Thursday, September 08, 2016


Deep Ellum Dallas, 1959

The Deep Ellum district in downtown Dallas started out as a African-American commercial area in Dallas. In the early part of the last century it was known as a hotbed of blues and jazz. Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lead Belly worked there as street musicians.

And apparently, during an era of segregation, it was a place, where black and white musicians played together before integrated audiences. A 10-minute 1985 documentary by Alan Govenar features folks who were there talking about those times. (The documentary disappeared from YouTube since I first posted this. but you can rent it for 99 cents HERE, and below is a trailer:)

But outside of Dallas, fans of blues, country and rockabilly might best know Deep Ellum from a great American tune that celebrates the neighborhood as a red light district, a place where you can find redheads who "never give a man a chance"; where you have to keep your money in your shoes and where police officers expect $15 bribes. A sinful place where preachers lay their Bibles down and good gals become hardened.

It's been covered by Les Paul, Doc Watson, Harmonica Frank Floyd, Red Allen & Frank Wakefield, Rory Gallagher, Hot Rise, The Asylum Street Spankers, And apparently Jimmie Dale Gilmore could see Deep Ellum from a DC-9 at night.

Most versions of the song are called "Deep Elem Blues" or "Deep Elm Blues" (which actually makes sense because "Ellum" came from Elm Street in Dallas. Most the singers who recorded this song were white.

But the song started out as an ode to a wild place in Georgia called Black Bottom. Here's a 1927 version by a group called The Georgia Crackers.

In the early '30s a Texas group called The Shelton Brothers changed the locale of this song to Deep Ellum.

Country singer Hank Thompson did a rocking version in the late '60s.

Jerry Lee Lewis also recorded it in the '50s.

But probably the most popular version in recent decades was done by the unplugged version of The Grateful Dead.

For more deep dives into songs, check out The Stephen W. Terrell Web Log Songbook

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