Given its size and vibrant cultural diversity, it should come as no surprise that Dallas is the former stomping ground of many a storied musical artist. Plenty of your favorite songs were written and recorded by musicians from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Longtime residents might have even caught some of their earliest shows. While no list can be comprehensive, here are several Dallas singers, songwriters and instrumentalists worth celebrating.
Like his predecessors T-Bone Walker and Freddie King, guitar hero Stevie Ray Vaughan was born and raised in Oak Cliff. Vaughan started teaching himself to play guitar at age 7 and, by the time he was 12, he was already performing at area talent competitions. He dropped out of high school at age 17 to focus on his music. For the next decade-plus, Vaughn sharpened his chops in honky-tonk after honky-tonk across the state. Shortly before releasing his debut album, “Texas Flood,” David Bowie asked him to guest on several tracks that were eventually released on the hit 1983 album “Let’s Dance.” Vaughan even toured with Bowie until his management pulled him off the road so he could promote his own album.
SRV, as he’s still affectionately known, is credited as a major player in the blues revival of the 1980s, helping bridge the gap between that genre and the rock that dominated the airwaves (radio and television) at the time. Unfortunately, Vaughn died in a helicopter crash on Aug. 26, 1990. He was only 35. He is buried next to his father at Laurel Land Memorial Park.
Another notable name is The D.O.C., nom de rap of Tracy Lynn Curry. Originally a member of the Fila Fresh Crew, The D.O.C. is known for his collaborations with Compton, CA’s N.W.A. He co-wrote many of the songs on Eazy-E’s solo debut, “Eazy-Duz-It” and also produced two of Dr. Dre’s albums. Though Fila Fresh Crew would split in 1987, The D.O.C. went on to enjoy a successful solo career. His debut solo album produced two No. 1 hip-hop hits: “It’s Funky Enough” and “The D.O.C. and the Doctor.” Although a near-fatal car accident crushed his larynx and permanently altered his voice, The D.O.C. recovered and is still recording and performing.
Lisa Loeb, the bespectacled chanteuse behind 1995’s folksy “Stay (I Missed You),” was raised in Dallas with her three younger siblings, who also grew up to be musicians. Loeb would later head to the East Coast to attend Brown University, but regular listeners of 88.5 KRSM-FM, the student radio station affiliated with St. Mark’s School of Texas, might have caught the radio show she hosted in the 1980s. (While St. Mark’s is a boys-only academy, Loeb attended nearby Hockaday.) In addition to releasing nine albums, she has appeared in numerous films and television shows, writes children’s books and now designs for her own eyewear line.
Singer and guitarist Jim Heath, better known as The Reverend Horton Heat, got his start playing with his psychobilly band in Deep Ellum during that neighborhood’s mid-1980s renaissance. Other prominent indie bands from that era include The New Bohemians (featuring the future Mrs. Paul Simon, Edie Brickell), Ten Hands, Shallow Reign, The Buck Pets and many others. The Reverend has recorded 11 albums to date and still brings his unique brand of party music to venues around town.
Country crossovers The Dixie Chicks formed in 1990 as a bluegrass quartet. In 1995, vocalist Natalie Maines joined sisters and founding members Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, bringing with her a more contemporary country vibe. Hits such as 1998’s “There’s Your Trouble” and “Wide Open Spaces” brought the band commercial success, and their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” helped the band branch out to a broader audience.
Alt-country pioneers The Old 97s got their start playing in Dallas bars in the mid-1990s. Frontman Rhett Miller, an alum of St. Mark’s School of Texas as well as the Deep Ellum scene of the late 1980s, continues to give back to his hometown. He and his brother launched the Breathe Easy Concert Series in Dallas, which raises money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Miller has also done advocacy work on behalf of the Okay to Say initiative, which is sponsored by the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute and aims to remove the social stigma associated with mental illness.
Sisters Jessica Simpson and Ashlee Simpson (Ross) were raised in the northern Dallas suburb of Richardson. Jessica, the elder of the two, was part of the early 2000s pop resurgence that also saw the rise of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Although she wouldn’t achieve the same level of mega-stardom as her peers, today she helms a massively successful clothing line that bears her name. Ashlee Simpson, meanwhile, went a more pop-punk route than her sister, dyeing her blond hair black for a time. Simpson also appeared in the Broadway musical “Chicago” and the CW’s reboot of “Melrose Place.”
Pop star Demi Lovato, the daughter of an engineer and a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, was raised in Dallas, where she took music, dancing and acting classes. She got her start on “Barney & Friends” and later starred in Disney’s “Camp Rock.” Since then she has released five albums and voiced Smurfette in Sony’s “Smurfs: The Lost Village.”
Of course, the list of famous Dallas musicians could go on. Erykah Badu, Norah Jones, St. Vincent, Michael Nesmith, Steve Miller, Ray Price, Trini Lopez and Meat Loaf are other household names with a strong connection to Big D. Who are your favorite local musicians, past as well as present? And where do you venture in Dallas to experience great live local music? Join us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about Dallas’ rich history and to continue the conversation about the unique culture that makes our great city a great place to call home.