The 10 Best Dallas Music Documentaries

Don't sleep on these documentaries about Dallas music.EXPAND
Don't sleep on these documentaries about Dallas music.
Still from We From Dallas

The city of Dallas has a tendency to not get its due for its musical history. From the blues and country, up through punk and hip-hop, it's a history that's rich and varied (and often linked to Deep Ellum), but sometimes we need visuals to get the full picture of the music scene around us. Fortunately, some top-notch documentaries have been produced throughout the years, chronicling the various epochs of Dallas music. These are 10 of the best.

10. Texxas Jam '78

Texxas Jam '78 isn't a rock doc that will live alongside the greats. But for a few pivotal years, the Cotton Bowl in Dallas was the summertime epicenter of a nation of headbangers, and this James Austin-directed film captures the initial offering of the fabled Texxas Jam concerts. Though actual footage from the Fest is severely lacking, interviews with many of the key players involved, including Eddie Money and the Wilson Sisters of Heart, help shed light for those who weren't there. Bonus: As detailed in this film, Van Halen was once a wild, young, show-stealing band on the rise. Crazy. Kelly Dearmore

9. Teen a Go Go

When the British Invasion hit in the mid-'60s, the impact on American teens was massive and widespread. Teen music scenes developed in major cities from coast to coast; Fort Worth’s was stronger than most, owing its popularity as much to the city’s tradition of R&B and country music as to the five teen clubs that hosted bands. Local radio stations were hungry for homegrown rock ’n' roll, and the interviews in Melissa Kirkendal’s 2011 documentary Teen A-Go-Go give you the idea that a movement like the Fort Worth teen scene, however brief, was almost destined to happen. There’s also a sense of the city’s perpetual frustration with living in the shadow of Dallas — and given the garage-rock soundtrack, that vibe is pretty relevant today. Steve Steward

8. Deep Ellum Blues

One of three short films produced by the Dallas Museum of Art back in 1985, Deep Ellum Blues explores the neighborhood when it was a hotbed for jazz and blues back in the 1920s and '30s. The firsthand accounts and photographs from these years are essential viewing for anyone interested in Deep Ellum’s history. But 30 years later, even the shots of the area from 1985 are eye opening. Alan Govenar, the local author and filmmaker who will serve as executive director and curator for the Museum of Street Culture, directed Deep Ellum Blues. Bill Neely, a country singer and songwriter raised in McKinney, who received his first guitar lesson from Jimmie Rodgers, is prominently featured in the film. Jeremy Hallock

7. South Dallas Pop

South Dallas Pop is a misleading title for a festival and KERA-produced documentary that was actually a funk festival held back in 1970 at the infamous Forest Theater. Festival co-promoter Roger Boykin explains in the documentary that funk was the pop music of the black community at the time. Segregation was unofficially still the status quo in the city. The festival gave voice to seminal black musicians like the Soul Seven, Marchel Ivery and The Apollo Commanders, who could not break the color barrier surrounding radio at the time, but were making waves in local black clubs. The music of the festival was released three decades later on the Stones Throw sub-label Now-Again records. Wanz Dover

6. Morrissey: Live in Dallas

This was Morrissey’s first live concert film, and it was shot in front of a sell-out crowd at Gexa Energy Pavilion, back when it was still known as the Starplex. Over 10,000 people crowded into Starplex to watch Moz do his thing in 1991, and since the VHS is out of print and the DVD is a badly done bootleg, only those 10,000-plus — and those who can find this on YouTube after some digging — can truly appreciate what a monumental performance it was. Moz has said some things that make him hard to stomach these days, so try to track this down and remember a time when you weren’t slightly embarrassed of your fancy uncle saying horrible things at the dinner table. Jaime-Paul Falcon

5. 45

Started as a curiosity by local filmmaker Jonathan Buchner ("What's with all these '45' stickers around Deep Ellum and Fair Park?"), 45 looks at the life of the band Spector 45. Touching on the many fun times the band had playing around Dallas, it doesn't hold anything back in talking about the tragic deaths of frontman Frankie Campagna and bassist Adam Carter. Featuring interviews with the surviving members and those who knew Campagna and Carter best, it's definitely a heavy film. But it's a film that does right by a great band, and shows how important the Dallas area has always been for music.  Eric Grubbs

4. His Name is Bob

In 2009, Dallas filmmakers Lisa Johnson and J. Sebastian Lee told the story of Bob. Bob Crawford is a familiar face to Dallas locals, especially those who frequent Deep Ellum and East Dallas restaurants, shops and venues alike. He is everywhere, always. Bob does not fear death nor does he fear other people. After being locked up in an institution for nearly two decades, among other unfortunate life events, he is always willing to share a story or serenade a friend (he knows no strangers) with a tune on his portable keyboard — always with a smile on his face. Sara Button

3. The Starck Club Documentary

The Starck Club, which closed its doors in 1989, was one of the first homes to the ecstasy-charged dance parties of the late '80s (later known as “raves") before the fad grew to fame in the '90s. “We vote conservatively in Dallas, yet we love to break rules,” shares Wade Randolph Hampton, a pioneer in the development of the North American rave culture (aka a DJ in the ’90s). I mean, he did remix the soundtrack for Requiem for a Dream. This 87-minute documentary is sure to soothe your Dallas night club distaste, and features interviews with popular DJs Paul Oakenfold and Tommie Sunshine. SB

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2. When Dallas Rocked

Directed by Kirby Warnock and shown multiple times on KERA in 2014, this is an engaging look at the Dallas music scene from the '50s to the '80s. Focusing on the rock and blues acts in and around Deep Ellum and South Dallas, there are notable profiles of legends like Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughn, as well as radio DJs and promoters. It's great until the last few minutes, when many of its principals dismiss what has happened to Dallas since their time, making the area seem irrelevant and less important. Which, if you're currently reading this publication, you know is a load of horse shit. EG

1. We From Dallas

Dallas' hip-hop scene doesn't get near enough credit, but We From Dallas is the most comprehensive and reverential account of local hip-hop and street art that you could've asked for. Directed by Teddy Cool, this film features some of Dallas' most legendary hip-hop figures, including the D.O.C., Mr. Pookie and plenty of lesser-known artists who have contributed to this city's gritty and underground aesthetic. Beyond the music, b-boys and graffiti artists help round out the picture. With all the excellent rappers that this city has to offer now, it is important to learn all you can about the artists who paved the way for guys like Blue, the Misfit and A.Dd+. Amy McCarthy

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