Echoes and Reverberations: "The War Across The Alley"

[Editor's Note: This is the last time we'll be running Echoes and Reverberations as a regular feature here on DC9. Will we see future installments? Don't know yet. But in the meantime, a big thanks to Jeff Liles for the past 30 installments of the series. It's been fun.]

When I was a little kid our family had four really big peach trees in the back yard. Never could stand the taste of those fucking things, but as it turned out, downer peaches were the perfect projectile. There were hundreds of them scattered everywhere. For most of the kids in our far North Dallas neighborhood, everyday life was a war zone with BB guns, slingshots, rocks and rotting peaches. You got used to looking over your shoulder, lest you catch a sniper's peach grenade to the side of the head.

That shit hurt.

Bob Watson and I grew up directly across the alley from each other. From that first day in 1969, there was an apparent conflict dynamic--I was a shameless slave to The Beatles; he was all about the Rolling Stones.

While the other kids our age wanted to grow up and become astronauts or Dallas Cowboys, the two of us wanted to be rock and roll stars, off on some oblivious us-against-the-world action.

Bob and I got into all kinds of trouble when we were kids--the usual stuff, nothing too far off the deep end. What began with throwing peaches at passing cars quite predictably turned into long hair, bong hits and keg parties. Both of us got our first musical instruments at right around the same time. His parents bought him a cheap electric guitar; my mom and dad got me a drum set that held my attention for about a week. We were both around 13 years old.

Mark Thomas lived right down the alley. The three of us used to mow lawns together during the summer. Bob and Mark were always inseparable. None of us were naturally gifted musicians. Most of our early teen years were spent jamming on bad cover songs in Mark's garage or my upstairs bedroom. We were all still too young to start a real band, but we were all having fun pretending in the meantime.

One Christmas Eve, Mark left his amp at my house. That night, I discovered that if you turned the reverb knob all the way to ten, and then picked up the amp and dropped it on the floor, it made this magnificent noise--like a giant ringing gong.

I raised the windows of my room and turned the volume all the way up. You could hear this wild unexplainable racket all up and down the street. That Christmas morning, Mark's mom ran down the alley and showed up at our back door, yelling and screaming at my mom that I had been destroying her son's property.

I did my best to explain to her that I was just exploring the aural possibilities of the equipment. She just yelled a lot. I would have pegged her with a peach but they were out of season at the time.

Merry X-mas, yo.

Eventually, Bob and I began to outgrow our initial musical obsessions. When my particular taste transitioned from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin, Bob and Mark stuck with the Stones. When I went from the Sex Pistols to Public Enemy, they embraced a new British band called The Cure. Our horizons were broadening. MTV, believe it or not, was having a positive impact on popular culture.

In 1985, I was in a record shop and saw this handwritten ad for a new wave band that needed a bass player. They were called Group Six. I had never played bass before, but I knew the notes were the same on the top four strings of the guitar. Bill Wisener at Bill's Records bought me a maple Fender Precision Bass so I would have a decent instrument for the audition. When I surprisingly landed the gig, it was sort of my ticket out of the neighborhood.

Right around that same time, Bob and Mark rounded up one of our J.J. Pearce High School classmates named J.P. Davidsson, who played drums and could sing pretty well. The three of them started the first incarnation of Shallow Reign. A couple of months later, they added a hotshot guitar player from Highland Park named Patrick Sugg.

J.P. also jammed with Group Six a few times, but we broke up a couple of months later. Meanwhile, Bob and Mark were having much better luck with their new combo.

Shallow Reign landed a slot on The Sound of Deep Ellum compilation album released nationally by Island Records. They also made a cameo appearance in Oliver Stone's film Born on the Fourth of July. In an odd way, they were local pioneers. Shallow Reign was part of that core first batch of original bands that basically kick-started the Deep Ellum music community during the mid-'80s.

This week, band members, collaborators and fans recollect their individual experience inside the Shallow Reign orbit of influence.

