to me is just a matter of more feeling than actual technique, as against a music like classical where it’s more technique than feel—at least it is to me.

MI: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

JL: I remember in 1949 or 1950 travelling on the train to Dallas, and they had the radio piped into the train in those days, and there were a lot of soldiers on the train, and I can remember them—the whole car—singing along with Goodnight, Irene, which at the time the Weavers had out was the number one pop song in the nation. And I can remember even at five or six, I was not impressed with the Weavers’ version of it because I’d heard it sung better in the house by my dad’s friends. (laughs) Looking back, I’ll still say that. (laughs)

MI: (laughs)

JL: [10:07] But I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I can go out now and hear music really of almost any kind and know if that musician has a chance of making it or not—just a gut feel that I had nothing to do with. It’s not an analysis, and it’s not a sort of a critique—I just know. And sometimes it may be years before they do get there. But I can tell, and I can tell without any conscious effort. I just let the music roll around in my head, and then a few days later, if it’s still rolling around, I know that there’s something there, and if it’s not, I know it’s not there. And then in extreme cases of them, I’ll have goose bumps on my arms and back of my spine, but that’s pretty rare. (laughs) That’s a real indicator—(laughs)

MI: (laughs)

JL: —but not one that happens very often.

MI: When did you first begin making use of your heritage—if I may call it that?

JL: Well, actually, it would have been about 1966 or ’67. I kind of started halfway writing reviews for the Daily Texan up in Austin—a student paper. And I never really pursued it. I just did it kind of because there was some things going on I thought ought to be written about, and nobody was doing it. So it’s easy to get into the student paper, so I started writing a few nightclub reviews or reviews of talent. And when I returned here after my undergraduate days in ’68, Space City News was just getting cranked up, and they needed somebody to write for them, and I kind of hung in there and eventually became Amusements Editor and wrote all the record reviews and most of the concert reviews and a most of the—a few movie reviews and then a little potshot column where I would get the chance to work in “so-and-so’s coming next week” and “shouldn’t miss this one” or “so-and-so’s club has reopened” or whatever.

MI: How valuable of experience was that to you?

JL: [12:36] Well, it was very valuable to me because we came out either every other week or, for a while, we came out weekly, and I had to review records all the time. I had—my feeling was—my philosophy of reviewing was—I would ignore what I didn’t particularly like or what I thought was bad music and focus on the good just to try to spread the word of what I thought was good rather than spending the space I had running down what I thought wasn’t, unless it was a case of a major artist putting out a turkey album, in which case I thought the public’s attention should be called to it before they had to go pay for it. But I had—I would review from five to 10 to 15 albums per issue, and over the period of about a year and a half, I had three or four hundred albums that I had reviewed—most of which were rock and roll, but every now and then I would go out and find something like a Bill Monroe or a good blues album or even sort of a jazz album if I really thought it was interesting music.

MI: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

JL: The main thing I think it did was it immersed me into the commercial mainstream, and I was able to get—I got no money for the job, but I got all the albums I could beg, borrow, con, or haul off from the record labels in one form or another. And for a year and a half there, I heard just about everything of any significance that was put out in America in that field, and it helped me learn to write—and write regularly—and it put me in touch with a lot of people—helped make a lot of contacts that came in useful later on. Because after awhile—well, there was very little writing about rock and roll in the Post or the Chronicle, and there was never really any serious competition when Space City was going, so I really had the market to myself, and sooner or later, everybody involved in music would read what I had written down, and presumably no one ever became enraged enough to come after me in all the years that I wrote, and I panned some people. No one ever said boo about that, but people—when I had written something good about it—would always come find me and thank me and all, and I would thank them. (laughs).

MI: Are you working the—there was another underground paper you worked for, too, the—

JL: Well, Space City—actually it was called Space City News—and then there was some lawsuit or something, and they had to change the name to Space City. Then they lasted about a year or two. When they went under, there was a competing paper by the name of Mockingbird run by Bill McElrath. Space City was Thorne Dreyer and Vicki Smith—

MI: Yeah.

