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.

The Second Coming

For the better part of the '00s, Deep Ellum had reverted to the ghost town it had been after the blues and vaudeville days ended. Clubs sat vacant. Neon lights hung unlit in windows. By 2010, though, things began to change once more. Trees, which had been closed for years, reopened and the Toadies performed a two-night stay there on New Year's Eve. Across the street that same weekend, La Grange opened. Dada soon followed suit, with City Tavern owner Josh Florence reopening the long-revered space. Bars started to pop up once more. Restaurants, too. Eventually, the crowds started to return.

Vogeler: I was back recently. There were people downtown on a Saturday night. It made me really optimistic again. There's cool stuff coming out of Dallas. The overall sound has really spread out. There's Ishi doing their synth-y and dance stuff. You've got True Widow doing their thing. Then you've got these rock bands — I've only heard a bit of this RTB2, but I hear great things.

Hammond: I love Sarah Jaffe. After her album came out, I remember I had a sleepless night and I just dined on some Sarah Jaffe to find out why, why, why. I just couldn't stop listening. I'm like, 'All right. Sign me up.'

Lewis: I talk to these young bands all the time. They're a lot more optimistic than I was.

Danbom: Look at what John Congleton [producer and member of the pAper chAse] has done. And then you have St. Vincent and she's on the cover of Spin? And all the Polyphonic Spree guys and what they've done, like with Good Records? If you start shouting names like that, it's crazy. I was at that My Morning Jacket show a few years back, and when friends like that come in, you just want it to be cool. Like, 'Come on, Dallas! Don't do something dumb!' It was a really fun show, and I didn't even know that they were gonna have Erykah Badu on the show. It gave me this huge lift, like, 'Hey, that's pretty awesome!' Here's this huge band, and they're taking an interest in Dallas music.

Badu: Dallas has changed a lot. Because of the economy. Because of the people who were very involved at that point now becoming adults and having families. It kind of faded away with us. I formed the Cannabinoids because I just wanted to put some fire under Dallas' ass, remind them of who we are and what we could do. What a Cannabinoid is, that's the receptor in marijuana that causes the brain to react a certain way chemically. I thought we could bring that about musically.

Hammond: There is definitely a real scene again. It's got a huge toe in folk music and roots music now. We didn't really have that back in the day. You can trace the unbroken line to the old Naomi's days, maybe. But it's far enough away from that where it has its own thing and it has a whole bunch of flavors.

Miller: Dallas as a city presents a great opportunity for musicians because it's the obstacles that make us who we are, probably in everything, but certainly in music. Dallas presents itself with a lot of obstacles, just in terms of the overall culture and the ups and downs of nightclubs. It's not easy; it's not a gimme to make any type of a living or name for yourself playing music in Dallas. But here's the thing: You can make a name for yourself once you've overcome those obstacles. Obviously, I owe my livelihood to the loyalty of the Dallas music fan. That's a big deal. I don't discount that. I just think it's a very special place.

Jaffe: I think that's one of the really wonderful things about Dallas in general. There's such a wonderful sense of community. And the fans are so endlessly supportive. I haven't really lived anywhere else, but I haven't really found that anywhere else. There's just such an amazing amount of support and character.

Badu: I have unshakable faith in Dallas, in its people and its music. What we say is relevant. I never underestimate the capability of the audience to realize who we are.

The Dallas Observer Music Awards Showcase starts at 4 p.m. on Saturday, October 15, in Deep Ellum.

The Dallas Observer Music Awards Ceremony starts at 8 p.m. Tuesday, October 18, at the House of Blues.

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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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