Ivan Koop Kuper :
METRO | Saying goodbye to Mike Condray and remembering Liberty Hall

Thanks to Condray and crew, Houstonians were treated to many an unforgettable evening of history-making performances.

Mike Condray 1

Mike Condray. Photo from the Kuper Group Archives.

By Ivan Koop Kuper | The Rag Blog | March 30, 2016

HOUSTON — On Bruce Springsteen’s 1998 multi-album box set of miscellaneous recordings, Tracks, “The Boss” performs a live acoustic version of his composition, “This Hard Land.” Within the song, he poignantly sings, “Hey Frank, won’t you pack your bags and meet me tonight down at Liberty Hall / Just one kiss from you my brother, and we’ll ride till we fall.” This was Springsteen’s way of paying homage to the music venue where as a young man, he blazed a musical trail deep into the heart of the southern United States as part of a promotional tour after being signed to New York-based Columbia Records.

Springsteen was also giving a tip-of-the-hat to Liberty Hall owner, Mike Condray, who, in March 1974, took a chance and booked this unknown New Jersey road warrior into his Houston music venue, four continuous nights, to the delight of the city’s live music aficionados.

Springsteen’s was only one of the legendary stage shows that Condray booked.

Springsteen’s was only one of the legendary stage shows that Condray, along with his business partners, then-girlfriend, Lynda Herrera and Ryan Trimble, a Beaumont crony, had the insight to book into their new music venture. Between 1971 and 1978, week after week, Houstonians were treated to many an unforgettable evening of history-making performances that were as diverse as they were profoundly inspirational.

Liberty Hall mural 1 sm

The new Lightnin’ Hopkins/Liberty Hall mural, “Lightnin’ Field,” conceived by artist Jamal Cyrus, is at the corner of Main Street and Walker in downtown Houston. This mural was hung in preparation for next year’s Super Bowl in Houston. Photo from Kuper Group Archives.

Memorable musical moments some were fortunate to experience included the night John Lee Hooker traded guitar licks and verbal barbs with Houston’s Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins, a performance by a post-Burrito Brother, Gram Parsons, whose L.A. band, The Fallen Angels, included his muse and protégé, Emmylou Harris, on vocals, and the night Beaumont blues guitar virtuoso, Johnny Winter, surprisingly took the stage to lend backline support to an equally adept Doug Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet.

Liberty Hall was also where Velvet Underground guitarist, Sterling Morrison, played his last engagement with the remnants of the Warhol-inspired art rock ensemble before informing band members that he would be leaving the road in favor of his doctoral pursuits at the University of Texas. Some former Liberty Hall patrons still reminisce about the evening they experienced the first and only Houston performance of the decibel-driven, cross-dressing New York Dolls who left their confused audience unsure of whether they should demand an encore from the band or a refund from the box office.

‘Mike had a real gift for gab and should
have been a lawyer.’

“Mike had a real gift for gab and should have been a lawyer,” Herrera said.”He was on his high school debate team, and he loved to network with the New York booking agents. That’s how we got Springsteen to come down to Texas.”

Originally from Beaumont where he operated the Inferno Coffee House with future Liberty Hall partner, Ryan Trimble, Condray, Herrera, and graphic illustrator George Banks, opened their first short-lived Houston venue, Jubilee Hall, in 1967, in a former East Montrose church located at the corner of Bagby and McGowen.

This endeavor led to another more successful venture in 1969: Houston’s first “Hippie” restaurant, The Family Hand. Located on Brazos Street in what is now a trendy upscale neighborhood called Metro Midtown, The Family Hand offered patrons a cheap meal with a cold beer that included a floor show. It was a cozy place where any given night local songwriters Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark would test drive their new compositions. According to Herrera, because Condray “loved the blues,” Houston’s Lightnin’ Hopkins and Navasota’s Mance Lipscomb were also frequently booked to into “The Hand” to entertain the neighborhood regulars.

Liberty Hall Velvet Underground poster

The Velvet Underground at Liberty Hall, Aug. 20-21, 1971.