JL: —and the Fitzgeralds were involved for a while, and it was actually about four to six people that did all the work. Then Mockingbird—McElraths’ paper—came out, and I worked for them for about six to eight months, and they went under. There was another paper at the time called Abraxas—that I was never involved with—that was—I don’t think—ever as significant as the Mockingbird and Space City. After Mockingbird went under—it went under shortly before I went up the Nashville—and after I went to Nashville, I sent stuff down here to the Southern Voice—which was another paper—which had sprung up kind of as Pacifica’s monthly program plus it had a lot of features in it and other stories. And then during the same time that Space City began in ’68, Pacifica started the groundwork to open their radio station here, and I was involved in a little bit of the initial volunteer work and helping run the office and raise the money. And then after they were on the air, Thorne Dreyer brought me in a few times, and we would talk about music, and then eventually I got my own show on Pacifica—three hours once a week for about two or three months. I did that, and then they apparently decided that they wanted to do something else during that time and were not very—I didn’t feel they were very considerate of my interests in canceling my program without telling me. I went down there one day (laughs) to do it, and somebody else scheduled, and so I terminated my relationship with them.

MI: Who canceled? Who was responsible?

JL: I don’t really even know because Pacifica always had about two or three paid people that ran things—and they were paid but underpaid—and they would come and go fairly frequently. The people in charge of program—Program Director and Music Director. So I really don’t know whose decision it was. I just know I went down there to do the show, and they said I wasn’t doing it anymore, and I said, “Well, adios.” That’s pretty rude. So it took awhile to prepare three hours worth of radio show.

MI: And in that time, you were discussing rock and roll primarily? Is that—?

JL: [18:40] Mostly. Mostly rock and roll, but also I was concerned with Houston as a music city and other things that were going on. Back then, now, you have to remember in the late ‘60s, the police here didn’t much care for blacks and whites to be out at night together, and I don’t think that there was nearly the mingling that there is now. If the clubs got going and they started to attract an integrated crowd, the cops would come along and hassle everybody into the point of a lot of them weren’t worth doing anymore.

MI: How much was Houston actually a music city at that time? You used that term—as a music city.

JL: Well, not—I wouldn’t really call it a music city even now in the sense of Nashville or New York or LA. I would call it a great source of musicians, and it has been for a number of years. And a lot of people who have made a big name in music have come out of this scene or lived here—were raised here—or whatever, but they had to leave town to do anything at all.

MI: Mm-hmm. (affirmative) And that situation has not changed?

JL: I don’t see it changing at all. Well, let me take that back. It has not changed as yet. There are some things at work here now that are very exciting to me in that to build what people refer to as a scene, it requires a lot of component parts—various parts—that are not directly music-oriented but go to support the music industry. You have to have facilities for recording. You have to have—well, first you have to have the musician. (laughs) Then you have to have places for them to play—clubs—studios for them to record, talented people who know how to push the buttons and how to get the best out of that artist—producers. Then you have to have managers and booking agents. Then you have to have artists to do the artwork and attend to things like that. You need a good—one or two—concert promoters to bring in big acts, which Houston has. You need a pressing plant and a mastering facility to take that tape and turn it into records and not have to leave town—which Houston still does not have a good mastering and pressing facility. And you need lawyers skilled in the music business with contacts. And Houston is slowly developing something in each of these areas. I think there is still a dearth of good management and booking talent here, and there is still no pressing plant and mastering lab, but in the case of the booking and the management end, that can change overnight if one or two good people move here from anywhere in the other capitals of the music world. And in the case of a pressing plant, that just means somebody’s going to have to stick their neck out and go to the places that are existing in other cities and study the operation and put up the capital investment needed to start something like that here.

MI: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

JL: [22:07] But it’s a gigantic city. There is a lot of vitality and a lot of diversity in the music situation here. There are a lot of new clubs coming in or old clubs reopening. There are a lot of venues—for the musicians who are not nationally recognized—to perform. There are a lot of opportunities for them here that weren’t there—back in ’68, there were only maybe two or three joints that they could play in.

MI: Do you remember their names?

