Socrates once said, "Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful." And nowhere is this training more apparent than when a band takes the stage at a live music venue.
The importance of live music venues has spawned numerous articles, books and blog posts. Rolling Stone even created an interactive map of some of the best music venues in America. But what is it about attending a live gig that sparks so much interest? In a recent article "10 Fabulous Music Venues," reporter Dana Joseph of CNN says, "Nothing beats the Adrenalin, the exhilaration of a watching an amazing performance live in a beautiful space, or the rush of discovery that comes with witnessing the birth of a newcomer you know will become a massive star." Attending a live show is a ritual of artistic and social communion. It's one part a religious ceremony and the other a school of hard knocks for bands trying to reach the pinnacle of their career.
Yet, like any good religious leader will tell you, place is also an important part of the mystical process. It's something about the feel of the place as if the architecture and the people it attracts somehow transcend the boundary between matter and flesh and touches something sacred, spurring memories that last a lifetime.
Most bands have a gig or two that stand out in their mind, whether it's jamming at a place like Porky's motorcycle bar where leather is the required dress or playing at a redneck barbecue where calves' testicles are the main course. So we here at DC9 at Night asked a few local musicians to discuss some memorable gigs they've played during the course of their career.
8. The Hole in the Wall
The Hole in the Wall was located off Harry Hines in an old, dilapidated building, "but the vibe in that place was unmatched," says Chris Watson of the Chris Watson Band. It could only hold about 75 people. It was a funky little blues juke joint that showcased tremendous talent and some of the best hamburgers Watson has ever eaten. It could only hold about 75 people who often would need an umbrella when it rained because the roof leaked everywhere. The tile was worn off the floor from "decades of people dancing their asses off."
As a teenager, Watson played at the week night blues jam sessions hosted by local bluesman Brian "Hashbrown" Calway. "I cut my teeth with great musicians," he says, "and I have a special place in my heart for that nasty little joint." It wasn't just local musicians showing up for the jams, either. In the '80s and '90s, this place was the go-to spot for big name acts after their gigs. He once saw Don Henley of The Eagles wearing a ball cap and sunglasses. "Nobody bothered him, but we all knew who he was."
A few years back the Hole in the Wall was bulldozed to make room for construction on Harry Hines, "but its memory will forever live on," says Watson.
7. The Prohibition Room
The Prohibition Room sounds like a place where a bunch of old politicians would gather to hatch plans to prevent locals from drinking or smoking weed. But it was actually one of the best places to catch Texas blues in the heart of Dallas. Brian "Hashbrown" Calway used to jam with a bunch of legendary musicians, including Mikey Raphael from Willie Nelson's band, Donovan Leech, the Paladins and many local blues artists. It's rumored that Alex Moore did his last recordings there, too.
Located in the basement of an old Brewery building near West End, The Prohibition Room had almost cathedral-like ceilings with round columns scattered throughout the room. A bar on one side of the wall and a large stage in the center offered a good setup for aspiring and established artists. Barrels of peanuts were all around the place, and peanut shells covered the floor. "The manager/bartender Louis was really good to us," Hashbrown says, "and I remember many nights when we all got drunk together!"
Hashbrown has played several memorable venues that rank up there with The Prohibition Room, including Original Texas Tea House, Schooners and The Texas Trap, just too name a few.
6. Tombstone Factory
The Tombstone Factory chiseled headstones and some of Dallas/Fort Worth's legendary punk, metal and rock acts such as Cro Mags, Raided X and Warlock. Located just off HWY 820 and Sun Valley in Fort Worth, this cinderblock building with a muddy parking lot was a classic underground venue that helped spawn a one of a kind scene that still haunts its participants.
"We would wake up Eddie the Tomb Keeper late at night and practice," says Scott Shelby of Gammacide/Warbeast. "We left our equipment set up in there and the next day rats were living in the kick drums and ate holes in our bandanas."
This creepy little place felt like vampires would crawl at of the shadows to take part in the debauchery that included, as Jerry Warden who once managed the place said, "Nothin' but sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll." The vibe even frightened bands like Destruction who booked to play at the factory but pulled up, said "fuck it" and just left when they saw it.
"We had some great times," says Shelby. "There will never be an underground scene at places like these again."
5. The Vampire Lounge
The Vampire Lounge.... just saying the words sparks an image of a decadent place where blood addicts toy with their blood whores like on HBO's True Blood, Anne Rice's The Vampire Lestat or even the golden assholes from Stephanie Meyer's Twilight fiasco. But this ode to Neil Jordan's Interview with a Vampire and Farhad Mann's Nick Knight was an actual music venue in Dallas back in the late '90s until Target staked it a year and a half later.
Despite its short life span, the lounge was a place where local bands like Drowning Pool, Solinger and were able to log some stage time to perfect their craft. "It was dark and creepy just like the name," says guitarist CJ Pierce of Drowning Pool, "but a lot of 'rock star' type of stuff, if you will, went on in there. Crazy times for sure."
Pierce knows about dark and creepy. Drowning Pool has played at converted churches like The Alter Bar in Philadelphia ("almost the perfect set up for Rock 'n' Roll religion"), an old Gothic church in Scotland and a Free Mason-designed mansion called The Rave in Milwaukee, and The Alter Bar in Philadelphia. "The owners claim it's haunted," he says. "All kinds of scary stories about that place. Always a great rock show though!"
