Little children baby
They were screaming and crying
Just trying to find their families
Trying to find their happy home
Houston Flooding from Hurricane Ike, September 13, 2008
The first lyric in “Flood in Houston” by British blues-rockers Savoy Brown (originally called the Savoy Brown Blues Band) goes, “Did you hear about the flood in Houston? It happened a long, long time ago.” Fortunately, I don’t get my news from the quasi-historical lyrics of ‘60s blues songs, or I would have been highly misinformed. I like watching YouTube videos of songs – as many people do – and so, when I typed in “Flood in Houston,” expecting to see some Savoy Brown, you can imagine my surprise as I got a list of videos of waterlogged Texas roads with half-submerged houses and cars floating down the water-deluged pavement. This footage came from Houston in 2012, where flash flooding led to evacuations. But a little research yielded evidence of repeated floods in the Houston area, an official record of which goes back to 1837. In fact, the year that the song “Flood in Houston” was released – 1968 – was a particularly bad year, with three floods on record in three consecutive months. In June of that year there were 10 straight days of non-stop rain, and the following month Buffalo Bayou broke its banks.
Flood waters in Houston c January 1994
(thanks, Renji Shino)
“Flood in Houston” is a straight blues number released in 1968 on Savoy Brown’s second studio album Getting to the Point
. This album shows the band developing their original songwriting skills with a strong hint of Muddy Waters (their first album track list consisted almost entirely of covers). Songs like “Flood in Houston” show the band somewhat stereotypically attempting to connect with the history and preoccupations of their mostly American audience; they were not overly popular in the UK, but had a large following in the US, where they regularly toured.
Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown are still touring in 2013, so when they sing this track at contemporary concerts, the song is rejuvenated and given relevance by Tropical Storm Alison, by far the worst flood ever to hit Houston. In 2001, Alison dropped 61cm of rain in a single day, and torrential rain continued for another week. This natural disaster killed over 30 people, cost the government $2 billion and covered the downtown interstate with 10 feet of water. Six thousand homes were flooded along Brays Bayou, which raises the question: what did people expect was going to happen when they built their homes along a major watershed in a rampantly flood-prone area?
Tropical Storm Alison floodwaters at Buffalo Bayou and White Oak Bayou
confluence and Main Street, June 9, 2001
Of course, Savoy Brown knew what to expect… “There was thousands of people, baby. They didn’t have no place to go.” The Houston area is particularly susceptible to flooding because of the flat wetlands and paved-over coastal prairie which fills with water so easily. Although a system of bayous and drainage ditches were designed to combat this, the problem still remains that Houston will only become more and more susceptible to flooding as the urban sprawl develops.
However, the people of Houston cannot claim ignorance any longer. It’s not as if Savoy Brown wasn’t actively vocal at warning people 33 years before that this was going to happen! Which proves that we should all pay more attention to the lyrics of rock songs. Our lives could depend upon it.
~ Douglas MacCutcheon
(Thanks to Dappled for the Songplace suggestion.)