In 1971, when an old American Legion Hall, located in the 1600 block of Chenevert Street in a rundown area east of downtown became available for lease, the trio of Condray, Trimble, and Herrera knew this was the venue where they could start fresh and begin their new social experiment.

“Mike booked the music and handled the contracts, Ryan, the level-headed one, made sure the bills got paid, and I got to pick the opening acts and was in charge of beverages and set design,” Herrera said. “I also came up with the name, Liberty Hall.”

In addition to their weekly duties at “The Hall,” the trio also produced larger shows at other Houston venues decades before the advent of corporate Live Nation Entertainment. They brought Ravi Shankar to Jones Hall, and the Incredible String Band and David Bromberg to Houston’s now defunct Music Hall. “Liberty Hall just couldn’t accommodate the large fan base of some of these performers,” Herrera said, “so we had to find bigger venues elsewhere in town.”

In the end, ‘too much decadence and too much partying’ was the downfall of Liberty Hall.

In the end, “too much decadence and too much partying” was the downfall of Liberty Hall according to Herrera. They gave the business over to Liberty Hall’s flamboyant master of ceremonies, Roberto Gonzales, who managed the venue until its final demise in 1978.

liberty hall poster 2

Liberty Hall flyer, designed by George Banks.

Known as a social innovator and a cultural pioneer, Michael Dale “Mike” Condray, age 71, died March 18, 2016 at Kingwood Hospital, located northeast of Houston. According to Condray’s younger sister, Terry June Woolery, he had battled lung cancer since 2012. Condray was living in retirement, in rural Splendora, Texas, at the time of his death.

“He was a real visionary who had a knack for picking the right group and bringing good music to Houston. I believe he provided the city an invaluable service and should be remembered for his contribution to the arts and culture of Houston,” Herrera said.

Surprisingly, partner Ryan Trimble served as mayor of the City of Blanco for five years where he still resides, and Family Hand and Jubilee Hall partner, George Banks, is an architect who still practices in Humble.

Regarding the trio’s formula for success, “We were just in the right place at the right time in Houston history,” said Herrera who now enjoys retirement and the tranquility of Egypt, Texas, southwest of Conroe. She also said she still enjoys her weekly drives to Houston to visit old friends and what is left of her former Montrose haunts from the good old days.

The site where Liberty Hall stood, east of downtown Houston, is now a parking lot in the shadow of the massive Toyota Center indoor arena and sports facility. It remains a fond memory to those who knew it ever existed.

Find more articles by Ivan Koop Kuper on The Rag Blog.

[Ivan Koop Kuper is a freelance writer, a real estate broker, and a professional drummer. He is still a graduate student at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, and can be reached for comment at kuperi@stthom.edu.]

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28 Responses to Ivan Koop Kuper :
METRO | Saying goodbye to Mike Condray and remembering Liberty Hall

  1. Ann says:

    Such a beautiful memorial to Mike, thank you. I was one of many that had the pleasure of working at Liberty Hall. When I worked at the 1st Court of Appeal on the (10th floor) I could look out and see the Hall and wished every time it was still open. I still have all my posters and post-cards they mailed out.

  2. cindy soo says:

    The Liberty Hall concert was the 1st time i ever saw Bruce Springsteen. It was great especially with Clarence Clemons on sax. i remember when Doug Kershaw played the hall. The humidity made it impossible to stay in tune & he kept stopping to re-tune. It was a great place for concerts. Wasn’t there a giant painting of Nugent on the left wall?

  3. MC says:

    Thank you Ivan. Mike would like this.

  4. kirk farris says:

    Good work Ivan and thanks for putting this together.
    Condray was in and out of Texas Junk bringing in new old Liberty Hall Tee Shirts…I take the world for granted..but did see Mose Allison at Liberty Hall..that was a big deal for me.

  5. Charles Corky Baines says:

    Mike left Liberty Hall in 1975 and Liberty Hall was Robert Gonzelez , Ryan Trimble and Charles “Corky ” Baines who owns the Liberty Hall name , Roberto was the true booker . Thank you Ivan .

