FOR OVER A DECADE, JASON 'FLASH GORDON PARKS' WOODS has cultivated evidence of Houston’s presence in nearly every popular music genre.
Growing up in the 1980s in South Houston, Woods came of age during the years hip-hop was becoming more accessible. He attended John E. Codwell Elementary School, a place he considers “an oasis in the middle of the hood,” and one that exposed him to a myriad of cultures and artistic expressions. A local park in his neighborhood separated him from a world of violence as the crack epidemic ravaged Black and brown communities across the nation. Woods’ earliest memories of music are derived from his parents, who kept a collection of records at home and cassettes in tow to occupy him during family road trips. “All these things gave me a great sensibility and helped me develop my ear and my taste at a young age,” Woods tells Houstonia.
Woods was trained in photography during high school by artist and educator Ray Carrington and went on to earn his Bachelor's Degree in Photography at Sam Houston State University in 2001. In collaboration with Eric Blaylock of local rap group H.I.S.D, Woods went on to publish The Beautiful Side of Ugly—a book that commemorated a photo-poetry series on the beauty of Houston’s urban areas.
Woods’ stage name, ‘Flash Gordan Parks’ is a triple entendre: inspired by the late photographer, Gordon Parks, 1930s comic Flash Gordon and American DJ Grandmaster Flash. “My friends gave me the name Flash Gordon Parks because I always had my camera and was just starting to DJ. This was right on the cusp of those worlds merging. I felt honored and I ran with it,” he explains.
After attempting a life in corporate America, Woods realized that he possessed knowledge and skills that could galvanize a wider appreciation for Houston’s music history. Since 2009, the ethnomusicologist has been dedicated to bridging connections between different genres and time periods. “Houston has always been an incubator for gospel, blues, jazz, funk, soul, country and hip-hop and it was a big factor in the way records were even being sold.” The legacy of the Great Migration (the movement of African-American people between 1916 and 1970) is a key factor for Woods’ research. During this period, Houston emerged as a destination for intra-southern migrants because of its booming oil, gas and medical industries. As a result, the city’s music scene was somewhat outshined by places like Detroit, Nashville and Austin because it didn’t need to rely on the arts to further its economy.
Through collecting books, posters, ephemera and vinyl records, Woods has uncovered history that was big in its era, like Houston-based label Peacock Records, which was founded in 1949 and is considered “the Bad Boy Records of its time.” He even discovered that although zydeco is known for its Creole origins, the blues-infused style was created in Houston’s Fifth Ward by Clifton Chenier, a Louisiana migrant who came to Houston in 1947. Thirty years later, the same community gave birth to Houston’s Rap-A-Lot Records. “It’s important to find out this information and connect these dots, then make it make sense to a kid who has never heard any of this and show the connections to the artists of their time.”
The cross-generational links don’t end with zydeco. Woods makes parallels between rap duo UGK and blues music, he names Bushwick Bill’s presence on Dr. Dre’s The Chronic (1992) and even cites Houston-born DJ Premier (who is considered the lifeblood of New York hip-hop) as examples of the city’s impact on hip-hop history. While the South was largely ignored during hip-hop’s golden age, Woods emphasizes that “the sounds of all of the rappers that are considered the greatest can be traced back to a Houston, Texas native.”
In 2015, Woods released a documentary This Thing We Do (Houston DJ Culture Revealed) that explored the world of DJing in the Bayou City, from its historical underpinnings to its contemporary flair. Four years later, he went on to direct an homage to soul icon Archie Bell. Today, he curates the vinyl shop for Mo’ Better Brews in the Museum District, maintains a number of DJ residencies and continues to lecture at institutions throughout the city. “I’ve been so fortunate to come up in a city like Houston because it’s less respected in terms of creative opportunities. It’s not oversaturated like New York and other places. But there are so many avenues for musical expression here.”
As Houston continues to expand its reputation as a Southern metropolis and welcomes post-pandemic transplants from all over the globe, Woods urges the importance of local appreciation. “The main thing that I want Houstonians to know is that Houston has always had it. We’ve always been at the forefront of music culture. There’s nothing that people can celebrate musically that Houston hasn’t touched or influenced. I think it would create a sense of pride locally if we were all informed about who’s from here, went to school here, spent time here and soaked up what they needed and took it to new places. There’s evidence of all these things and it’s been here the whole time.”