Dallas has a well-deserved reputation, cultivated over the decades, of tearing down what it no longer needs to make room for something new and shiny. Preservation always seemed like a good idea for the next thing.
So it goes with another old friend, the local blues scene. Thor Christensen’s recent essay reminded us of this valuable piece of Dallas’ history, which makes it only sadder that it’s mostly gone as live entertainment.
Like the 12-bar music itself, the blues can form a melancholy tale of toil and heartbreak. Ironic doesn’t begin to describe how Dallas, a lesser-known cradle, has fallen on such hard times, even with dozens of top-flight players still here, dating to better days and jumping nights.
“It’s a shame, but every last one of us has to leave Dallas to find work,” says singer-guitarist Lucky Peterson, who’s headed to Europe for a two-month tour. “All music in Dallas stems from the blues, but there’s no place in town where you can go and hear the blues every Friday and Saturday night.”
You might know Chicago, Memphis, St. Louis and the ancestral Mississippi Delta roots but possibly not Blind Lemon Jefferson and Leadbelly in Deep Ellum, or Freddy King, T-Bone Walker or Robert Johnson recording at 508 Park Ave. in downtown Dallas.
In a more modern era, the Vaughan brothers, Jimmie and the late Stevie Ray, were Oak Cliff boys who made their names in Austin. In fact, Stevie Ray’s worldwide success in the 1980s sparked fresh interest in the blues, which also thrived in his hometown.
Today, Anson Funderburgh, Mike Morgan, Jim Suhler, Texas Slim, Wanda King, Buddy Whittington, Hash Brown, Andrew “Jr. Boy” Jones, Bobby Patterson and Smokin’ Joe Kubek among others, still call Dallas home.
What all that talent needs is a stage. Dwindling venues mean fewer young people are exposed to a genre they might love, as generations before them were. It’s the foundational sound of the working class, the looking-for-work class, winners and losers, lovers and fighters.
So where is that deep-pocketed blues fan who can turn an empty club or some other old building into that stage? Wouldn’t this be a fine addition to the night scene in many parts of a southern Dallas in need of such energy?
What of that annual festival that features some of the best acts around, starting with those right here? Wouldn’t Fair Park be just right for that?
The blues will never die, the die-hards say, but it needs a place to breathe, especially in Dallas.
Heroes only on the road
— The Dallas Morning News