1995 Dallas Observer Music Awards (Part I)

In 1995, Dallas' rich musical heritage continues with a new breed of musician--some are young, some old, some natives, some transplants, some keepers of the flame, some creating their own brand of noise.

But like the musicians who preceded them--such Dallas music legends as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Red Garland, Aaron "T-Bone" Walker, Bob Wills, Charlie Christian, the still-very-active Ronnie Dawson--they are all artists ranking with the best found anywhere. If nothing else, Dallas' musicians are among the most resilient and optimistic, paying their dues even as they struggle to pay their bills.

Perhaps, after so many years of grumbling about the subject, there is indeed a local music scene or, even better, a local music community--a thriving organism that pulses just beneath the surface.

On April 2, during the Music Award showcase performances scattered throughout Deep Ellum clubs, more than 1,500 people descended upon downtown to check out a wide variety of local bands. They arrived early and stayed late, band members and suburbanites and downtown regulars and just the plain old curious folk who made it impossible to get into Naomi's or Club Dada even during the wee small hours. They crammed against the stage to hear the Old 97's, stood on tiptoes to witness Cowboys and Indians, shook in their shoes to Sixty-Six, dropped their jaws over Kim Pendleton and Vibrolux. It took a while before anyone realized: this happens every single damned night.

As we were compiling the Dallas' Scene, Heard CD to release in conjunction with this issue, drawing only from the pool of nominated artists, we were struck by the difficulty in whittling down the number to fit on a single disc. And for every band nominated, there are dozens of young bands out there worthy of attention and praise--Slobberbone, Earl, Comet, Butch, and so many others cropping up unexpectedly each weekend.

So much is always made about the good ol' days of Deep Ellum circa 1987, around the time of the release of Sounds of Deep Ellum and the beginning of the New Bos' launch to stardom. But the scene then was like a baby, and even now it only begins to approach awkward adolescence--struggling to find an identity as an amusement park, a mall, or an artists' refuge, maybe even some comfortable middle ground on which all three things exist comfortably.

Nonetheless, the music being made in Dallas in 1995 is a strong breed--containing echoes of the past (Cowboys and Indians' nod to Bob Wills, Henry Qualls recalling Blind Lemon Jefferson and Mance Lipscomb, Ronnie Dawson keeping rockabilly alive) and pointing only toward a brighter future. Some long-time Music Award winners were supplanted by newcomers (to these awards, at least) such as Spyche and the Old 97's and Andy Timmons. And that there is no clear-cut Music Award winner as in previous years, when bands like Tripping Daisy and Course of Empire and Reverend Horton Heat went home with most of the top honors, only underscores the fact there's plenty to go around for everyone.

--Robert Wilonsky, music editor

BEST ROCK ACT
Toadies

BEST ACT OVERALL
Reverend Horton Heat

ALBUM RELEASE (1994)
Liquor in the Front
(interscope records)

Last summer, as he was waiting for Interscope Records to release his band's third CD (and first for a major label), Jim Heath spent several hours with the Observer recounting the intimate minutiae of his life--a childhood spent in Corpus Christi; an interrupted stay at the University of Texas at Austin; a failed marriage; a hard-earned career forged from the music of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, AC/DC. It's a tale that's been told and retold a thousand times in the annals of rock and roll, myth and reality mixed together like the gin and tonics Heath has been known to gulp down in quick succession.

Heath is by far the most fascinating figure to emerge from the local music scene since the days of Aaron "T-Bone" Walker or Bob Wills--a bona fide legend and hero to those who know of him through his albums and his live performances, a larger-than-life embodiment of rock and roll that dates back to a time when the music was the sound track for sin. He is Elvis, Jerry Lee, Gene V., and the Cramps' Lux Interior action-packed into the body of a man who swaggers even when sitting still; though his record company biographies often have been filled with the stuff of fiction--listing such credentials as pool shark and reformed ex-con, all the better to bolster his myth--Heath truly does exude the rock and roll demons whenever he takes the stage, sweating them out through the pores.

"Music industry folks especially are all interested: 'Now, Rev, what is your image?'" Heath said last summer. "It's like I'm supposed to start into this monologue thing, like Humphrey Bogart would do: 'Well, I'll tell you what I'm about. I'm all about fast cars. I'm all about lucky dice and wild women.'" Then he added--after a pause, with a wicked grin--"And sometimes, I am."

Heath's image is essential to his music. It's what draws the rockabilly cats to the shows--the slicked-back, tattooed, smokes-in-the-sleeve, rolled-up-jeans dudes who look like a cross between James Dean and the Fonz--and imbues his rockabilly with that extra punk flair. He's a showman whether he's in the studio working with Ministry frontman Al Jourgenson (who produced Liquor in the Front) or on stage opening for Soundgarden, a bad-ass dude who begs his chick to masturbate for him ("One Time for Me") then croons the ballad for the ladies ("In Your Wildest Dreams"), sings love songs to his car ("Five-O Ford"), pays homage to the finer things in life ("Liquor, Beer & Wine"), and then goes "Cruisin' for a Bruisin'."

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