The preacher and the Prophet

Why can't we all just get along? The history, or not, of Russell and Jeff's Deep Ellum

He said, he said -- it seems everyone wants, if not deserves, credit for the rise of Deep Ellum from the dust of old warehouses long ago abandoned. Time has a funny way of skewing our perceptions of history; even those who were there don't know exactly what happened, perhaps because they were too busy or too stoned to catch the details. Hard to imagine now that there was a time when Deep Ellum was nothing more than a few half-assed clubs fending off skinheads and bankruptcy. But the more things change...

The only difference today is the skins have been replaced by the tourists from Plano, and the guys who used to have trouble getting financing are the ones owning all the buildings.

Former Theatre Gallery owner Russell Hobbs' letter to the editor, found on page three of this issue of the Dallas Observer, got us thinking: What really did happen during the 1980s? Some of us were there, but we were too busy drinking Blue Nun in the Theatre Gallery parking lot to notice. All we remember is Peter Schmidt without his shirt during a couple of Three on a Hill gigs; how could we forget? So we went digging through the Observer archives, pulling out every single Street Beat written by then-music editor Clay McNear from 1984 to 1988 -- the alleged heyday of Deep Ellum, meaning the years before downtown was overrun by guys who used to be in 4 Reasons Unknown. The result is a bona fide history of that era, in the words of those who were there, when they were there.

Nice shorts, fellas: Russell Hobbs and Jeff Swaney discuss who God likes better, Three on a Hill or the New Bohemians.
Nice shorts, fellas: Russell Hobbs and Jeff Swaney discuss who God likes better, Three on a Hill or the New Bohemians.
Are you my Dada? The holy trinity of Club Dada was, from left, owner Tom Henvey, manager Doak Boettiger, and booking agent Jeff Liles.
Are you my Dada? The holy trinity of Club Dada was, from left, owner Tom Henvey, manager Doak Boettiger, and booking agent Jeff Liles.

Not a single event is manufactured; not a single quote fabricated. This is God's honest truth, or a close approximation. So argue about who did what when and with whom all you want, fellas. Here's all the ammo you'll ever need.


1984

Sometime in August: former construction designer Russell Hobbs opens Theatre Gallery at 2808 Commerce.

1985

January: Three on a Hill, featuring singer-guitarist Peter Schmidt, forms.

January 27: Theatre Gallery hosts Unknown Theatre Benefit with The Tribe, Housewives Choice, Model 12, and Lucy Cruz.

February 5: The Fast and Cool Club, owned and operated by Tango/8.0 kingpin Shannon Wynne and John Kenyon, opens its doors on Greenville Avenue. The club's owners promise one national act and one theme party per month. The first "big-name" band is rumored to be Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, who are scheduled to perform sometime in early March.

February: New Bohemians -- consisting of Arts Magnet grads Brandon Aly, Eric Presswood, and Brad Houser -- play their first shows together, at Calm Eddy's, an Upper Greenville comedy club. Singer Edie Brickell later joins the band after taking the stage during one of the shows; myth has it she was induced by a shot of Jack Daniel's, but we know better. A few years later, the band will break up amidst grumblings that Brickell receives significantly more points per album than the founding members.

February 21: Three on a Hill plays its first show, at the Twilite Room.

March 15: Ex-Group Six members Jeff Liles and Jan Paul Daviddson join The End's Tench Coxe and vocalist Donald Watson in a new band called Animal Chance. The group plays its first show at the Nairobi Room, located at 2914 Harry Hines.

March 16: Local new-wave heroes the Telefones regroup after a lengthy split to perform at the Arcadia Theatre with fellow '70s rocker Feet First. It will be Steve Dirkx's last show with the band before the rest of the group leaves for Los Angeles.

April 20: The Twilite Room, located at 2111 Commerce, hosts a reunion of bands that used to perform at DJ's, a local punk haven. On the bill are The Assassins, Deprogrammer, the Nervebreakers, Quad Pi, and Superman's Girlfriend. The former new-wave nightclub threatens to reopen several times during the next few years but never does.

May 16: The Twilite Room changes the name of its music room to Charlie's Liberty Hall.

May 30: According to then-Observer music editor Clay McNear, "Theatre Gallery is fast becoming one of the better booked clubs in the metroplex." The club's June lineup includes Zeitgeist, The Pool, Doctor's Mob, and the Flaming Lips.

June 23: Peyote Cowboys, featuring Murry Hammond, plays Charlie's Liberty Hall.

July 3: 4 Reasons Unknown, New Bohemians, and Debutante perform at the Arcadia for the "Son of Dance Dallas."

July 11: Dallas' two biggest hardcore/new-wave clubs, Theatre Gallery and Charlie's Liberty Hall/Twilite Room, engage in a war of words, since both are located on Commerce Street and competing for the same general market. Hobbs claims Theatre Gallery had to put an end to its Hardcore Sundays because the businesses surrounding TG were complaining of broken windows and other property damage. He believes Twilite Room staffers may be responsible.

Twilite owner Charlie Gilder responds that if he was "going to 'get' Theatre Gallery," he would "have somebody throw a Molotov cocktail through a window instead of a brick." Gilder placed the blame for the bad blood between the clubs on "hippie vices" and "paranoia." He also said he resents TG for intruding on "the area [of music] we excel at" and for not "following any of the rules." Theatre Gallery, at the time, does not have a liquor license or a City of Dallas dance hall permit.

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