As with every great movement or phenomenon there tends to be the question..how did this come to be?
Who started Deep Ellum?
1- In the beginning- God created the universe and all that is in it….
2- 1870s- God set the slaves free who then started a Freedman’s town near the Central Tracks to find work. In this new community a lifestyle of spirituals, blues and street theater was the norm. Later, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Huddie Ledbelly and many more made a music scene that connected to the blues circuit in Kansas City, Memphis, New Orleans, Jackson…..and Deep Ellum was on the map.
3- Early 1980s- Artists living in lofts and the homeless hiding out in an urban ghost town.
1984- Russell Hobbs opened a home for convicted artists called Theatre Gallery which birthed the modern day Deep Ellum scene. Theatre Gallery hosted art openings, avante garde theater and booked bands every week such as Zeitgeist, The End and Three on a Hill. This Dallas cultural revolution was made possible by Russell’s liberating philosophy in giving equal opportunity to all!
4- 1985- Russell Hobbs was booking original bands then brought in Jeff Liles and with Mark Lee of 462 bringing more tours in the synergy made Deep Ellum an international tour stop. The Theatre Gallery and The Prophet Bar became the place to be and many new bands hit it big.
Escape from materialistic Dallas (here is a small piece of a long story)
I was in out of college for years, changed majors 3 times pre-med, design and business. I really just could not see sitting in traffic and going to shiny building every day so I rented a big warehouse in Deep Ellum… one day, while driving through an urban ghost town just east of downtown in my pearlescent white 1959 Mercedes convertible looking for refuge from the mall with a friend Tracy Smith we stumbled upon a cool warehouse for rent. The front looked like the Alamo and inside the 6000 square foot space we found a beautiful vibe and molded tin ceiling all for 1000$ per month. Why would I pay 800 for a sheetrock apartment in a cluster when this place was only a grand? We built an art gallery in the front, a bar made from and old boat (el barco) and a stage from the lumber that was the stage for the Dead Kennedys at Rock Against Reagan..
Artists Band Together (see press page)
We opened the Theatre Gallery on Gallery Night 1984. Several artists from North Texas State, Jamie Heidt, Jennifer Hoffecker, James Roe, Dan Collins and Leslie Bevis showed controversial new oil paintings. Dallas Morning News critic Janet Kutner showed up and loved the place so she wrote a story. A few weeks later we threw a big Halloween party. Zietgiest from Austin played and Tench Cox of The End came up and we talked about the scene.We hit it off and Tench asked if his band could play soon. Several local bands were there and asked if they could play so we started booking bands every week. The End played a lot and became the first local headliner for this original music scene that started to build. David Mabry was the drummer in the true sense of the word he led the multitudes down to this new club and the scene blew up. We always liked to mix things up so on that first New Year’s Eve we had Robert Lee Kolb and the Local Heroes and The End play. The Greenville Ave bar crowd showed up and The End brought tons of Highland Park High School kids which made for a great mix. Original bands started coming out of the woodwork, from Dallas and all the suburbs. New bands started to form since now there was a place to play original music.
The gallery was booked a year out with amazing artist such as Ron English, Bill Haveron, Jeff Robinson, Matt Miller, Ken Havis…
We housed Avant Garde Theater by the likes of David Nelson and Brooks Tuttle who I met while playing Jason (as in Jason and the Argonauts) at the Greco Roman Festival in East Texas, a gig my friend Logan Daffron brought me into. We also held productions by Scott Matthews, Kurt Klineman, Katherine Owens, Matt Posey, Bruce Debose and many more ..
What was once a warehouse ghost town instantly became the place that all the underground artists and art lovers flocked to every weekend..With an art opening at 6, Avant garde theater at 8 and two or three original bands until 2 or 3am..the DNA of the coolest art scene Dallas has ever known was in motion. Finally, a hotbed of true expression, an escape from the mall.
Word on the street was”there’s this crazy guy in Deep Ellum that opened an art gallery, throwing great parties with free beer and booking awesome bands!”
I was building the the Fast and Cool Club for Shannon Wynn at the time and the neon guys there were Dennis Brogioti and John ..?, they introduced me to Mark Lee with 462. Mark asked if we wanted to bring some national tours in. The local artists and bands mixed with people coming to a cool historic neighborhood and discovering art and original music for the first time was cool enough but when you throw in all the coolest bands on national tour the place really took off. This scene was awesome and didn’t need it but now all the greatest bands were coming through on the first few tours Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, Smithereens, 10.000 Maniacs ..
The unique thing about the theater gallery was the vision. By mixing art, theater and music in one place there was a synergy that was transcendent like Dallas had never seen and has not seen since. The scene was about exploration and artistic growth not the music “business” or the status-quo. In the beginning the philosophy was inclusive in that everybody could be part of the scene, everybody can play, it was beyond the music business.
We provided the space and atmosphere for art culture to grow. Art grows in an atmosphere of liberty, it takes all the right ingredients to nurture art and cannot be stifled by demands to sell drinks, please record labels or make money for the industry.
