KNON's Don O. Knows The Dallas Blues
Don O. has been spinning blues records on KNON since 1983, literally about a month after they went on the air. See, he was a listener of the pre-KNON station at that frequency, KCHU, from '75 until they were switched off in '77. Heartbroken at the station's demise and subsequent absence of blues on the airwaves, Don jumped at the chance to volunteer a true blues show to the station. Among his projects at KNON is their series of blues compilation CDs, the first few of which are now highly collectible and out-of-print. Volume 5 just come out.
A huge fan of Freddie King in particular, every year around King's birthday he does a special show in tribute. This year, assuming their upcoming pledge drive goes well, the Freddie King tribute goes down on Friday, August 31, at 6 p.m.
In asking you to tell the story of the Dallas blues, it actually turns out there's another story behind that phrase.
One of the first blues songs ever published was titled "The Dallas Blues," in 1912. It was written by a white guy from Oklahoma City with lyrics added by a songwriter from New Orleans, but there it is, several months before W.C. Handy did his thing with it in Memphis. I can't wait to see what will happen in relation to that with the 508 Park project. Their first event back in June was marvelous.
I understand school played no role in your blues passion whatsoever?
None. Music class was always a bore to me. Maybe if they spent more time talking about T-Bone Walker, Bessie Smith, Freddie King or Albert Collins, I would have been more interested. It always fascinated me that most music classes concentrated on old dead European guys like Mozart and Beethoven. I'm all for that, but that's European culture. Where's the love for blues, jazz soul, and other true American forms of music? How can you have a class about music and not mention Ray Charles? I'm old and it's been a long time since I was in school. I hope things have changed.
Care to assemble a starter kit of DFW-based blues for interested beginners?
The "starter kit" would have to include history. "Blind" Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly, The Dallas String Band, "Blind" Willie Johnson, T-Bone Walker, Black Ace, 508 Park Avenue, Alex Moore, Lil' Son Jackson, Freddie King and others.
And the newer, lesser-known names?
That's a slippery slope for anyone who loves the scene as much as I do. I love 'em all. Well, most of them, but here's a few that deserve a lot more attention than they have been getting. Not that any of them are actually getting attention! Aaron Burton, one of the most talented blues songwriters I know of, and an outstanding acoustic guitarist. Christian Dozzler, imported from Vienna, Austria. He moved here because of our blues scene. A multi-threat on piano, harmonica, accordion, vocals and songwriting. An amazing talent. Larry Lampkin, a young man from Fort Worth that released his first CD last year. Great guitar playing and vocals on all original material. I can't wait to see what he does next. Jason Elmore, a protege of Jim Suhler and a fine guitarist, singer and songwriter. Already getting some notice out-of-state. Andrea Dawson, a talented lady with a huge voice, all she needs is fresh original material to start making waves. K.M. Williams, a Hill Country stomp-style guitarist who regularly plays in Italy. The country, not the Texas town. He was on the Chicago Blues Festival the last two years. He plays little BBQ joints in Big D. He also fronts a three-piece called Trainwreck which is loud, in your face, and a lot of fun. Then there's those musicians whose names you should know, but probably don't. These are the names who should be showing up on your "Best of Dallas" listings every year, but never do.
Please, enlighten us!
Lucky Peterson, Smokin' Joe Kubek and Bnois King, Mike Morgan, Anson Funderburgh, Andrew "Jr. Boy" Jones, Ernie Johnson, Bobby Patterson, Hash Brown, Gregg Smith, Tutu Jones, Josh Alan, Paul Byrd, Zac Harmon, Vernon Garrett, Paul Harrington, James Hinkle, Wanda King, who is Freddie's daughter, Cookie McGee, Dave Millsap, Johnnie Red, Holland K. Smith, Ray Reed, Texas Slim, Kenny Traylor, Chris Watson, Buddy Whittington, Blues Boy Bo, Jim Suhler, Sonny Collie, Kirkland James, J.B. Wynn, Big Charles Young, R.L. Griffin, Jerry Clark, Chester Burns, Butch Bonner, Joel Foy, James Butler, Lil' Jay, Perry Jones, Lady Lotion, Miss Marcy, Ray Sharpe, Jeff Stone, Harold Walker, Cheryl Arena and many more.
So, what happened to you early in life to make you a music lover?
One word, radio. I grew up listening to KLIF "the mighty 1190", Kat's Karavan on WRR, XERF, KFAD and KZEW in the early days of FM, and eventually KNON's predecessor, KCHU. People like "Cuzzin" Lennie, "Old" Jim Lowe, Charlie the Record Collector, Wolfman Jack, Trish the Dish, and Jon Dillon made me crazy for music. It's all their fault. I am grateful.
Ever given playing music a shot?
I play the CD player, the turntable, the cassette deck, the mini-disc player and the MP3 player. Those are my instruments and I practice A LOT. There are way too many extremely talented real musicians out there. They need someone to listen and that's my love. I have a need to hear live music. I don't think I could stand to live without it.
You're a huge Freddie King fan, understandably.
All-time would have to be the great Freddie King. The first time I ever went into a club was to see Freddie at the old Gertie's Hard Rock Cafe on Lemmon Avenue. Freddie was always a fire-breathing Godzilla onstage, just stomping Tokyo flat! I have never seen anyone since that has the pure burning energy he had onstage. That's why I dedicate a whole show every year around his birthday and play nothing but Freddie King. I have done that for more than 25 years now. Nice to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally catch up.
Sam Myers was another giant in our midst. His influence on the local blues scene is incalculable. He was one of those larger-than-life personalities that is just hard to describe to someone who was not there. God bless Anson Funderburgh for bringing him to town to enrich all our lives. You can't go to a blues jam in this town without hearing a Sam story or two. In his prime he could shake the walls with his voice and come up with harp riffs that could make you laugh or cry. Then he would cuss out the sound man.
If you were the mayor of the local music scene, what changes/improvements would you implement?
If I were mayor of the local music scene I would probably be impeached or assassinated. However, if I lasted long enough, I'd implement re-education camps for the local music press. Many would not survive. I'd send local musicians to school to learn the art of promotion. They would probably all fall asleep in class. I'd start a new radio station that played nothing but local music, all the time. It would fail horribly. I'd build a 50-foot statue of Freddie King in Dallas and a 50-foot statue of Ray Sharpe and Robert Ealey in Fort Worth. Austin would steal them. I'd demand that every TV station in town devote one hour every week to live local music. They'd probably run it at 4:30 am on Thursday. I'd repossess all the radio frequencies, run Clear Channel out of town on a rail, and open them all up for community radio broadcasters. It would be madness, but it would also be cool as hell. I guess I wouldn't be a very good mayor.