JL: Well, there was a folk club called Sand Mountain over on Richmond about—I’m not sure what’s there now. It’s three or four blocks west of Montrose on the south side of the street. It was a folk club, and they had folk artists and blues artists from time to time that would play there, and that was one place you could play if you were in that genre and if you met the approval of the lady that ran it—
Mrs Carrick—who was somewhat of a fire breather—who refused to buy a liquor license until the early ‘70s—’72 or ’73 or something outrageous because she didn’t want people in her club drinking. Consequently, it made it harder for her to make a living serving one-dollar fancy cups of coffee or soft drinks. At the same time that that was going on, University of Houston had a coffee house out there where folk artists would play. There was a place by the name of Jubilee Hall that sat on a location that later—it was a big white building that later was Teen Challenge over on Brazos at Tuam or in that vicinity, and the building later burned after that. Teen Challenge was a rehabilitation of teenage offenders through Jesus sort of program. Jubilee Hall was going in ’68 when I returned, and they had rock shows with local and national acts there, and this was in the peak years of hippiedom, and it was sort of the only place you could go where people with long hair wouldn’t get a lot of shit. And here in Houston, they didn’t—the cowboys didn’t like that sort of thing.

MI: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

JL: You could get hassled just walking down the street and not only by the police, but just by rednecks out looking to pull a hippie’s hair. So Jubilee Hall was a concert hall that underneath had a record shop and head store, but it was also kind of a gathering place for what my friend Rex Bell calls “the brothers of the hair.” (laughs)

MI: (laughs)

JL: [25:17] And it went on for a while, and I don’t really know why it failed, but when it did, the fellow that had it—Mike Condray—I think there were several people involved, but he was the main mover—he moved around the corner to Brazos at McIlhenny and opened up a place called the Texas Rose Café. And this was a smaller—well, Jubilee Hall—to go back to that—was a large room. It was a long, rectangular building—maybe 70 feet wide and about 150 feet long, so they could put in a lot of people. It was kind of a folding chairs and cushions and fans in the ceiling sort of atmosphere, but it had a good size capacity.

Then when he lost that he went to the Texas Rose Café, which was a much smaller room, and it was maybe—it’s still there, by the way. It’s now called the Brazos Bottom—the building. It’s on Brazos and McIlhenny. The room where the performers were and where the—their upstairs was more like living quarters for Michael and his friends and a place to go up and smoke a joint with staff when you couldn’t smoke down there. But it was a smaller room—maybe 40 feet square. That included bar and the kitchen behind it and a little stage. So they had mostly small acts—acoustic acts—or very small combos. Don Sanders, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark from time to time. Rocky Hill. Every now and then they’d go get somebody like Lightnin’ Hopkins and announce that he was coming over. Juke Boy Bonner and Big Walter Price or somebody like that to bring in the blues aficionados. And that went on for a while, and interestingly enough—oddly enough—the group Little Feat—when they came through Houston on one of their tours—they ended their tour in Houston, and they got to hanging around the Texas Rose Café, and all the people there were smitten by a few of the local women and hung around for several days and eventually wrote a song about it called The Texas Rose Café, which is on Little Feat’s second or third record. So Houstonians always had a fondness for Little Feat, and obviously—

MI: (laughs)

JL: —they felt a little warmth here. After that, I’m not sure, here again, what caused the Texas Rose to fold up. Mike had eventually built a beer garden out back, and the place was doing pretty good business, but he had—perhaps it was just a better opportunity—he moved over to 1610 Chenevert and opened up Liberty Hall, which the Hall still exists. It was an old veterans meeting room, I believe. He opened this up, I would say in ’70 or ’71. Here again, it was a big room in the sense of the capacity was 300 to 400—or 500 if you really just shoehorned them in—so he was able to attract national talent, and there were an enormous amount of nationally known groups that passed through there on their way up the ladder because it really had—it was the only place in the area for a group to play that wasn’t yet at the point where they could sell out a place the size of the Music Hall, which is 4,000 seats. And there really wasn’t anything to compete with it because they would put on two shows—they would typically come in on a Thursday and do one show, two shows Friday, two shows Saturday, and one on Sunday. So this is six shows, and you have the potential of selling out 400 seats per whack. That’s 2,400 people that could come in and see the group. And in reality you had a lot of coming and going—the group would then all—so they’d be here four days. They’d do all their radio interviews and go see the papers. It got to be pretty much of a going for some of them—did real well.

