Musician and Radio Host Paul Slavens Looks Back on 25 Years of North Texas Music
Stephen Masker Paul Slavens performs with The Baptist Generals at 35 Denton in 2012.
Editor: This year, we're celebrating the 25th Dallas Observer Music Awards. Our coverage will include recollections from last quarter century of North Texas music. Paul Slavens was one of the only musicians to be nominated for the first DOMA, in 1988, and also this year. Here, the musician, radio host and North Texas music lover reflects.
The Dallas Observer Music Awards are 25 years old this year. A lot has changed in North Texas and in the world of music since then. When the first DOMAs were awarded, the vinyl album and the cassette were the dominant formats. KERA was a music station. Central Expressway had stoplights on the entrance ramps. We still had blue laws. I had lots of hair.
I was just getting started then, fresh from Nebraska and blissfully ignorant. I lived in Denton for three years before I worked up the nerve to come to Dallas. I grew up in the cornfields and Dallas was the big city. When my band Ten Hands booked gigs at the Prophet Bar, it was the first time I had set foot in Deep Ellum. Then, there was nothing but the Prophet Bar, Theater Gallery, empty warehouses and some bums. Props to Russ Hobbs (who at the time owned Theater Gallery and Prophet Bar) and Jeff Liles (who booked bands, there and elsewhere). I always felt like they started the whole thing down there.
I was half scared of being mugged and half delirious with amazement that I was playing music on a real stage in a big city. I still have the copies of the Observer in which our first club listings appeared. Not articles about us. Not blurbs. Just the name listed in print in the listings. I have the first blurb printed about us, too. In fact, I have a box that has pretty much every Observer where I have been mentioned. Twenty-five years' worth. For some reason it just means something to me, or my ego, or whatever, to have my name appear in the Observer. Somehow, I have always considered the DO to be the paper of note concerning local rock music. I figured, a hundred years from now, this will be the source for what happened during my musical lifetime in North Texas, and I want my name to appear as much as possible. Narcissistic? Of course, but when you are a band trying to get noticed, it is a good thing to be noticed by someone who gets paid to notice bands. Back in 1988, when the first DOMAs were held, Clay McNear was the music editor. I can't honestly remember if I ever met him, though I probably did.
But the thing is, I didn't want to meet him. I wanted him to be unapproachable, passing some kind of ultimate righteous authoritative judgment on the music scene. The eye that saw all. That way , when he said nice things about me or my band, I could feel really good about it. You just held your breath every Thursday when you cracked the magazine open and found Street Beat, praying for good press, praying you didn't get bad press.
In 1988, there were just a scant few places where a musician could hope to get some press, and for young bands the Observer was the place you wanted to get it. The big papers would swoop down and do a little blurb about a local band once they got established, every once in a while. But the Observer had a whole section on local music every week.
So when the Observer decided to hold their first DOMAs, it was a pretty big deal to those of us who were vying for attention in the Deep Ellum music scene. There are some pretty heavy hitters on the list of nominees for the first DOMAs: Brave Combo, New Bohemians, Reverend Horton Heat, Sara Hickman, Bugs Henderson, Rhett Miller, The Legendary Revelations. They all went on to great success. Most are still making music, 25 years later. There is a laundry list of long-gone bands that reads like a history of early Deep Ellum: The Trees, Shallow Reign, DDT, Three on a Hill, Café Noir, Loco Gringos, the Daylights, Rigor Mortis. And there in the New Music category (whatever that meant) was Ten Hands. My band. You cannot even imagine how excited I was. It was validation, handed down from on high by the Almighty Dallas Observer and its Omniscient Benevolent Music Editor. It was like a dream.