An Oral History of the Dallas Music Scene

Some of Dallas' most successful musicians recount the rebirth of its most storied entertainment district: Deep Ellum.

Murry Hammond (Old 97's bassist and vocalist): I started going down there, and I didn't even know it was called Deep Ellum back then. It was back in the old hardcore punk days. Frank Campagna was running Studio D. It was an art gallery. ... I remember he put on the Dead Kennedys in August of 1982. There's fliers of it on Facebook, like on the "Dallas Punk Rock Archives" or whatever. That was my first entry into what was eventually Deep Ellum. It was all punk rock, punk rock and punk rock for a few years there.

Miller: Those were great, great days. But, in the very early days, when it was just the Prophet Bar and the Theatre Gallery, it was also pretty dangerous. I got beat up one night by the skinheads in front of the Theatre Gallery. There was this really drunk skinhead, and I was standing out front of the venue with a bunch of girls. I had really long hair and my glasses on, and he came up to me and he put his arm around me and started to try and kiss me. I was like, 'Dude! Whoa! Whoa!' and he goes, 'Oh, my God! You're a fucking dude! I thought you were a chick!' And I was like, 'Well, I'm not.' Then he goes, 'Why don't you punch me so I have a reason to beat the shit out of you.' I was like, 'That's a horrible offer.' I remember exactly what I said — and it was the stupidest thing I could've said. I said, 'Hate creates hate and violence creates more violence. And I don't want to be a part of that cycle.' Soon as I finished, he punched me so hard in my face. My glasses just exploded. And, in my right ear, I couldn't hear for the rest of the night. The Peyote Cowboys were playing and they kind of let me hide out behind the stage. Going out to my car later that night, I remember that they were, like, lingering and hanging around. I had to take this circuitous route. Like I made him gay. And I was driving a hearse at the time, like a really conspicuous car.

Clark Vogeler (Toadies guitarist, Funland guitarist): Well, I lived with Rhett. I met Rhett when I worked at Terilli's, like '91. He was a host at the door. I was a cashier. We became buddies there, and he moved in with me. We were living together on Goliad, just off Greenville. I remember seeing him in the Observer in maybe '85 or '86. There was this article in there on his start, and there was this picture of him. He had this long hair. He looked like a model, and he sang with kind of an English accent. We used to always tease him about the English accent and all that stuff. First he did this band, Rhett's Exploding. Then he tried something else. It wasn't for a couple years that he started with the Old 97's guys. Immediately, that was fun. He sang with more twang, which was interesting. He'd just come from this rock band where he was screaming, and he goes straight into country-tinged rock, and you hear his Texas accent in every line. I remember them playing early on at this little bar over on Canton, I think? It had a woman's name. I can't remember what it was called. But it was one of those places where you've got to set up next to the pool table. They only sold beer in cans. You could only fit maybe 30 people in there.

"I seem to remember some Denton friends raising their eyebrows, like, 'Oh, you're moving down to Dallas?'"
Thomas Pitilli
"I seem to remember some Denton friends raising their eyebrows, like, 'Oh, you're moving down to Dallas?'"
"I came along to start playing shows in what was really like the dying days. It was definitely down here for a while."
Thomas Pitilli
"I came along to start playing shows in what was really like the dying days. It was definitely down here for a while."

Miller: Naomi's became, like, this really big deal for us to play. It was over by where the AllGood Café is now, but a block farther out. Man, those shows were fun. You would just squeeze 80 people in there. It's funny; I've heard people talk about those Naomi's shows. If all the people who say they were at those shows — like when my tooth came out during a Cramps cover — if they were really there, Naomi's would've been 400 capacity. But it was 80 people, and way overfilled at that.

Mark Reznicek (Toadies drummer): Back in those days, Toadies kind of always had a chip on our shoulders. It seemed like other bands would get more attention on the radio from The Edge, on their local show. I don't know if it was because we were from Fort Worth or just 'cause we had a bad attitude. In some regard, it felt like we were in competition with certain bands. I always felt that there was a little bit of a competition with Funland and with Tripping Daisy. Sometime during the first year that I was in the band, we opened for Tripping Daisy somewhere. I've gotten to know them a little bit since then, and they're good guys. But back then, it was a little bit of posturing. They were the big thing for a while, and when they were playing at Trees, there would be, like, a line going down the block and everything. We'd still be walking up and down the streets, handing out fliers, trying to get people to come out to our show. This was all before we put out any recordings. It seemed like locally, it was steadily building. We went and recorded [Rubberneck] in the fall of '93, and it didn't come out until almost a year later.

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30 comments
Joy Ella
Joy Ella

Being 30--ish and quite familiar with this period of deep ellum's past, I found the article fascinating and enjoyed the commentary. My love of the Toadies probably helps too. Good article. I like the conversational format.

MIKE VANCE
MIKE VANCE

I'm only 29 but when I went to Deep Ellum for the first time out of my Fry st. hole in Denton I fell in love and haven't stop going since! Lots of history to take in and a lot to be apart of! Great article!

Tex
Tex

Actually Dallas has a much earlier and vibrant music history with clubs like Lou Ann's, The Cellar, Mother Blues and the old Palladium. In the 70s, the record industry had one of its largest headquarters here in Big D, with every major label staffing an office with plenty of promo men. All of the biggest acts in the nation played Dallas, including the Police on their first-ever tour. Deep Ellum was a part of the Dallas music scene, but not the biggest nor most important. I still argue that Mother Blues was the biggest, hottest nightclub to be seen in this town, but you had to have been there.

phe_75034
phe_75034

Thanks for the article, Pete. I agree with some of the commentors that the title is a little misleading, but realy, that's a quibble.