When I left in ’73, they had a series of problems and internal disputes and so on and so forth, and the place has staggered on, but it hasn’t been what it was. For a while, it was really humming. And then, of course, later on, the Opry House opened up over on Richmond, and they were able—they had a larger capacity and were able to offer more dollars to the artists, so they started siphoning off some of the same caliber acts that Liberty Hall was making their bread and butter off of. Also during this time, the Old Quarter down at Austin and Texas Streets was going on. It was just a two-story stone building—I think run more as a front for some marijuana dealers—

MI: (laughs)

JL: [30:59]—than as a club. There was never really a concerted effort to—I mean, you had to practically get on a soapbox and yell sometimes to get people to take your money and wait on you, or you could down behind the bar and pour your own beer, and nobody would ever care. But it was really a very casual—very unscheduled—sort of place where, from time to time, there would be—people who would play somewhere else would come in or Lightnin’ would be booked or Townes Van Zandt would be booked or Guy Clark would play or Jerry Jeff Walker would come in or—the Allman brothers at one point wound up in the same kind of situation that I described with Little Feat in that they finished a tour in Houston and were adopted by a couple of the local dope dealers and brought over to the Old Quarter, and they just loved it. And at the time, the owner had just been robbed by an ex-employee named Jesus—(laughs)

MI: (laughs)

JL: —sleeping there, cleaned out the till one night and got on the bus and went to San Antonio. So the Allman brothers were—

[32:05] tape goes silent

[32:19] tape restarts

JL: The employee whom Dale—well, it should be said that Dale Soffar and Rex Bell were co-owners of the Old Quarter—if owning could be a term. It was a building that had no commercial use whatsoever to Pat ??s/l Toomay?? who was a fairly large builder in town, and I think he was a friend. It was down over in the eastern kind of fringe wino section. It was not a very nice area, and apparently, he gave them a nice deal to bring in some money rather than have—and also there’s not much tearing up you can do to a steel building—I mean, a stone building—but at least he had people in there and it kept the winos from just turning it into a truck stop sort of thing. But Jesus was an employee who Dale befriended and who worked there for a while, and then one day—one night— after it was closed up, he cleaned out the till and skedaddled. So we had a benefit for the Old Quarter, which probably amounted to a benefit for the dealers to get up enough—

MI: (laughs)

JL: —to buy another couple of pounds of weed (laughs) and apply what their trade was. But the Allman Brothers wound up playing, and I walked into the place without knowing this—and this was before the Allman Brothers were known much beyond Georgia—I guess—and here was this whole six-piece band set up in a room about 20 feet wide by 50 feet long—solid stone—and they were flat-out playing—all six of them. And I was a bit stunned and sat about three feet away and watched them play all night. And Townes got up and sang some blues songs with them playing behind him, and it was just unbelievable. They wound up having such a good time, they stayed and lived up in the upstairs of the Old Quarter and played two or three more nights just for nothing—good dope and good women.

MI: (laughs)

JL: [34:31] Nothing better to do and they loved to play. So that was going on. The Anderson Fair—I don’t believe—had begun really yet. It started along in ’72 or ’73.

MI: What fair is this now?

JL: Anderson Fair. What they call Anderson Fair Retail Restaurant at—well, it’s—I can’t think of the exact address. It’s behind Texas Art Supply off Montrose at—maybe Welch. Well, it’s in the phonebook. That started up, but prior to—the Old Quarter went on for a number of years. I think three or four years it staggered on generally depending on—some nights it would be up and some nights it wouldn’t if they couldn’t find anybody to go down and open it up. You didn’t get paid to run it, but you got to give you and your friends free beer—sort of a situation. And they had an upstairs where you could go out through the upstairs onto the roof and smoke your joints a block away from the Harris County Jail—

MI: (laughs)

JL: —and speculate on the inmates inside the jail—think about how glad you were that you weren’t there. (laughs) Every now and then, we would shoot off a stray firecracker or bottle rocket in their direction. And the police never really hassled people that much down there. I guess they just had a lot better things to do. Every now and then, they’d come in and bust somebody, but it was never the problem it was around Jubilee Hall or Liberty Hall.

MI: You mentioned before that there was native talent here in Houston. What—was that mostly rock? Blues? What kind of talent are we talking about? What kind of music are we talking about?

