Retro to August 13, 1989

Thanks to Thorne Dreyer who had this hidden somewhere in his closet. It was first published in the Texas Magazine of the Houston Chronicle, August 13, 1989.

Houston’s ’60s night scene: Joplin sang here for $20 a night
By CLAUDIA FELDMAN, Houston Chronicle staff.

When folks think back on old Houston, they might remember Herman Short’s strong-arm police force, Ku Klux Klan ghouls who rode around town tossing bombs and burning crosses, a boring downtown, a snoozing art scene.

“Still a sleepy little town,” said singer/song-writer Don Sanders of Houston in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Repressive, others said.

Swamp land, Yankee reporters said.

Maybe so, but the swamp was rocking with talent and possibility.

There was a handful of nightclubs and coffee houses that regularly featured the likes of Janis Joplin, Jerry Jeff Walker and John Lee Hooker.

There was an alternative newspaper, Space City!, that loved to tweak the beaks of the traditional reporters and editors. An alternative radio station, KPFT, took shape around then, too. When vandals bombed the station’s transmitter during a broadcast of Arlo Guthrie’s ” Alice’s Restaurant,” the staff recouped. The first song, when the station went back on the air, was “Alice’s Restaurant,” sung live by Guthrie.

He picked up, in fact, exactly where the record had trailed off.

Allen’s Landing, at night, was crowded. Market Square thrived. Westbury Square flourished.

Twenty years. Those who participated in Houston’s hippie-dippie days as adolescents have grown up. Those who already were grown up have grown gray. But a surprising number of those who participated in Houston’s artistic explosion back then are hard at work on similar projects today.

Mike Condray, 44, just opened the Washington Avenue Showbar. He calls it “off-Broadway experimental.”

By age 25, Condray had already opened and closed a Houston nightclub, Jubilee Hall, a restaurant, the Family Hand, and was enjoying the success of Liberty Hall, an old American Legion meeting place turned music haven.

Condray has featured scores of big-name artists including Rita Coolidge, Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen.

Condray doesn’t romanticize the old days, though. “We were getting beat up a lot by the police department. The whole nation was at war over Vietnam. Black people were getting killed.

“The music, though, was good. It was hot.”

Artist David Adickes laughs fondly when he remembers the Allen’s Landing club he started in 1967, the Love Street Light Circus and Feel Good Machine, patterned after San Francisco’s wild psychedelic light shows.

“Love Street was popular as hell,” Adickes said. “Allen’s Landing was packed with bodies – it was shoulder to shoulder, a happening.

Adickes shut Love Street down after two years and went back to painting and sculpting. He’s planning more light shows, however, this time using symphonic music.

Sand Mountain is coming back!

“We’re looking at locations right now,” said John Carrick, who opened the club, a Houston institution, with his mama in 1965. “My mom’s real excited.”

Carrick was still in high school when he, with help from friends and relatives, rented the Houston Grand Opera’s old rehearsal space on Richmond, and turned it into a concert hall.

Tickets were $2 or less.

“Janis Joplin would come play for $20 a night and a place to stay,” Carrick said. “There was a little apartment upstairs. Jerry Jeff Walker got $70 a week and a place to stay. But he had to sing five nights and clean five days.”

Just a few of the others who played Sand Mountain: B.W. Stevens, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Guy Clark, Mance Lipscomb, Doc Watson, K.T. Oslin, John Vandiver and Don Sanders.

Of course, Sanders remembers Sand Mountain. And Maison de Cafe and the Old Quarter and the Jester, where he worked as a busboy and dishwasher all week long to be allowed to play one set.

“But the upside,” Sanders said, “was that folks were pretty accepting. You could create a forum for yourself. There was room for creativity.”

When the oil business went bust, Sanders started translating plays from Spanish to English and working as an artist-in-residence in school districts around Texas. He also checked out the music scene in Nashville.

Houston, however, is still home.

Sanders, eternally young in the hearts and minds of his old fans, got married four years ago. He and his wife are expecting a baby.

“Here I am in my mid-life,” Sanders said, “at 40. Uh, 39.”

Dale Soffar took over the Old Quarter, a little folk bar on Congress in 1969.

He was 25, and after putting in a stint in the Army and a Texas City steel yard, the little downtown bar looked good to him.

“Wonderful,” Soffar remembered. “It had those brick walls where the plaster was coming off in places, brick floors and tables that were old sewing machines with the heads off. We had people who would come from the opera at Jones Hall – they’d be in suits and tuxedos sitting there next to hippies.”

Talents like Don Williams, Rambling Jack Elliot, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt played the Old Quarter.

Finally, Soffar said, the club began to decline. “They all have their life times. Houston was starting to boom, and these big apartment complexes like Napoleon Square were building their own clubs. People quit coming downtown.”

Soffar took off for Central America and other adventures. But he’s back in Houston and back to tending bar, this time at the Colorado Bar and Grill.

Soffar is about to get married. One of the guests invited to his wedding is Tim Leatherwood.

Leatherwood didn’t start Anderson Fair, a Montrose folk bar that’s been open since 1969, but certainly he’s the club’s patron saint.

Many a year Leatherwood has kept the place open – often with his own sweat and bucks from his day job.

He has a company called Audio Systems, and he installs audio-video equipment. Since January, he also runs Anderson Fair’s new recording studio.

“We’re just trying to get to the break-even point,” he said. “We’ll stay open as long as there’s interest.

Leatherwood joined the Houston music scene in 1967, when he was 17, at a club called Catacombs.

“It was a big ol’ warehouse type place,” Leatherwood remembered. “We had Canned Heat, Mothers of Invention, Wishbone Ash, Jerry Jeff…”

Twenty years later, Anderson Fair is the only one of the old places still open.

Thorne Dreyer, 43, used to write about Houston and Houstonians for an alternative newspaper, Space City!

Dreyer laughs when asked if he was the editor. “We were militantly non-authoritarian back then, and we didn’t have editors,” Dreyer said. “Six of us started the paper and we called ourselves an editorial collective.”

Space City! tried to be the voice of leftist activists. Like the KPFT staff, Space City! writers got their share of attention from the radical right.

“We were bombed a few times,” Dreyer said. “There were bullets through windows and crosses and stickers that read, `The KKK is watching you.’

“It was a heightened time – larger than life,” Dreyer said. “On the one hand the community at large was pretty repressive. But Houston always had a core creative community.”

Space City! petered out in the early ’70s. Over the years Dreyer has worked for KPFT, the City of Houston and public relations businesses. Today he’s working as a free-lance writer.

“The other day somebody said to me, `Gosh, you’re just an old ’60s hippie.’ I’d never called myself a hippie,” Dreyer said, “but I felt a rush of pride.”

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One Response to Retro to August 13, 1989

  1. Anonymous says:

    I was part of the light show at Jubilee Hall circa 1969-1970.

    If anybody has any photos from that era at Jubilee Hall, I would love to see them.

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