By Alex Wukman
Like much of Houston’s history, the history of its music venues is always on the verge of being forgotten. There are few ‘historic venues’ in Houston (Fitzgeralds and the Eldorado Ballroon not withstanding) and most of the lineage of Houston’s music history has fallen to the bulldozer while the story of Texas’ impact on the psychedelic music scene of the 1960s and 1970s is only just now beginning to be told. Unfortunately, like most live music venues, many of the clubs that created the scene left little or no trace of their passing.
While many bars and venues get wakes when they die almost none get obituaries; which makes piecing together their history very difficult. Despite the literally hundreds of music venues that came and went prior to the mid 1960s the first club that can be identified as catering specifically to the psychedelic scene is Jimmie Menutis’ Lounge and Club which was operating from the early to mid 1960s at 3236 Telephone Road. Jimmie Menutis’ Lounge has been described by Scarlet Dukes’ 1960s Texas Music website as “being as close to a ‘nightclub’ as anything in Houston at the time.”
Dukes went on to write that, like many of the supper clubs from the big band era, the venue featured a single bandstand surrounded by tables covered with red cloth. Dukes also stated that the club was filled “dark, short, white guys walking around” while acts like Bo Diddley , King Curtis and Jimmy Reed played onstage. Like many of the clubs from Houston’s hippie days the date and reason why Jimmie Menutis’ closed is lost to history and the wrecking ball.
The second well known establishment to open was Dome Shadows on 9218 Buffalo Speedway. Dome shadows opened in December 1963 and went through many different incarnations until it closed in the early 1980s. According to domeshadows.com, the club was initially founded by Marshal M. Stewart who had a policy that all men in uniform, regardless of age, would be allowed in and treated well.
For the first few years local bands like The Jokers, The Pastels and The Good Stuff held court in the shadow of the Astrodome. Then in 1965 Houston wunderkind Roy Hoffheinz filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement against Stewart. The suit came about because a few years earlier Hoffheinz had been sued for infringing the copyright of the Colt Arms Company. Apparently Colt didn’t like Hoffheinz naming a baseball team The Colt .45s.
Hoffheinz lost the suit and changed the name of the team to the Astros. He paid off the judgment and went looking for ways to make his money back. Hoffheinz hit on the idea of suing anyone he felt was infringing on his Astrodome trademark, so he sued Stewart for $ 1million. Stewart countersued for $1 million, he claimed that the word “dome” wasn’t trademarked.
Unfortunately for Hoffheinz the judge who ruled on the case agreed that the word dome wasn’t trademarked. Stewart ran the club up until 1970 when he leased it to AM radio DJ Paul Berlin.
Berlin, who would later go on to gain notoriety for playing bands like Herman’s Hermits and The Animals on KBME, introduced such high concepts as the best leg and wet t-shirt contests to what had been a stalwart of Houston’s hippiedom. However, Berlin did book some skinny young kids in leather jackets from New York for their Houston debut in 1977. You might have heard of them, they went on to be pretty big, they were called The Ramones. In the late 1970s Berlin subleased Dome Shadows to a high stakes gambler named Martin Kramer. Kramer’s tenure at the club was short lived, mostly because he was shot dead in a card game.
While Hoffheinz and Stewart were slugging it out in court another club catering to the counterculture crowd opened in what has come to be known as the Midtown area but at the time was considered part of Montrose. La Maison opened in 1964 and stayed in business until 1966. Founded by George Massey an doriginally called La Maison du Café, the club was located in a house on the corner of San Jacinto and Wichita. It started primarily as a small folk club, but by the summer of 1965 folk had given way to rock and roll and the club had outgrown its homey location.
Massey decided to bring in a partner named Larry Kane and the pair moved the club to a defunct church on the corner of Bagby and McGowen. After the move Massey and Kane decided to drop the café portion of the name and became the first club in Houston to use go-go dancers. The club became closely associated with bands like the Baroque Brothers and Sixpentz who were the house bands. However, the good times wouldn’t last and the club had to move to 1420 Richmond, at least for a little while.
However they had to move again and went back to the old church, but under a different name. The last time anyone was mentioned performing there was in late 1966 when the chronicle listed seminal Houston psych-rock band Red Krayola as playing at a fashion show in a closed church. Around the time go-go dancers were grooving to the sounds of the Baroque Brothers and Massey and Kane were trying to figure out where to move, a club called The Catacombs opened up in an area that would later be associated with the Galleria.
Located at 3003 Post Oak, The Catacombs played host to such seminal 1960s bands as the Mothers of Invention, Country Joe and the Fish and Jethro Tull and because of the heavy touring line-up The Catacombs would go on to become become one of the best known clubs in Houston’s hippie phase. Since the club was open before the Texas legislature passed laws allowing the sale of liquor by the drink the Catacombs had a “membership application.” Membership to the club was limited to people aged 15-20 years old and it prohibited members from bringing in “intoxicants of any kind” and required to them wear “school clothing.”
The age limit requirements were common amongst Houston’s teen clubs of the time and the lack of intoxicants didn’t prevent the Catacombs from hosting Houston’s first “pop festival” on August 31, 1968. Despite it’s notoriety The Catacombs, like other clubs from the period, faced the problem of a landlord who didn’t want to rent to hippies. So after the expiration of the lease The Catacombs, like La Maison, was forced to move. In the late 1960s the club relocated to University and Kirby in the then burgeoning Rice Village area.