JL: Well, of course, Houston has an extremely rich blues heritage—

MI: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

JL: —and a little bit of a jazz heritage in terms of the players that have come out of here—someone like Arnett Cobb or Fathead Newman that played with Ray Charles for a number of years—a good many jazz players that I’m not that familiar with. And people like Lightnin’ Hopkins and T-Bone Walker that were Houston-associated. In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, Don Robey opened up Duke and Peacock Records here, and they were an enormously successful label in terms of sales in what is now called the soul market. Back then, it was rhythm and blues, and before that, it was actually called race music—black music for black people—and white kids started listening. But Don Robey had this Duke-Peacock outfit, which included Junior Parker and Big Mama Thornton and Bobby Blue Bland—who lived here and may still live here—Bobby Bland.

When Don Robey sold it in ’74 or ’75—and sold it to ABC and later died of some ailment—but he had it running as early as—I think—the late ‘50s. There was a black club over in River Oaks called the Palladium where a lot of the major black acts would play, and every now and then, I would—at the age of 16 or 17 or 18—would screw up my courage enough to go over there—never could find (laughs) anybody to go with me—but I would go there and never would have to show them my fake ID. I guess they figured anybody that crazy is—you could sell them a beer. But I never had anything but a glorious time. In fact, I’ve had much more trouble hanging out in white joints than I have in black. I’ve never been mistreated in a black joint, and I’ve certainly been mistreated a few times in white ones. But this was—then the other part of the music scene, of course, consisted of major acts booked into what was—well, what still is—the Sam Houston Coliseum.

MI: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

JL: [39:09] And, of course, an act had to be awfully big to get that because it seats 11,300. I remember seeing Ray Charles there. I remember seeing James Brown there—but that sort of act. This would have been in the early ‘60s when I was still in high school—pre-June of ’62. And here again, on an act like Ray Charles or James Brown, it was almost all black people, and so you had to overcome certain inbred prejudices that are not really at all in my family, but in the peer group that I was associated with—and back then all the schools weren’t integrated either. Blacks and whites were kept apart, and so you didn’t really have anything to base your knowledge on other than grownups and your peers who all said “the dirty niggers” and da-da-da-da-da.

MI: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

JL: So a lot of kids—I think—grew up just believing what they were told—and what they were told was utter blarney—by adults that were told that and just didn’t know any better. It was just ignorance begetting ignorance.

MI: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

JL: [40:24] In our family, we were not allowed any prejudice at all, particularly when black people—they were welcome in our home as if—as welcome as white people. Of course, we just—living in West University, we didn’t have a lot of black neighbors (laughs), but—

MI: Still don’t.

JL: —for a while, my dad was associated with Lightnin’ Hopkins, and so he would be over from time to time, and I don’t know what the neighbors thought looking back on it, but we were not—we never had any crosses burned, and we never had any windows busted out because we allowed black people in the house. A chapter that I didn’t mention—I’m a little vague on when it started, but it can be
double-checked through—I can tell you about how to run it down, but—my dad and a couple of other friends formed the Houston Folklore Society, which met once a month—and still does—to give people who are interested in folk music a chance to meet and swap songs. And it’d meet usually—I believe it was—the first Tuesday of the month and, at first, in a members’ house, and then they started meeting out at Hermann Park in that little building by the playground that has a roof but no walls where kids could go run around the playground and the grownups would essentially spend about three minutes on business, and then they would get up, and somebody would sing, and then somebody else would get up and sing, and they would sing songs that they had written, or their arrangements of songs that they had learned.

And this attracted a lot of people, and the meetings were not that big—I would say—well [42:21] ??___??—they had them at the Jewish Community Center for a while, too—but I would say that 30 to 50 would be a large attendance. But it went on once a month, and every now and then they would get together and have a public concert—usually at the Jewish Community Center or—I think they had a couple over at Cullen Hall at U of H. And then—I guess—the peak of that was the folk boom years with the Kingston Trio and the Christy Minstrels and Brothers Four and Bob Dylan and so on. During that time, it seemed the public tastes picked up folk music, and so they had a corresponding increase in membership and were able to put on concerts a little more professionally done in terms of the acoustics (laughs) and the sound and the hall.

MI: Was your father one of the founders of this group?

