Drue Mitchell Rides the Airwaves From DFW to L.A.
Welcome to Local Music 'Mericans, where we get to know the people behind the scenes in Dallas/Fort Worth music.
Drue Mitchell has worked for 97.1 KEGL in promotions, as on-air jock at (old frequency) 94.5 KDGE and 89.7 KVRK, and now does television for a Christian music network in Los Angeles. He also tours with an artist named Manafest, who's signed to Tooth & Nail records, as the band's onstage DJ.
And, like so many folks that ended up making the music industry their careers, he started as an overzealous fan and paid his dues at the bottom of the totem pole. Mitchell's story is reminiscent of local radio success Josh Venable. Like Josh, he called his radio station (Mitchell's was KEGL back in the day; Venable's was the earliest incarnation of KDGE), talked to the DJ like crazy, and ended up an intern and a part-timer. What's funny is, his first Dallas radio experience was KVIL and Ron Chapman.
Mitchell didn't listen to KVIL by choice, but it caused him to join the first generation of iPod listeners as a kid. These kids, of course, were known as Walkman listeners. Cassette collectors. (It's OK, youngsters, if you have no clue what we're referring to. A Walkman was the first iPod. )
What's also ironic is how he started to show signs that radio was his path before he even realized it was. Mitchell would make tapes of new music for his friends. He'd record himself talking about the artist before he played it. He started out being all about the metal, but his tastes these days are as expansive as his CD collection.
Let's start with where the interest in music and radio began.
I started listening to Dallas radio and collecting music because of the commute to the private school I went to called Shelton School. The school was at Lovers and Inwood and we lived in far North Dallas. So, riding the school bus 25 minutes back and forth, the bus driver would listen to Ron Chapman on KVIL every morning. I hated it; the music was terrible, and I thought that guy was such a nerd! I couldn't stand listening to it, so I got a sports Walkman. I'd listen to pop and rock albums over and over and just memorize them. I used to ride my bike up to Bill's and buy used cassettes or trade two old ones for another one. But back then, music stores, radio, MTV and magazines were the only ways to find out about new music. The other thing I used to do was make my friends mixtapes of songs, and I would record myself talking before the songs explaining to them about whatever new band I found. That was how it really began for me getting interested in broadcasting, radio and DJing.
Who were some of your earliest local music influences?
The first local musicians, besides my mom's Willie Nelson albums, would be the classic rock artists I heard on Q102 and KZEW, like ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I blame my cousin Brandon, who was a few years older then I. He would play Q102 all the time. He loved those triple shot Thursdays. But the album Texas Flood changed my life. I really think it's one of the best pieces of music to ever come out of Texas, period. My own discoveries and early favorites were always more of the hard rock and metal, and Z-Rock. The first time it was on in Dallas, not the second.
Another thing I have to mention would be the guys in the metal band Morbid Scream. I think the bass player, Todd, or singer Trent worked at Mama's Pizza and my friends and I would see him driving around delivering pizzas blasting metal. We thought he was so tough! We would go up and bug him when we were at Mama's Pizza and play video games. One time he invited us to the band apartment for a practice since we were too young to go to any of their shows. They told us about bands like Rigor Mortis and Pantera, and the record store Underground Records. It was really magical for me finally being able to see the music come to life and to be played live.
What's your earliest recollection of supporting DFW music in some way?
I was at J.J. Pearce High School when the KDGE signed on. I would hear some Dallas bands on there and the first one that really grabbed me was Tripping Daisy. I got my copy of their album Bill at the first CD Warehouse on Beltline and Monfort because the big Sound Warehouse down the street didn't have it! The first real local concert I went to on my own was Reverend Horton Heat and Hagfish on New Year's Eve '92 at Trees. I really went to see Hagfish, because they were on the same label as Tripping Daisy. I'd never heard of the Reverend, but someone told me he was like a surf-guitar version of Vaughan crossed with Ministry. So, I was very interested. During Hagfish, they invited Casey Orr onstage to play bass on a song, and introduced him as a member of Gwar. I couldn't believe that one of the guys from Gwar was from Dallas! I was flipping out! Hate to say it wasn't until a few years later that I drew the connection to Rigor Mortis.
