The Sound of Deep Ellum II
In the mid-eighties, the Deep Ellum area enjoyed an important cultural resurgence. 1984 saw the opening of Theatre Gallery, an underground art gallery and live music/theatre space that operated much in the same spirit as the "chock houses" of the Depression era. With no liquor license or dance hall permit, TG managed to operate "under the radar" for three years, a major accomplishment considering Dallas was the host city for the Republican convention that year, and the rest of the community was determined to be a model for conservative values.
Amazingly, one of TG's employees was the underage daughter of then chief of police Billy Prince. Owner Russ Hobbs built lofts all over the inside of the building, and many of the employees were living the Theatre Gallery lifestyle 24-7. The house soundman was Jim Heath, who later parlayed his involvement with TG into a musical career of his own as Rev. Horton Heat. The Butthole Surfers recorded a double live album over two shows in one weekend. This venue was where 10,000 Maniacs, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flaming Lips, Husker Du, The Replacements, Jane's Addiction, and Bad Brains all played their first Dallas-area dates.
The original line-up of Edie Brickell's group the New Bohemians were more or less the house band (opening the shows for both appearances of 10,000 Maniacs), and their Arts Magnet schoolmates often voluntarily paid as much as double the admission fee to insure that the venue would remain open. However, the all-time favorite local artist at Theatre Gallery was, by far, the dreadlocked, Schaffer beer swilling Loco Gringos. Their shows usually ended with some sort of flammable liquid being poured on a concrete yard donkey, then lit while the audience would dance in a circle around the fire. Their self-released album is a seriously sought-after collector's item, and Rev. Horton Heat's cover of their classic "Nurture My Pig" pays tribute to the groups late leader, Pepe.
Hobbs later opened a companion club called the Prophet Bar just across the street, which featured live music, poetry readings, inspired live improvisational theatre and real food (which was kind of hard to find in Deep Ellum at the time). Recently deceased Screamin' Jay Hawkins played an amazing show there with Rev. Horton Heat as his back-up band. Groups like the Buck Pets, Loco Gringos, and The Daylights would often play at BBQs in the back yard. Scott Matthews, who was the original drummer in the Butthole Surfers, would put on plays like "The Ponca City Shootout" that would actually incorporate street people who happened to be walking by at that particular moment. It was performance art in real time.
Right down the street in Downtown Dallas, a punk club called the Twilite Room had established itself as the aesthetic alter ego of Theatre Gallery. Drawing upon the same fan base that kept the Hot Klub and Studio D afloat, the Twilite Room had a lock on the Dallas punk rock scene for four years. Groups like the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, UK Subs, and Social Distortion felt right at home in the beer-soaked backstage area. Local bands like Three on A Hill, Lithium X-Mas, and Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! played their very first shows here. Twilite Room owner Charlie Gilder nows owns and operates the Bar of Soap.
Both the Twilite Room and Theatre Gallery closed down at around the same time, but Dallas music as a whole was just beginning to really take off. Indie record stores like Direct Hit and Record Gallery were thriving. So were live music venues like Club Dada, Club Clearview, Empire, The Venue (known as Tommy's at the time, then later as Deep Ellum Live), and a newly relocated Video Bar, which had also begun to host live music. One of the Video Bar's major live music coups was an early performance by the group Nine Inch Nails.
These days, the larger venues of choice are Trees and Gypsy Tea Room. Both are capable of holding upwards of a thousand people, and are quite supportive of local music. Trees opened its doors in 1990, and has since hosted some of the most important groups of our time. Some of these acts include Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Cypress Hill, Soundgarden, Houston's Geto Boys, Radiohead, and Pearl Jam. Local artists like The Toadies, Tripping Daisy, Pimpadelic, Jackopierce, Hellafied Funk Crew, and Legendary Crystal Chandelier have been the largest draws of the last few years. Gypsy Tea Room, on the other hand, is quickly establishing itself as the premiere club in the neighborhood. In three short years, the club has hosted a number of incredible shows. Wilco, Macy Gray, Lucinda Williams, to name three. The smaller front room is home for Americana locals Reed Easterwood, Pleasant Grove, and 1100 Springs.
Just sign right here, kid...
In 1988, Island Records talent scout Kim Buie came to Dallas for a weekend, and was awed by the wealth of diversity among our musicians. She decided to put together a compilation album of local artists called "The Sound of Deep Ellum", which included two bands who were also offered recording contracts by the label, the Buck Pets and Decadent Dub Team. The album was released internationally, and the DDT song "Six Gun" was remixed by NWA's Dr. Dre and included on the soundtrack to the movie "Colors". The Buck Pets debut album was a smash hit on college radio all over the United States, and the band toured with both Jane's Addiction and Neil Young. The group went on to release two more albums before lead vocalist Andy Thompson disappeared. No one has heard from him since.