JL: Mm-hmm. (affirmative). He sang. He was involved in real estate for a living—in development out on the north side—but he sang unaccompanied versions of the old Lead Belly and old work songs and cowboy songs by himself and just get up and sing. Then—well, he was—I guess there were maybe two or three founders, as such, but he was the one—one of the key people in it. His—like I say, it’s still going on. You probably get the newsletter here at the library somewhere that they put out called the Cotton Patch Rag. It comes out once a month. The principals in the Folklore Society in the beginning were my father and a man named Ed Badeaux and a man named Howard Porper. And I believe—if I’m not mistaken—those two men are still in Houston. There were others that came and went, and there was a man by the name of Jim McConnell who was very active. There was a man by the name of Larry Skoog who was very active. There was a man named Mack McCormack who was one of the—well, who was pretty much single-handedly responsible for the rediscovery of Mance Lipscomb, and he was also instrumental in helping rediscover Lightnin’ Hopkins—who, of course, has been rediscovered (laughs) on numerous occasions—but this was his rediscovery in the early ‘60s when my dad and Lightnin’ went out to the Ash Grove in California to perform—it was Lightnin’s first plane ride and his first major performance outside of the Houston area in a number of years. Of course, he originally got his recording started in the ‘40s in California after the war.

MI: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

JL: [45:36] But old blues men—it seems—kind of stop making records, and everyone assumes they’re dead, and ten years later, somebody goes, “Well, maybe he’s not dead,” (laughs) and they go rummage around and find out—sure enough—he’s not dead. He’s not only not dead, he’s still playing around in some little honky tonk in his neck of the woods and is making decent money just going out playing at night. And most of those old boys didn’t really—they’d get paid for the record, and that was it. They’d never see any royalties or anything like that—just flat rate, give me the money, because I know I’ll never see it later. Give me so much in cash now, and we’ll go forward.

MI: Before we get too far off—

JL: (laughs)

MI: —if we can, let me go back just for a moment and ask you your opinion. How important were the clubs that you mentioned such as the Liberty club—not a club, but hall—Liberty Hall. How important were these clubs and halls as a—in cultivating local talent? Did they play any role at all in developing or cultivating—?

JL: [46:50] Well, yes. The way it would work would be—normally there would be a local act open the show for the national group that would sell the tickets. So it gave them exposure through a crowd full of people, and there was some choice given—some serious thought given—into who you put to open up for who. In other words, you wouldn’t put an acoustic folk singer out there to open up for a hard rock act. You’d put in a little local combo. So they got exposure this way, and they also get a chance to hang out and mingle with the musicians back stage. In the case of a place like the Old Quarter, it was mostly all local talent. Even the name talent was local. The Old Quarter never brought anybody in from out. They just made arrangements with some local players to play and provided them a forum, and an awful lot of people playing now learned on the stage at the Old Quarter or at Sand Mountain or the U of H coffeehouse or later on at Liberty Hall. It was also important—Liberty Hall particularly—as a meeting place for sort of a spiritual rejuvenation because in those days, people that liked music and had long hair were harassed. In sort of the tribal element of gathering in a large group of similar-minded souls would recharge the batteries, and you would talk about how you were hassled or you were busted.

MI: (laughs)

JL: I think it fulfilled the role—in some ways—of a church. There were people there that believed pretty strongly in what they were doing and resisting the war, and growing long hair is not just a means of growing long hair but is an attempt to say, “Look, we’ve been fed a lot of things that are not right.” You had to—you didn’t just grow long hair for fun (laughs) back then. It was a symbol of defiance to the system that you felt that they were basically peddling jive. So it fulfilled a nice role in that respect, too, in that it was a sanctuary—sort of—for rebels. And if you look back at it, there was—you say rebels—and it’s a rebellion on an awfully minor scale when you look at countries that are in upheaval and turmoil and people are shooting themselves in the street and so forth. But out of that grew a—came a lot of people who were active in the anti-war movement, which helped put a stop to a war that no one really seemed to want, and now a lot of those same people—graduates of that school of rebellion—are out protesting the slaughter of whales—

MI: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

JL: [50:02] —or the thoughtlessness of a nuclear situation that we find ourselves in. It was important in that it was a place to go, and it was important also in the sense that it was—all those places were kept open for a long enough period of time to where you knew you could go out some night and stop by and see somebody that you hadn’t seen and would want to see—not necessarily on stage, but in the crowd—and score a bag of weed. (laughs)

