Ssssssssssteam Heat

Memories of Soap Creek Saloon

Ssssssssssteam Heat

The news that Fable Records is reissuing Steam Heat’s 30-year-old album, Austin Funk, on CD brought a wicked smile to my face. Ah, yes. What goes around comes percolating back around.

The first image in mind is Phil Ritcherson and Bruce Spelman on the stage Wednesdays at Soap Creek during 1975 and thereabouts, both tall and charismatic and handsome, singing in tandem and using each other to take off on Gil Scott-Heron’s “Lady Day,” or rubbing Little Feat’s “Skin It Back” with raw Texas funk. And what a fine band Steam Heat was, propelled by fine jazz players including Neal Pederson, Mike Barnes, and Kenney Johnson. (In those pre-journalism days, I went to Steam Heat because I had a mad crush on Kenney that was mildly revived from afar when he starred on The Chris Isaak Show on Showtime.)

Yet I use the word “image” for a reason: Steam Heat was a band in sync with its fans. The band was part of Mike Mordecai’s Fable Records, a label that understood the importance of being connected to its artists’ fanbase. It helped that they were local, of course, and focused immediately on keeping the bands working through Mordecai’s booking agency, but the label’s use of local artists on their posters and albums covers gave them a friendly, accessible image.

Jim Franklin, Micael Priest, and Ken Featherston were among the artists favored in those resolutely 70s days. Featherston’s delicate and trippy style decorated Starcrost’s debut and Franklin might re-imagine 47 Times Its Own Weight but it was Priest’s cover for Austin Funk that nailed Steam Heat’s image with typical Austin quirk and bringing to mind Harvey Wallbangers, platform shoes, and flirty Nyestra dresses. Without ever hearing a track, you know what it sounds like because of the cover art.

Steam Heat, Starcrost, 47 Times Its Own Weight, and Beto & the Fairlanes will likely forgo the platforms Thursday night at Threadgill’s, when they all reunite for “A Mighty Blow,” a celebration of the Austin Funk release in honor of late compadres Mambo John Treanor and Bill Ginn. Starcrost and 47 Times will split the first set, Steam Heat pipes up for the second set, and expect a grand finale jam at the end of Beto’s set.

While poking through the Fable site, I found vinyl for sale, including a single from Gypsee Eyes. But that’s a story for another column.

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More Steam Heat
Austin Funk
Austin Funk
Steam Heat fogs it up again

Thomas Fawcett, Aug. 19, 2008

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