Buie tried to persuade her bosses to sign the New Bohemians as well, but due to circumstances beyond her control, the group ended up striking a deal with Geffen Records. Their debut album went platinum (over a million units sold) and the group toured with both Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. After an appearance on the TV program "Saturday Night Live", Edie met Paul Simon, with whom she later married and started a family. The New Bohemians released a second album titled "Ghost of a Dog", and a couple of years later the group disbanded. In 1995, Edie released a solo album called "Picture Perfect Morning". The group's second drummer Matt Chamberlin joined Pearl Jam for a while, and now plays with the Seattle group Critter's Buggin'. The New Bohemians (sans the "Edie Brickell and the...") reformed last year with their original drummer Brandon Aly and have been doing selected dates here at the Gypsy Tea Room, and on the East Coast. In all honesty, they still sound absolutely amazing.
A number of other Dallas groups went on to sign major label recording contracts shortly after the initial interest from Island in 1988. Deep Ellum's only speed metal band Rigor Mortis did a deal with Capitol Records, and released three albums before the group imploded. Members of the band went on to join national acts Ministry and GWAR. They weren't the first Dallas-area recording artist to have a relationship with Capitol; Steve Miller released a number of highly successful albums for the label, and in 1972 a local rock band called Nitzinger released their debut album for Capitol as well. In his 1991 book "Stairway to Hell" esteemed Spin and Village Voice rock critic Chuck Eddy rates Nitzinger as number 245 in the "Best 500 Heavy Metal albums in the Universe". Nitzinger's main local contemporary at the time was Bloodrock, who scored a fluke hit with their eight-minute opus, "D.O.A."
Rigor Mortis' cross-town rival Pantera also did a major label deal, and then went on to sell literally millions of records. Former Three On A Hill leader Peter Schmidt started a new group called Funland, and they in turn landed a deal with Arista. Next, local rowdies Billygoat signed with the New Disney imprint Hollywood Records. Shortly after that, alt/goth band Course of Empire picked up the torch and signed with new start-up label Zoo Records. Both COE and Funland packed clubs in North Texas, but never managed to transcend state lines. They were "our secret", and that was fine with us... but regional popularity is rarely enough to maintain a recording contract with a major label.
In 1989, former VVV record store employee and Lithium X-Mas guitarist Mark Griffin unleashed a new project called MC 900 Ft Jesus and DJ Zero. After releasing an self-titled experimental EP on his own, Griffin was offered a deal with Canadian label Nettwerk Records. His first album forthe label was called "Hell With The Lid Off", and its popularity enabled him to tour the world with the San Francisco group Consolidated. Right around the same time, MC 900 remixed the Decadent Dub Team "12 single "Makin' Funky Money" for the Triple X label. Griffin released one more album for Nettwerk, before moving to Rick Rubin's new label American Records. Meanwhile, DJ Zero was busy producing tracks for Vanilla Ice, but don't hold it against him; he has a wife and three kids, and he knew how much money there was to be made working with a guy who was selling 100,000 records a week. Zero (real name: Patrick Rollins) also produced two tracks on the cottonmouth, texas album "anti-social butterfly", and produced two albums for the Dallas rap group U Know Who. These days, Mark Griffin is playing trumpet in former VVV owner Neal Caldwell's group, The Enablers.
Perhaps the major label that has had the most success with Dallas-area artists is Interscope Records. At one time, the label had five of our groups on their roster; three of which sold over a million units of their debut album. First, The Toadies and Deep Blue Something scored radio hits almost by accident; with both groups eventually becoming staples on MTV. The Toadies toured with Red Hot Chili Peppers and fellow labelmates, Bush. Then Interscope went out on a limb and reeled in rockabilly revivalist Rev. Horton Heat, who had by this time released a debut album called "Smoke 'Em if Ya' Got 'Em" on Seattle's legendary indie Sub Pop Records. While the Rev never had a real radio hit, he has toured constantly for years and has taken the Dallas flavor to every corner of the globe. He toured as the opening act for Soundgarden, and then branched out into acting, appearing on "Homicide" and "The Drew Carey Show". He recorded four albums for Interscope before leaving the label early last year. Heat now records for the California punk label Time Bomb.
Brutal Juice, a noise band from Denton, was also signed to Interscope at the recommendation of Toadies' lead vocalist and songwriter Todd Lewis. BJ released an album entitled "Mutilation Makes Identification Difficult" that sold a few hundred copies, and then broke up shortly thereafter. The most popular Dallas-area artist that signed with Interscope was the Christian gospel group Kirk Franklin and God's Property, who sold over three million records. Probably the first group to ever have a gospel music video in "stress" rotation on MTV, God's Property managed to break the stringent racial and aesthetic barriers that has kept music and pop culture in check for years.
