Laurence Scott had low expectations when he contacted Kessler Theater artistic director Jeff Liles asking if his alt-country rockabilly band could play a show there. “We said, ‘We have a new album coming out. Can we play a show for you?’” Scott says.
It was a bold move. After 30 years, Liles might not remember Scott, who hasn’t lived in Dallas since he graduated high school in the mid-'90s. The Famous has never played a show in Dallas, or in Texas. The members live in the Bay Area where, despite their name (The Famous was a dry goods store Scott’s family owned in Marlin, Texas, from the '20s until the '70s) they enjoy a low-grade specimen of fame, the kind that’s innocent and devoid of groupies.
Liles must have liked The Famous’ sound, which is a confluence of The Pixies meets Buck Owens meets Old 97’s, because he wrote back and said yes. “He said, ‘Sure, let’s make a night of it. Do me up a show,’” Scott says.
They will open for Austin-based Americana singer Jesse Dayton on Friday night in a set featuring highlights from their new album, Ghost Town Parade. (All proceeds will go toward the Kessler’s Hurricane Harvey relief fund.) The show’s backstory is sweet enough to crack a curmudgeon, and like every good '80s story, it starts with a boom box and a dream.
In 1986, Scott was a precocious 12-year-old from North Dallas who wanted to be around music. He remembers scrolling through the lower end of the dial one evening when he landed on community station KNON, at the time located at 90.9 FM. He was smitten.
“To be able to hear such mania and variety was so cool,” he says. “You knew what to count on with the other stations. You would hear Def Leppard. You would hear the Scorpions. You didn’t know what to count on with KNON."
Frequently and with no discernible purpose, the sixth-grader started calling DJs at the station, including Liles. He had just started at KNON and had a Wednesday night show called Life Is Hard.
“Listening to it, I just remember being like, ‘Oh wow, The Smiths. Oh wow, Slayer. Oh, Public Enemy. Just the wide variety of his prism was so impressive,” Scott says.
Scott would call into Reverend HR Bob Dobbs’ show The Hour of Slack on Sunday nights. (“It was a crazy spoof of a show,” he says.) Scott was so dogged in his persistence that eventually another DJ, Jeff Webb, told him to come up to the station.
“He said, ‘You keep calling, so why don’t you come answer phones and sort through records?'” Scott says. With that, Dallas’ youngest unofficial radio intern was born.
To get to work, he hitched a ride or took the bus. “In some cases, it would be like a Cameron Crowe movie, where you’re dropped off. Like, ‘Don’t do drugs,’” he says. At the time, KNON was housed in the upstairs of a large, rickety, white house on the corner of San Jacinto Street and Carroll Avenue.
“The place was right in the middle of a gang neighborhood,” Liles says. The station shared the house with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which had offices downstairs. Neither had a legitimate occupancy license, but rule-following was an afterthought in the station’s early years.
Legality aside, “it seemed like the biggest thing in the world,” Scott says of his time as an unpaid child laborer. “It was like getting to work at Capitol Records in Los Angeles. Like walking into a comic book.” He wore T-shirts adorned with “KNON: The Voice of the People” to school with pride.
While scouring through records at the station one day, Scott came across an album cover with a graphic depiction of a plane flying into a mountain. The perplexed young intern asked Liles about it. ‘”He said, 'This is the Beastie Boys. Nobody’s heard of them yet,'” Scott says.
After KNON, Scott had another job he says he was too young for, this time at long-defunct Dave’s Art Pawn Shop in Deep Ellum.
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“Everyone played there on their way up,” he says, citing the Toadies, Lisa Loeb and Rhett Miller. “It had the same kind of vibe as KNON.” Scott worked Fridays and Saturdays until 6 a.m. The gig lasted until owner Charles “Chumley” Hawkins discovered how old he wasn’t.
After high school, Scott moved to the Bay Area, where he works in sports media. His gratitude toward the man he calls “the Bill Graham of Dallas,” is on clear display.
“The truth of the matter is, it’s just so sweet," he says. "This completely unknown band gets to perform their first show in Texas at the Kessler Theater because Jeff Liles has taste. And heart and soul. It’s pretty freaking cool.”
Jesse Dayton and The Famous play at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 8, at the Kessler Theater, 1230 W. Davis St. Tickets cost $16 at prekindle.com.