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Friday, December 12, 2014

The Catacombs, Houston - James Robert Wilson

Catacombs
Catacombs
The spring of 1966 found my group of friends feeling rather down. La Maison was closing and the Elevators were going to California. We wondered where we would go to experience our style of nightlife. After all, with all of us being underage, La Maison was the coolest place in town and the Elevators were our band. The Catacombs had been open for a while, but our impression was that it was kinda straight laced. When they first opened, they specified school dress and laid out a bunch of other restrictions. It really didn't sound like our kind of place. Still, some told us that it was no longer like that and once La Maison shut down we decided to check out the Catacombs.

Catacombs
Catacombs
The Catacombs lacked the magic of La Maison, but it was a good venue. The people were a lot like us, in fact, we knew some of them. After checking in at the door, you entered a wide room. There was a snack bar on the left and, straight ahead, a series of arched doorways to enter a larger room, where the headliners played. The stage was to the right with seating and an open area to the left. On the far side was another series of arched doorways to enter the back room, which was smaller. The backroom had a small stage to the right and was where the local bands played. These were the up and coming bands trying to make a name. There, I saw a number of bands, including Moving Sidewalks and Fever Tree, before they were Fever Tree. Quite a few touring bands played the main stage, many with songs on the Top 40. Two of these stand out for me.
   
Catacombs
Catacombs
One weekend, a blue eyed soul revue from Louisiana played. I can’t recall the name, but it was a full blown act with guitars, bass, drums, horns, guy singers, and three girl singers. The guys all wore fitted suits, and the girls wore blue sequin gowns. The guys had slicked back hair and the girls had bouffant hair. A lot of effort had been into the act, they played all of the R&B hits of the time with all of the dance moves. Their second set brought the girls out front to perform girl group songs. It was an interesting show. The blond in the center singing lead was a very good performer and loved the spotlight. The blond to her left was happy with her part and thrilled to be a part of the show. The brunette to her right really didn’t like the girl in the center and it was obvious that she felt that she could do better. The entire band seemed confused by audience, the people with long hair, funny clothes, and red eyes. Between their sets, I saw several of them watching The Moving Sidewalks, trying to figure out this new scene.

Catacombs
Catacombs
The best band that I saw there was Sopwith Camel. We had been hearing for some time that San Francisco had a really good scene going, and, by 1966, it was becoming common knowledge. Newspapers and magazines were reporting on the scene and had even coined a name, hippies, for the people. Record labels were beginning to sign bay area bands and we snapped up their records. One of the first signed was Sopwith Camel. They had an album and a single out. This was before progressive FM stations had started, AM Top40 was the only outlet. “Hello, Hello” was their single, an old-timey sounding song in a style that was popular at the time. The song was okay, but knowing that the band was from California was reason to go. I was completely unprepared for this show. They looked like us, that was cool, but their music was nothing like their single. They were tight, loud, and hard rockin’. Evidently, someone had convinced them that it was a good idea to alter their style for their record. 

Catacombs
Catacombs
After their first set, I looked around for someone that I knew. They were there earlier, but everyone had disappeared. After a few minutes of bewilderment, one of my friends showed up and asked me to come backstage. Everyone was there talking to the band. We asked about San Francisco, and they asked about Texas. After a few minutes, someone from the club said we would have to leave, but the band asked for us to stay until their next set. We stayed backstage until they had to go back out, and we went to watch the show, Quite an evening.

Catacombs
Catacombs
Then spring moved into summer.

James Robert Wilson


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