The history of music in Dallas is longer and more involved than we can get to here. We don’t even have room for all the fun facts and trivia-question answers that pop up when you start researching our city’s place in the broader American music scene. (A few off the top of my head: did you know that half of legendary bluesman Robert Johnson’s entire recorded output came from a session in Dallas in 1937? That Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs, the group behind the early rock-and-roll classic “Wooly Bully,” formed here? That Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Steve Miller began his career while a student at St. Mark’s?)
We certainly don’t have room to showcase all the future stars currently plying their trade on our local stages, or all of the legends who blazed the trail for them. But we did our best to at least give you enough information to start a conversation—and maybe a couple of arguments.
What Dallas Sounds Like Now
“Counting Down the Days”
This country-adjacent singer-songwriter is 21 years old, looks about 15, and sounds like a 42-year-old working on a second divorce. “If I only knew a love like that, deeper than blood and bone/Maybe I wouldn’t be a dreamer who’s been digging my grave since I was born,” he sings on “Counting Down the Days” over a driving beat provided by producer and Centro-matic drummer Matt Pence. Twomey nails that particular-to-Dallas sound that isn’t exactly country, rock, or pop but is always one beer away from being all of them.
“When you’re listening to R&B, you’re looking for the soul,” the singer known as BeMyFiasco told D Magazine’s Taylor Crumpton late last year when she released her long-coming debut Where I Left You. You can hear what the former Bianca Rodriguez means by that on a song like “Bad Dream,” which gets over purely on her voice and emotion. Bonus: Dallas-specific references to Big “T” Plaza and Rudy’s Chicken.
The 40 Acre Mule
“Brown Eyed Handsome Man”
With its loping beat, stinging sax, and Isaiah Evans’ pulpit-pounding vocals, The 40 Acre Mule’s music has a throughline straight to the beginnings of rock and roll, especially in the way it never forgets that second part. But this is not a nostalgia play. It’s more like a purification, stripping everything away until you can hear that indefinable rumble that scared parents and pastors back in the day.
The Oak Cliff singer is one of the subjects of the documentary Mija, which played Sundance and the Oak Cliff Film Festival earlier this year. It makes sense. Her music already feels cinematic, thanks to a voice that is dreamy and a little weird, an idiosyncratic instrument meant to pop up in the soundtrack to a David Lynch project. “35mm” would have been right at home playing over the credits of one of Twin Peaks’ third-season episodes.
“Candy (Payton’s Song)”
The first thing you notice about Girlo is obviously Natalie Winkler’s voice, if only because it is impossible to ignore. There are times on “Candy (Payton’s Song)” where she sounds like if a scream could scream. It’s a voice that starts in the red and then continues to do the most. But the band—guitarists Jackie Abbott and Kavan Spooner, bassist Mason Blair, drummer Humberto Ochoa—provides the right launching pad, with noisy but rock-solid melodies.
You might not get it right away. Coach Tev is almost too assured for his own good, coming off at first as matter of fact, flowing conversationally over quiet-storm beats. He lets the game come to him: “Life’s about the journey, kid, not the race.” But as you immerse yourself in the Irving rapper’s world, you’ll find that his voice is in your head long after you remove the AirPods. He’s already hit No. 23 on iTunes’ streaming chart with no support.
Joshua Ray Walker
“Sexy After Dark”
When Walker gets to the chorus of “Sexy After Dark”—which he performed on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon—suddenly he’s Otis Redding in the body of a baby-faced White country singer built like Dusty Rhodes. He goes from a down-on-my-knees-baby-please shout to an above-the-tree-line falsetto with such ease that it feels like a magic trick. Which it sort of is since it produces the same reaction.
“What Is It? (Thursday)”
Released earlier this year, 7 Days in the Life, the solo effort from the Cure for Paranoia rapper, clocks in at just under 15 minutes. But the coolly charismatic McCloud doesn’t need any more time to prove why Erykah Badu brought him with her to perform at the Hollywood Bowl. On “What Is It? (Thursday),” he rides the beat like he’s in a five-point harness while delivering life lessons: “What is it that you’re doing right now that’s keeping you moving?/I need you to think of that thing and then keep on doing it.”
When you can take on someone else’s signature song and make people forget it isn’t your signature song, that is a rare superpower. Johnny Cash did it to Trent Reznor. Mary J. Blige did it to U2. And Abraham Alexander does it to Chris Isaak here, paring it down even more until it’s just his aching voice and haunted guitar.
Ariel + The Culture
If Jason “Ariel” Bobadilla’s music doesn’t have you googling flights to Mexico City, we don’t know what to tell you. “No Puedo” is a hip-swiveling blend of indie pop and R&B, with bright guitars and a breezy rhythm that belie the yearning tone of Bobadilla’s mix of Spanish and English lyrics. It’s Dallas’ answer to the D.F.’s Little Jesus.
The Essentials: You can’t talk about the history of music in Dallas without these key artists.
The Reverend Horton Heat
The stage name of guitarist Jim Heath. Also, the punked-up rockabilly group he’s played in with bassist Jimbo Wallace and a lineup card’s worth of drummers since 1985.
The Blond Bomber cut the revved-up “Action Packed” when he was a 19-year-old in 1958 and kept rocking right up until his death in 2003. A Rockabilly Hall of Famer.
Jimmie & Stevie Ray Vaughan
Oak Cliff’s blues brothers reached stardom separately—Jimmie with the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Stevie solo—but came together for Family Style in 1990 (released after Stevie’s death).
Grapevine’s own broke Michael Jackson’s record for most weeks on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. He’s not the new King of Pop yet, but he’s only 27 years old. There’s time.
One of RCA’s biggest-selling acts—second to Elvis—quietly lived off the Tollway for much of his storied country music career, which included towering hits like “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’.”
Tim DeLaughter & Mark Pirro
The singer and bassist have been making music together since 1990 (when they formed Tripping Daisy). They’re still at it with the Polyphonic Spree.
Even celebrating the 25th anniversary of their major label debut (and alt-country standard) Too Far to Care, they remain too vital and creative to simply tour as a greatest-hits act.
No band in Dallas has a song that is played as much as “Possum Kingdom” (from 1994’s Rubberneck). Not was. Is. As in: still. “Do you wanna die?” This alternative rock staple never will.
“Southside da realist/Drug dealers, killers/Sharks and gorillas … Who said that we ain’t dope-dealing wizards?/Cars changing color like chameleon lizards.” South Dallas’ national anthem.
One of the country’s best metal bands was poised for more when beloved frontman Riley Gale died in 2020. “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe)” was nominated for a 2021 Grammy.
Annie Clark is the rare guitar hero who isn’t always showing off her chops, letting her songwriting and genre hopping—and increasingly theatrical live shows—get more of the spotlight.
They started on Deep Ellum street corners decked out in cowgirl duds. They became a juggernaut when they ditched the costumes (and, later, Dixie from their name) and added Natalie Maines.
The jazz pianist played with John Coltrane, Art Blakey, Donald Byrd, Ornette Coleman, and Etta James, appearing on more than 100 records—not counting dozens from his own groups.
Debuting in 1987 with “Oak Cliff,” Dallas’ first hip-hop crew to put the city on the national map did so with an 808-heavy sound. The soundtrack to Suzuki Samurais everywhere.
“T.C.B. or T.Y.A.,” “She Don’t Have to See You (To See Through You),” and “Quiet! Do Not Disturb” are some of the best Stax singles the legendary soul label never released.
The pride of Thomas Jefferson High School had a voice that could be as powerful as a runaway train roaring out of a tunnel or delicate as a watchmaker at work, often on the same song.