Bob Watson (guitar, vocals): "Growing up, I listened to Exile On Main Street so much that I had every sound, every nuance on the album memorized. Jeff tried to convince me that The Beatles were better, but I wasn't hearing it. One day--I guess we were about eight or nine years old--we were sitting in his bedroom with a couple of girls from the neighborhood and, just to piss me off, he pointed to his Beatles Let It Be poster on the wall and told them that I was Paul McCartney's cousin. I knew that Paul was his least favorite Beatle, so I could tell that he was doing that just to mess with me. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were just so much cooler than Paul McCartney."

Jan Paul Davidsson (drummer): "Bob, Mark and I had known each other since junior high, and also worked together at a grocery store in North Dallas. In 1982, we decided to get together and play over at a house that Mark had in Richardson. We came up with a few songs and found out that Dave Anderson at Zoo Music held a Friday night talent show, and we decided to play one of these. I think we played three of them and ended up winning once. In late '83, Mark and Bob moved out to California to check out the music scene in L.A. I played in a couple of punk bands and ended up playing in a band called The Underground with Steve Nutt and Chris Bell. We were one of the first bands that played downtown at the Twilight Room. The only other venue that featured punk and cutting-edge bands was the Hot Klub, and I saw a lot of great music in that place. I listened to some rock 'n' roll, but was more into the alternative music like PIL, Black Flag, The Stranglers, The Cure, The Smiths, REM, etc."

Mark Thomas (bass guitar): "Bob Watson (my best friend since second grade) and I had just returned from our second attempt to move to Los Angeles. We had recorded a couple demos out there under the names The Void and The Lost Generation. We were listening to old Stones albums like Black and Blue, Exile on Main Street and Sticky Fingers, as well as David Bowie's Diamond Dogs and Ziggy Stardust. Bob and I had landscape jobs, but couldn't seem to make our rent, so we thought we would try Austin. We were planning on just staying in Dallas long enough to save enough money for our next move when Liles suggested we check out a couple of new places that were now allowing original bands to play. We went down to The Theatre Gallery and saw The End and Three on a Hill. We met the guys from the bands, and also TG owner Russ Hobbs that night. The thing we noticed was that each band stayed and watched the other bands and they were friendly and down to earth. At the same time, Jeff was turning us on to new bands like REM, The Cure, The Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen."

Davidsson: "Mark and Bob ended up moving back to Dallas sometime in late 1984. I was playing in The Underground at the time, and also Group Six (with Jeff Liles and a couple of the guys that ended up in Feet First.) I moved to a house in Garland and turned the extra room into a practice studio. Jeff got me back in touch with Mark and Bob and we decided to get together and play at my house. They told me about a new club in Deep Ellum called Theatre Gallery and we decided to see if we could play there. I really liked what was happening with Mark and Bob. I was doing most of the vocals with, Bob and I trading off on songs and doing background vocals. We didn't know how a singing drummer would work, but we decided to give it a try."

Thomas: "One night, Jeff showed us a list of band names that he had come up with on a sheet of paper, and for some reason 'Shallow Reign' stood out. I think we might have changed the spelling from rain' to 'reign', but that was about it. A few months later, we met Patrick Sugg who was a friend of Tench Coxe and David Mabry from The End. The addition of the second guitar really helped complete our sound and led to us recording our first album that we released the following July 4th at Theatre Gallery, with Three On A Hill releasing their first record the same night."

Davidsson: "We played with Three on a Hill, The End and The Trees and became good friends with all of them. Patrick Sugg, who was 17 years old and a very talented lead guitarist, liked what we were doing and joined our band. It just kind of took off from there. I left Group Six and The Underground to go full-time with Shallow Reign. Deep Ellum was really getting going and we played shows at as many venues as we could. We also played at the Prophet Bar, Starck Club, Twilight Room, Club Dada, Club Clearview, Longhorn Ballroom, Sparx, and the Arcadia Theatre. We had some great shows at Lee Park, played in Denton a few times, and also at the Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth. By 1987, we had developed a pretty good regional following and decided to record a record. We did several shows up in Oklahoma City and met the guys from the Flaming Lips. We would stay in Wayne Coyne's place up there and Michelle, his girlfriend at the time, took our first band picture."