I would have liked to have heard from Mike Snider, Liles, some of the other bands of the day, etc but I realize you've got deadlines. Might make for an interesting book, perhaps? Maybe you could get Slavens or someone frrom the previous generation to go thru some of the earlier days, the 60s, 70s, early 80s. The Sex Pistols wound up here - someone must have had their eyes open in those days.

Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

Shake Russell/Dana Cooper, Poor David's Pub, Lower Greenville, Arcadia, Granada, and as was mentioned already by someone else: ZZ Top, S R V, Fab T-Birds, and so on. Hell, not one mention of Blue Cat Blues....or Mother Blues from an earlier area. Bugs Henderson, Bill Tillman Band in Upper Greenville?

The age-ism of this article is so obvious. You jump from the 1920's and then drop in the mid-80's? Are you high, or just under 35? No mention, either, of some of the biggest summer arena tours, Texxas Jam, Cotton Bowl Jam--where local bands could warm up for major artists.

Oh, and hell, what about South Dallas Funk? Some wildl music came outta there.

This is not an oral history. This was a disappointment. HISTORY is more than a couple of people rehashing the exact same bands and places.

Robert Hernandez
Robert Hernandez

I have fond memories of Deep Ellum, remember when the only 2 clubs were Clearview and Video Bar....those were the days..

Vero1163
Vero1163

This show should be open to a broader audience. The opportunity for the younger generations to be able to endure the musical gift of these great performers.

Jason
Jason

That was a fun article! Bad title for the concept... It is far from a "History of the Dallas Music Scene". It's the history of popular Deep Ellum bands from the early- to mid-90s (Sponsored by Scion).

I guess my expectations were a little too high after reading the title.

duh laughter
duh laughter

what a load of old tripe! christ, these dolts are boring...

pkathleen
pkathleen

Um, hello? Aren’t you forgetting some people? Like maybe, Edie Brickell and the NEW BOHEMIANS? Or I dunno….LOCO GRINGOS? Or How about my PERSONAL favorite:

TEN HANDS?

Russp
Russp

I've only been in Dallas since the late 80s and was wondering about all the Texas based acts that had long commercial careers but weren't mentioned in this article (such as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Boz Scaggs, Steve Miller, ZZ Top). Wasn't there much of a commercial music scene in Dallas in the 60s, 70s and 80s?

Derrick White
Derrick White

Pretty interesting look back. Deep Ellum in the mid 90's was fantastic. Being 15 or 16, just studying what was happening. What my life could look like. What music was supposed to sound like.

Chuck G.
Chuck G.

All bad jokes aside, I thought this was a great piece. Interviews with many members of big local bands and how Ellum was before, during and after it's heyday were fantastic. But there is one other key to the decline of Ellum besides what was mentioned. And that is the demise of grunge and alternative music that was taking place in the late 90's-early 2000's. Look at all the big grunge bands and see what they were doing around this time. Basically nothing. And the local bands were out of the picture by this time as well. So the momentum that this genre brought back in the early and mid-90's began to fade and fizzle by the early 2000's, thus causing the effect of sparse crowds and ghost-town effect.

LingerGalthrope
LingerGalthrope

Another "Dallas used to be cool" article?

Nostalgia for a brief time and place twenty years ago is all fine and good, but this really doesn't add anything to the other Observer articles published over the years that ramble on like an old hippie talking about Woodstock.

How about digging a little deeper, or investigating some other genres that had their moments in Dallas?

Chuck G.
Chuck G.

What about an anal history of the Dallas music scene?

Josh
Josh

i really enjoyed that.

MattL1
MattL1

Interesting. Cool to hear from all of these people who lived through that period.

Wrecked
Wrecked

Shouldn't this be titled "An Oral History of Deep Ellum's Music Starting in the 1980s" ???

BadGuyZero
BadGuyZero

Clark Vogeler: "I remember them playing early on at this little bar over on Canton, I think? It had a woman's name. I can't remember what it was called. But it was one of those places where you've got to set up next to the pool table. They only sold beer in cans. You could only fit maybe 30 people in there."

Naomi's

llehmannz
llehmannz

@Tex And it was so wonderful to have been. Mother Blues was the best Dallas ever had.

pkathleen
pkathleen

And also, Erykah Badu was still at Arts Magnet in '87....I know because I was a senior in '86, and she was a freshman then. The people being left out in this history were some amazing musicians, many of whom still gig in this area. It makes me sad and angry that they've been completely ignored in this article. I would have loved to hear something from Jeffry Liles who has become the new champion of the Dallas music/arts scene as well.

duh laughter
duh laughter

i suppose i could overlook your stunted growth. but i won't, because you're a fucking idiot..

duh laughter
duh laughter

thank you for speaking to truth. don't feel bad, the observer has NEVER EVER gotten it right, nor will they. they only push the acts within their (extremely) limited scope.

Derrick White
Derrick White

Hmmm... My stunted growth... That's pretty interesting considering I'm 6' 7". I'm not sure what specifically you are taking exception with in my comment. Is it the fact that I actually paid attention to what was going on in Deep Ellum during my formative years, or the fact that the interviewees in this piece obviously had a slanted point of view - which led to a major revision of the scene history? Obviously, a lot of bands were left out (10 Hands, featuring the always entertaining Mr. Slavens for starters). Frankly some of the bands that were mentioned simply as a one note, were in my mind, a lot more interesting than the bands who the interviews focused on (UFOFU, Hagfish). It further overlooks the fact that the scene in the early and mid 90's was propped up by an extremely intelligent and ultimately very effective station manager at KDGE. I'm pretty sure though, that the point of this piece was simply to drum up publicity for the bands taking part in the upcoming music awards showcase.

 
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