Dallas Observer Music Awards

Musician and Radio Host Paul Slavens Looks Back on 25 Years of North Texas Music

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Bobby Jack Pack
As the music editors came and went I actually got to know some of them. They were not superhuman. Talented, nice people, don't get me wrong. But I came to realize that the Observer was just people trying to keep up with what was happening, have an opinion on it and put out a paper every week. It was still a thrill to get nominated, but I had changed too.

By 1992 my band had started to fall on hard times. Deep Ellum was changing, our fans were getting older, and the new fans liked newer bands. Grunge was just beginning to happen and we didn't really fit with the harder, more aggressive music that Denton was producing or the smart pop that was taking over in Dallas. Also, band member changes and domestic life took its toll. Ten Hands stopped showing up on the nominee lists. I tried to tell myself it didn't mean anything. And it probably didn't.

A whole new generation of bands and musicians took over: young, talented and ready. Bands like Sorta flooded the scene with new, virtuosic musicians. Bands like the Paper Chase, The Toadies, Tripping Daisy, Old 97's and Erykah Badu found success beyond what most of the old Deep Ellum bands could muster.

By the time Ten Hands officially broke up, I had moved into doing comedy and voice work. I was writing music that was very different from what I had done with the band. For the next 10 years, I didn't make the list. And I could feel it, I could feel that I needed to do something to transcend the past and be relevant again. Not being on the nominee list didn't tell me that. I knew it in my heart, but not making the list confirmed it.

One day my friend Joe Cripps gave me some good advice. He suggested I get involved in other people's projects instead of just working on my own. It sounds simple, but I had never really thought of it. I joined a band, then another and kept on doing it. I met people, felt useful and started reconnecting with the music community.

About the same time, I lucked into a Sunday night slot playing whatever the hell I wanted on KERA-FM 90.1 (Thanks forever to Abby Goldstein). I took the job seriously and drew on my love of the shows Chris Douridas and Liza Richardson used to do on the station back in the old Deep Ellum days. And you know what? I showed up on the nominee lists again. The DOMAs didn't put me back on the radar, but they confirmed that I was there.

I am proud of my show (now on KKXT-FM 91.7) and I work hard to make it great. And it is always a great honor when it is nominated, because it's a category that fits me well. It doesn't always work like that. You can feel a bit embarrassed to be nominated if you get stuck in a category you don't feel you belong in. I was nominated as Best Jazz Act a couple years ago, and to my horror I won. I've got news for you: I'm not the best jazz act in town. I live in Denton, and I'm not even the best jazz player on my block.

The process is imperfect, and sometimes it's laughable and frustrating. But in the end the DOMAs are just trying to celebrate what we have. To give encouragement to new voices, to reassure older artists that they still matter, to say thanks to the people and entities that surround and create and nurture the music scene. That's why, when they handed me my jazz award, I accepted it and tried to be as appreciative as I could be. I was on the radar as a musician again, I made the list.

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Paul Slavens
Contact: Paul Slavens