The Rock Royalty Behind Denton's Bars

The Rock Royalty Behind Denton's Bars
Jason Janik

As I walk into Dan's Silverleaf fresh off a particularly difficult serving shift at a pan-Asian joint just across town in Denton, the roughly 150 people in attendance are scattered throughout the bar. It's cold this Thursday evening, but many still huddle outside, smoking, drinking and sharing fellowship, their steamy breath following where their smoke exhalations end. We are all waiting for Centro-matic to take the stage.

It's been awhile since they played an intimate show like this at Dan's. Frontman Will Johnson busied himself playing the drums for the aptly named supergroup Monsters of Folk, and Centro-matic keyboardist/violinist Scott ≠ has been busy recording and playing the keys with Sarah Jaffe. Danbom and Denton musician Robert Gomez (Jaffe's lead guitarist) flew to L.A. with her early in December to play Jimmy Kimmel Live.

But tonight, as the venerable Denton band takes the stage just short of 11 p.m., their side projects and our blue-collar jobs seem all but forgotten. Centro-matic is in fine form. No surprise for a band that has been contributing to the Denton scene, as well as the world in general, since 1995. As they sluice the muscular, slow attack of "Fountains of Fire" through the audience, the entire crowd is dead set at attention, some screaming the lyrics back at the band and others just enjoying the set, exalting the band with rhythmic head nods and carefully timed beer sips.

Standing to the left of the stage, far back by the merch table, is Brent Best, best known as the creator of Slobberbone, a Denton band that has been rocking this town, country and several other continents since 1993. He'll join the band on lead guitar toward the end of the set.

Best is an internationally recognized alt-country legend, yet he still tends bar at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios just southeast of here, over the train tracks in the area of Denton that has yet to be gentrified.

In the '80s and '90s, the main place to play was the Fry Street district, but now the area east of the square in Denton is the new music and arts hot spot. You would never be able to guess that the Fry Street area used to be a dirty, gritty music hub in this town if you had never been to Denton before. The tall yuppie-starter-kit apartment complexes that now tower over the north side of the University of North Texas spit in the face of the area's geographical history, and only the more seasoned musicians who remain here will tell stories of the glory of Fry Street Fair and the Argo; the days of Rick's Place (now a vapid, flavorless meet-market at the ass end of the frat-bar district) and the Flying Tomato pizza joint (now a Chipotle restaurant).

These days in Denton, the "vital stuff," the shows and festivals that continue to make Denton one of the best little music towns in the world — the Rock Lotteries and the 35 Dentons, the Lumberjack Fests and free, mind-blowing basement shows — they're all happening starting at the square and lumbering east a quarter mile or so. This is the vital area now, all of it a quick walk from the A-train station. This is where you'll see the finest musicianship and artistry, and where the best clubs and venues live. This is where you can catch a triple feature that might start at the basement of J&J's Pizza for an 8 p.m. show and then lead to any of the fine clubs in the area, your Dan's or Rubber Gloves or Hailey's or Abbey Underground. This is where your Brent Bests and Scott Danboms and Robert Gomezes live and work and play. But why do these musicians stay in Denton and work blue-collar jobs to support their artistic efforts, even into their late 30s and early 40s?

"It definitely helps out with the rent and stuff, when I'm not touring or other things," Best says. He went on to explain that the flexibility afforded to him by bosses like Josh Baish (owner of Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios) allows him to take lengthy stints of time off from the bars and go out and tour if he needs to, and he will still have a job when he comes back into town.

Still, this sort of work requires sacrifices. Last year Best was talking to a customer, and then his vision sort of just altered and warped, and his heart rate increased to an alarming speed. He told other members of the crew working that night that he needed to go to the back prep area of the bar and sit down. He eventually leveled off and kept working, but two weeks later had another episode similar to the first, but way worse, and the next night, before playing a show, he spoke to a nurse friend of his who pegged him as having low blood sugar.

A few weeks passed and he finally went to what he called a "doc-in-the-box" in the DFW area, really the only place he could go to for medical attention without health insurance, and was told that he needed to eat better and take better care of himself in general. He was told that his episodes were probably the result of low blood sugar even though his blood work had shown no real problems by that point.

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10 comments
darrylrs
darrylrs

Please shave. My wife said Best looked like a homeless old man. Good music is not determined by sales figures.

kergo1spaceship
kergo1spaceship

"Best is an internationally recognized alt-country legend"  Slobberbone is one of the best bands to come out of this area; but I reckon even ole Brent wouldn't attest to being a legend; come on-a legend?  BL Jefferson is a legend.


ps-Love him rockin' the Uncle Tupelo tshirt; now they are legend!  The GREAT Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy. 

guitartears
guitartears

you forgot to mention how sharing/peer to peer/smart phones/youtube/camcorders facilitate copying music so nobody wants to pay for music downloads or CD's lowers royalties paid to musicians.

DarrenPulley
DarrenPulley

this article is horse poop. Talent is one thing. Guts is another. They're waiting tables because Denton is a comfy place to die. Austin, NYC, etc., are scary places to live. Big Fish in a little coat. You're just another bum playing harmonica in the subway anywhere else. Stop glorifying Denton. It's gross. Inbred music scene trailer park mentality teeth full of a hobo's pubasos.

nathan_mclain
nathan_mclain

One of my best memories of college was watching the new monthly concert calendar being painted on the side of Rick's. It's ashamed that it has turned into a fratty meat market.

Ron345
Ron345

Eating at a restaurant in Denton a few days after seeing a great Centro-matic show, I was shocked to see Scott Danbon waiting tables. I remember thinking – why is this talented musician working here? Why isn’t he being paid for his musical talent? It made me realize that Scott, and others like him, weren’t earning a living making music. And I think it is a tragedy. When I see ‘artists’ on television without a trace of the talent that Scott, Brent, or Robert have, I assume they are raking in the dough from having a craptastic song jammed down our throat by corporate radio. Who knows? By the time the smoke clears and the dancers leave the stage, maybe there isn’t much money left. Even if perception doesn’t meet reality, the imbalance of it strikes me as an injustice.

rjasonbonner
rjasonbonner

i tried for twenty years to be a professional musician, i lost my tolerance for bar life/maybe just wasnt good enough. now i go to school, play mr. mom, and have been for all intensive purposes married to an accountant for the last five years. those accountant analogies are priceless. we both found them very funny. especially the one brent best said about driving. i read that to her as she gets ready to drive from east dallas to lewisville. hillarious and true! (no capitalization the fault of after market phone rom, not trying to be ee cummings)

whowantsabodymassage
whowantsabodymassage

@DarrenPulley 

if you're going to highjack the man's name, spell it right. tuck your jealous little tail between your legs and head back to the amsterdam.

 
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