By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
Bobby Patterson probably never imagined that this is where he'd end up--spinning old soul and R&B and blues classics on an AM radio station in Grand Prairie, a DJ blowing the dust off yesterday's memories. This was someone else's job, and if the years had been as kind to Patterson's career as they have been to his appearance--he will turn 55 on Friday, but could pass for at least 15 years younger than that--maybe it would be. Patterson is, after all, perhaps the best soul singer Dallas ever produced, as well as a fine guitar player and songwriter. He could have--should have--been as famous as the names on his playlist: The Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, James Brown, The O'Jays, Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye, Bobby Womack. He should have been a star.
And maybe it's not too late for that to happen. Maybe KKDA-AM's cramped studio isn't the last stop on a soul train that pulled out of South Dallas more than 30 years ago yet never got too far down the tracks, never quite made it to its destination. Maybe now--in his mid-50s and three years into a comeback that began with 1996's Second Coming, after almost two decades in retirement--Patterson will find the fame that never found him, the hit records that always stayed just out of his reach. Anything could happen.
For now though, he's a DJ every Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. till noon on Soul 73 KKDA (730 AM), playing songs and taking calls from listeners and bantering with the whitest traffic reporter ever to appear on a soul station. As he does all this, he's surrounded by the music of his better-known peers, and you'd think the whole thing--spending six mornings a week wallowing in what could have been, listening to all of the groups who got what he always wanted--would leave a bitter taste in his mouth. He'd have every right to be resentful, to carry a chip on his small shoulders.
But sitting next to Patterson this morning, it's clear he's having the time of his life, as he insists. When he's in the studio, he's not just a DJ: He's onstage, playing along with his friends. As the show wears on, he switches on his mike so he can become one of Gladys Knight's Pips, singing along like it's a Bobby Patterson original, eyes wide shut behind his ever-present sunglasses. Later, he grabs his guitar and starts picking along with Little Milton, trading licks as he bounces up and down on his stool, trying to coax just a little feedback out his battered 1965 Gibson--the same guitar he bought off a man headed to the penitentiary more than 30 years ago. Watching him, it's obvious he doesn't need a record company or a wall brimming with gold records to tell him he's a star. He already is one.
"I love this," Patterson says. "I wanted to try my hand at it and see what happened, and I found out I like it. It might burn off like everything else, but right now I'm having a ball doing this. I like the contact with the fans, the closeness of it. And then I like the music, and that makes a difference--if you like what you're doing, if you like what you're playing. I love this music. This is something I always wanted to do, man. It's the only thing in show business I ain't ever did. I've done everything else you can do. You know, I've wrote, produced, played, sang, danced, cleaned the studio floor. This is the only thing left."
This is Soul 73 KKDA, the station that can take a licking and keep on ticking. You got the little piece of leather well put together this morning. How're all my ladies out there? You know I like the ladies, from 8 to 80, crippled, blind, or crazy. You can be 10 pounds or 10 tons of fun. Oh, Lord have mercy! I try my best to give you all you can take. I don't wanna make no mistake. Hit me!
Patterson began working for KKDA-AM last November, shortly after the station's owner, Hyman Childs, made the controversial decision to cancel several of its talk shows (as recounted in the Dallas Observer story "Dead air" on October 29, 1998), knocking popular personalities such as Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price and Cousin Linnie off the air. Patterson replaced psychologist Brenda Wall's morning advice show, Call Dr. Wall, at first taking over the 10 a.m. to noon time slot, until the station received enough requests to add an extra hour to the show. It was a move a long time in coming: Patterson says KKDA's general manager, Chuck Smith, had been asking him to do something with the station for about 10 years.