Other local groups who ended up on major labels include Old 97's (Elektra), Radish (Mercury), and cottonmouth, texas (Virgin), all of which participated in the 1997 Lollapalooza tour. While all three projects received great reviews, none of the artists sold over 100,000 copies of their respective albums. Former Decadent Dub Team member Paul Quigg's group Vibrolux signed with Mercury/Atlas and recorded an album that was never released. Likewise with Tomorrowpeople, and a $250,000 album that they recorded for Geffen. UFOFU released an incredible album on the Medicine label, but not that many people actually heard it. Folk rockers Jackopierce were signed to A&M Records, and released two albums before disbanding. Group leader Cary Pierce has since moved forward with a solo career.
Rapper Tray Curry (a/k/a The DOC) grew up in the West Dallas projects and was discovered by Dr. Dre of NWA, who produced his debut album for Atlantic Records. The album went gold (500,000+ sales), but Curry was involved in an automobile accident that essentially severed his vocal chords and left him unable to speak. He contributed lyrics to NWA's "100 Miles and Runnin' album (replacing Ice Cube, who had just left the group), and continues to help younger kids make their own records. If you've ever heard that vocal sample, "Ya'll ready for this?" then you've heard The DOC.
Or, you could just stay here and put out your own records...
In the 80's, independent record labels started popping up all over Dallas. In 1985, Russell Hobbs and Jeffrey Liles of the Theatre Gallery formed Deep Ellum Records, which released the first Three on a Hill EP, "Biting On Tin Foil". The label later released albums by rockers End Over End and dance rockers Feet First. Then the owners of the Direct Hit and Last Beat indie record stores decided to start their own labels. DH released great records by Lithium X-Mas and sleepy mood rockers Bedhead, and LB was home to dissonant jazz rockers Rubber Bullet, Fireworks, and the quirky Slowpoke. While Direct Hit relocated to the West Coast in 1997, Last Beat still continues to grow and prosper in their Deep Ellum headquarters. Caron Barrett, (the owner of the label) has added an amazing recording studio and rehearsal complex to their office facility on Commerce Street, and the label has released fantastic EPs by Fireworks, Captain Audio and The Tomorrowpeople. In 1989, former record store owner Allan Restrepo started a label called Carpe Diem, which released the first Course of Empire album (later re-released on Zoo Records) and a number of albums by the phenomenal gypsy jazz group Cafe Noir. The first release on Carpe Diem was a solo album by then-16 year old Rhett Miller (later of Old 97's). Restrepo also managed Miller's career and worked briefly with Denton vocalist Sara Hickman. Carpe Diem went on to release albums by pop poppins, reggae artist LeRoy Shakespeare, the debut record from Course of Empire, and three separate releases by an incredible Denton-based group called Lil' Jack Melody and his Young Turks. Restrepo went on to found Dallas' first online CD store, W3CD, which employed a number of local musicians, including LJM lead vocalist Steve Carter.
In the early 90's, David Dennard, a former bass player in the early 80's new wave group Gary Myrick and the Figures, started a new label called Dragon Street Records. After releasing promising CDs by local favorites The Spin, Bat Mastersons, Hagfish, and Tripping Daisy, Dennard then decided to focus on reissuing old rockabilly sides by Ronnie Dawson, Gene Vincent, "Groovey" Joe Poovey, and Gene Summers. These reissues are actually more popular overseas than they are here in America. The label has also released a number of CDs that feature recordings from a 50's radio program called "The Big D Jamboree", a live radio show that included both Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. Aside from Dennard's fixation on music from the past, Dragon Street managed to help two of their Dallas "baby bands" take it to the next level. The label was instrumental in assisting Tripping Daisy secure a recording contract with Island Records, and Hagfish procure a similar deal with London Records (the original home of ZZ Top).
In the early 90's, Six-foot-ten Aden Holt, the leader of Denton grunge band Caulk, started an indie label called One Ton Records, which released the very first cottonmouth, texas spoken word album, "white trash receptacle". Holt also compiled an album of young Denton bands called "Welcome to Hell's Lobby", which featured cover art by Dallas illustrator and cartoonist Todd Ramsell. Bands included Caulk, country punkers Slobberbone, Dooms UK, Bobgoblin, Baboon, and Brutal Juice. Bobgoblin went on to sign with a recording contract with MCA Records, and then promptly changed their name. The Toadies were also featured on another of One Ton's compilation albums, "Sandy Does Dallas", an album of local Dallas-area bands covering songs from the movie "Grease". One Ton has gone on to release albums by Buck Jones, art-rockers Doosu, noise/pop band Valve, Holt's group Caulk, and incredibly popular (well, around here, anyway...) Slow Roosevelt.
