Hidden Away: Uncovering Dallas' Faded Blues

Blues veteran Jim Suhler takes us on a tour of the city's musical past.

Something similar occurred in the State-Thomas neighborhood, our final stop. The ritzy apartments and clean streets that make up the neighborhood now were once crowded and scary. In its heyday, it housed the Tip Top Club, a popular venue on the Chitlin' Circuit, a network of predominantly black venues all over the United States where blues music was played.

Suhler was still young when the gentrification of the neighborhood began. "I remember driving by these places as a child," he says. "Obviously I wouldn't go in them."

Nowadays, most Dallas residents don't know about the blues hotbed that once occupied Dallas, but the forgotten history that surrounds this location and the others on our tour have had a significant impact on Suhler. For most of his life, he's given himself over to the genre and has seen it evolve even further. He mentions that the late punk artist Frankie 45 was inspired to pick up the guitar after seeing him perform. "There's a lot of similarities between what he was doing and the gut-bucket blues," he says. Suhler goes on to tell the story of losing his daughter in a car wreck nine years ago. He wishes he could have had more time with her.

"You decide to do it and you give up a lot," he offers. "I can't even keep a girlfriend 'cause I'm gone all the time."

It's the perfect recipe for the blues — even for a guy who doesn't claim to be a true blues artist.

"There are blues nazis, and I'm not one of them," Suhler says. "The music is alive. The blues isn't for me to decide."

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7 comments
Blzhmr
Blzhmr

What's the context of B.B. getting booed by black audiences?

James
James

Great story. If I'm correct, Charlie Parker recorded some of his very early recordings at 508 Park Ave as well.

Does anyone happen to know exactly where/when the Tip Top Club was? My grandmother grew up on State St from the late '20s through the '40s, at which point the white flight started.

MaryK
MaryK

This is the second time I've seen the recording year of the Robert Johnson sessions in Dallas listed as 1937, but it had to be ten years before. He was one of the earliest to record this type of music, then known as "race records." It was a big-selling genre, too,

Jim Suhler
Jim Suhler

Mr. King was playing a package show in the late 60's with multiple soul acts and the young black audience found his music old fashioned.

Don O.
Don O.

Sorry, Mary, RJ was not one of the earliest, by a long shot. In fact many of Johnson's songs borrow heavily from the works of earlier blues artists. Yazoo even put out a whole record of them titled "The Roots of Robert Johnson".

 
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