by Gerald E. McLeod
Doris McClendon runs the Continental Zydeco Ballroom, one of hundreds of neighborhood hangouts in Houston with live music, cold beer, and a dance floor.
As blacks left the tenant farms for the cities they took with them the music that had been born in churches, front porches, and social clubs around rural Texas. They invented a musical genre that spread from the poor South to the affluent college dorms. It took the British invasion of the 1960s to bring the rhythm and beat into almost every American home.
Recently I took the Eyeopener Blues Tour of five Houston nightclubs with the Orange Show Foundation along with 36 other white folks. The response from patrons and barroom owners was as mixed as the decors. At one bar we were greeted with an icy coolness that was not entirely unexpected as we paraded into a crowded nightclub. At another club we were greeted at the door with a hug and a big smile.
Merinda Watkins guided the tour bus through the narrow streets to five clubs. This is what we found:
Continental Zydeco, 3101 Collingsworth, claims to be the largest zydeco ballroom in Houston. The place isn't very big and the dance floor takes up a large part of the space. Zydeco bands from Louisiana and East Texas play on Friday and Saturday nights.
The Wanderbar, 1403 Southmore, has its roots in the affluent black community. The bar was named for Wanda, the owner, who made her money as a mistress to one of Houston's doctors. Decorated in neon lights, mirrors, and a giant fish tank, the dance floor is small and fills up quickly. Live music Tuesday-Thursday and during happy hour on weekends.
The Gallant Knight, 2337 W. Holcombe Blvd., attracts young professionals. They were too crowded to let 37 more people in the door on the Friday night we went.
Evening Shadows, 3936 Old Spanish Trail, is a true blues club. The opening act is usually a local band, with a touring band headlining on weekends. At the end of a neglected strip center, but the music was the best we found.
Mingo's, 2451 N. MacGregor, is surrounded by an affluent neighborhood and attracts a mixture of young and old, black and white.
The Orange Show Foundation, the tour sponsors, has documented, preserved, and supported hundreds of art projects. The Foundation sponsors other tours and educational programs as well as a health theme park built by a retired postman. On Dec. 3, the Orange Show presents the annual Seniors Variety Show to mark the end of the season (the park opens again in mid-March). For information on Eyeopener Tours or the Orange Show, call 713/926-6368.
Santa Land, Llano, Nov. 24-Dec. 3, 915/247-5354.
Courthouse Display, Johnson City, Nov. 25-Jan. 1. 210/868-7684.
Wonderland of Lights, Marshall, Nov. 22-Dec. 30. 903/935-7868.
River Walk Parade, San Antonio, Nov. 24-Dec. 31. 210/227-4262.
The eagles have landed at Lake Buchanan. The American bald eagle winters at the lake November to March. As if on cue, the first eagle was spotted by Vanishing Texas River Cruises on October 30. 512/756-6986. n