Leon casino, Christian Kidd. Photo: Alexis Kidd
It’s never lost on me that having an older brother, a father, and a mother who all enriched my love of music through their own, was a vital key in shaping who I am. While my father handed me my first blues album with Trouble In Mind by Mance Lipscomb, my older brother put Bad Brains’ self titled debut in my hands, and my mother passed on her love for artists like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. However, my mother also handed down to me a rich hometown pride. No matter what show I was going to, she always reminded me that I was a native Houstonian and that I shouldn’t forget the locals who opened those shows. It was that hometown pride that made me seek out local music to listen to and champion on the regular. I don’t really look back much anymore, though with age I think we all look to what came before us to see where we’re heading. In the late seventies when The Hates were formed, Houston was a swampy wasteland of terrible cover bands and honky tonk wannabes that so blanketed our city that we had become known for it. If you ever wondered why touring act rarely came her for so long, that’s a large reason for it. But, as all pioneers do, The Hates were among the first Houston bands to make their own scene and bring bands to town that otherwise would have skipped over our Southern city without regret. Growing up here, there were always bands that were full of jerks that wouldn’t give a local teen the time of day. However, Christian Kidd of The Hates wasn’t one of them. One of the kindest people to walk the streets of Houston, Kidd has been playing in The Hates for most of our lives, while making spots like the Pik N Pak, The Axiom, and even Rudyard’s famous over the years. Kidd is one of the largest reasons Houston has a music scene today, and one of the greatest examples of how the past can dictate where the future goes. Free Press Houston was more than happy to take some time to talk to Kidd while he looked back on all he’s done, what his future looks like, and how to take on his biggest challenge to date with the grace and intensity that he’s utilized in making this city’s music scene relevant today.
Free Press Houston: Are you originally from Houston, and what side of town did you grow up on?
Christian Kidd: I was actually born in Panama. My father was in the Army, so we went back and forth between Panama, New York, and Seattle until my parents divorced and my mother moved to Houston in 1968. We lived in Northeast Houston, kind of in the Lake Houston area, and I graduated from M. B. Smiley High School in ‘73.
FPH: Houston has changed a lot since the late seventies. Were there any local bands you were really into that we might not have heard of?
Kidd: When I first started going out into the world on my own, disco was in full swing and most of the bands out there pretty much country/western bands or cover bands.
FPH: Before Zyklon B, were you in any other bands? Besides the previous incarnations of the band, Guyana Boys Choir & Christian Oppression? What drew you to punk rock?
Kidd: I actually played in a funk group with a guy named Castle T. The band didn’t even have a name, and it didn’t last long. In fact, when I met up with him to break up, so to speak, it turned out someone else was listening in to our conversation. Nathan Faulk, who would go on to be a founding member of D.R.U.M., wanted to introduce me to a friend of his who might be a good musical match for me. That friend turned out to be Robert Kainer, who would lend the contrasts of his classical training and his fondness for the avant-garde to the kind of music I wanted to make.
I’ve always been a fan of all kinds of music, and I’d swarm the import sections of every record store I could get to for prog rock or other weird stuff. I would just devour the music, as well as British magazines like Melody Maker, because they’d write about all of the bands that I liked. Before long, it was punk that was filling those import bins, and I couldn’t get enough of the energy and raw power contained in those little circles of vinyl. I’d buy everything I could get my hands on and it wasn’t long before I knew that I wanted it for myself. It was all so different from my everyday life — the anger, the noisy guitars, the brevity of the songs, and I loved it. When I first started playing punk, it was all just hubris. Honestly, I had nothing to rage against. It was just fun. But eventually I found a voice in it, and I’ve never really wanted to stop.
The Hates, early lineup (Christian, far left). Photo: Christian Kidd
FPH: You guys became The Hates in 1979 at the Rock Against Racism show at University of Houston. Did you think you’d still be playing together almost 40 years later?
Kidd: No. No way. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — punk rock was not supposed to grow up. Get old. It was supposed to be a young person’s game. How I’m still around slinging a guitar and singing “Armageddon” and “Dirty Politics” almost 40 years down the road, I have no idea. At all. But I’m grateful for it. I’m thankful that people still want to hear what I’ve got to say, because really, this is my life’s work.
FPH: The Hates are the longest running unsigned punk band in Houston, were there ever offers to sign onto labels or have you always wanted to keep things DIY? Was there ever a plan to record any of the rockabilly material from that era of the band?
Kidd: In ‘79, a London label called Cherry Red sent someone to Houston to talk with me about putting out my early material on an album they’d call No Talk in the 80’s. Eventually they opted to put out The Dead Kennedys instead. I don’t dwell too much on that missed opportunity, because at least by having my own label I ended up in complete control of my own music. Sure, having my own label sometimes meant literally putting 45s in their freshly printed sleeves and sending promo copies all over the country; but that was part of the fun.
As to the rockabilly material, we actually did record some of it during the 30 Years of Hate sessions at Sugar Hill. It just has not been released.
Christian Kidd with his book at Barnes & Noble. Photo: Alexis Kidd
FPH: Your book, Just a Houston Punk, which you wrote with your wife Alexis, really brings back a lot of memories of the old punk scene. How underground it all was, the shows at spots like Pik-n-Pak, The Vatican, The Abyss, The Axiom. Do you ever miss that underground punk scene that used to thrive here back in the day? What’s your favorite memory from the old days of the Houston punk scene?