For my birthday that year, I used some money I got to get a fake ID to go see some local hair metal bands at the Basement. I felt so cool that I was only 20 but able to order a couple beers and watch rock bands. In between sets they would draw a big curtain, and I remember as the last band came on I heard the lead singer shrill from behind the curtain, "Are there any screamin' chicks in the audience tonight?!" All seven people in the club cheered. The curtain drew open to reveal the band No Respect. They all had on matching Lip Service jeans with super long hair and blistering fast hard rock music. They looked and sounded like a cross between Bang Tango, Skid Row and Vain. In fact, they covered a Vain song and I think I was the only dude there who knew what it was. So, after the show I went to talk to them and they invited me to more shows and began the friendship I had with those guys and Jason Wheelington until he passed. [Editor's note: Wheelington, who passed away earlier this year, went on to be a part of a pretty successful local mainstream rock act called Supercell.]
Tell us about the point when radio entered your career path.
When KEGL flipped from pop to a rock station with Howard Stern, it was like the apocalypse had happened for me. I loved the format so much; I used to call the then-night DJ T.C. McGuire and bug the crap out of him every night. One night he tells me that they were hosting a meet and greet with Bret Michaels of Poison, at what was Red Jacket on Greenville Ave. They did a drawing at the club for a private screening of Poison's new music video on Bret's tour bus, which was parked behind the club and by some miracle I WON! So back my girlfriend and I went, and I should've known that they were more interested in her then me. I was thanking some of the station staff as I left and they said,"Dude, you should work for us!" I went to Brookhaven College that next year and getting a internship with KEGL because my number one priority. So my first job was as promotions intern under Clo Rayborn and the amazing late Cindy Coyle, R.I.P.
Working with Russ Martin, Duane "Bones" Doherty, Dangerous Darren, Chris Ryan, Cindy Skull, Robert Miguel and Donna Fadal was greatness. I owe everything to them for giving me a chance. I really feel like that internship and those times helped me get to where I am today. A year and a half later, I went to college in Minneapolis. While I was there they flipped a country station to rock, similar to KEGL. They did a food drive and had a live broadcast. I went down and took some canned food, while I was there I talked to the promotions director and told him I was an intern at KEGL, and he offered me a job on the spot.
Fill us in on what exactly you're doing in LA. All I know is it involved television.
I am the music director of the network cable channel JCTV. We play a variety of movies, action sports, comedy shows, reality shows and music videos 24 hours a day. We play about seven hours of music videos a day. I'm in charge of the library, programming and acquisitions of all the music videos. Plus, I book talent for the shows shot in-house at our studios, and even do a little bit of directing and scriptwriting for some of our shows. I'm not an on-air talent like I used to be, but I do work on the shoots and assist wherever it's needed. I also do live DJing, turntablist-style, and play events of all kinds. I do solo shows and have been touring with Tooth & Nail recording artist Manafest for a few years now as his DJ.
How well have you been keeping up with local music back in DFW? Who are a few acts you're really championing right now?
I love local music and dove into the scene in Orange County, but there is no place like home. Since I moved I have been able to come back for a weekend here and there almost every few months. Every time I'm home I try to catch a show, scour the Dallas Observer, or make a pit stop at Good Records. I still keep up with Adrian Hummell, who took my spot at KVRK 89.7 PowerFM, and listen to some KHYI & KKXT online when I get a chance.
I saw Telegraph Canyon, The O's and Doug Burr just in the last few visits I made to DFW. I love that new act on Good Records called New Fumes! And my longtime good friends in Fair to Midland put out an incredible album this year. I've been a big big fan of anything Erykah Badu or The Old 97's do and follow them closely. The underground metalcore Denton band The Famine have a new record produced by Braxton Henry. It's really brutal! I believe that local and independent music is one of the most important genres someone can follow and listen to because they are your direct peers. The art and music they are creating is a direct reflection of the environment you live in. I have a great love and appreciation for the Dallas music scene and the musicians involved. The wish I have for the home team is: Never quit. Someone, somewhere, will get it and love what you are doing. Utmost mad respects to you big D, and thank you so much for letting me tell my story.