It’s unclear as to whether the club changed management or ownership after relocating, but what is clear is that in 1970 the club located at University and Kirby was no longer called The Catacombs and was now known as Of Our Own.Despite the new name the club continued booking some of the biggest touring acts of the time including MC 5 and Ten Years After. Like Jimmie Menutis’, the reason for, and date of, Of Our Own’s closing is lost.
Even with the holes, the history of The Catacombs/Of Our Own is relatively well documented especially when compared to other clubs. On the other hand, the history of The Living Eye, which was located on 1493 Silber and was open from 1966 until sometime in the mid 1970s, can be described as spotty at best. The Living Eye was owned by Scott Holtzman and is perhaps best summarized as being the location of a minor footnote in the annals of Texas’ drug war history. In 1967, at the start of a six month residency at The Living Eye, local Houston band The Misfits became the first Texas music group to get busted for possession of LSD. According to the websitewww.garagehangover.com, the charges against the band were dropped because the drug wasn’t illegal, but the notoriety of the bust was having a negative effect on the band so they changed their name to The Lost and Found.
Aside from being the location of the first acid bust in Texas, the only other notable thing about The Living Eye was its marketing. A promotional flyer for the club touts its 15-20 age limit by saying “If you’re 21…you’re too old. If you’re 14…you’re too young.” The text of the flyer goes on to invite those “in between” to “take a fantastic voyage into the heart of an android.”
Much about The Living Eye, including the bands who played there and the date it closed, is lost to the annals of history. Fortunately not all of Houston’s hippie history has been forgotten. In fact much has been documented about the history of the Houston branch of one of Texas’ biggest nightclub franchises. On December 7, 1964 Pat Kirkwood opened a Houston location of his venerable Forth Worth bar The Cellar.
The Cellar’s Houston location would operate until 1974. Like the five other bars in The Cellar chain, three in Fort Worth, one in Dallas and one in San Antonio, the Houston location was known for progressive music bookings, a relaxed atmosphere and gorgeous waitresses in skimpy clothing. According to multiple sources, the waitresses at each of The Cellar locations wore bikinis while serving drinks. It is also said that at some of the locations girls in the audience would stand on a two foot high, two foot wide divider that separated the crowd from the band and due an impromptu strip tease to music from bands featuring the likes of Frank Gibbs and Roky Erickson. While The Cellar was well known amongst the Houston music community it didn’t achieve the type of breakout notoriety that the Love Street Light Circus did.
Despite only being open from 1967-1970 and located in a then out-of-the-way place, a three story building on the banks of Buffalo Bayou on what is currently Allen’s Landing, Love Street has become something of a legend in Houston mostly because it was arguably the most high-concept club of the period.Founded by local artist David Addickes after a trip to San Francisco in the mid 1960s, Love Street became known for innovative visuals which featured 24 slide projectors that would be used to show things like birds flying around the room. Addickes has stated that he would take photos of patrons using slide film on one night, develop the pictures and put them in the projectors the next day.“If someone came back the next night they could see themselves on the wall,” Addickes said at a 2007 lecture
Addickes’ innovative decor didn’t end with fancy light shows. The bottom story of the building, which still draws a 1019 Commerce Street address, featured a trompe l’oeil style mural that depicted a mid-1960s Houston skyline. Upon entering the bottom story the painting seemed to be simply random lines on the walls and floor. However, as a patron moved around the room the lines began to coalesce until the viewer found the specific spot and they revealed the image. Another of Addickes’ innovations was the elimination of a seating area. Instead of tables and chairs Love Street featured cushions for customers to recline on and watch the bands and lights.
Located just a few blocks away from Love Street, which some period musicians claimed catered to kids because it didn’t sell alcohol, is the Market Square area of downtown which was at the time the home of the club La Bastille. Founded by Ernie Criezis in the late 1960s as a jazz club La Bastille quickly expanded into jazz influenced blues.Not much is known about La Bastille beyond a 1973 Billboard Magazine interview in which Creizis says that booking the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Buddy Rich and Muddy Waters proved to be financially lucrative. He goes on to say that since Houston was so far off the touring track paying to fly down big name talents was expensive.
The only music club that began operating in the 1960s that is still in business, albeit in a much more low profile sense, is Anderson Fair. Located at 2007 Grant Street Anderson Fair incubated such legendary Texas music icons as Lyle Lovett, Townes Van Zant and Jerry Jeff Walker throughout the 1970s and 1980s and helped to redefine country music.
Despite the renown, success and influence many of the 1960s and 1970s Houston venues achieved there was one that stood out from the rest, Liberty Hall. Located at a former church that had been converted into an American Legion hall and then converted again by Mike Condray, Lynda Herrera and Ryan Trimble into a music venue Liberty Hall was Houston’s premiere music venue for much of the 1970s. From 1971-1978 Liberty Hall hosted everyone from Ted Nugent to the Velvet Underground . The venue was so well known that Bruce Springsteen referenced it in one of his songs. It seems that no matter how big a club was at the time when it closes there isn’t much of a reference. The same holds true for the closure of Liberty Hall.
There doesn’t seem to be much written about why a music venue that hosted artists that came to define much of the last two decades of the 20thCentury closed its doors. However, after it closed Liberty Hall became a Chinese movie theatre, but like many of the venues it was knocked down. Now, in the spot where the New York Dolls and Ted Nugent played, stands an empty lot with a view of the Toyota Center’s parking garage.
Every year another venue goes out of business in Houston and leaves behind no record of who rocked the house, fell in and out of love or the titanic struggles the bar owners went through to make ends meet. Like the songs played on stages night after night throughout the city, all too often the history of Houston’s music scene only remains in the minds of the people who were there.