Kidd: I do miss some things about the early days — the coolest thing to me was that the idea of what punk rock is supposed to be hadn’t been formed yet, so fledgling punk bands could be more arty or avant-garde. There was a lot of experimenting musically, and it created some incredible music. We all fed off of each other’s creativity and influence and really supported one another — it was an almost magical time. One of my favorite shows from the first era of Houston punk was New Year’s 1979 at The Island — The Hates with Really Red and Legionaires Disease. It was a crazy night, and we went on at midnight. What a great way to bring in the new year!
FPH: Going off of what I know, The Hates have released six 7” records, four full length albums if you count the 30 Years of Hate album, and multiple appearances on compilations. You’ve really embraced the digital side of the record industry, yet those 7” records aren’t available to stream. Has there been any effort to get them posted? Have you ever considered having any of the releases repressed or talked to a label about reissuing them?
Kidd: Just a couple of years ago, Rave Up Records out of Italy released No Talk in the 80’s, which is made up of the first 3 EPs and Panacea. Unfortunately, it’s currently out of print. Also, the first 3 EP’s are available on CD Baby, I just have to get around to getting them on Spotify. The biggest hindrance to getting the entire back catalogue of Hates music to the digital world is that the master tapes are not in the best shape. I’ve even tried to get one of them baked in order to salvage anything that might be left on them. But it’s something that I do want to accomplish, eventually.
Christian Kidd. Photo: Alexis Kidd
FPH: You worked at city hall for quite some time. How long did you work there and was there ever a time when you got crap for the liberty spikes?
Kidd: I worked for the City for 23 years, and I enjoyed it very much. But sure, there was a time that I got a talking to by the Employee Relations manager. In fact, one of the secretaries called a friend who worked at the Houston Post and they did an article on it. Also, in 1990 when Houston was the host of the G7 Summit, they asked all of the City employees to go out and line the streets with tiny US and British flags like we were watching a parade. They wanted to be sure that Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of England, got a warm welcome as she drove by. I was actually pulled out by a Secret Service guy for looking suspicious, despite my City uniform. I got to keep the flags, though, so that was good.
FPH: How long have you worked at Fuller’s and how did working there come about?
Kidd: I’ve been lucky enough to work there almost 4 years. Gary Burgess called me up and encouraged me to apply. It was just that simple. Funny thing is, working around guitars every day isn’t the same as working at an ice cream shop and eventually getting sick of ice cream. I’ve got a real love affair going on with guitars, and being around them all of the time is pretty intoxicating. And for someone who’s been playing guitar for as many years as I have, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to have learned a lot more about the instrument since I’ve been there.
Alexis & Christian Kidd. Photo: Alexis Kidd
FPH: You and your wife Alexis seem to really be a loving and doting couple. What’s the secret to your happiness?
Kidd: She doesn’t believe me when I say this, but I had a thing for her right from the start. It was her smile, you know? Anyway, back to your question. There’s not really just any one thing that makes us work. One of the things that’s best about us is that we’re individuals as well as a couple. We have shared interests, like music, scootering, rescue animals, and reading. But we have things that we enjoy on our own, and I think that having separate passions makes us more interesting. Aside from that, she supports just about everything I ever want to do, and kicks my butt when I need it. I write her poems and remind her to take care of herself because she works too hard. And in the rare instances when we get under one another’s skin, as people do from time to time, we never yell at each other — in fact, we usually air our grievances and then tell each other that we love one another anyway. Oh, and did I mention that she’s my best friend?
FPH: You had to have surgery on your arm and they discovered something else — stage three throat and mouth cancer. You’re currently beginning the early stages of chemotherapy, do they know how someone who doesn’t smoke can get a form of cancer like this?
Kidd: Squamous Cell Carcinoma. It’s on the base of my tongue and has spread to a lymph node in my neck. Even though it’s uncommon for a non-smoker to get this kind of cancer in the mouth or throat, my doctors say it’s on the rise due to HPV. The two good things about HPV-related cancers is that they’re more treatable if caught early, and if the next generation of kids get the vaccine before they’re sexually active, they could possibly eliminate these cancers as a threat to their health.
FPH: As a guy who has seen a lot in Houston, and especially in the Houston music scene, is there anything you’ve learned that you’d like musicians in town to know from your years of experience?
Kidd: Always be cool to the sound guy. Be supportive of your fellow musicians. Take the time to talk with your fans, or else they won’t stay your fans. And if you never make it to the big time, or never even make it out of Texas, it’s okay. As long as you’re doing what you love, the big time doesn’t matter.
I, as a fan of music, and of this city’s music culture, can never begin to thank Kidd for his time and his contribution in putting Houston on the map as far as any form of scene is concerned. The methods in which we all book shows and release records can all be traced back to pioneers like him, and those he surrounded himself with when The Hates started their storied career. You can stream The Hates’ catalog here, or buy merch from them here.
Kidd will be on hand during the week of June 12 through June 18 for the first annual Houston Benefit Week, benefitting he and his wife while he battles cancer. Taking place at local venues throughout the city, the week begins on Monday, June 12 at Insomnia for a poster art show featuring the art of the week’s shows. Shows at Continental Club, Rudyard’s, Walter’s, The Secret Group, and Rockefeller’s will have sets from acts like Los Skarnales, Another Run, Trillblazers, Black Kite, and many more. The week will be including lineups from local acts that’ll never occur again, before ending June 18 at Big Star Bar with a headlining set from B L A C K I E. There’s more information available here for the week of shows where all of the proceeds will go to Kidd.