IVAN KOOP KUPER | NOSTALGIA | The Summer of ’72: A look back after more than 50 years.

Coming of age in Houston, Texas, with The Rolling Stones

Photo by John M. Lomax (John Lomax III), first published in underground newspaper Space City!, June 29, 1972, and later in the book Exploring Space City! published by the New Journalism Project in 2021.

By Ivan Koop Kuper | The Rag Blog | January 26, 2024

There was a feeling of excitement throughout the city of Houston and specifically in the neighborhood of Montrose in the summer of 1972. Something was in the air and you could just feel it. The seminal rock and roll band, the Rolling Stones, were coming to town to promote the release of their new double-sided album, Exile on Main Street, and everyone in my circle of friends just knew that this concert was going to be the cultural event of the season.

In the summer of ‘72, whenever it suited me, I could be found swimming and lounging at what was then referred to as the “Montrose Country Club.” In reality this was the outdoor swimming pool on the campus of the neighborhood liberal arts college, The University of St. Thomas. It was a social gathering hot spot easily accessible not only to St. Thomas students, but also to the local bohemian citizenry who resided in the surrounding area. The pool was the ideal spot to take a respite from the brutally hot Houston summers that never seemed to relent until well past Halloween.

On one occasion at the pool, I was a joined by a neighborhood local who dropped by with his girlfriend to get some much needed relief. “Hey Red,” I said to the familiar face with long, flowing red hair and a matching beard who was known as “Uncle John” Turner. He had an elderly persona to all who knew him but in hindsight I now realize that at the time, John Turner was all of 28 years of age.

“I bought my ticket this week to see the Stones on Sunday night,” I said to Turner and his hippie girlfriend who accompanied him to the pool. “You wouldn’t happen to know anyone who has a couple extra tickets they don’t need would you?” asked his girlfriend. Turner seemed a little embarrassed by the question that indicated they were down on their luck and the two were possibly struggling to make ends meet. Later that day, I thought to myself how could this happen with someone who was a successful drummer and who, just three summers prior, performed at the Woodstock Music and Art Festival, in upstate New York, with his East Texas, golden-triangle band mate, Johnny Winter? I would run across the good-natured Uncle John Turner in Houston and Austin for that matter, throughout the next several years, at live music venues and musical instrument stores until his untimely death in 2007, from the dreaded Hepatitis C Virus.

I was living the good life in the summer of my 18th year. I was finally out of the suburban house  where I was raised and away from the watchful eyes of my worrisome, yet well-meaning immigrant parents. I was employed at Rolando’s Burger Factory, a local neighborhood joint where I was slinging burgers and fries, located near the university, and getting stoned with my friends whenever the opportunity presented itself. Back in the day, getting stoned was as much an act of political defiance against extremist American conservative values as it was a recreational endeavor. It is hard to believe that as of December 2023 and excluding the great state of Texas, of course — marijuana is now legal in 24 of the United States of America. The irony here is that I do not even remember the last time I traveled down the road to enlightenment being the responsible senior citizen that I am these days.

In the summer of ’72, I was also learning the fine art of editing quarter-inch analog audio recording tape as a volunteer at the recently established Pacifica Radio affiliate, KPFT-FM, located in the old Atlanta Life Insurance Building in downtown Houston. Little did I know this was an acquired avocation I would revisit several times throughout my lifetime — and when I least expected it. Incidentally, this is the very same radio station that had the dubious distinction of being the first and only radio station in the United States that was bombed off the air by right-wing terrorists not once, but twice, in 1970, by the Pasadena, Texas “klavern” of the United Klans of America, Inc. aka The Ku Klux Klan.

I shared a two-bedroom apartment in the summer of ‘72 with my first roommate, Pete Kelley, who I met while I was working as a board operator and audio editor at the Houston community radio station. He was an older, more mature 26 year old, who, in addition to his daytime job as a camera salesman, worked as a late-night DJ. We split an extravagant $65 per month on rent (not including utilities) in a 1920s brick four-plex with oak floors and 12-foot ceilings located in the heart of Montrose at the corner of Bute and Branard Streets. Our rent was eventually increased to $75 to adjust to 1970s-era inflation. Not surprisingly, after more than 50 years, I seem to have lost track of some of my friends and acquaintances from that era in my life including Pete, who may very well be a great-grandfather by now.

