R&B’s H-Town Heads to Hall of Fame
By Chris Becker
So what does “Knockin’ Da Boots” really mean? In 1993, those three words heralded the arrival of H-Town, a trio of supremely talented singers born and raised in Houston who named their group after the city they loved.
Handsome — and unable to keep their unbuttoned shirts from falling off their shoulders in performance — front man Keven “Dino” Conner, his twin brother Solomon “Shazam” Conner, and their friend Darryl “GI” Jackson stormed the R&B, Top 40 and Hot 100 charts. Their unapologetically sexy celebration of romantic lust was grounded in the slow jam artistry of such icons as Marvin Gaye and Luther Vandross, with a trunk-rattling beat that throbbed like hip-hop played at half speed. “Knockin’” became a classic, enjoying a longevity that stretched well beyond the ’90s. (On H-Town’s YouTube channel HTown4LifeTV, there are countless clips of such famous fans as Justin Timberlake singing the song’s irresistible hook.)
On June 23, H-Town will be inducted into the R&B Hall of Fame, along with such musical masters as Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Bootsy Collins. When they first heard the news, H-Town’s surviving members Shazam and G.I. felt both humble, and justifiably proud of what they’ve accomplished. “It gave us a sense of peace,” says Shazam, who grew up in a musical household, and along with Dino and G.I., played in the marching band while attending Jack Yates High. “If you’ve been in the business for 30 years, you’re just waiting for that time to be given credit for the work you have created and your contributions to the R&B world.”
After “Knocking’ Da Boots,” H-Town enjoyed more slow and sweaty hits, including a powerful cover of The Persuaders’ 1971 hit “Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” with guests gospel singer Shirley Murdock and talk-box maestro Roger Troutman. They also recorded tracks that explicitly decried domestic abuse and violence toward women, including “Julie Rain” from H-Town’s last album as a trio, 1997’s Ladies Edition, Woman’s World.
Then, in 2003, unimaginable tragedy struck: Dino and his girlfriend were killed by a hit-and-run driver who had run a red light. He was just 28 years old. Shazam and G.I. chose to honor Dino’s legacy by continuing to record and perform for audiences hungry for a style of “grown-up, sexy R&B” that very few modern-day artists are capable of delivering. And while H-Town’s dedicated fan base in the U.S. will sing along with every word of every song they perform, Europe is where Shazam and G.I. find themselves performing in stadiums to crowds that number in the thousands. “They love R&B over there,” says G.I. of H-Town’s overseas, ethnically mixed audiences. “They’re your fans for life.”
But both musicians still live in Houston. If there’s downtime to be found in between tour dates, G.I. will make the drive to Galveston to chill and enjoy the ocean, or visit Jack Yates High to touch base with his former teachers and speak to the students. And when it comes to Houston food, Shazam name-checks Downtown’s Turkey Leg Hut as the place for slow-smoked, drip-off-the-bone turkey legs, seasoned and flavored however you like. Meanwhile, there are more U.S. tour dates ahead for H-Town, and a goal to release new music before the year is up.
“You have to believe in yourself, no matter what,” says Shazam when asked what advice he shares with young musicians inspired by H-Town’s success and musical legacy. “Surround yourself with positive people that believe in your dreams and your talent and want to help you get there. As H-Town, we started so young, and put out albums before we became successful . . . but eventually, we got the success.”
“You’ve got to be in it for the music,” adds G.I. “It’s so up and down, like a roller coaster. If you’re in it for the money, you’re not really going to survive in this business. Your heart has to be in it 100 percent.”