Walking into a Bone Doggie show is like stepping into another time, another place, even another world. He calls himself a gypsy punk rocker, and he looks the part, with black fingerless gloves, a black tie, vest and fedora, and red long-sleeved shirt. His band, the Hickory Hellraisers, are the circus act and Bone Doggie is the ringmaster.
But for musicians in Denton, he's been much more than the leader of an oddball band. Thanks to his work hosting open mic nights at venues like Banter and The Abbey Underground, he's created a mecca for aspiring songwriters and become a mentor and an inspiration to dozens of artists.
"He is the one who believed in us," one local musician wrote recently in a blog post on discoverdenton.com. "He's the one who encouraged us. He is the one who saw something in us that no one else did."
Bone Doggie's own relationship with music goes back decades. He fell in love with music when he was a child living in Dallas back in the 1960s. He says his mother's side of the family were a bunch of hillbillies from the Ozarks who were always playing some kind of musical instrument at family reunions: a banjo, a fiddle or a guitar.
When he was a teenager, he was turned on to playing bass when he heard the Who's Tommy, eventually playing in a three-piece metal band called Blackwater Fever that he says employed a "KISS on a budget" look. They played a gig one night at Richland College in Dallas, and his parents came to watch him jam. They were playing all originals with a few f-bombs sprinkled in the lyrics, and he watched his parents leave before he finished his set.
"My filthy little mouth embarrassed my parents," Bone Doggie says. "Since then, I've always had a PG feel. You don't get up on stage and insult your audience. I'm here to entertain."
But it wasn't until 2001 that Bone Doggie would be set on the path to finding his true calling as a mentor to others. It was that then he discovered the Irish bouzouki, a four-string instrument that would become his signature piece. Around the same time, inspired by seeing Oh Brother Where Art Thou, he delved into learning the Delta blues, which he ultimately gave a Celtic flair with an alternate tuning.
Once he perfected his technique, he wanted to play some of his blues material on open mic night, but he needed a nickname when he took the stage. He wanted a bluesman name because he thought his name sounded too Irish. One day, he was mowing his front lawn when he watched his dogs being dogs and thought, "I'm a bone doggie. Got to dig it up. Got to dig that bone. I'm a bone doggie. Got to dig it up."
That first foray into open mics led, a couple of years later, to Bone Doggie inheriting the position of hosting open mic nights at Banter, a coffee shop on Oak Street that was known for promoting art. It was a place where people from the crowd would take center stage and perform spoken word poetry, read essays or play music. And every new school year, a new batch of college students from all over the country would show up to take part in the performance art being nurtured in the coffee shop.
"These kids would show up with this amazing talent level," Bone Doggie says. "It would knock your socks off. They show up out of nowhere. Some of them were good at it, and others were just cutting their teeth. Some of them would be into it, and others would be petrified, which is what I dig; because if the kid's got balls enough to do it the first time, you want to encourage him."
Bone Doggie would watch the kids' performances and take them out to his office -- the curb outside the coffee shop -- and give them a pointer or two, "kind of give them the benefit of whatever experience I'd learned over the years."
Mr. Joe Pennson and Andy Cooper would open up every open mic show, playing local hits: "Lady, That's a Might Fine Chihuahua" and "What Color of Panties Are You Wearing Tonight?" And Bone Doggie would search for band members to bring into his new band -- Bone Doggie and the Hickory Street Hellraisers -- that he was forming with his son, BamBam, who was also a bassist.
Over the years Bone Doggie's band members have changed, adding to the diversity of the sound that enhances the music and the performance that he's trying to create on stage: "a touch of murder, mayhem and good ol' fashion family fun. His current lineup includes: Kabeer "Red Light" Leekah, electric guitar; "Magic" Matt Cochran, saxophone and keyboards; (The) Bret Crow (Show), bass guitar; Kris Cordell, drums; and Abigail "The Duchess" Messerli, horns.
A few years ago Bone Doggie quit hosting open mic nights at Banter and took his songwriting mecca over to the Abbey Underground where he implemented a new open mic tradition and began inspiring a new generation of musicians.
Bone Doggie's love of promoting young artists led him to become an on-air personalty as part of dentonradio.com. He was hosting several hours of local music on his radio show -- Doggie Time -- but he recently stopped doing it because of his schedule. He plans to continue his show soon.
"The original intent was to provide a venue for young artists in a town that is special for music," Bone Doggie says. "Denton is a music town. and we wanted to provide a place for these kids to showcase their music."
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