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“When Dallas Rocked” Documentary Review

Delbert McClinton and Elvis Costello

  While there may have been “revolution in the air” in many American cities in the 1960s, it took a little bit longer for the counter-culture to make any commercial inroads in Dallas.  It was 1973 when two complimentary ventures debuted and sparked the Metroplex music scene – album oriented rock station KZEW (“The Zoo”) and local music periodical Buddy Magazine (named after Texan Holly).  Kirby Warnock, a former editor of Buddy, is the producer of When Dallas Rocked, a new documentary about the influence of Big D on the music industry.   

 The Dallas market had four primary factors that equated to monetary musical notes in the 1970s – (1) powerful radio stations that traveled hundreds of miles along the flat lands of Texas, (2) a plethora of venues from clubs to arenas, (3) large retail record stores that could host artist signings, and (4) most importantly, a huge population base with disposable income.  All of these factors would come together at the Texxass Music Festivals/Texxas Jams that would squeeze over 100,000 people in the Cotton Bowl in the late 1970s.  Additionally, Dallas was home to the regional distribution warehouses that would supply vinyl throughout the Southwest.

The film goes beyond the ‘70s commercial impact of Dallas on the music industry to delve into the history of blues music in the city.  While mentioning that Robert Johnson recorded in Memphis and that T-Bone Walker was an Oak Cliff native (the Dallas community that also gave the world Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmy Vaughan), the film discusses Freddie King’s influence on the Dallas music scene at length.  King is pictured meeting Peter Frampton and performing with Eric Clapton and relaxing at the den of sin known as Mother Blues.  Kirby notes that the while there are no monuments to the music legends of Dallas, Austin has a statue of Dallas native Stevie Ray Vaughan.

 And, therein lies the rub.  While Dallas was busy promoting the next Molly Hatchet gig, Austin created an artistically supportive climate that eventually swallowed Dallas commercially.  Due to the ultra-conservative environment, one musician commented that his goal was to make enough money to get out of Dallas.  Actor Stephen Toblowsky (look him up from the movie Groundhog Day) noted that Oak Cliff had a bait shop in the 1960s named KKK, Ketchum & Killum on Kiest.

Drawing from the pages of Buddy Magazine, there are a number of wonderful photos in the documentary – Jimmy Buffett getting stoned and Robert Plant hanging out at Mother Blues, a young Elvis Costello jamming with Delbert McClinton, the Runaways at Peaches records, the Sex Pistols admiring Texas groupies, and many more.  The hour-long movie has a homemade, labor of love quality and could have benefited from a chronological approach.  Ultimately, it’s a reminder that the music industry always evolves and that the fast buck isn’t the sustainable one.  I don’t expect that’s a lesson that the Dallas business community will take to heart anytime soon. Grade – B+

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