Kirby Warnock on His New Film and the Heyday of Dallas Rock

Imagine a time in Dallas when Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty, the Cars and Elvis Costello could all be found without sneaking past a team of security guards or purchasing a $200 VIP pass. It's a time when every major record label in Dallas not only pushed records like drug dealers, but also pimped their artists to anyone who'd listen.

"Most people don't have a grasp of just how big of music town Dallas was back then," says Kirby Warnock, the former editor of Buddy, one of the first rock-n-roll magazines in Dallas to cover the music scene. "There was no Dallas Observer, and mainstream media wasn't covering rock 'n' roll, because they considered it to be the counterculture. It was fresh after Vietnam War. To them, it was just a bunch of hippies making music."

Warnock is setting out to memorialize those heady days with a new short film, which premiers at Texas Theatre on September 26.

Kirby Warnock on His New Film and the Heyday of Dallas Rock
Kirby Warnock

In his new short film When Dallas Rocked, Warnock hopes to show just how important the Dallas music scene was to the artists, to the fans, to the city. Showing classic photos of various rock 'n' roll moments and telling stories that would stop even the marginal music lover in his or her tracks, the former editor reveals just how much cooler the Dallas scene was compared to Austin or Nashville. "People think it's all happening in Austin," he says, "and don't get me wrong -- it is now. Austin is the place to be now. But we have a rich music history here and we should catalog it. This is my first attempt to catalog and digitize and chronicle what was going on back then because there's no record of it anywhere even though I was there... and so were a lot of other people."

Of course he's right. Dallas does have a rich music history. Robert Johnson recorded Hellhounds On My Trail, a legendary blues song recorded by a man who could feel the devil's breath on the back of his neck. "Austin has a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan, but we don't have one here even though he's from Dallas," says Warnock. "It's crazy we don't have a statue of Freddie King here, and he's in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. Here, in his home town, there's not a plaque or anything. It's crazy that a guy from Dallas is getting recognition in Cleveland but not here. Explain that to me."

Of course he's right again. Not only do we not recognize Mr. King or the Vaughan brothers in Dallas, both of whom are Oak Cliff boys, but also "Dimebag" Darrell Abbot and Mike Scaccia, both of whom deserve a statue in the middle of downtown Fort Worth. "We don't do a very good job of recognizing our creative artistic class here," he says.

So that's the need for Warnock's film. The project began at last year's inaugural Oak Cliff Film Festival, where a category called "Community Shorts" was opened to submissions for short films. "So I had all this pictures from working at Buddy just sitting in a box. I just kept thinking: Man, these are pretty neat pictures; somebody might want to see them." He scanned them, found some music and created a slideshow. "Most young people think everything that happened before they were born is on the Internet, but that's not true. There's a ton of stuff that's got to be scanned and digitized."  

Once his short film appeared, Warnock received "tons of phone calls and emails." Then a radio station commentary followed as well as a podcast discussing the old Dallas music scene. "I thought there's enough here, so I'll just expand it," he says. Yet several of the people whom he needed to interview were dead. In 2011, Stoney Burns, his boss at Buddy, died of a heart attack, and last year Bugs Henderson died of cancer. "I did a long interview with Bugs before he was sick, and I was like, 'Man, we're not getting any younger; and if somebody doesn't catalog this, these folks aren't going to be around much longer.'"

He's hoping that people will respond well to the film, so he can expand his short film into a more in-depth look at that moment in time when Dallas was way cooler than Austin.

"Somebody said something to me a long time ago, 'It's not history until it's written down.' And I guess that's what I'm trying to do with this film. Is all these people who were around when I was around interviewing, we have all these stories to tell, but these stories have never been written or catalog or recorded. This is my attempt to capture that and let me people know about it."

From Led Zeppelin chilling at Mother Blues to the Runaways and the Cars at Peaches Records hoping to sign fans' records, Warnock has chronicled the experience of a special time. "Today, everybody is kept at arm's length," Warnock says. "When I went to concerts back then, it was like the artist and the audience became one."

Take his example of Elvis Costello, a pop encyclopaedian whose music has earned him a Grammy Award, a Brit Award and an induction into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame. Costello played a show in Dallas and afterward said he was a big Delbert McClinton fan. (If you don't know his music, McClinton is a Fort Worth-based blues legend who's been inducted in the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame. His songs have appeared on both country and rock charts.) Warnock wrote down a club's address where McClinton happened to be playing that evening. Once Costello's show was over, he and his whole band drive the tour bus over there and meet Fort Worth blues legend. "We had homegrown talent, and rock stars were nuts about it," Warnock says.

Warnock also says it's important to understand the Dallas music scene history to better develop an appreciate of what makes Dallas one of the greatest cities in America, despite the hell that is rush hour on 635, and while the people who built the city need to be recognized, so to do the people who give the city its soul.

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