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The Top Ten North Texas Blues Albums

See also: The best Texas songs of all time, #100-80

See also: The best Texas songs of all time, #79-60

Alex Moore, Alex Moore Barrelhouse pianist "Whistling" Alex Moore spent all of his life in Dallas, recording for Columbia in 1929, Decca in 1937, and RPM/Kent in 1951. During the '60s blues revival, he toured the festival circuit in the U.S. and Europe, after recording this 1960 album for Arhoolie. Unlike some of his contemporaries who returned from obscurity around the same time, Moore's ivory tinkling, singing and whistling capabilities were undiminished, and the late Tim Schuller, who interviewed him in the '70s, recalled him as an eccentric and colorful storyteller. While he recorded only twice more before his death in 1989, Moore continued performing until the end. We should all be so lucky.

Robert Ealey and the Five Careless Lovers, Live At the New Bluebird Nightclub In 1978, I first set foot in Fort Worth's New Bluebird Nightclub, where proprietor-singer Robert Ealey held forth for an audience of Lake Como neighbors, hippies, punks, soul-patch-and-sunglasses-wearing blues freaks, and TCU frat/sorority kids and their parents. Ealey wasn't the world's greatest singer, but he presided over a scene that formed the consciousness of two or three generations of Fort Worth music fans. It's all here on this 1973 live document, produced by T-Bone Burnett, that's now rare as hen's teeth, but served as the recording debut of future Fabulous Thunderbirds/Leroi Brothers drummer Mike Buck, as well as Fort Worth's master of T-Bone Walker guitar style, Sumter Bruton.

Jim Colegrove, Panther City Blues Colegrove started out in Ohio, the secret music capital of America, where he led Teddy & the Rough Riders from 1958 to 1965. He did sessions in New York for ex-Cream producer Felix Pappalardi and hung out in Woodstock before meeting Stephen Bruton and moving to Fort Worth, where he formed the Juke Jumpers with Bruton's younger brother, Sumter. The Juke Jumpers' music was a melange of jump blues, rockabilly, Louisiana swamp pop and whatever else interested the principals, with Colegrove's Levon Helm-esque vocals out front. They recorded and toured extensively through the '80s and continue reuniting annually, but they were never better than on this '79 debut.

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Couldn't Stand the Weather This is the bit I've been dreading. Sure, his musical tics and mannerisms have been recycled to death by lesser lights, from Kenny Wayne Shepherd to Los Lonely Boys, and perhaps his major impact came from introducing the blues to a generation of axe-slingers that teethed on Van Halen and Metallica. But nobody learned the lessons of Hendrix and Albert King better than this Oak Cliff native, who came into his own on this sophomore release. Even better were Austin bossman W.C. Clark's "Cold Shot" and the self-penned title track.

Fabulous Thunderbirds, Girls Go Wild Vocalist/harpman Kim Wilson was really a Detroit-born Californian, and bassist Keith Ferguson a Houston native, but guitarist Jimmie Vaughan was Oak Cliff born and bred, and drummer Mike Buck a son of Fort Worth. While it might seem commonplace now, at the end of the '70s, the Thunderbirds represented a sea change in white blues. Mentored by Clifford Antone, they stripped away all the '60s rock trappings from the blues, even though Vaughan had inherited Hendrix's wah-wah pedal when his band opened for the Experience in '69. The T-Birds hit the stage in gassed-back hair and baggy suits with open-collared shirts, and on tracks like Slim Harpo's "Scratch My Back" and Jerry McCain's "She's Tuff," they dispensed with all that was inessential and delivered the pure goods. After them, the deluge.

 

Henry Qualls, Blues from Elmo, Texas Qualls was a rustic hobbyist who learned from Lightnin' Hopkins and Frankie Lee Sims, but spent most of his life working at menial jobs and performing for friends at home. In 1994, the Dallas Blues Society's Chuck Nevitt and Scotty Ferris recorded him performing songs by Blind Willie Johnson, Lowell Fulson and, incongruously, the Newbeats' "Bread and Butter." His style was primitive and gritty but had the ring of truth about it, and it's fortunate indeed that his unique art was documented before he passed in 2003.

U.P. Wilson, U.P. Wilson and Texas Trailer Trash In my opinion, the greatest North Texas blues album of all time has never been released. In the '70s, Jim Yanaway - a Fort Worthian now living in exile in Austin - recorded Ealey's guitarist U.P. Wilson at the now-defunct Tack's Fun House, as incendiary a performance as exists in recorded blues. In the '80s and '90s, U.P. recorded extensively for European labels, but I prefer this low-budget, late-'90s local release, which finds him in the company of such DFW luminaries as James Hinkle, Johnny Mack, Kenny Traylor and Tone Sommer, and has the vibe of a late-night jam session.

CeDell Davis, When Lightnin' Struck the Pine Davis, a native Arkansan, lost the use of his hands to childhood polio and the use of his legs when they were broken in a police raid on a Mississippi Delta club. He plays slashing slide guitar using a butter knife and sings in a powerful, Muddy Waters-inspired style. Although he backed bluesman Robert Nighthawk for a decade starting in 1953, he didn't make his first record until the '90s. In 2001, he came to North Texas to record When Lightnin' Struck the Pine for Brave Combo drummer Joe Cripps' Fast Horse label, backed by musos from R.E.M. and Seattle's Screaming Trees. Those youngsters did better by Davis than, say, Canned Heat did by John Lee Hooker or Jon Spencer's Blues Explosion did by R.L. Burnside, and the result is a fairly authentic slab of electrified Delta blues.

Robin Sylar, Bust Out! Dallas native Sylar is in the history books as "the guy that played in Krackerjack with Stevie Ray," but anyone who ever heard him would have to agree that he was one of the most individuated guitarists of his generation. Steeped in blues, he wasn't averse to other influences, crafting a fire-breathing approach to his axe that was equal parts Albert Collins, Link Wray, Dick Dale and Jeff Beck. Another late bloomer, he recorded this, his debut CD, in 2002, aided and abetted by poet/blues uberfan Wes Race and fellow musical eccentric Phil Bennison (aka Homer Henderson). It's the testimony of an underrated performer who always marched to the beat of his very own drum.

Ray Reed, Where the Trinity Runs Free For a brief time, a decade or so ago, the most legit blues thing in the Metromess was Lady Pearl Johnson's BTA Band, which held forth weekly at the Swing Club at Evans and Allen in Fort Worth. Pearl passed at the end of 2002, but her brother and bandleader, guitarist-singer Ray Reed, still treads the boards periodically, and he released this disc in 2009 on tiny Austin-based indie Dialtone Records. He and brother-in-law Clarence Pierce lock horns on a couple of smokin' jams, but the best moments come on the solo acoustic "Bad Sad," a duo with harpman/jam-meister Brian "Hash Brown" Calway on "Key To the Highway," and a trio version of John Lee Hooker's classic "Boogie Chillen."


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