MI: (laughs)

JL: It was a gathering place. It was—the Old Quarter was basically a glorified club. The guy at the door would—if he didn’t like somebody’s looks—wouldn’t let them in—even though there wasn’t a cover charge. (laughs) It was small place, and if it got too full and they didn’t know you, you just wouldn’t get in. It was—I’m sure—very frustrating to be on the outside in a club that doesn’t charge a cover and see a room full of people having a great time and—I’m sorry, it’s five dollars cover or something. But Liberty Hall was a little bit like that in regard of— the Houston “hip” community was not that large. It was not so large that in the course of a Friday or Saturday night at Liberty Hall, most of the key figures would pass it through the hall to hear music because there was no other place that offered that quality of entertainment—that level.

MI: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

JL: Somebody like Freddie King would be there—John Lee Hooker. They would have Clifton Chenier every Halloween, and they had a blues festival for a week and a half that would bring in the local blues men along with people like John Lee Hooker and Freddie King, Big Mama Thornton. Lightnin’ would play. Or they would present acts that were a little on the jazz side. It was just—it was thoughtfully booked, and I would have to go and stop and think, but I’m sure an awful lot of the acts that are playing gigantic halls now were in Liberty Hall at one time. One of the concerts I remember was Graham Parsons, and Emmylou Harris had just started singing with him, and he came through town for four days there. And during the time he was there, Linda Ronstadt came down to the auditorium, and when she finished, she would come over to Liberty Hall and had Neil Young with her, and all four of them were up there on the stage—Graham and Emmy and Neil and Linda Ronstadt. That was a pretty interesting little treat to get with your two-fifty ticket or whatever it cost to see Graham Parsons—who was about to die at that point. Nobody knew it, but he put on a good show. He was obviously in personal turmoil, but that was also Emmylou Harris’ first step into the limelight. Although she had had a lot of experience, she had never had that sort of opportunity—stuck in the backwaters of Washington DC, which is not a very good place to be unless you’re black—

MI: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

JL: [53:36] —for a musician. There’s no—there’s not a very vigorous scene with white music.

MI: Now during this time, of course, you were—I say “of course”—you really weren’t involved in the country music scene.

JL: Not at all. I had no—I would hear it on the radio, which you can’t avoid here in Houston.

MI: (laughs) That’s true.

JL: I had a roommate in college that was a fan, and he dragged me out to see Hank Thompson, and I learned a few of the anthems like Fraulein and Wild Side of Life—a little bit of Hank Williams. But I had no background in it whatsoever. And then went to Nashville in ’73—basically pretty much run out of Houston.

MI: Well, I was going to ask you what led to your move to Nashville, and I guess—(speaking at same time; unintelligible)

JL: Well, in a sense, it was calculated. It was part of a long-range plan. After I started writing with Space City and these other underground newspapers, I got a few little short things in a magazine called Cream, which is a national rock and roll paper out of Detroit. But the plan was, I was going to write about music, and sooner or later I’d be able to use that as a lever to get a job in the music business doing something, and Nashville was chosen primarily because I detested New York and LA as a place to live. But at the time—in 1972— I was involved—by this time, I was working here as a reference librarian and also selecting books for the young adults—the young adult book program had not been overhauled in several (laughs) generations—I think. We still had the most profound books on young adult—available young adults were of The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Black Beauty, Treasure Island school. And so I was choosing the books for the system for people from the age of 12 to 17—I suppose—and running the show on Pacifica and writing for Space City. This was, of course, during the era of Louie Welch—who had a net worth of less than $5,000 when he moved to Houston and opened a junkyard out on the north side and didn’t look back. (laughs) He still hasn’t. But Louie didn’t care for us, and we didn’t care for Louie. And I was active in the campaign for Hofheinz’s election in—I guess—1972, and that election, Welch won in a run-off, and I made no bones about the fact that I was supporting Hofheinz, I and was working here at the time.

