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.

Deep Ellum's reputation had grown vastly since its punk rock beginnings, and all the attention and hype being thrust onto the neighborhood soon began to consume it. There were shootings, arrests, an increased police presence, beatings — things that the music scene hadn't seen since carving its niche out in the neighborhood more than a decade earlier. By the early '00s, it became too big to control.

Hammond: I just thought that the initial spark of DIY and forming your band and having a community of musicians and everyone being all for one and one for all, I thought it had been lost. I thought that it was a lot of people trying to get record contracts. You've polluted your own thing, you've poisoned your own well. And we just thought Deep Ellum was full of that. These were the days of the funk-rock bands, the rap-metal bands. It just felt like there was enough industry smelling around that it became industry-driven.

Miller: It was the end of the '90s when the Gypsy Tea Room opened up, and that became a great place for us to play. Mike Snider was booking it, and we were doing well enough where we could headline and kind of have our choice of places to play, and that was great. The Gypsy Tea Room for a while there was just such a great room to play. We have so many great memories there. It's kind of ironic and sad that was the site of the event that kind of sent Deep Ellum into a spiral at the beginning of the '00s. I didn't know anything about what had happened until the next morning. It was a horrible feeling to know that it was at our show. David Cunniff, who remains a friend of mine — thank God he recovered as much as he did. But just, at the time, knowing that these two girls had watched their dad get stomped to what looked like, basically, to death. ... One of the only things about it that made me feel better was that it wasn't a fan of ours that did it. It was some friend of a bouncer. And then there was that civil suit that sort of bankrupted that club, and it all stemmed from our show? It made me feel really bad.

Badu: That's around when the Polyphonic Spree formed. It was the gospel side of it that really got me. It's sad that black people do not document their own history. But Tim [DeLaughter, previously of Tripping Daisy] took an interest, and because he was from the Bible Belt, it made sense to me and it was fascinating to me. Our history is blues. Deep Ellum blues is what it's about, from Johnny Taylor to Robert Johnson. The blues is in the air here. It's in the atmosphere.

Vogeler: When Deep Ellum went tits up, I'd come back to town and you couldn't even see a semblance of a scene. Like in 2005 or 2006. It was really sad to see what Deep Ellum had become in the mid-'00s. Like literally a ghost town. I've got 15 years or memories of roaming those streets and, during that time, it went from kind of a ghost town to this thriving commercial district with thousands of people on the weekends on the streets. And, then, just a few years later, a ghost town again. With Deep Ellum, the scene had a base. When that's gone, I don't really know what kind of a connection the bands would've had with each other. It was sad to see what was really like a center for the scene to just disappear.

Sarah Jaffe: I just remember showing up with my parents, and I remember, looking back now, not being very familiar with Deep Ellum's history at all. It was where you went to go play shows. It was alive on the weekends and most weekdays. I remember going to see a couple shows at Trees, and, right after that, Trees went under. And Club Dada was kind of having trouble there for a while, too. I came along to start playing shows in what was really like the dying days. It was definitely down there for a while.

Hammond: We're learning the cycles of something like that. We hadn't seen a cycle. We hadn't completed one. ... We're learning now what the behavior of the Dallas music fan is with all this. And we've learned some lessons about Deep Ellum, about what works and what doesn't work. It's a sweet and sour thing. When there was a lot of crime down there and a lot of bad stuff, I was like, 'Fuck Deep Ellum. This place sucks. I will never play down here when it's like this. It was a good time then, but it's not a good time now. Everybody just go home.' That whole time was mostly sour. ... Now it feels more like it used to be. It just has that comfort that it had back then. It feels like the old days, minus the hype and with all the comfort, like when the old days had gotten a little healthier retail-wise. Now, it's like an old sweater. And I like it. And it can get bigger and I won't complain. It doesn't have to stay like this. It can now grow and become giant if it wants to. It shook off some badness, but it's not the same. It's a different chapter of that community.


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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.

llehmannz
llehmannz

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

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?

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

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.

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.

duh laughter
duh laughter

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

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.

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."

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