David Dennard is doing God's work -- if your definition of God is, say, Johnny Cash or Carl Perkins or Gene Vincent. Come January, the man responsible for releasing collections celebrating the rare-and-unreleased work of such local heroes as Johnny Dollar and "Groovey" Joe Poovey will ship to stores what's easily among the most significant and valuable album ever to come from this city. And that's no hyperbole, either, considering the two-disc Live From the Big "D" Jamboree, 1957-59 features never-before-heard performances by the likes of Cash (including "I Walk the Line"), Perkins ("Blue Suede Shoes" and "That's All Right Mama," among others), Vincent ("Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On"), Wanda Jackson, Ronnie Dawson, Sid King, and dozens of other musicians -- all performing live, very live, on the old Sportatorium stage.
The collection -- which is divided into two discs, "Rockabillies" (Jerry Reed, Warren Smith, and others) and "Hillbillies" (Orville Couch, Cowboy Copas, Leon Payne, and many more) -- was supposed to be in stores next month. But a hard-drive crash at Phil York's mastering lab "shot to shit my release schedule," Dennard says, explaining that half a disc was lost during the meltdown. To that end, he has put off the release date of the discs -- which will feature never-before-seen pictures and extensive liner notes by Fort Worth-based Western swing aficionado Kevin Coffey -- till the second week of January on his Dragon Street Records label. "We'll have power back by then," he says, cracking Y2K.
But what's three more months of waiting? After all, this material has been sitting in the Library of Congress vaults for decades, until Dennard discovered it while working on his terrific 1998 Gene Vincent collection, The Lost Dallas Sessions. In the Library's basement, Dennard discovered 15 minutes of Vincent and his Blue Caps performing at the Sportatorium during the late 1950s -- in addition to dozens of other performances not only from the Big "D" Jamboree, but from myriad other barn dances all over the country, including the famed Louisiana Hayride.
Dennard suggests there are several more albums waiting to be made from his discoveries. "I could make a career out of this -- licensing the rights to people from the various shows," he says. "It's like having a big turkey to carve up." But he's first and foremost concerned with the Dallas collection, which features more than 30 different beloved heroes and unrenowned legends playing championship ball at the peaks of their games. Indeed, the Cash and Perkins performances alone make the disc invaluable, catching the two men before their Sun set.
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Dennard says it wasn't at all difficult to get clearance from Cash's businesspeople to use the material. After all, they're aware of how little money there is to be made packaging such venerable material. Besides, Dennard says, "Johnny's also ill and is interested in his legacy. He was flattered to be included and flattered we cleared it instead of bootlegging it, like they do in Europe. He was appreciative I went through the trouble, according to his manager. And he fondly remembers the Jamboree; he was always well-received there." Indeed, it sounds like Beatlemania when Cash launches into his extraordinary performance of "Get Rhythm." But what makes this a remarkable live recording is that the song never struggles to be heard over the rousing applause.
Dennard admits there's not much money to be made doing projects such as these. He insists he does it for the sole reason of preserving the past -- or, in his words, "giving credit where it's due." He's the proud native son in love with the idea of reminding folks that Dallas, for a brief moment, was an important stop on the rock-and-roll time line. Now, if only he could find Hank Williams' and Elvis Presley's Big "D" Jamboree performances.
"This has been the coolest thing I've ever been involved in," says Dennard. "It's taken me all over East Texas and South Oak Cliff. I've met people in their twilight years. It's just incredible. It's like researching a historical project, which, I guess, this is. Unfortunately, these people don't sell records anymore. But I'll be happy if an astronaut's listening to it on a space station 20 years from now. That's all I really want."