Houstonian Tales: John Baldwin
One of the coolest parts of my job comes from the people I have the chance to meet. These are people who range from artists and creators to promoters and performers and the like. I also meet people who could easily wear all of those hats and more and yet their biggest focus is trying to make everything fun and cool for those who they perform, promote, or service in their respective endeavors. One of those people is musician, promoter, booker, and record shop owner John Baldwin. I first met John when he was playing drums in Wild Moccasins and would run into him from time to time at Walters, where he’s the in-house booker and show promoter. Last year, he realized a dream in opening a record store at the front of Walters, called Deep End Records. When you find out that Baldwin comes from a family where his dad was an executive producer for shows like “The Flintstones,” his brother was a child actor, and his mom was a writer for shows like “Smurfs,” you realize that all the things he does for Houston aren’t abnormal or over achieving; they’re just commonplace in a family of overachievers. When FPH sat down with him to understand how he manages to also play in LACE and Rose Ette while doing so many other things at the same time, he insisted to be photographed donning a pink mask, which we feel emulates him perfectly. In a city where there are so many people who use music as a commodity, it’s cool that there are still people like John who see music as art and a vehicle for people to come together.
FPH: You’ve lived inside the loop for a long time, but you’re originally from Kingwood, correct?
John Baldwin: I grew up in Forest Cove, but I was originally born in Burbank, California. My family moved here when I was really young and I’ve lived in the city for about ten years.
FPH: You play drums in LACE, and before that you played drums in Wild Moccasins, but you were in a ton of punk bands prior to joining Moccasins, weren’t you? Do you think people would be shocked to find out that you’re more punk than pop?
Baldwin: I was in a number of bands before I joined Wild Moccasins. A lot of peers were surprised when I joined that band, only because they were used to seeing me play in less serious projects for so long. I was in a punk band called Teenage Kicks. Prior to that I played in Passengers, A Silhouette, a super silly noise-rock band called Vomitronicus and a handful of other obscure local groups, most of which were ignored or forgotten or both. I’ve always liked a wide variety of music, so people who’ve known me a long time aren’t shocked to discover my varied taste.
FPH: You worked at Cactus Music for a good while, but I’d guess that wasn’t where you had the idea to open your own shop, right?
Baldwin: I worked for Cactus for a number of years and had a positive experience there. I also worked at Domy for a while. As long as I’ve collected records, opening a record shop has always been the dream and long-term goal. After working at Walter’s for a while and communicating this idea to [Walters owner] Zack, I realized it was possible. Zack gave us an opportunity to build something and after teaming up with Chris Unclebach from Insomnia — formerly of Vinal Edge — we were able to do it. Chris was instrumental to it all happening and really pushed me to get off my ass and do something positive.
John Baldwin at Deep End Records. Photo: David Garrick
FPH: Your record store, co-owned by Chris, is the best use of space I’ve ever seen. Can you tell people about other record stores attached to venues that you were inspired by to put this shop together?
BALDWIN: The Beachland in Cleveland has a record store and a vintage clothing boutique in the basement, that’s really cool. The Cake Shop also has a store and so does Gasa Gasa in New Orleans, and all three came to mind when we started to work on what would become our store. On tour, I’d see these and other spots and I just liked the idea of a record store attached to a venue. We want to make people’s show experiences as positive as possible and the store is definitely a part of that.
FPH: The store has a pretty killer mix of bigger name releases alongside indie records and cassettes and DIY releases, zines, and rarities like the “Rad Dudes” cards. Was that what you had in mind from the start?
Baldwin: Yeah, we wanted the store to be mainly used records, which it is. It’s easy to romanticize the good old days of cheap used records, before the “vinyl is back” thing or whatever, and we definitely think about this when pricing our stock and deciding what we want to carry at all. Our selection is a mix of Chris’ tastes and my tastes alongside what customers of Walter’s might want and I think it works for us. We sell a lot of records on consignment from private collections. This allows us to have a killer selection without breaking the bank. You can only buy our stuff at the shop, you can’t get any of it off of our website, which I hope gives people incentive to come in and actually support a local shop. In the future, we’re going to be carrying select new titles and even some re-issues. If you enjoy shopping at Deep End right now, you’re going to love it soon.
FPH: You’ve always booked shows, right? Can you tell people about shows you booked in your teens?
Baldwin: I started booking shows for my own bands when I was still in high school. After that, I was pretty involved with a DIY booking collective called Always Summer and we did shows all over town for a number of years including at The Proletariat, Notsuoh, both up and downstairs, Southmore House, The White Swan and of course, the old Walters on Washington. Heavily inspired by Hands Up Houston, we were bringing in a lot of truly independent artists, many of which didn’t have agents and we’d communicate directly with the bands. It was a lot of fun. We’d bring in Circle Takes the Square, Total Abuse, Hot Cross, Funeral Diner, This Will Destroy You, Maserati and countless other bands. Some of the bands seemed shocked to show up and realize we were just kids running their show. After the other collective members moved away from Houston I ended up working at The Mink and doing events there, as well as checking IDs and mopping up vomit. Looking back, The Mink was amazing. I saw so many shows in that tiny room.
FPH: As a promoter for a place like Walters, which to me is the closest Houston will get to a Max’s Kansas City, what’s your goal when you decide who you will and who you won’t book?
Baldwin: We want every band who plays here to have an equally great experience. Whether a band sells 40 tickets or 400 tickets, we want them to leave thinking “Wow, Houston was awesome!” This is the most important thing.
FPH: I’ve always loved how the club has been more about loving music than loving profits and that it seems like bringing in good bands is more important than anything else. Could you ever work for a big promoter or do you always see yourself as someone who would rather have a small selling show, but the band is killer?
Baldwin: Is it too much to ask for the band to be killer and for the show to sell out? Ultimately, I’d like the club to be a spot where people come regarding who’s playing. Like a hub, if you will, where people congregate, hang out, look at records or just chill and enjoy a great band they might not see anywhere else. As far as working for a big company or something, I don’t have an interest in that at this time. I just want to book good bands, connect with people and help my friends.
FPH: The way things feel at Walters today, with the bare bones staff, the fact that Terry Nunn is still here, the fact that it’s all ages and that the shows are fairly priced, do you think Pam [Robinson] would be proud of everything you guys have done?
Baldwin: I think Pam would be very proud of all the work we’ve done, but I especially think she’d be proud of all the work that her son, Zack, has done. We all miss her.
FPH: Is there anything you want people out there to know about you, the record store, or the club that they might not already be aware of?
Baldwin: Shows at Walter’s are always all ages, without exception. Also, Deep End wants to carry your zine, your demo, whatever. Come by and talk to us. We’re open Thursday through Sunday.