One of the last true journalists and critics of American roots music has passed away. John Conquest, publisher and editor of the influential and long-running 3rd Coast Music, died on Friday, September 30th.
In an era when music coverage has become nothing but an endless parade of plaudits by corporate-owned entities looking to drive traffic to their websites, John Conquest was a hard-nosed, honest, dogged, pugnacious, and ruthless critic that would tell it like it is, positive or negative, without holding back. Curmudgeoney and prone to run on sentences, stream of consciousness writing, and sometimes personal feuds, Conquest would fill up the pages of 3rd Coast Music with insightful and entertaining commentary, not to say anything about the independent and underground country and roots bands he regularly championed in print. John would talk about the artists without labels or publicists—the artists that everyone else ignored, but that deserved a bigger spotlight.
Originally called Music City Texas, 3rd Coast Music never acquiesced to the internet model of publishing, even in the face of the obvious change in the music coverage medium. First published in print, 3rd Coast music could be found on stands around Austin where Conquest and 3rd Coast were based, though bootleg and shared copies could be found far and wide back in the day. Though it had a mostly Austin-centric perspective, Conquest was always mindful of the bigger trends in music, culture, and publishing. He purposely kept it small, local, and off the internet to fly in the face of what music coverage had become in the modern age.
When 3rd Coast Music went out of print, Conquest resorted to PDF copies sent to his thousands of readers via subscription. Indie labels and artists regularly advertised on 3rd Coast, knowing this is where the most dedicated and hardline listeners resided.
Along with the 3rd Coast periodical, John Conquest operated the FAR Chart, or Freeform American Roots chart. It reported the spins of smaller radio stations that just like Conquest, supported independent and underground country and roots artists.
Conquest was also known for throwing his NotSXSW artists showcases during Austin’s annual music conference nightmare. Before it was hip to, Conquest raged against the corporate growth of SXSW, and put action behind his words by showcasing many of the artists who could not get into the event proper, or didn’t want to participate on principle.
Originally from London, Conquest had recently moved to Spring, TX just north of Houston. His September newsletter was prefaced with complaints about health ailments.
“Apologies for the tardiness. Without doing too much pissing and moaning, the last couple of months have been the hardest of my life, and now that I’ve finally got on top of horrendous drug side effects and pain management (some days I was a fucking vegetable), I’m weak as a kitten and find it hard to focus,” Conquest said. His crotchety nature always was part of his appeal, but Conquest had clearly taken a turn for the worse.
John Conquest and 3rd Coast Music were part of what made the Austin music scene so unique and interesting. Nowhere else would such a periodical be allowed to thrive. And now, like much of the musical journalism that is actually worth reading, and much of the vibrant scene that made Austin the Live Music Capital of the World, it is gone, and so is its colorful skipper.
John Conquest was 73-years-old.