Dallas may not be the first city you'd think of as the home of Texas blues, but it should be. Its roots run deep, and can be traced back to Deep Ellum's earliest incarnation as a musical epicenter, when Blind Lemon Jefferson played on the street corner in the 1930s. Legendary artists like T-Bone Walker, Freddie King and Stevie Ray Vaughan all called Dallas their home.
That this history has long been overlooked, even neglected in some cases, is the subject of this week's Dallas Observer cover story. Writer Eva Raggio traces the Dallas blues from its early days nearly 100 years ago through to a handful of modern-day practitioners, including Charley Crockett and Leon Bridges. Along the way, she got a little help from the Exploredinary video team of Daniel Driensky and Sarah Reyes, who visited some of Dallas' most historic music venues.
Perhaps the most historic blues venue in Dallas is 508 Park, an old building near downtown that once housed a recording studio. Among others, Robert Johnson — considered by many to be the definitive Delta blues singer — laid nearly half of his recorded work to tape in this building.
Today, efforts are underway to restore the old landmark, not only to return it to its one-time use as a recording studio but to also convert it into a museum and, in the courtyard, an outdoor performance space. Exploredinary joined Dallas R&B singer Kirk Thurmond in the very room Johnson once played in, where Thurmond did a skittering rendition of one of the late singer's most haunting tunes, "Come On in My Kitchen."
Not far away on the other side of Deep Ellum stands The Sons of Hermann Hall. While not featured in Raggio's piece like 508 Park is, Sons of Hermann is over 100 years old and continues to host live music today, including the blues. It's also where Vincent Neil Emerson, a country and folk singer who is featured in the article, sat down to perform for Exploredinary.
"The lines between country and blues, it's imaginary to me," Emerson, a good friend of both Crockett and Bridges, says in the video. He performs a song by another Texas blues legend, Lightnin' Hopkins, who spent many years living in Houston but learned to play from Jefferson. "They're the same kind of music. Jimmie Rodgers was a blues singer," Emerson adds.
Shot during the same series of videos was also an exclusive conversation with Bridges, who paid a visit to the studio where he recorded his debut album, Coming Home. That studio, Niles City Sound in Fort Worth, only began to take its present form less than two years ago (it was under constructions during Bridges' recording) but already forms its own piece of local music history. In the video, Bridges chats with the team behind the studio and walks around the same unfinished room where much of his record was done — a room that bears at least a passing resemblance to the former studio in 508 Park.
To read the full story on Dallas' modern-day blues crusaders — including further conversations with Crockett, Kessler Theater owner Edwin Cabaniss and Kirby Warnock, the man behind the planned Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan monument — check out the link here.
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