Journalist John Nova Lomax died on Monday (May 22) in Houston, Texas at age 53.
For more than two decades, he chronicled the music and lifestyles of the Lone Star State. He authored two books and was a senior editor at Texas Monthly in 2015-2019. He was at The Houston Press for a dozen years, 2000-2012 as both the music editor and staff writer. During this period, he became a mentor to aspiring music journalists. He also wrote for Texas Highways, Houstonia, Spin, The New York Times, The Village Voice and L.A. Weekly.
Nova was an authority on the culture of Houston. One of his books was Houston’s Best Dive Bars: Drinking & Diving in the Bayou City. The other was Murder & Mayhem in Houston (co-witten with Mike Vance). He authored a blog called “Sole of Houston,” which was about seeing his hometown on foot, mile by mile. This also ran as a Houston Press series. He was a regular contributor to the Texas Monthly radio program “Talk Like a Texan.”
He wrote vividly about everything from the downfall of country singer Doug Supernaw to the woes of the Houston Texans football team. He skills as a music writer were reflected in profiles about Johnny Nash, Bobby “Blue” Bland, blues guitarist Goree Carter and many other locals. He was also an eloquent food reporter. His 2007 story about Supernaw won ASCAP’s prestigious Deems Taylor Award for excellence in music writing.
Mimi Swartz of Texas Monthly wrote, “Lomax—and that’s what those who knew him best called him—was one of those writers who, if he was interested in something, could make you interested in it too. Some writers have good ideas but can’t execute; some writers are good enough with words but lack the singularity of vision that makes readers want to follow them anywhere. Lomax had both.”
John Nova Lomax was born in Houston in 1970, but was raised in Nashville. He is the son of noted Nashville journalist, artist manager, performer and author John Lomax III. His “big brothers” were Steve Earle and the late Townes Van Zandt, both of whom were managed by his father.
The Lomax family also includes his great-grandfather John Avery Lomax, the dean of American folklorists and the discoverer of Leadbelly. His grandfather, John II, managed John Lee Hooker and founded the Houston Folklore Society that launched Guy Clark, K.T. Oslin, Earle and more. Great uncle Alan Lomax guided the Library of Congress Archive of American Folksong, wrote prolifically and was a recording artist. Great aunt Bess Lomax Hawes became a leading authority on children’s folklore, a manager at the National Endowment for the Arts and co-wrote The Kingston Trio hit “M.T.A.”
Nova’s mother was Julia Plummer Taylor, known as Bidy. She became an alcoholic who lived on the streets of Nashville before she was struck and killed while trying to cross Interstate 40 in 1998.
Nova had returned to Houston to attend high school in 1985. He dropped out of the University of Texas in Austin and drifted professionally until his father offered him a writing job penning a liner-notes essay. He pursued writing full-time from 2001 onward.
John Nova Lomax struggled with alcoholism his entire life. He went through a recurring cycle of hospitalizations, recoveries and relapses. These accelerated as he got older, but he often hid his problems from loved ones. His liver and other organs began to fail last year, and he entered Intensive Care.
His father posted a final update on Monday. “After a long hard fight in which he defied all doctor’s predictions, John Nova Lomax passed away peacefully early this morning with his former wife, Kelly Graml, at his side,” John Lomax III wrote. “He was in no pain at the end and slipped peacefully away to another realm.”
The medical bills are significant. There is a GoFundMe account. The family plans to distribute any remaining funds after funeral expenses and medical bills to Nova’s children, John Henry and Harriet Rose. He is also survived by his sister, Mandy, a Nashville visual artist.
John Lomax III says they plan to have a quiet family service for his gifted son, followed at some point by a memorial celebration with music. The family is also hoping to put out a book of Nova’s writings.
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