One need only witness a Reggie Houston performance to understand why his talent has been courted by legends like Fats Domino, Dr. John, The Neville Brothers, and Peter Gabriel.
Reggie's music can transport any listener to a 2am Bourbon Street revelry and in the very next song draw tears from the eyes of the most stoic. More than just a master vocalist and saxophone player, Reggie Houston is an entertainer of the highest order. He has the charm and charisma of a modern day Louis Armstrong mingled with the pure and irresistible joy of a child. And when Reggie Houston lays down the funk, he lays it down on black satin sheets and makes it blush!
The great great nephew of famous civil rights attorney, Charles Hamilton Houston, Reggie Houston was born in New Orleans in 1947, to Ralph Houston, a pianist and acoustic bassist, and Margarete, who was both an educator and social activist.
Although both parents discouraged him from pursuing a career in music,
Reggie's destiny was shaped by a childhood spent in one of the most exciting and prominent music scenes in the world, and by the age of 10 Reggie insisted on studying the saxophone. His first professional gig came at the age of 12 when he joined the Batiste family band, The Gladiators, one of the preeminent and pioneering bands of funk.
Reggie recalls, "When we started, I was so young that the only way I could go and play a gig with them was if Mr. Batiste [David Batiste Sr., the legendary keyboardist] could come and pick me up-- and then only because my mom knew Mr. & Mrs Batiste! So I played in that band from 10th grade all the way through high school and when I would come home from college for the holidays I'd make a gig with them."
Reggie attended both Southern University and Xavier University before joining the US Navy. But it wasn't until three years later, after returning from Vietnam, that any jazz program existed in any of the Black universities. While registering for Political Science graduate courses at LSU, Reggie learned from a friend that Alvin Batiste had just begun a jazz program at Southern University. "When I left Southern to go into the service you couldn't even practice a blues scale let alone a jazz scale or riff," says Reggie, "because if you were on scholarship you could lose your scholarship."
After confirming that Southern had indeed begun a jazz program, Reggie hopped in his car and one day later was studying with Alvin Batiste, or "Mr. Bat" as his students affectionately call him, in one of the country's first university jazz programs. (A few years ago Reggie again returned to Southern to reunite with the former students of that class and to be inducted into The Music Hall of Fame at Southern University where Alvin Batiste worked until his death in 2007.)
While Reggie was preparing for graduation from Southern, Alvin Batiste was being consulted about the organization of the first annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Reggie recalls, "Bat told Quint [Quint Davis who would become the main creative force behind the festival] that 'when I send some of my recent graduate students I want you to hire them to work on the festival.' because Bat wanted some of us to know about production... that there is more to the music industry than playing horns or teaching."
After his graduation in 1973, Reggie returned to New Orleans and was immediately put to work in the jazz tent at The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. "When I started working for the jazz fest in production, Quint put me with the other assistant stage manager at the time who was the executive producer of National Public Radio, Steve Rath... so I was put with a group of wonderful people and it was a great learning experience and each subsequent year I'd get more and more responsibility." Over the next 10 years Reggie became an integral part of the festival and one of the bands' favorite announcers. As a paid employee of the festival, Reggie wore many hats including stage manager and booking agent.
While working for the festival, Reggie continued to gig with artists like New Orleans' soul queen Irma Thomas(who is also the god mother to Reggie's youngest daughter).
In 1982 Reggie, along with fellow sax player Charles Neville, keyboardist Sam Henry, drummer Zigaboo Modeliste, Charmaine Neville, and Ramsey McLean, formed The Survivors. Other players with The Survivors included guitar virtuoso Steve Masakowski, drummer Ricky Sebastian, and Bobby McFerrin. And none other than a teen-aged Harry Connick Jr. had his very first road gig with The Survivors!
In 1983 Reggie got the call to play a gig with Fats Domino. "Getting a spot in Fats' band-- big ego trip! I mean cats all over the world would kill for that spot, and here I'm just gettin' it dropped in my lap. Really! I mean the lead horn player, the guy, musician-wise that Fats really trusted was my friend, Fred Kemp. So I go by Fred's house and we practiced the set and he'd teach me the parts-- I mean he was just givin me the whole show... he played me the records and after a couple of hours he said, 'now that's the gig, we just played the gig, you learn the songs you're in.'"
Reggie became a permanent member of Fats Domino's band for 22 years, and toured the world with them until 1988 when he took a three year hiatus from the band. During that hiatus, Dr. John, with whom Reggie occassionally gigged, offered Reggie the baritone sax chair in his band, but by that time Reggie, who had been playing sax with Charmaine Neville, had accepted her offer to lead her band, which he did until moving to Portland in 2004. Guided by Reggie's experience, and with no small contribution from world class pianist Amasa Miller, Charmaine finally received the recognition that her incomparible vocal mastery deserved. And The Charmaine Neville Band rose to prominence in New Orleans and throughout the world.
Though Reggie's roots are in New Orleans, his knowledge and appreciation of musical styles spans the globe. Armed with the knowledge that music truly is a universal language that transcends cultures, prejudice and national borders, Reggie has taken that message with him as he's traveled and toured for more than four decades as a performer, student and arts education advocate.
Much of Reggie's education in music came directly from the musicians he knew and worked with: Edward "Kidd"Jordan, Danny Barker, Percy and Willie Humphrey, Gloria Ward, Mahalia Jackson, Raful Neal, Big Bo Melvin, Bobby Powell, Lil' Johnny Taylor, Shelly Polk, Joe "Mr. Google Eyes" August, Lloyd Price, Leon Kellener, Al Belletto, Miss Etta James, Blue Lou Barker (Miss Barker), Miss Geraldine Washington, Carrie Mae Davis, Sammy Rimington, Porgy Jones, Reggie and Ronald Johnson, Richard Knox, Fred Kemp, Lee Allen, Quint Davis, Earl Turbinton, Nap Martin & Al, Emerson Bell, Irma Thomas, Amasa Miller, Kouns Memazma, Charmaine Neville, Smokey Johnson, Ervin Charles Jr.,Dr. Lee, Dr. Joseph Epps Sr., Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, Maria Muldaur, Peter Gabriel, Professor Longhair, Spider John Koerner, Cubanismo, Buffy Sainte-Marie, The Neville Family, Daniel Lanois, James "Bret" Carter, Louis Price Sr., Miss Nellie, Mamma Chanka, The Chatters family, Mr. Batů.to name a few.