SXSW Day 3: Kashmere ThunderSoul Reunion Band at @PalmDoorAtx

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I really can’t even first recall when or how I first heard about the Kashmere Stage Band from Kashmere High School in the Kashmere Gardens neighborhood of Houston, Texas, but I expect it grew out of my interest in Skipper Lee Frazier’s Ovide Records label, and the superb Texas Funk compilation that Jazzman Records released. Soon enough, I learned the story- that these young African-American kids from a rough neighborhood in Houston’s Fifth Ward were molded by Conrad Johnson into the best high-school jazz band in America, not once, but over and over again from the late 1960’s through the mid-1970’s. They released 45-RPM singles, and a handful of albums which are now all priceless collector’s items, and I once got to meet the man himself, who welcomed me into his home and answered my questions about the band while I was on a trip to Houston. Mr. Johnson passed not long after I met him, but further honors and new recognition for the Kashmere Stage Band and its accomplishments were everywhere following the release of the Texas Thunder Soul compact disc on Now Again Records, and the Thunder Soul documentary, which had been unveiled at South By Southwest a few years back. One of the outcomes of all the recent recognition was a reunion of former members, which in turn led to a reunion band called the Kashmere ThunderSoul Orchestra, and when I saw that this band was scheduled to play at 10 PM Wednesday night at the Palm Door, I decided I had to be there, no matter how far the walk.
The band had already begun their performance before I got there, but they were only in their first song. The years have diminished none of the funk or soulfulness from these great musicians, and their talent, showmanship and good spirits were available for everyone to see. I was especially impressed with the youngest member, the drummer, who was incredibly funky, and although the band played some medleys of Earth Wind & Fire and other cover tunes, their originals such as “Kash Register” were the most exciting by far. At the end of their long set, the crowd cheered for nearly a full five minutes, a tribute to the lasting legacy of a man named Conrad Johnson who believed in the potential of inner-city youth rather than the obstacles they faced.


Thursday night, the Brooks Museum of Art sponsored a showing of the remarkable documentary Thunder Soul, the amazing history of the Kashmere Stage Band from Kashmere High School in the Fifth Ward of Houston, TX. From 1968-1977 this band was the best high school jazz band in America. Those of us who watched the film got an unexpected benefit, as pianist Craig Baldwin and another member of the band were in Memphis and took questions from the audience after the movie. 7/12/12