Meet Three People Who Want to Tell You About Dallas' Blues History

Categories: DFW Music News

Justin Terveen for the Dallas Observer
Since Hart Ward penned his classic "Dallas Blues" in 1912, the city has established a proud tradition in the blues genre with its performers, venues and documentarians. Today, Dallas' blues legacy remains in the hands of a smaller number of people than it has in years past. But some, like Wanda King, daughter of late blues legend Freddie King, Don O of KNON-FM 89.3 blues radio fame and Pat Bywaters, grandson of famed Dallas Nine member Jerry Bywaters, are trying to honor the city's contribution to the blues -- a contribution that seems to be better known worldwide than it is here at home.

See also: How R.L.'s Blues Palace survived Dallas' blues club crash

Don O

Honoring the Godfather: Wanda King

Growing up in a household with an iconic blues legend like Freddie King as a father would seem like a daunting experience. "He was just a regular dad," says Wanda King of her father - the godfather of Dallas blues. "He, of course ... well, he wasn't a regular dad, but he did regular stuff like a dad."

Some of the things that made him not a regular dad: having blues legends like Albert King coming over for Sunday dinner, or playing guitar with Steve Miller in the living room. "Things like that are normal in a musician's family," Wanda says, "but I knew my father was famous early on ... someone special."

Freddie King was so special that he has influenced nearly every blues musician since the late '60s and early '70s, and his daughter Wanda feels that it's time Dallas honors its blues legends with not just a statue but a museum filled with memorabilia from Texas blues icons like Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan, Johnny "Guitar" Watson and, of course, Freddie King.

A few years ago, Wanda met with representatives from the city of Dallas, suggesting the city create a blues amusement park. She was going to pay for the statue of her father, but she wanted the city to represent the other Dallas bluesmen.

The city representatives instead offered to wrap a banner representing the state's blues artists around some pillars at the State Fair. "I thought it was kind of cheesy," Wanda says. "I wanted something that truly felt like Dallas was truly representing the music and the talent from this area, but sometimes the more current generation, they put things on the back burner."

To honor her father's legacy, Wanda petitioned the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to induct him. And with a little help from Eric Clapton, in 2012, her father name's appeared on the ballot, and he was voted in on the first run. "I'm in the process right now donating his Gibson 335 sunburst," explains Wanda. "I know his things will be on display long after I'm gone and younger generations will have access to them. His thing was always trying to support young musicians, to encourage them to follow their dreams. 'If this is what you like, then do it,' he'd say. 'If you want to play the blues, play the blues; you just got to feel it, though. You gotta have a feel for it.'"

Courtesy of Don O.
Blues defender Don O in the KNON studio.

Tuned Into the Blues: Don O

"You know the city of Dallas has never recognized our musical culture as being an important contribution," says Don O, a DJ who's been spinning blues records for more than 30 years at KNON. "They are more interested in what the politicians are doing, or what the businesses are doing, and other than building like gigantic bridges and putting the names of very rich people on them and building art museums and buying art from all over the world to fill it with ... well, there's just not much recognition of the music history and the impact it has had worldwide."

After Robert Johnson slipped into Dallas and recorded his myth-making record Hell Hound on His Trail, Dallas blues artists have risen through the ranks of poverty to share their sorrow, their pain. From Blind Lemon Jefferson, the very first commercially successful bluesman, to T-Bone Walker, who influenced B.B. King who, in turn, spurred Freddie King to pick up a guitar and start singing the blues, this city has such a rich music history that no other Texas city can compare.

"To this day, you can't go to a blues jam without hearing someone doing 'Hide Away' or one of Freddie's other great instrumental hits," says Don O. "It's stuff guitar players cut their teeth on. If you're into blues guitar, you pretty much have to start with Freddie King."

Dallas blues artists have been influencing people for so long that fans from all over the world travel here to visit Stevie Ray Vaughn's and Freddie King's graves and the places where they played. People from as far away as Vienna, Austria, have even moved to the area "because of the blues scene, its history," says Don O. "That we don't recognize that is crazy."

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Yes the 'city leaders' should acknowledge our heritage. but why not some rich blues players like homeboy Steve Miller. he learned how to play from the legends here in Dallas, now pay it back. (think he hides out in Colorado these days). the Vaughn estate could probably chip in some coin too. not sure the city could run a decent blues museum.

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