  6. melissa noble says:

    What was that rock opera.. The first I had seen..Saw so many but I best recall Elvin Bishop. It was a great place to experience the people as well as the music. I think Billy Joel played there as well..FeverTree.. I have a pic of Dennis and I backstage from the time we were living together

  7. Carlene Lloyd says:

    Will miss you Mike Condray! Some of my best music memories was at Liberty Hall. My friend Ryan Trimble from college days I met in 1969 or so, and I got to see so many musicians there it was AMAZING. The building was an American Legion Hall. It was a perfect size with a back stage located upstairs. I got to see Bruce, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Big Mamma Thorton, Tracey Nelson, Papa John Creach, Graham Parsons – The Fallen Angels and the Flying Burrito Brothers, ZZ Top, Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jew Boys, Balcones Fault – Jack Jacobs and Fletcher Davis, Doug Kershaw, Rita Coolidge, Jerrry Jeff Walker (two New Year’s Eve Gigs) with the Lost Gonzo Band…..with John Edmonson. Johnny Winter, Gate Mouth Brown, Willie Dixon Shiva’s Head Band, Commander Cody and the Lost Plant Airmen, and of course a two week run of the musical TOMMY…..was simply wonderful! Thank you Mike Condray, Lynda and Ryan and of course the infamous Roberto! Mike, I’ll meet you in front of the stage when I get to heaven!

  8. Billy Hendricks says:

    Thank you so much Mike Condray! I will be forever grateful for all the beautiful memories I have from Liberty Hall. Not many days go by I dont recall something I saw and heard at that wonderful place. It was the birthplace of my real love of music. I remember so many moments, like hearing Bruce play Wild Billy’s Circus Story with just him and tuba backup, and Hoyt Axton walking off stage because someone wouldn’t stop talking, and the mesmerizing BW Stevenson… it just went on and on every night for those wonderful years between 71-74..

  9. Guy Schwartz says:

    Patron: There are people f*kking in the first row!
    Mike: Let ’em f*kk!

    I was still a teenager when it opened. I lived across the street one block in front of Liberty Hall, heard them all play, and was sometimes called to fill in on bass. My first gigs with Sam Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, and John Lee Hooker were at the Hall. What a great start to my long musical career.

    Thanks, Mike (and Roberto, Ryan, Lynda & Corky)!

    Thanks, also to the kids who reopened the Hall after all of that (Wilkinson?), continuing the tradition for a bit with shows by Eric Johnson, Muddy Waters, Balcones Fault, BW Stevenson, Relayer, The Zap Rhythm Band and others…

  10. Michael Stone says:

    I saw Rory Gallagher at Liberty Hall, BURN IT UP!! With Lightning Hopkins as opening act. Atlanta Rythymn Section with Lightning Hopkins opening act. I saw alot of musicians there….Freddy KING! …Albert KING! It was an AMAZING time and place. Right in DT Houston Tx. We had it real good. Never met the owner, or anything, we were just white kids diggin’ the music. we were the trash on the sidewalk and fans in the audience….Too funny…these are the shows I remember.

    • David Hargis says:

      Michael On the night Rory played there were 2 guys at the ticket window trying to get in & arguing with Janie. Ryan came over & recognized them & let them in. They said they were old friends with Rory Gallagher. They didn’t want to be seen. So Ryan escorted Robert Plant & Jimmy Page up to the balcony. Nobody knew.

  11. Lonnie Bonvillion says:

    Hi, I’m Lonnie Bonvillion. I worked & lived at Liberty Hall from January 1974 to January 1976. I am 60 years old now. I have many memories of those days. If anybody that knew me back then, please email me at Lbonvillion@gmail.com.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Lonnie u still play drums

  13. Jim Olive says:

    Appreciate the memories of a place in time like no other in my life where Liberty Hall was a liberating experience for a Northside kid.

  14. Tom Wooldridge says:

    I was lucky enough to work with Condray at 2 of his ventures. I washed dishes at the Family Hand and was bartender at Liberty Hall. After the Hall closed for the night we would go upstairs (often with the act who played that night) and play poker ’til sunrise. Good times, Mike, good times.