There is still no such place in Dallas today, it’s been back to business as usual for a long time.
Unique (see press page)
Dallas’ best kept secret wasn’t secret for long. The Unique story came out about artists living in Deep Ellum in a warehouse and the art scene was growing. The multitudes began to come to Deep Ellum on the weekends to the Theatre Gallery.
The next day Jeff “chate” Liles came down and set up his bed on the stage. He was a cute, energetic opinionated guy that wanted to book some bands, I said ok so Jeff started booking some bands that called in, some of his favorites and some Austin bands which freed me up to oversee the gallery, theater and music to impact Dallas.
I started telling people ‘Turn Off your TV and Turn On to TG” and “get rid of your Polo shirt and make some art.. leave the mall and start a band!..”
People felt like something was happening, they were part of something bigger than themselves, something they had been waiting for their whole lives, to be part of something great, it feels so right to find out who you are. It wasn’t the art, music, theater or poetry. It wasn’t just the scene on the street, it was the excitement of all these things happening together. People became alive and connected and celebrated the life and art..Theatre Gallery never was about making money, we were trying to break on through to the other side using art and the alternative lifestyle that comes with the experience.
I wanted to open a place to compliment TG and be like a real bar. My dad loaned me 40k to rent the 2 story across the street from TG and we began to remodel. The Prophet Bar was to be the next outpost in our war on mediocrity! After dealing with the City of Dallas and explaining to them that the Planned Development written for Deep Ellum would actually allow us to open we were ready, almost. With all the remodel and licences costs I was out of money. My long time friend Logan floated the money for the first liquor order and we opened. The grand opening was really cool with a diverse mix of wealthy art appreciaters, cool scenesters, musicians, artists, models, writers and just cool folk. Anthony and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers came over the first weekend we were open and hung out upstairs.
The Prophet Bar was the next natural extension in the movement to provide a place where you could actually buy a real drink and a cup of coffee. This “Artistic Saloon for the Sake of Money” blew up in popularity booking all the cool touring bands. Home of Reverend Horton Heat, Ten Hands, the Daylights and many more. The Prophet Bar became the neighborhood bar with it’s thick counterculture vibe and murals by artists such as Ron English, Matt Miller, Jeff Robinson, Joe Stokes, Gary Myrick and others..
Not long after, out of money again I sold the magic Mercedes to Logan’s dad for 12k. The next time I was at the Daffron house Phil, Logan’s dad showed me an identical car in the Robb Report for over 60k..
Theatre Gallery was a transcendent opportunity for artist exploration unbridled by the demands of financial success. Sort of an endowment for the arts by Russell David Hobbs resources and all the money that came into the clubs being funneled back in to enable the next crop of bands, painters, artists, actors, musicians, playwrights, poets to do whatever they wanted and not be concerned about being successful or profitable. Russell’s vision to bring all artists together and combine all the arts in raw form in one place and create a new world to escape from materialistic Dallas was what ignited the fire.
Theatre Gallery was not just an art gallery, it was not just a music venue, it was not just a theater or a club..Theatre Gallery was an art experiment exploring the chaotic synergy of many people searching together to break on through to the other side together, the catalyst for the cultural identity shift which occurred has had lasting effect. Dallas was changed forever. People found themselves as they stripped off their polo shirts and dared to start a band or make their first painting.The early years were a beautiful organic underground scene and then materialistic Dallas found Deep Ellum. Many clubs started opening in the area trying to replicate what we were doing at The Theatre Gallery and The Prophet Bar.
There have always been bands, clubs, the music business, galleries and even theater but never the synergy that would transcend the mediocrity of Dallas until the Theatre Gallery. When business as usual wasn’t enough one kid from the suburbs moved into an old historic neighborhood and combined all the elements to transcend the status-quo and the Deep Ellum renaissance was born. Searching for life outside of the mall, this man Russell Hobbs spearheaded the movement that changed Dallas culture forever. Multitudes flocked to Deep Ellum and it grew exponentially in a very short time.Original art, theater and music in one melting pot of inspiration.
In 1984, the Stark Club opened in the West End to put Dallas on the map in regard to the international dance clubs. Simultaneously, the Theatre Gallery opened and put Dallas on the international map for art and the original music movement.
Oppurtunists began to exploit the new oppurtunity..Jeff Swaney and others came and caught artists in their nets and sold them in boxes. He and his partners threw parties across from the Theatre Gallery called “Life in a Warehouse” where we watched SMU chicks stumbling through the streets with broken high heels lost in the ancient paths of Freedman’s town… this was the beginning of the medicratity that hit Deep Ellum.
Dallas was back to business as usual after the unique window of opportunity witnessed in 1984-1990..
The Door opened in 1998 which was also guided by the same philosophy but most people perceived that venture as a christian influenced venue since everyone had a skewed view of my perceived beliefs by then. This was beside the fact that from the first night we always booked Christian and non christian bands. I don’t think Jesus ever had a club but I’m thankful to be associated with his name.