The first time Dallas-born rapper Vanilla Ice’s one-hit-wonder “Ice Ice Baby” reached the airways was by mistake. A DJ in Atlanta had meant to play its A-Side counterpart, a cover of “Play that Funky Music.” But, what was done was done and afterward the request lines lit up. By November 1990, the litigated musical mosaic became the first-ever hip-hop track to reach No. 1 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
Sentiments on this song live on the fringes of the pendulum: It’s the cilantro of music, the Dallas Cowboys of song. In 2004, VH1 and Blender magazine ranked “Ice Ice Baby” fifth on the list of “50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs … Ever.” Limp Bizkit’s, "Rollin'" was fourth, Wang Chung’s “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” was third. Billy Ray Cyrus’ "Achy Breaky Heart" took No. 2, only to be beaten with the dubious top honor, "We Built This City" by Starship. Yeah, it’s just that kind of song.
And we hate to be the one to rip off this Band-Aid, Dallas, but if you’ve enjoyed live music at Trees, The Bomb Factory or Canton Hall recently, then you actually owe a debt of gratitude to this song.
Bras and Panties Flying Everywhere
It was Clint Barlow’s sister who told him he needed to come to the club where she worked in El Paso, ironically called Treetops, to see a band that she said had all the girls going wild.
“I was maybe one of four dudes at the show. There were so many bras and panties flying everywhere, I thought, I need to play music,” Barlow says with a laugh. At the time he was into BMX and motocross and the next day he sold one of his bikes to buy a drum kit and, in fact, made a life of playing music.
Fast forward to 2003, when Barlow’s friend Chris Antonopoulos was the drummer for Vanilla Ice. “He called and told me he was going to quit because he got a new gig, but he didn’t want to leave the band high and dry. So, he knew I was a good drummer and asked me if I would be interested in doing it,” Barlow says.
“We [his band at the time] actually opened for them at Club Blue so they could see me play. After the show, his manager came over, handed me a CD and said ‘I heard you’re interested in the gig. Rob [Van Winkle, Vanilla Ice's real name] liked you. If you’re interested, here’s a CD. You have a show next Saturday. Learn these 15 songs. Get after it.’”
Barlow said he thought about touring “for a minute.” He says he didn’t really know what to expect since he came from more of a rock background but committed to at least one year. That turned into 11.
At Least a Thousand Times
When trying to estimate the number of times he played “Ice Ice Baby,” Barlow sighs heavily and tries to ballpark it for a few seconds before settling on, “At least a thousand times.”
In terms of people either loving or hating Vanilla Ice, the dichotomy was even more evident on the road.
“You know what was the best thing, the fun thing to watch? People want to hate on Ice; they would actually buy a ticket just to hate on him, but they would leave a fan,” Barlow says. “We played 'Ice Ice Baby' about three-quarters of the way through our set and I always thought, We’re going to lose our audience after it’s over. But they wouldn’t leave. They stayed. That just showed what a good show he put on and still does.”
At first, the band performed close to 100 shows a year. It was hectic, but Barlow liked the money. Things slowed down after Van Winkle landed a TV show flipping houses. With that, Barlow settled back down in North Texas and started thinking about what was next.
“The thing is, I knew how difficult the music business is," Barlow says. "I thought about doing something. I just didn’t want to deal with live music. My ex [Whitney Barlow] and I thought about a place up in McKinney since we lived up there.”
After dinner in Deep Ellum one night, the couple walked over to Trees, which was closed at the time. The owner was inside and invited them in to take a look around.
“The guy said he’d make us a great deal on it,” Barlow remembers. “But I wouldn’t do it unless I could get the name. If we named it anything else it wouldn’t have worked. People would have called it ‘the old Trees.’”
Barlow did a little research and found the name's registration had expired just one week before. That was all the inspiration he needed.
“I only quit playing because the club was so busy,” Barlow says, “and then we opened up The Bomb Factory and I couldn’t be gone that long.”
One Thousand and Counting
Barlow’s friends tease him about the song that defined part of his career for over a decade and often crank it when he walks into a bar or party — his own walk-in soundtrack. “But I just put my hands in the air like, ‘Yeah, that’s it! Seventh song of the set!’” Barlow laughs.
It’s hard to quantify the impact that one song has had over its 30 years resonating over the airways.
“You know, if you think about songs in general, there’s only a handful that can do that,” Barlow says. “And even when I started playing it, I thought we’re just going to be playing for a bunch of 30-year-olds, but that was not the case. Every show the crowd was younger and younger. We were playing college shows at one point.
"Rob has even cleaned his show up a lot because there are so many kids there now," Barlow continues. "There used to be a lot of girls on stage with their tops off, but now there are kids on the stage. I don’t know if that’s a cool graduation, but it is what it is.”
As many people who want to hate on the song, Barlow points out anyone would trade spots with Van Winkle in an instant if they could; it beats a 9-to-5 any day.
“He was a kid when he hit it and wrote that song," Barlow says on the almost dumb luck of it all. "And it was an accident that it got played by a DJ in Atlanta, and then they got 100s of requests an hour for it. That blew him up.
“I got to travel around the world, I got to meet a lot of great people,” Barlow adds. “And technically, it allowed me to open Trees and do what I’m doing here.”
Yo' VIP, let’s kick it! Say thanks, Dallas.
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