  15. Thanks, Ivan, for the vivid Liberty Hall memories.

    I remember the John Lee Hooker gig — it was his birthday — and Lightnin’ Hopkins was invited onstage to sit in. Mr. Hopkins, it should be noted, was not one to take a backseat to anyone, anytime, anyplace, especially in his own backyard, and Mr. Hooker was not one to willingly surrender the stage to a brash homeboy … on his own birthday. It was a close round, but I gave it to Lightnin’.

    My favorite Liberty Hall remembrance also stars Lightnin’ Hopkins but came later … after Roberto Gonzales came on the scene, and what Koop describes as the partying, decadence cycle had kicked into full gear.

    This time Lightnin’ was the headliner. In order to cut costs, Roberto put together a half-ass backup band with some inexperienced young white bass player and Roberto himself on drums. It was not exactly an all-star ensemble, if you know what I mean.

    Roberto also didn’t have the second half of Lightnin’s performance fee. A backstage firestorm ensued with Lightnin’ threatening not to take the stage and Roberto countering with how the crowd who paid for the show might get very upset if their hometown hero was a no-show.

    In the end, Hopkins took the stage and proceeded to school the less-than-competent backup band in the kind of free-wheeling chord and tempo changes for which Lightnin’ Hopkins was justifiably famous. But the real show stopper was a blues improvisation in which Lightnin’ Hopkins told the story of how Roberto Gonzales had just ripped him off — complete with graphic details alleging Roberto’s previous business misdealings, drug use, and preference for sex partners with four legs. Lightnin’ even dropped spontaneous lyrics about his own bedroom dalliances not only with Roberto’s mother but his grandmother too.

    Unlike his erstwhile drummer, Mr. Hopkins didn’t miss a beat, and Roberto Gonzales was forced to play backup to his own scathing putdown.

  16. Randy Chapman says:

    Melinda and I had enjoyed many good times at Liberty Hall. Outstanding bookings. Admission and beer prices never too steep. Outstanding music in Houston during those years. Thank you Mike for fabulous bookings!

  17. Banjo Kid says:

    Great to read the stories. Thanks Ivan. Surprised nobody mentioned that KP FT was broadcasting live from liberty Hall most Thursday nights to drive up those crowds on the weekend. I wish those tapes were still around.

  18. Rich Layton says:

    Was fortunate to have played there many times, usually as the local opener. Vince Bell and I opened for Southside Johnny & The Asbury Dukes. After our set, Johnny accidentally stepped on one of my harps and gave me a brand new Marine Band from a briefcase full of them. In Rocky Hill’s band, it was opening for Jimmy Reed. He put a .38 revolver on the barstool with his guitar picks and whiskey. Backstage, he put the fear into of God into Roberto, waving the gun and saying “Don’t nobody be f-ing with my money!” Maybe the wildest was doing an acoustic 3-piece with Lucinda and Pete Gorisch to open 2 shows/night,Fri/Sat for Ted Nugent. It was like being thrown into the Roman Coliseum with a bunch of lions. Yep-legendary times on both sides of that stage…

  19. Lynda herrera says:

    Corky, you know anything of Judy and Valentina whereabouts and pics? Please help! Thanks!

  20. Anni Eason says:

    Great work Koop- I see your fabulous talents now more and more as i get to know you .. I saw Stevie Ray Vaughn for the first time ever when my Fav neighbor Girlfriend took me- she was 18 and I was 16.. We were backstage and can recall some FUN memories from that evening even now- SO long ago! What a COOL place it was!

  21. Terrence says:

    Started going (and hanging out) in the later (Roberto) years. As a kid I was impressed by Corkys Liberty Hall tattoo. Remember seeing Ramones, Doug Sahm, George Thorogood (as a 3 piece) Clover, (pre Huey Lewis), Southside Johnny and many others Once I was sent to change a keg in the basement and asked “Which one is Budweiser?” Only to be told they were ALL Lone Star (though the taps in the bar were marked Pearl, Lone Star, Budweiser, 3 or 4 different brands) Good times!!

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