So at some point, I got—I had come across code numbers that I could use to call long distance and have the phone number charged to a third party—foolishly believed what I read and started calling everyone I knew thinking it was free. Nothing happened for quite some time, and then one day I was out at the branch in Meyerland, and a couple of phone company detectives came in and hauled me downtown and told me they just wanted to talk to me and no, I didn’t need a lawyer and confronted me with all this, and I saw they had the goods on me, so I said, “Well, you got me. I did it.” And I found the codes that I used in an underground newspaper called the Berkeley Barb some months ago. So they had a stack of IBM cards about this thick, and I leafed through them and told them which were mine, but I think they wanted to stick me with the whole batch. And, of course, my confession and promise to pay they extracted out in exchange for their promise that I wouldn’t be prosecuted, and like a fool, I thought I wouldn’t be lied to by the phone company’s detectives. Mr F. O. Bolton, Jr and Mr Billy Hubbard—scum of the earth.

MI: (laughs)

JL: [58:23] They came, and the next day, they went straight to the mayor. The mayor went straight to Mr Hennington, and Mr Hennington went straight to me and offered me a resignation, which I accepted. Looking back, I think I should have made them fire me so I could have gotten the government money for that. So I was fired here, and I stayed in Houston. Like I say, my father had just had a serious stroke that left him physically but—not an invalid—but mentally unable to remember anything that happened prior to the stroke. It just wiped clean his memory of anything that happened afterward—he couldn’t retain it. My mother was very ill and later died of cancer, and at the same time, my wife at the time decided—however one decides—but she became a junkie. And we had a nine-year-old—a boy who’s nine now, who was very young then—and I was kind of trying to hold all that together. And not too much longer after that, I was stopped by West University police on my way home from the Old Quarter, and they searched my car and couldn’t find anything on me and ripped the keys out of my pocket and opened up the trunk and found a pound of marijuana. Well, actually, when I came to trial, it was only two hundred and some-odd grams—less than half a pound. And when I came to court, of course, the cops said yes, he gave us the keys, told us we could open the trunk, la-ti-da-ti-da. So the judge in that case gave me five years in Huntsville, and we were able to appeal it. And we appealed, and so they allowed a suspended sentence. I was then on five years probation. And remember the phone company?

MI: Yeah.

JL: [1:00:34] A year after they had had me canned from my job, they filed charges while I was in the middle of my marijuana case, which didn’t look good to the judge because it made it look like the phone company thing happened after.

MI: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

JL: And it left us—it knocked out one of our bargaining props, and they made their little dinky-ass charge stick for a felony—$77 felony rap. I was given a year’s probation on that. But I kind of thought that was a nice touch to let it sit for a year, and then when I was in the middle of some serious legal problems, then they drop it on me. That’s why I call them scum of the earth. (laughs) But after I was busted—I was busted in West University. I was living in West University over on Villanova. It became very dangerous for me to have marijuana and then try to exist in West University. I would get stopped going to the grocery. I’d get stopped going to the mailbox, stopped for any excuse they could use to search me and my car and whoever was with me. And somewhere along the line, the point became pretty clear that they were going to put me in the penitentiary—one way or another. If I got drunk and got a ticket for being drunk in public, they could revoke my probation, much less if they were to nab me with marijuana or anything else. I also had a little problem with 500 white crosses—amphetamines. That case was never—we were able to bargain our way out of that one. That was the same time I was busted with the weed—I had a bunch of what they call white crosses. They took all the good speed away—that was all you could get—these little bitty old things about—if your hands were wet, they’d absorb in your hand and fall apart.

So I decided I better get out of Houston because they were going to get me—one way or another—go somewhere where they don’t know you, and Nashville kind of presented itself in that I had visited once before when Rocky Hill, a Houston musician, was recording album of Nashville. I kind of went up as his gofer and driver and all around companion for when he and his old lady were at each other’s throat. And Townes Van Zandt had recorded there a good bit, and he had—I had an opportunity to go up there with Rocky and sniff the ground out while he was doing his thing. And I went up there and was lucky enough to land a job with a fellow by the name of Jack Clement doing—initially—publicity for Charley Pride. He had a company that did publicity. Charley Pride was an artist he produced. But it was—I was not really that interested in leaving Houston. I consider that I was pretty much thrown out.

MI: [1:03:51] Didn’t you have to get court permission to leave?

JL: I was able to—well—

MI: Being on probation, I mean.

JL: Being on probation, I had to have my case transferred to a probation officer in Tennessee, and that was not difficult, but I did—yes, I did have to go through the procedure, and it’s—it was quite a shock—I guess. By the time—