Dallas Music Experts Riff on the 10 Blues Songs That Every Dallasite Should Know
5. "Palace of the King" by Freddie King
When the blues morphed into rock 'n' roll in the 1950s, and especially when it got picked up by British rockers a few years later, it played a huge role in the rise of the guitar hero. Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix were but a few who were (generously) inspired by electric blues guitarists, and one man who influenced almost all of them was Dallas native Freddie King. His songs "Hide Away" and "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" were hits in their day and have been covered frequently, but "Palace of the King" stands out as an ode to his hometown. "A great song about Dallas performed by the Dallas blues master whom every real guitar player has emulated/copied/ripped off," says When Dallas Rocked director Kirby Warnock.
4. "Me and the Devil Blues" by Robert Johnson
Robert Johnson may be the most towering figure in all of blues music, but he's not from Dallas. He's not even from Texas. The Mississippi native, however, recorded nearly half of his catalog (a mere 29 songs) here in Dallas, forming a crucial part of local music lore. One of those songs, "Me and the Devil Blues," is as haunting as any blues song ever, and distills Johnson's work (and myth, as he was alleged to have sold his soul to the devil) into two and a half haunting minutes. Dead at the age of 27, Johnson's music wasn't rediscovered till the early '60s. "He was almost completely a historical accident. He could've been easily forgotten," says Pat Bywaters, who's restoring the building where Johnson recorded back in 1937.
3. "See That My Grave is Kept Clean" by Blind Lemon Jefferson
There may be no more important, and tragic, figure in Dallas blues than Blind Lemon Jefferson. Born blind, he was discovered performing on the street corner in Deep Ellum during the 1920s. Much as Johnson was whisked away to record in Texas, Jefferson was sent to record in Chicago, where he recorded a number of truly seminal blues songs, including the beautifully desolate "See That My Grave is Kept Clean" (which was covered by, among others, a young Bob Dylan). "If you look at ... the music that likely influenced Johnson, there is only one Texas musician, Blind Lemon, and that was because he achieved a national audience," says Bywaters. But Jefferson was to die young himself, at the age of 36, and in a cruel twist his grave would remain unmarked for many years.
2. "Texas Flood" by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
By the time Stevie Ray Vaughan broke it big with Texas Flood in 1983, the blues had seemingly been relegated to being a thing of the past. Punk rock and hip-hop had made even rock 'n' roll obsolete, but Vaughan — a native of Oak Cliff who spent many years in Austin before returning home to Dallas — gave it a new lease on life. Taking cues from Hendrix and Albert King, he played big, bold riffs that gave the Texas blues sound a whole new meaning. No song may be more instructive to how Vaughan rebuilt that music in his own virtuosic image than the title track from that debut album, which has itself become a bona fide blues standard. "It is, in many ways, the top of the ladder many of us are trying to climb when we think of blues guitar," says Ketner.
1. "Call It Stormy Monday" by T-Bone Walker
Blues standards are a tradition almost as old as the blues itself. Even in the days of Mississippi Delta blues, there were certain songs that every blues singer worthy of the name had a version of. But, much as "My Favorite Things" is to jazz players, none may be more widespread than "Stormy Monday." "A blues standard, covered by just about everyone, but written by our own Oak Cliff T-Bone," Warnock says of the song, referring to another Oak Cliff native, T-Bone Walker. A giant of early electric blues, Walker penned the song in the late '40s, which later became a hit in the hands of Bobby "Blue" Bland and has been covered by everyone from B.B. King to the Allman Brothers Band. With its mournful shuffle and bleak lyrics, "Stormy Monday" really is as blue as you can get.
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