Ghost of Blind Lemon's Chris Mueller Talks DFW Music And Internet Radio
For nearly three years now, Chris Mueller has hosted a local music show on deepellumradio.com called The Ghost of Blind Lemon. His show nabbed a DOMA nomination this year, and we wish him all the luck. "Ghost" doesn't seem to draw any boundary lines in the sand: It's a little bit of every genre. Mueller flies the show on manual, and sight-reads his way through what he decides to play. In other words, he programs by feel. We caught up with him to chat about Internet radio's viability, his history as a music lover, and a couple of local artists he's bonkers for right now.
Congratulations on your DOMA nomination. Thoughts? Credit to others you'd like to give?
As cliched as this will sound, it truly is an honor just to be nominated. I look at the names on the list like Paul Slavens, Mark from the Local Edge, and I say to myself in my best David Byrne voice "Well, how did I get here?"
Whether you win or not, who would you like to thank for getting an Internet radio show this far?
I obviously have to give a huge thanks to Kim Keebler, who owns Deep Ellum Radio. I had heard about the station from Frank Campagna, and emailed her about wanting to do my own show. While my blog had a decent following, I had absolutely ZERO experience working in the world of radio. For some crazy reason though, Kim took a chance on me (I've heard Frank vouched for me, which I'm sure helped Kim decide to let me do the show.)
What do you think you did on Internet radio that made your show stand out?
There are not a lot of shows that focus exclusively on local music, and I do think there's a demand for that. Also, I feel the show manages to represent the diversity in our local music community. In the past year, I've played hip-hop (Dustin Cavazos), funk (Ducado Vega), electronic music (Cutter, Blackstone Rangers), sludge (True Widow, Hawk vs. Dove), singer-songwriter material (Kaela Sinclair, Hannah Claire), and lots of indie rock.
Indie is a quirky term, yes?
But even when you look at "indie," it's such a broad term that encompasses everything from Sarah Jaffe to Ishi to True Widow and so much in between. So basically I think that people enjoy the broad spectrum of all that is Dallas music.
You've become a tastemaker for some local artists. Tell us more about the ones you feel strongly about.
First of all, I should state these are the ones I feel MOST strongly about. The beauty of DER is that I'm not under any obligations to play music that I do not believe in. But I'll throw out some personal favorites of mine that I've discovered since starting the show: The Chloes, Ducado Vega, Hawk vs. Dove and Reinventing Jude have been some of the bands I've enjoyed discovering and supporting the most. In recent months, I've discovered a flood of great bands from Fort Worth; the names of Animal Spirit, The Diabolical Machines, and Year of the Bear jump immediately to mind. Right now, my big musical fixation is Kaela Sinclair. I've been playing "Run" on my show for months, and her whole album, Suns and Mirrors, has some of the best-crafted songs I've heard in a long time. I predict she's going to explode in the upcoming months.
How do you feel about the competitive rivalry happening between Deep Ellum Radio and Deep Ellum On Air?
I think a healthy bit of competitive rivalry benefits all parties involved, whether as a DJ, musician, or fan. But ultimately, my biggest focus is just to try to promote the best local music I can find.
Tell us about your show, The Ghost of Blind Lemon, for those who have never heard it.
Well, I play local music, and lots of it. Ghost of Blind Lemon Radio focuses only on artists from the Dallas/Fort Worth/Denton metroplex area. I talk about new music emerging from the area, whether it be from established artists like The O's and Air Review, or up and coming acts whose names are not well-known, such as Bawcomville and Svenny Baby.
One of the parts of the show that gathers the most attention is the Musician Spotlight. I take a group of three to five songs, all featuring multiple projects featuring one act. It may be a lead singer, a guitar or bass player, or drummer. But all the songs share one performer in common, and it gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to the many talented musicians in the area.
Also, I'm starting to do more interviews on the show, which is always fun. This past weekend, I got to interview Year of the Bear, as well as Calhoun. I'm no great interviewer by any means, but I just ask them whatever questions come to mind about their music and such.
What's on your wish list to further amplify Internet radio and local music on it? Say, if money and resources were not necessarily an issue.