Thomas: "Before we had left for Los Angeles, we had played a few talent shows with J.P. Davidson, who we knew from school and our grocery store jobs growing up. When we decided to give Dallas another try, we called him up to see if he could play drums again. Jeff suggested I try the bass so we wouldn't have to find a bass player. I had never really been a lead guitar player, so I gave it a try. I bought a used Peavey P-40 bass and an old Ampeg amp from Dave Anderson at Zoo Music. Bob was just discovering digital effects, so he would come in with a new riff, I would figure out a bass part and J.P. would play drums, come up with lyrics and sing. Since Bob was doing all the guitar parts, he didn't mind letting J.P. do most of the vocals."

Cricket Taylor (musician): "When I was in high school, going to Deep Ellum meant there were only three clubs around--and I wasn't old enough to get into any of them. Anyway, Patrick Sugg and I sat next to each other in biology class and he invited me to come check out his band. That weekend, I told my mother that I was going to spend the night with some friends for a slumber party. (She had warned me NEVER to go to Deep Ellum, lest I may get kidnapped or mugged by some crazed punk rock, skinhead people.) Some friends and I from Arts Magnet went that night--the first time I'd ever been to Theatre Gallery. It was the coolest, darkest, sexiest sound I'd ever seen and heard; so mysterious and forbidden. Literally. I remember feeling both entranced and spiritually intoxicated with Shallow Reign, from the sounds I saw and heard. I bought their black-and-white vinyl record (which I still own, but have worn out), and saw them on many occasions after this, only to relive the same feeling each time I saw them play. Deep Ellum was magical then. I miss days when you were there and you knew you were both part of something great--and at the same time, it was all a big secret!"

Michael Pyeatt (Barley House/Club Dada): "My introduction to Shallow Reign was from listening to George Gimarc's 'Rock and Roll Alternative' on KZEW. George would sponsor local shows at The Longhorn Ballroom or Theatre Gallery. Three or four wonderful bands would play--often the likes of Shallow Reign, End Over End, Three on a Hill, The Trees... ah, the good ol' days! In 2000, I was managing and booking Club Dada. I booked The Alarm and was happy that Shallow Reign would open for Mike Peters and company, just like they did for The Alarm at the Bronco Bowl during the late '80s. It had been a few years since Shallow Reign had played together, but they sounded better than ever. They gave me chills. It was awesome."

Kerry Crafton (producer/engineer): "I met Shallow Reign when we recorded their first album at my studio in Austin. They were a blend of influences with a very distinctive sound and vibe. It was bands like Shallow Reign, The Trees and Three on a Hill that made me decide to leave Austin and move to Dallas. Shallow Reign wanted to make great music that was fresh and progressive, yet were still based on great rock bands from their past from Rolling Stones to Led Zeppelin, as well as U2 and even Echo and The Bunnymen. Unlike so many Austin bands that just wanted to be weird and re-invent the wheel, SR paid homage to their roots and their contemporaries. I still have about a dozen songs we recorded that were never released. I wish more people could hear them--they still hold up quite well today. Shallow Reign should have gotten a major label deal, but the airwaves were filled with jangly, whiny bands at the time, and they never really found a label that that got them. It's a shame."

David Castell (producer): "I'm really proud of the record we did that included "Walk With Me." We recorded in some crazy, run-down rent house in far North Dallas; I think we did the acoustics at Mark's mom's house. Bob was a big fan of Ovation guitars, but I had never liked them because they were so thin sounding. I remember tracking the song 'Dream Time' and something clicked; to this day if I'm looking to get a really airy, angelic acoustic sound, I'll use an Ovation. I also remember wanting to use some backward masking on a demo track. Bob didn't want to do it because he thought it was evil. I tried to tell him that if it wasn't evil forward, then it wouldn't be evil backwards. But he got really upset and we didn't use the effect (although we did use backwards delay in 'Walk With Me'). In retrospect, I eventually understood that it wasn't about the content of the backwards message but what 'the vibe' of something like that conveyed. Bob was such a sweet and gentle soul. You can hear it on every song."

Chris Motley (Club Clearview): "Shallow Reign was easily the nicest band out of all the early Deep Ellum bands--a really friendly bunch of guys. I worked with them a bit on lighting at different gigs here and there and really have no funny anecdotes or dirt on them to pass on... they weren't into the shenanigans much, just a bunch of really nice folks. Well... later on, anyway... I mean, back when Patrick was in the band things were a little different... a little crazier. There was this one time at the Arcadia Theatre when Serge walked into the side stage bathroom and saw Pat... and well... never mind... some stories are probably best left out of print."

Chris Morris (graphic artist): "One time, they had a show at Bricktown in Oklahoma City. I drove my car and Bob played guitar in the back seat the whole way up there. I was asked to work the stage lights for the show, and since I knew the songs, figured I could add some punch with my mad light board skillz. I did more damage than good. Towards the end of 'Paint the Flowers All Black', (when Bob sings 'black black black' a few times) I would shut off all the lights and then bring them back up and then off over and over again. It was like a bad strobe--a really irritating blast of light that was blinding to the band, I learned afterward. It's a wonder they didn't walk straight off the edge of the stage, retinas fried."

Trent Buckroyd (writer): "When I lived in Los Angeles, NYC photographer Michael Halsband and I had a record label for a split second. We tried to sign a band that Patrick Sugg was playing with called Lucifer Wong. (He had started the band with Eric Brunetti, the graffiti artist who also started the Fuct t-shirt /clothing line. I think Matt Sorrum from Guns n' Roses and the Cult played drums on a few tracks on the CD, and Rat Scabies from the Damned was on a track, too.) Pat, Eric, Michael, and I all met at a room at the Chateau Marmont hotel to try and sign a contract. Patrick and I spoke about Dallas, Lone Justice, Deep Ellum, the good old days, etc. Pat told me he was a pilot now and flew planes for huge corporations like Home Depot. Said he had to fly the next day. We were drinking... a lot, but I still didn't buy it. I think they were just using this CD to try and get as many drinks and lunches as they could from anybody that would offer. Long story short, they didn't sign with us. I don't think they ever had any intention to. I think they wanted to be like the Sex Pistols and just jump from label to label with any front money they could get, which I kinda respect. By this point, Patrick had already been involved with a few label deals with the majors. Apropos of nothing I now live two houses away from where he grew up."

Crafton: "Shallow Reign was a great band that didn't last nearly long enough, as far as I am concerned. There live shows were powerful, entertaining and moving. They were not frenetic or wildly animated, they let the music speak to the crowd and never failed to grab an audience by the throat and the heart. I would still jump at the chance to get them back together and record again. They were great to work with, talented and one of the bands that should always be remembered by Dallas music lovers. If there is ever an official Dallas Music Hall of Fame, they should be inducted in the first round. Without bands like Shallow Reign, the vibrant Deep Ellum music scene of the late '80s never would have happened."

When J.P. Davidsson quit the band, he was then replaced by a Oklahoma-based drummer named Brad Robertson. Watson then took over as the sole lead vocalist. Sugg was replaced by a guitarist named Kit Chambers. This line-up contributed a song to the Dude, You Rock! compilation album of Dallas bands released by Triple X Records.

Shallow Reign hung on with new members for a couple of years after that, then Watson and Thomas broke up the band and started a new group called Medicine Show Caravan. That band came and went after a couple of years, then both guys got married and started families.

Priorities changed, being in a band wasn't as important as used to be. Thomas moved down to Austin and Watson moved to a tiny town in Tennessee. These days, Bob lives a little closer to home, though still in a tiny town, this time a couple of hours outside Dallas. After a few years off the reservation, I've convinced Bob to let producers Mike Daane and Chad Lovell help him with a new solo project called Plumbrella.

35 years later, we're all still alive, the peach trees are gone, and the war across the alley is finally over.

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