Another local independent label that managed to create a national profile for itself was the jazz boutique Leaning House Records. Owner/recording engineer Mark Elliot has recently closed the doors on the enterprise, but for the last ten years Leaning House has been releasing absolutely astounding "real time" jazz recordings by artists like the Earl Harvin Trio/Quartet. The label also released important albums by saxophonist Marchel Ivery, pianist Fred Sanders (with Roy Hargrove), Shelley Carroll with members of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and drummer Donald Edwards. Elliot's label was certainly a labor of love, and the music released by Leaning House will forever be considered timeless and sophisticated.
Idol Records, owned by for former Sony Records employee Erv Karwelis, opened its doors in 1992, and continues to release records by a number of cool Dallas-based alternative bands like Funland, centromatic, The American Fuse, Pervis, Clumsy, and Denton "space rock" group Mazinga Phaser. The label also released a split-side "10 vinyl EP that featured both Funland and the Old 97's. Karwelis left his post at Sony last year to devote all of his time and energy to Idol Records. Erv is currently working on a project that features Dallas artists covering Christmas songs. His enthusiasm for local music is legendary.
There are a number of important compilation records of Dallas music that have been released over the years. Aside from the "The Sound of Deep Ellum", "Sandy Does Dallas", and "The Big D Jamboree", Triple X Records in Los Angeles released an album called "Dude, You Rock!" in 1991. This record featured a number of great bands including Last Rites, Hash Palace, Rev. Horton Heat, Three on a Hill, Sedition, Shallow Reign, and Course of Empire. Another fantastic compilation was Crystal Clear Sound's 1997 "Come On Feel the Metal", a double CD that featured a number of Dallas groups doing covers of 70's metal songs. (Trust me, you haven't lived until you've heard Lil' Jack Melody's beautiful polka version of Quiet Riot's "Come On Feel the Noise".) Crystal Clear has been a foundation of Dallas music for the last ten years, providing CD pressing, recording, and distribution for every local label. Owner Sam Paulos gave all of the proceeds of "Come On Feel The Metal" to charity, and he continues to employ a number of local musicians at Crystal Clear.
Perhaps the most comprehensive compilations are the Dallas Observer's "Scene, Heard Volumes 1-3", the yearly releases that have recognized the best and brightest of our local talent. Also worth mentioning are local radio station KDGE's "Tales From The Edge" yearly releases, including George Gimarc's comprehensive late 70's-early 80's historic punk/new wave compilation. All of these albums provide an interesting overview of the Dallas sound. Most recently,Heiress-aesthetic's 1999 freebie double-CD "Static Orange" included new favorites Centromatic, Reed Easterwood, Meredith Miller, Pleasant Grove, Elm FoOy, Valve, Cult Ceavers, Lewis, and C&W artist Brian Houser, among many others. The compilation was released by Heiress-aesthetic, a new label owned by Perla Doherty, a former employee of Theatre Gallery.
Our drummers can pound your drummers...
Speaking of musicians like Earl Harvin, the North Texas area is seemingly a hotbed for amazing drummers and percussionists. Harvin has either toured or recorded with the UK group The The, MC 900 FT Jesus, Seal, Ten Hands, Billygoat, Rubber Bullet and the backing group for spoken word ensemble cottonmouth, texas. His jazz group, the Earl Harvin Trio/Quartet, has released two wonderful albums. The Denton/University of North Texas area also produced Mitch Marine, who played for years with Brave Combo, then Tripping Daisy and country crossover artist Charlie Robinson, and most recently, Smashmouth. Matt Chamberlin replaced Harvin in Ten Hands, then joined New Bohemians, did a stint in the "Saturday Night Live" house band, joined Pearl Jam, toured with Fiona Apple, and now plays in the Seattle-based Critter's Buggin'. Chamberlin's replacement in Pearl Jam was Matt's personally recommended fellow Dallas pounder Dave Abruzezee. Mike Malinin, who played in Caulk and Last Rites, has spent the last three years behind the kit for MTV favorite the Goo Goo Dolls. Former Course of Empire drummer Mike Jerome started out in pop poppins, has also toured and recorded with cottonmouth, texas, and is currently playing with both the legendary guitarist Richard Thompson, and phenomenal New Orleans-based rock artist James Hall. When in Dallas, Jerome also sits in with the retro swing group Mr. Pink. The drummer for the group Spin Doctors is Arts Magnet graduate Aaron Comess. Former Rev. Horton Heat drummer Patrick "Taz" Bentley has been recording with Axl Rose and his new configuration of Guns n' Roses as of late.
Perhaps the all-time most famous drummer from these parts is Don Henley, who (of course) played in the Eagles and has certainly established a lasting international profile as a solo artist. Henley started out in a copy band called Felicity, who played regularly in the early 70's at a Dallas disco called Oz. He was also a student in the music department at the University of North Texas, then called North Texas State. And no study of Dallas drummers would be complete without mention of Ronnie Tutt, who manned the kit for Elvis Presley, The Jerry Garcia Band, and Roy Orbison.