Lower Broadway could be considered the “museum corridor” of San Antonio. You start with the San Antonio Museum of Art, head north to the soon-to-be-built Children’s Museum, cross the street and up a little farther to the Witte Museum, then fork off at the Austin Highway to reach the McNay Art Museum. But, wait. There’s more.
As you travel this route, do you know that you went right by the South Texas Popular Culture Center (STPCC), a museum established that opened its doors last year as a showcase for the rich history of music and musicians of San Antonio?
Origins of the Museum
Michael Ann Coker came up with the idea for the museum after visiting with Margaret Moser of the South Austin Popular Culture Center. Coker grew up in San Antonio and went to many of the dances at the Teen Canteen, where ZZ Top got its start as the Moving Sidewalks. She wanted to find a way to educate San Antonio musicians and locals about the city’s rich musical history, and she wanted a venue that would serve as a gathering point for people who had been in the scene a long time ago.
Once Coker left her career at USAA, she knew it was time to go to work on establishing a new pop culture museum.
“I have always enjoyed music and visual arts, so I really like working on these exhibits,” Coker said during a recent visit to the museum.
STPCC board member Sarah Gould believes that the music history from South Texas is one worth celebrating.
“Depending on how much of a music geek you are, you may or may not know much about San Antonio’s rich music history. I am a little biased, but I argue that San Antonio’s, and by extension South Texas’ contribution to Texas music is far greater than that of Texas’ other music city,” said Gould, who is the lead curatorial researcher at the Institute of Texan Cultures. “The crossroads of I-35 and I-10 have been fertile ground for music since at least the 1930s. The movement of musicians touring east-west and north-south, all stopping in San Antonio, has meant opportunities for the mixing of new and old sounds.”
Thanks to a charitable foundation organized through Planet K, the neighboring novelty gift and head shop, the STPCC was able to make the adjacent building the Center’s home.
In May 2012, the museum opened with an exhibit highlighting the life, influences and music of Doug Sahm. Best known as the front man to San Antonio’s own Sir Douglas Quintet, Sahm was also a member of the super-group Texas Tornados.
Since then, the STPCC has organized several other exhibitions, including altars of past musicians and clubs for Día de Los Muertos, as well as a 35th anniversary commemoration of when the Sex Pistols played at Randy’s Rodeo on their first and only U.S. tour.
The current exhibition is called Chicano Soul, based on the book of the same title by Ruben Molina. It closes this Saturday, July 20th. Fans of Selena, the singer and the movie, recall that her father was a member of the Chicano Soul group, Los Dinos. During the ’50s and early ’60s, doo-wop, R&B and early rock ‘n roll was sweeping the country, transcending racial barriers.
“Even though Chicano Soul was happening mainly with the Mexican-American groups in California, it is a little bit different here in Texas,” Coker said. “It was a little more influenced by sounds from Louisiana. We got the German and Czech influence of the polkas you can pick up in some of the songs. Also, there was much more blending here (in South Texas) of blacks, Hispanics and whites in the band member makeup.”
There were definitely some influences from south of the border that worked their way into South Texas groups singing soul music popular at the time. “One thing is the Trio Romantico. It was usually three guys who would sing in harmony, very romantic songs; the Mexican-Americans brought that harmony and that sound here to this music they were doing in the ’50s and ’60s,” Coker said. She also noted that the organ was an instrument that found its way into this Chicano Soul sound.
Some of the Chicano groups that began to form in the area included Rudy T and the Reno Bops, Royal Jesters and Dell Kings. One of the groups that went on to the most fame nationally was Sunny & the Sunliners, which charted with the hit, “Talk to Me, Talk to Me.”
“Sunny was on Dick Clark’s Bandstand and was the first Hispanic to be on Bandstand when it was a syndicated national show,” Coker said.
[If audio player does not appear below, please refresh your browser to hear Sunny’s song, “Talk to Me, Talk to Me.”]
Saturday’s closing of the exhibit will provide an opportunity for the public to hear panelists discuss the Chicano Soul movement from 2-4 p.m. that will be moderated by Gould, who says it will be an opportunity for visitors to learn more about one of the greatest musical genres happening in the ’60s.
“When we think of Texas music we have to acknowledge cultural and sonic confluence. For Mexican Americans in 1950s South Texas, the sounds of soul, jazz, blues—so called ‘race music’—blended with rock ‘n roll, Latin jazz, Mexican orquestra, ranchera, norteño, and conjunto, to create a new sound, what we eventually would call Chicano Soul,” Gould said. “Here in San Antonio it was often called the West Side Sound because the Westside is San Antonio’s oldest Mexican-American community. This is where so many of the Chicano Soul bands emerged, especially young kids from Burbank and Lanier High Schools.”
A Look At Augie Meyers
The next exhibit opening on Friday, August 2 at 7:00 pm will chronicle the musical career of Augie Meyers. The organist is well-known for collaborating with Sahm in both the Sir Douglas Quintet and Texas Tornados, and for his play on some of Bob Dylan’s more recent releases.
“He’s one of the artists that I think represents the San Antonio sound so well,” Coker believes.
Meyers, who lives in Bulverde, will be in attendance at the event that is expected to draw more than 100 participants. While the exhibit will focus on Meyers’ time with Sahm, and a nod to the time he let the Dave Clark Five borrow his English Vox organ when theirs was damaged, Coker looks to bring out some lesser known facts about the musician.
“He’s worked with so many people and so many people wanted to tour with him or add his sound to the studio for certain songs,” Coker said. “My goal is to try to do what people would expect … but we also like to do some fun things that maybe people don’t know about him.”
Visiting the Museum
Visitors to the museum are welcome to stop by from 12-4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at 1017 E. Mulberry St. In addition to these limited hours, Coker tries to accommodate performing musicians and out-of-towners by opening up by appointment. Interested museum-goers outside the normal visiting hours can contact her at 210-792-1312 to schedule a visit. If you have any vintage San Antonio concert posters or a piece of local music history, the STPCC is always looking for donations or to display items on loan.
“There’s no place to go to hear this history,” Coker said. “I want the young musicians to understand that they don’t have to be embarrassed to be from San Antonio. We have this rich musical, cultural history that we can be proud of.”
Garrett Heath blogs for Rackspace and is the Average Joe that started SAFlavor. He loves San Antonio, especially eating at mom and pop Mexican food restaurants. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Google+.