But Drowning Pool's earlier gigs weren't all at dark and creepy places. They also jammed at clubs formerly known as a Denny's or an iHop, truck stops and topless bars. "Strip clubs were always kinda weird for the stage set up," he says. "There's a poll right in the middle of the stage that you have to avoid. But some of the girls hang out for the show and that's always fun."
4. Dollhouse Strip Club
Dollhouse Strip Club sounds like a place that you'd find in Dolly Parton's The Best Little Whore House in Texas. But it's actually located in the Red Light District in Hamburg, Germany. Offering everything from fire-breathing naked strippers to serpent-welding ones for patrons. So, in 2011, during his European Tour, when Lance Lopez heard that Kroko, a good friend who ran several places in the Red Light District, booked an impromptu concert at the strip club, he blurted, "Oh God, my wife is gonna kill me." His friend and the promoter, though, promised it would be a private show as if they were renting out the club.
Well, when we showed up for the gig, it was the exact opposite," says Lopez. "Not only were there the top female strippers in Europe, but also male strippers as well."
Lopez and his band set up their gear around a Harley Davidson motorcycle parked in the middle of the stage. Each song, three to four strippers danced onstage, chasing Lopez around the stage to hang on him while he was playing his guitar solos.
"Every guitar solo was me being chased by strippers dicking and dodging like I was playing tag with them," he says. "I was running away from them because all I needed was a photo of all the strippers hanging all over me on Facebook the next day for my wife to see. Needless to say my wife hates Kroko, the Dollhouse and Hamburg!"
3. Metro Fitness
Warbeast once played a show at Metro Fitness, a hardcore workout gym where MMA fighters and wrestlers train. The owner wanted the band to play during workouts and in between wrestling matches to a small crowd. Surrounded by free weights and workout machines, Scott Shelby ignited his guitar with fingertips that struck the strings like matches hitting pavement.
"They did not predict how loud we would be with our metal bouncing off the brick walls," he says.
Shelby and his band blasted the audience and inspired the fighters whose matches leaned toward psychotic by the end of the band's set. "I'm sure people who were working where like 'What the hell is going here with these guys blasting metal and head banging in our gym?'" he says.
Over the years, The Smokin' Joe Kubek Band featuring Bnois King have played at dozens of memorable places before they landed their record deal. They jammed a gig at a small venue in Mountain Home, Arkansas, but they couldn't set up their equipment until someone moved a casket (still containing a body from a funeral earlier that day) off the stage. But it's the Fun-O-Mat, an old laundry mat in Ruston, Louisiana, that tops the list for this feature.
"Bnois loved it when the women would do their laundry as we played a slow blues," says Smokin' Joe, "but they couldn't hear the dryers' buzzer when their laundry was done because I was playing my guitar pretty Loud."
Smokin' Joe and his band set their gear up in the corner of the laundry mat, facing rows of washing machines and walls of dryers as they jammed blues like Albert King's "Laundromat Blues." And when he returned to Dallas, Smokin' Joe told Stevie Ray Vaughan about the gig, and SRV laughed and said, "I'm not sure I'd want my girl doing laundry when y'all were playing."
2. Dallas Museum of Art
The Dallas Museum of Art has showcased some of the greatest talent in the art world, including a nymph sculpture by Italian artist Giovanni Bonazza as well as an amazing Southeast Asian art collection. But it was when, in June 1991, the museum hosted blues legend B.B. King and local Dallas blues legend Mike Morgan and the Crawl for a press party for the Benson and Hedges Blues Festival in the courtyard that made the most memories for the blues artists and fans.
More than 200 people filled the courtyard as Mike Morgan took the stage with his band. They played a few numbers before B.B. King joined them on stage. "These guys make this look easy," he says, "but it really isn't. We've never played together before." B.B. was very gracious as he shared the blues with Mike and the rest of his band.
"The venue was not as impressive to me as much as the full on press treatment," says Don O of KNON blues radio, "and the quality of the talent involved. That's something you don't see every day with the blues.
The event was made possible by Benson and Hedges, a company that promoted the blues for a few years before disappearing from the scene. "I sure did enjoy the shows," Don O says, "and I am sure the musicians enjoyed the payday."
1. Joe's Garage
Joe's Garage wasn't a place to get your brakes done on your car. In fact, if you showed up there with your car, you'd get a mindful of metal and a mouthful of blood as you fell into the mosh pit. It was actually a restaurant located on the west side of Fort Worth before it turned into a music venue. Abboud Greig, or "Abb," owned and operated the rock club for a decade.
In the beginning, Abb was booking only cover bands that played three sets of cover songs a night when Rick Perry of Gammacide and Walter Trachsler of Rotting Corpse about playing all originals. He was hesitant about a band playing originals, so he gave the area thrash metalers a chance on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. "We called it the 'Give Thanks to Thrash show," says Rick Perry. It felt like a mini-rock concert with alcohol, drugs, fights and groupies.
The show was such a success that Joe's Garage began hosting Gammacide on a regular basis as well as other thrash metal legends like Exodus, Carcass, Morbid Angel, Pantera, Rigor Mortis and Sacred Reich. "Once we had our own club, it became a very big deal," says Bruce Corbitt of Rigor Mortis/Warbeast in an interview with one of our music editors. "We went from playing the Tombstone Factory to playing the Arcadia theater because of Joe's."
The club became such a big deal that national bands such as Sepultura, Tool and Slayer could also bee seen destroying the stage.
"Everyone who was part of that era, that period, looks back on it as some of the greatest parts of our life," Corbitt says.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.