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.

Doni Blair (Toadies bassist, Hagfish bassist): We saw [Toadies] open for The Rollins Band. We were just little punk kids and we didn't care. But then we saw them play and we were like, 'OK, they killed it.' We were totally into it. We even made up our own Toadies shirts. Just for us. We were total nerds for them. I still have that shirt somewhere. And there's only four of these things. There's no way in hell I would ever get rid of it.


The Expansion of Deep Ellum

While the early '80s featured only a handful of stages in Deep Ellum — places such as Sons of Hermann Hall, Studio D, Theatre Gallery, Prophet Bar — the '90s saw a vast increase in the number of clubs. The neighborhood had become a full-on entertainment district, thanks in part to the clubs, but also because of a new generation of musicians and fans, who filled the neighborhood on a near-nightly basis.

Hammond: Once the dust settled from that original Deep Ellum scene, the people that you still had standing were in it for the right reasons. All of a sudden you had the Toadies. And Deathray Davies came along, and Baboon and UFOFU and all the different offshoots of that, like the people that would one day become the Secret Machines. It was Deep Ellum 2.0, and it was different than Deep Ellum 1.0. I liked 2.0 better.

Miller: When Rubberneck came out, it was such a great record, and it was so obviously a great record. There was this weird lag thing where it came out and took it a while before it got huge. [Toadies] were always pretty big, but they were big like a local band is. Then a Florida station started hitting the single, and suddenly they went to the next level.

Reznicek: We played a record release show at Trees. It was the Friday or Saturday after Rubberneck came out. Maybe the first time we had played in town in almost a year. It was the same day as Lollapalooza. Billy Corgan and Green Day — those are the two I heard — after they played Lollapalooza, they were at Trees that night for our big record release party. That was really huge. They opened up the garage door behind the stage while we were playing. People were spilling out into the street. It was jam-packed inside and out. We were kind of freaked out. It was like, 'Wow, this is a lot bigger than we ever expected.'

Vogeler: I have these really fond memories of the street and parking lot out in front of Club Clearview on Fourth of July weekend. The streets would just fill up, and people would just shoot bottle rockets at one another and shoot fireworks. It was as much like a riot as I've ever seen downtown. One time, six cop cars pulled up on the streets trying to slow everything down. A fury of bottles and fireworks were just thrown their way and they just jetted out of there. They just split.

Miller: There was this building, the Mitchell Building, where all the artists lived. It was kind of a flophouse. I was 16 and my parents were going through a divorce, and they didn't care, so I would just go sleep on the floor in the Mitchell Building. Now it's fancy apartments. Back then, half the windows were busted out. No one really paid rent. There were these homeless cats that just wandered throughout every space in the building. Those were total halcyon days. I loved it. I say this sounding like an old guy, but I don't really think any of that could happen anymore. The nature of society has become more litigious, the spaces are more monitored. But this was a building full of artists that were just randomly staying there. I made my first real demo there.

Scott Danbom (Centro-matic multi-instrumentalist, Sarah Jaffe multi-instrumentalist): When I was a kid, 18, 19 years old, I thought I hit the jackpot. Growing up in Oklahoma, there were some cool places to see shows and stuff, but nothing like that.

Reznicek: It sounds cliché to say it, but it was kind of a golden era for Dallas music. When Deep Ellum was really hopping, you could just go down there any night of the week and go from bar to bar and you'd see other people in bands that you knew. And you usually knew all the bartenders, knew which bartenders would give you a break on the prices, slide you a shot or whatever. I was always surprised that there wasn't all that much made of it in the national press. We've had everything, from what I've read at least, that the early Seattle scene had. Everybody knew each other, played on each other's side projects, were roommates, neighbors or whatever.

Blair: When the Toadies got signed, it all blew up. Hagfish got signed in '94. Then the Nixons got signed. Deep Blue Something got signed. By '95, '96, everyone was signed. Tablet. Brutal Juice. Funland. Everyone. Course of Empire had been signed and they were out. Tripping Daisy had started to pop up. And, at the same time, Reverend Horton Heat was signed to Sub Pop and just killing it. And everyone, musically, stood on their own. But, man, it was so incestuous. That's the kick-ass thing: 'Possum Kingdom' was fucking killing it for the Toadies, 'I Got a Girl' was doing huge for Tripping Daisy and 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' was doing great for Deep Blue Something. You listen to those three songs and you think, 'There's no way that these three bands know each other.' But they did! And they all lived within a 20-mile radius of each other. And they were friends!

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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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