I'm not sure about how to amplify Internet radio per se, so I'll take this opportunity to speak about what I'd like to see happen with our station. First and foremost, I'd like to see the station out and about in the community more. More remotes, whether it be from shows, or just around and about in the neighborhood. More interaction between the station's DJs and the Deep Ellum community. I think Deep Ellum Radio has been fortunate to have such a great on-air staff, including such names as Robert Miguel (formerly of KEGL) and DJ Sista Whitenoise (ex-KNON), just to name a few.
What's your background in your earlier years? When did you start to build a passion for music?
I could write for pages about this. I'll try to keep it to the highlights. I've always loved music. Maybe it's the fact that my mother had me start piano lessons at the age of 4. And even back in third grade, I was regularly listening to the radio and America's Top 40 with Casey Kasem. During that time, new wave was really popular. My first cassette was Stray Cats' "Built for Speed," and my first 45 was The Pretenders "Back on the Chain Gang." I've always leaned towards new wave and early alternative acts like The Cure, The Smiths and INXS to name a few.
As for my love of local music, you can thank George Gimarc and all the bands that he'd put on the Tales from the Edge CD's: Pop Poppins, Moon Festival, Bat Mastersons, Mildred, etc. But even more critical was when my high school friend Catherine Cuellar introduced me to the music of Rhett Miller. This was before there even was an Old 97's. I loved the catchiness of his songs and the witty sense of humor displayed in his lyrics. Following Rhett and the Old 97's led me down this path of local music obsession.
When did all this start for you? Did it start out in the direction of internet radio?
Back in 2007, a friend of mine started blogging, and she recommended I do a blog. I dismissed the idea at first. But one day I started pondering the state of the local music scene at that time. As you may recall, Deep Ellum was on the verge of becoming a musical ghost town. I started thinking to myself about how things weren't like they were in the "good old days." I then stopped and said to myself, "What am I, some old man on the porch, reminiscing about the good old days? I still have some 'good old days' ahead of me." I decided then that I needed to try starting a blog, and so Ghost of Blind Lemon was born.
I chose the name as a tribute to Blind Lemon Jefferson, the first musician to settle in the Deep Ellum area. I also liked the idea of his spirit still being a part of the neighborhood.
Has the success of the show made blogging tougher for you to keep up with?
The blog is on hiatus for the moment. I want to eventually redesign the blog, but I have no definite plans as to when it will reemerge, or what it will look like. I've noticed that so much of the music blogosphere seems centered around merely posting videos or Soundcloud players, with minimal writing on the music. For me, I don't find that very satisfying, though I wonder how many people are still looking for in-depth written articles on music from blogs.
Is there anything you feel that further needs to be accomplished to create even more of a community atmosphere in out local arts scene? As opposed to a competitive one?
One thing that needs to happen is for fans to come out to support the musicians, rather than just only their friends. Don't leave the venue the second your friend's band gets off stage. You paid the full cover charge, so you might as well get the full bang for the buck. I met Rhett Miller (Old 97's) back in high school, and started following the band. I'd always make a point of catching the bands that opened. Some weren't that good, but some were good. From there, I'd start following the bands I liked that opened for them: Dead City Radio, Legendary Crystal Chandelier, The Calways. When I saw Deathray Davies open for the 97's, I was seriously impressed and then started following them on a regular basis. From that, I discovered Chomsky, [DARYL], Lucy Loves Schroeder, Pleasant Grove ... so many wonderful bands from the early 2000's. Had I only watched Old 97's, I never would have discovered all that music, and I almost certainly never would have started the blog, which helped lead to the DER show.
Also, Dallas has to give up the idea of bands "selling out" because they become popular. Let me use the example of Black Tie Dynasty. When they began, the Observer spent every week raving about the band. Then the band started getting more successful, and even managed to get regular rotation on the EDGE. After that, the band started to become a critical punching bag. The music didn't change, but the fan base changed. The only thing I can attribute that to is the fact that they started to gather a more mainstream fan base. I guess Morrissey was right when he sang "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful."
But really, if we want Dallas to be a successful music city, we have to cheer on the success stories, and try to breed new ones.