Tom Morningstar Quit Music to Become Painter, but He Still Loves The Dallas Music Scene

Welcome to Local Music 'Mericans, where we get to know the people more behind the scenes in Dallas/Fort Worth local music.

Tom Morningstar's art can be seen adorning the walls of a few Gaston-area spots of Deep Ellum: The Elbow Room, Big-E's Convenience Store (killers tacos there, by the way), and most recently the new burger joint on the block, The Stackhouse.

But painting is a relatively new endeavor for Morningstar. His career history has seen him doing promotion work for various labels throughout the last couple of decades, including local music stable Kirtland Records. He's worked records from plenty of Dallas/Fort Worth-area talent, and even moreso, a ton of national acts. He's traveled the remote corners of the USA to talk to radio stations and program directors about why they should play The Burden Brothers, and so on.

But to fast forward back to the present, Morningstar is a painter now. And not too shabby of one considering a whole handful of joints are hanging his stuff, and a couple folks have even paid cash for the paintings themselves. He started out painting some of his most significant rock and roll icons like the Beatles and Hendrix. But lately he seems to have developed a real flair for abstract, or "splatter" art. It's damn fun and vivid stuff, and worth checking out on his Facebook page.

Morningstar isn't necessarily "in the know" with Deep Ellum's art scene yet. He's still new to all this. But from the looks of things, he's off to a hell of a start, and worth getting to know better.

At what point in your youth did you segue from kid's records to what I assume was rock and roll? Who was it? What did it do to you, beyond the obvious act of changing your life forever?
I did have, and still do have, by the way, the Sesame Street original cast Gatefold album, including tunes like "I Love Trash," "People In Your Neighborhood" and many other smashes. I suppose I was nine or ten when I asked my mom to buy me KISS' Love Gun record and shortly thereafter, the first record I ever bought with my own money was Queen's Jazz record, which I still love, by the way. I never really dug comic books. I guess finding KISS I was able to have comic book heroes and music heroes in one convenient package. As I got older and maybe a bit more musically sophisticated, my favorites all time have got to be David Bowie and the Clash. I guess that's not terribly original, but there ya have it.

Same question, but with art!
Truth is, with art I've always just kind of liked what I liked. I couldn't tell you what years Picasso lived or anything about art history. I just know I like something when I see it.

Art is something I never knew until recently that you have in your blood. Was it a sleeping giant during those record label years?
Honestly, I didn't know it was in my blood until recently, either [laughs]. A couple of years ago, I literally just got sick of watching TV and thought there must be more to life than working your day job, coming home and watching television only to repeat that every single day. So I turned off the TV, bought one canvas, a few tubes of paint and a few brushes and just tried my hand at painting. As it turns out, I wasn't horrible, although I'm certain not everyone will agree with that assessment. At first, I was just showing friends and family and I thought they were all humoring me, saying, "Oh yeah, that's great." It wasn't until a stranger bought one of my paintings that I thought I might not suck, after all. I started by painting iconic album covers, then quickly moved into doing portraits of musical artists. Somewhat recently, I've moved more in the direction of abstracts and I'm really loving it. The truth is, I paint because I love to do it. I hope others like my work and want to buy it, as paint and canvas is not cheap.

How about a laundry list of DFW artists youve worked with? Obviously, there was the Kirtland side, but how about a list of all the locals?
Well, if we go back to when I was a sound man for 4 Reasons Unknown in the 80's, there was them and I had occasion to run sound for About Nine Times, the Judas Engine, New Bohemians a couple of times and a few others. On the the record promotion side of things, I worked with a bazillion artists, but as far as DFW artists, Burden Brothers (two completely badass records), and Toadies. Well, the Kirtland stable is pretty much the extent of DFW artists I've worked.

How about a list of all the different labels?
Priority, Epic Records, where I got Christmas cards from Ozzy and Sharon for four years.  Restless, Edel America and Kirtland. I swear there was a sixth one, but I just cannot think of who it was. Must not have been there long.

Aside from labels, were there other industry-related jobs in your history?
Honestly, no. I was working for Xerox and a friend of mine working at Priority got promoted to a national gig in LA. His boss asked him if he knew who should replace him in Dallas. He said "Yes, he's green as hell, but he knows more about music than I'll ever know." Next thing I know, I'm on a flight to LA, being interviewed at the Chateau Marmont and boom, I'm in.

Tell us about your most amazing musical experience involving DFW music, or a local artist.
This is a two-fold answer. In the '80s, working for 4 Reasons Unknown, we won the MTV Basement Tapes thing and that was an amazing time. I was pretty much still a kid and working for a band that had just won a deal with Epic through MTV. To me, at the time, it was the greatest thing ever. We even beat Extreme in the finals.

Secondly, I really loved working with Burden Brothers. I spent a lot of time on the road with those guys. Occasionally, I had a drink or twelve with them. Great band and great guys. I'm (not so) secretly lobbying for them to get back together.

At some point recently, you shifted art to the forefront. Tell us about that experience, and how you were able to get your stuff up on the walls of such a cool Deep Ellum spot.

Well, it's no secret that the music business, or at least portions of it, have been shrinking for some time. For me, it just didn't seem like a sustainable place to be anymore. So I went back into the real world, job-wise. I suppose with music no longer being what I did for a living, there was a bit of a creative void that was bound to be filled with something sooner or later, and TV wasn't getting it done.

A while back, I was hanging out at the Elbow Room, where I'm madly in love with their Sicilian pizza by the way, and noticed that they had what I assumed was local art on the walls and asked if I could maybe hang some of my stuff there. They said I could. Then Eric (of Big E's Convenience Store fame-killer tacos) asked me if I wanted to hang some stuff at his store across the street from Elbow Room. Randy Kienast (of Stackhouse fame) was renovating the inside of Stackhouse and would go to Big E's for water, food and stuff and saw some of my stuff in there and asked Eric who the artist was. Randy contacted me mostly to do his specials board in chalk. I almost didn't take the gig because I had never worked with chalk and he was opening in ten days and I didn't know if I could finish something in that time in a medium which I had never worked. But I took a shot at it, and I personally think it looks really cool: Clint Eastwood and Clyde Barrow amid some other stuff. It doesn't hurt my visibility that Stackhouse has an amazing burger and has been drawing huge crowds.

Have you met many other Ellum/DFW artists? Immersed yourself into that network much yet?
Actually no, not really. I'm what I guess they call an emerging artist. I don't know the first thing about getting my stuff out there, who I need to know or where I need to be. None of it. Truth is, my day job is marketing, which I do well, but I suck at marketing myself! I'm working on it, though. I'm getting stuff into a few new places and with a little luck, maybe the right person will see and like my work.

You also don't seem like you'd be too bad of a local food critic and adviser for the area, considering all the lunches and dinners you did in the label world, and that it seems to be restaurants that are attracted to your art! Is DFW an ideal place to live for all your avenues? Music? Art? Food?
I love Dallas and have been here for almost 25 years. There was a five year break where I lived in Charlotte and I hated it. Nothing against Charlotte, I just prefer Dallas. No Whataburger, the Mexican food is ridiculously awful and the scene in Charlotte just doesn't hold a candle to Dallas.

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