During my senior year of high school on my 18th birthday several months earlier, I received a letter from the United States Selective Service System inviting me to register for the draft which I reluctantly did. I was issued the obligatory registration lottery number; however, it would be three more years before the atrocities of the conflict in Indochina would come to a climactic end with the fall of Saigon in 1975. Before this historic event transpired, our nation witnessed the resignation of its morally corrupt 37th president, Richard M. Nixon, only 10 months after the resignation and his equally corrupt vice president, Spiro T. Agnew, thus ending our nation’s eight-year involvement in the non-declared Viet Nam War.

The local live music clubs were my home away from home in the summer of ’72 and they are where I received my formal musical education. One historic venue in particular, known as the Old Quarter, is where I was a regular patron. It was at this nondescript hole in the wall on the corner of Austin and Travis Streets located east of downtown that I was first exposed to the country blues of Houston’s Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins and Navasota’s Mance Lipscomb, and a little known, underrated and underappreciated bluesman from Bellville, Texas known as Weldon “Juke Boy” Bonner. Bonner would pass away in 1978 at age 46 from cirrhosis of the liver never receiving the acclaim, accolades, nor recognition he rightly deserved. The Old Quarter is where I was also first introduced to the dark and sullen songwriting of a Fort Worth transplant named Townes Van Zandt.

And so it came to pass that on the evening of June 27, Pete Kelly and I, his girlfriend, and a neighbor or two loaded ourselves into Pete’s VW Beetle and drove from Montrose through Houston’s historic African-American neighborhood, Third Ward, to Hofheinz Pavilion, a venue on the campus of the University of Houston, where 20,000 like-minded young adults assembled to experience the sights and sounds of those British imports with the Texas twang: The Rolling Stones.

I have to admit that I remember very little about the Stone’s actual performance and what compositions they performed that balmy summer evening. They were accompanied by then-new guitarist, Mick Taylor and a horn section comprised of Fort Worth native Jim Price and Bobby Keys of North Texas on trumpet and tenor saxophone, respectively. These two Texans also contributed to the making of the Stones’ new album, Exile on Main Street, which the band was in town to promote. Keys, who spent his formative years in Slaton, a tiny speck of a town near the Texas panhandle, initially met the Stones when they were on their first ever tour of America and were booked into San Antonio’s “Teen Fair of Texas,” in 1964. As the story goes, Keys was a member of another band performing that afternoon: the backing band for early 60s, teen idol, Bobby Vee. San Antonio was ground zero for the beginning of a life-long contentious relationship between Keys and the Stones that ended when Keys died of liver cancer in 2014.

John Lomax III of Houston’s then-underground, alternative weekly, Space City!, reported: “The not-so-young machos laid about 16 songs on us at the 9 p.m. show, were on stage around 1½ hours and left the crowd begging for more. But there were no encores from this band and the crowd filed out of the hall at 11:35 p.m. feeling partially fulfilled, but wishing for more.”

Lomax continued to describe the subdued atmosphere that permeated the venue: “it was all done in a businesslike, yet infectious manner with Mick complimenting the crowd often.” However, at one point, Jagger is said to have made the cryptic comment to the audience, “you’re a good crowd here in Houston, but you should be in church, though.”

After the all-too-brief performance, several of my neighborhood cronies and I rendezvoused back at the “Montrose Country Club” where we hopped the low-security cyclone fence for an evening of post-concert analysis, celebration, and libation. And while we floated in the pool that had been heated all day by the relentless Texas sun, we relived the night’s performance delivered by Mick and the boys, and pontificated about its historic and cultural significance into the wee hours of the morning.

[Ivan Koop Kuper is a freelance writer, professional drummer, real estate broker, podcaster, and a frequent contributor to The Rag Blog. He invites everyone to follow him on twitter @koopkuper and he is available for comment at: koopkuper@gmail.com.]

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

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