By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Best-of lists -- which have filled the pages of newspapers and magazines ever since the calendar read January 2, 1999 -- probably shouldn't exist at all. They are, more than anything else, the stuff of fiction. Surely, there is one album out there, or 100, we've not heard -- that Great Album that somehow slipped through the cracks and that only you know about. Surely, there's one artist out there long since banished to history's trash heap, someone who created a masterpiece that went unacknowledged and remains forever ignored. Happens every day, even in a city such as Dallas, where music has become such Big Business that musicians now take jobs selling other people's work on the Internet.
But somehow, a list such as this one -- which we shall heretofore refer to as The 50 Best Albums Made In Dallas, or By Dallas Natives, or Something -- seems as good a compendium as any to offer up as we crawl toward the end of this century. After all, it's likely that very soon there will be no one left who remembers the Dallas String Band or who played with Blind Lemon Jefferson or who attended one of James Clay's final gigs. Millennium hysteria proffers that the turn of the calendar will erase the past from our minds. More likely, we would have forgotten anyway -- especially here, in a town where history is replaced by a parking lot or an expanded highway every single day.
We've compiled this list, with some assistance from a handful of choice outsiders who stopped listening to music and began living it a long time ago, merely to offer yet another glimpse of this town's oft-ignored musical heritage -- ya know, to remind people that rock and roll in Dallas didn't start the day Brady Wood bought Trees, or that country in this town wasn't born the moment the Dixie Chicks won their first Grammy or the day LeAnn Rimes turned 12. Just a quick glimpse at this list reveals how deep and diverse the back catalog really is: from Blind Lemon Jefferson to Lefty Frizzell to Meat Loaf to The D.O.C. to Bedhead.
The criteria for making this list wasn't easy. After all, how does one include the platinum-selling Boz Scaggs on a list with Funland, whose lone full-length album went copper before it even shipped? Or how does one include the likes of Sid King and the Five Strings or Ella Mae Morse, artists whose best works were initially available on singles, before they appeared on compilations? Or how about the Toadies, who were considered a Fort Worth act before all of its members moved to Dallas?
Actually, that was the easy part: Every single artist on this list came of musical age in this city, from the late Ella Mae Morse (born in Mansfield, discovered at the Adolphus Hotel by Jimmy Dorsey) to Corsicana's Lefty Frizzell (cut his first, and most important, sides at Jim Beck's studio on Ross Avenue) to Wortham's Blind Lemon Jefferson, who was more constant on Deep Ellum streets in the 1920s than cement. It's not such a stretch to include the likes of the Toadies, Little Jack Melody and His Young Turks, or Brave Combo. Still, we almost ventured too far west, including the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Delbert McClinton, Ornette Coleman, T-Bone Burnett, and other Fort Worth-borns. They did not make it, quite simply because they did not make their marks in Dallas before spreading the good word elsewhere.
We figured it this way: If the artist was born here, lived here, played here for a substantial amount of time, and/or recorded here, then they deserved to be on the list. Take Willie Hutch, who was born in Los Angeles, moved to Carrollton when he was a child, moved back to the West Coast and wrote "I'll Be There" and recorded The Mack, only to return to Dallas, where he still actively records and works with younger artists. Hutch, as much as anyone, deserves mention on this list.
There is not much to link the artists on this list. For every T-Bone Walker-to-Steve Miller-to-the Nightcaps-to-Stevie Ray Vaughan connect-the-dots example, there are dozens more here who seem to exist in their own vacuum. Take Bedhead, who managed to turn down the Velvet Underground and create rock-and-roll whispers heretofore unheard. Or Café Noir, Gypsy-jazzers who hired on a yodeling cowboy and managed to make it seem so very right. Or Erykah Badu, soul mother and earth mother and bad mother all at once.
There were some tough choices to be made; surely, this list will offend far more than it delights, which is the way it ought to be. ESPN had it easy when assembling its list of sports' 50 finest; too bad there are no stat sheets when it comes to tallying the best and worst in music, no scorecards to keep track of who's winning.
We tried to place these albums on this list according to importance -- whatever that means (not always album sales, though there's got to be a reason Bat Out of Hell's on here). But in the end, more likely personal preferences won out -- which probably makes it surprising that there's only one Bedhead record on here, or only one Funland-related disc. We tried to play fair. (Seriously, we were considering a worst-of list, which would have been a whole lot easier to put together.)