Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Deep Ellum / Deep Elm / Deep Elem Blues

deep-elm-otis-dozier_1932“Deep Elm” – Otis Dozier, 1932

by Paula Bosse

“Deep Ellum Blues” has become a standard blues song, warning of/extolling the vices found in the once-thriving, predominantly black area of town, where a lot of people — black and white — enjoyed themselves (after dark) in clubs and bars, immersed in the sometimes shady goings-on that one tends to find on the other side of the tracks. The song (sometimes irritatingly called “Deep Elem Blues”) was first recorded in 1935 by the Lone Star Cowboys (popular performers in the Dallas area, better known as the Shelton Brothers). And now it’s become a blues standard, sung around the world by people who have no idea what a “Deep Ellum” is.

Below are four versions of the song that I like. (I searched for early performances by black musicians, but, according to Deep Ellum experts Alan Govenar and Jay Brakefield, there is only one that anyone seems to know about — by Booker Pittman, grandson of Booker T. Washington, and I couldn’t find it.)

But first, if you haven’t seen this wonderful short documentary by Alan Govenar about Deep Ellum in its original prime, it’s a must-see. (Bill Neely sings “Deep Ellum Blues” in this — it’s great. Listen for the extra verses.)

Below, the original version by the Lone Star Cowboys, who later changed their name to  The Shelton Brothers and were well-known to Dallas audiences through their regular appearances at the Big D Jamboree and on local radio (in a video conveniently uploaded just this week!).

My personal favorite, this hopping western-swing-big-band-rock-n-roll version by the always fabulous one-time Dallas resident Hank Thompson.

I can’t leave off this turbo-charged rockabilly version by Dallas’ own “Groovey” Joe Poovey!

And, finally, for good measure, one weird version, by the always reliable Charlie Feathers.



“Deep Elm” painting by Otis Dozier (1932) — one of the Dallas Nine group — from the collection of the Dallas Museum of Art.

“Deep Ellum” film by Alan Govenar, one of Dallas’ leading blues and cultural historians and archivists. For more on the 1985 short film, see the FolkStreams site here. For Alan Govenar’s Documentary Arts website, see here.

For more on the history of Deep Ellum, I highly recommend Deep Ellum and Central Track, Where the Black and White Worlds of Dallas Converged by Alan B. Govenar and Jay F. Brakefield (Denton: UNT Press, 1998), as well as their recent revised/expanded book Deep Ellum, The Other Side of Dallas (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2013). Govenar and Brakefield have written the definitive history of Deep Ellum in these two volumes. You can read a bit about the song from the latter book here.

I wrote about another interesting song, “Dallas Blues” — considered by many to  be the first blues song ever published — in the post “I’ve Got the Dallas Blues and Main Street Heart Disease,” here.


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Dallas Morning News Lobby — c. 1904


by Paula Bosse

Suppose it’s 1904 and you’ve placed a classified ad in The Dallas Morning News — looking for a job, looking for a buyer for your business, or looking for your reprobate cousin Harold who’s skipped town without re-paying you the money you loaned him. You want to retain a certain amount of anonymity or you have no fixed abode, so you’ve requested that replies from interested parties be addressed in care of a box number at the newspaper offices. If you had done that in 1904, this is where you would have gone to pick them up: the lobby of The Dallas Morning News, seen here in their first building (built in 1885) at 500-501 Commerce St. I can only assume there is another strategiacally-placed spittoon just out of frame.

Here are a few random classifieds with box numbers, all of which appeared in the paper 110 years ago today. These people would have been wandering in and out of this lobby hoping to see envelopes waiting for them when they arrived. Having watched a LOT of old movies, I picture woefully conspicuous detectives hanging out in the lobby, pretending to read the paper, with one eye fixed on those boxes. Waiting. …Watching. …Spitting.





Photo from the Belo/Dallas Morning News collection, DeGolyer Library, Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University, accessible here.

Classifieds from the May 17, 1904 edition of The Dallas Morning News.

Click photo for larger image.


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

%d bloggers like this: