Commentary: The Judy's | KERA News

Commentary: The Judy's

Dallas, TX –

The loudest buzz at the annual South by Southwest music conference in Austin is usually reserved for the newest acts. But last month, amidst the blog-ignited hoopla over Vampire Weekend, the Ting Tings and MGMT, the reunion of a short-lived Pearland, Texas new wave trio called the Judy's generated equally giddy anticipation.

In the early 80s, while Austin's Big Boys helped usher in the hardcore punk movement, the all-male Judy's blended pop melodies with punk energy, the minimalistic quirkiness of the B-52's with the conceptual cleverness of Devo. The band has finally issued CDs of its 1981 debut LP, Washarama, and the 1985 follow-up, Moo, prompting a rabid rediscovery of such bouncy favorites as "Grass is Greener", "All the Pretty Girls" and the Jonestown-inspired "Guyana Punch", which eclipsed "Psycho Killer" by Talking Heads as the era's most bizarrely catchy song about a mass murder.

During their reunion at South by Southwest's Austin Music Awards, singer David Bean, bassist Jeff Walton and drummer Dane Cessac showed they have lost nothing except hair since their beginnings as the clean-cut suburban Houston teenagers who got to open for the B-52's and once headlined a 1981 bill at Austin's Club Foot that featured a then-unknown R.E.M. Their set was fast-paced and well-planned: Each song was delivered with a subtle shift in either instrumentation or visuals - from the pots-and-pans percussion of "Right Down the Line" to the beer-flinging antics during "Guyana Punch". It may have looked kitschy 30 years ago, but now it comes across as playful performance art.

Between writing ironic pop songs about Jacques Cousteau, Gary Gilmore and David Berkowitz, the Judy's tackled such timeless subjects as unobtainable girls, fuzzy TV reception, and hallway ostracism. They adopted the hallmarks of new wave - jackhammer guitar riffs, yelping vocals and one-finger Casio solos - as accents, not foundations. Their trademark was to turn down the guitars and let Bean's yearning tenor glide over a simple but seductive melody sketched by Walton's bass, making regional hits like "Her Wave" and "All the Pretty Girls" as irresistible today as they were when trailblazing Dallas DJ George Gimarc introduced them on his "Rock 'n' Roll Alternative" radio show.

The Judy's never capitalized on their regional success: Maybe it was because they couldn't keep the momentum going, breaking up and reuniting twice between Washarama and Moo. Maybe it was because major labels were looking to trendy London instead of Houston for the Next Big Thing. Or maybe it was because they knew they had already achieved something that mattered more than stardom: respect.

Rock icons like The Beatles, The Who and Led Zeppelin may have been worshipped with star-struck mass hysteria. But early- 80s bands like The Judy's - and every great new-wave scene in America had a band like The Judy's - were admired because they made playing onstage look cool and attainable by anyone who could master two chords for two minutes. Fans bought their records, but many also formed their own bands.

It's a bond built on affirmation more than adoration, and you can trace The Judy's' legacy almost 30 years later in new acts like Lovie, an all-woman Dallas quartet whose debut CD sports a faithful cover of "All the Pretty Girls". Lovie's Myspace page lists their day jobs as nano-technology PR, pharmaceutical sales, animal rights activism and stay-at-home motherhood. What they learned from the Judy's is that sometimes making a career out of rock 'n' roll isn't nearly as important as just making an impact.

David Okamoto is a content production manager for Yahoo! in Dallas and a former contributor to Rolling Stone, ICE magazine and the Dallas Morning News. To find out more about the Judy's, visit their official website at

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