Saluting a historic Big D blues scene

MIKE McGEE | 6/13/2016, 11:49 a.m.
Famed musical talents across the city, through their inspiration and organic rhythms, have contributed to global artistic culture for more ...
Musician Fred Lowery recalls tales from the Dallas blues and soul scene of the 1950s through the 1970s every Memorial Day weekend when he invites former musicians into his home in the Kiest Park area to reminisce. Mike McGee

The Dallas Examiner

Famed musical talents across the city, through their inspiration and organic rhythms, have contributed to global artistic culture for more than 100 years. From the Southern-steeped blues of Blind Lemon Jefferson at the beginning of the 20th century to Down Home Blues recording artist Z.Z. Hill, a multitude of creative influences sprouted and spread roots via the noisy streets, smoky joints or tiny recording studios of Big D. Yet the unknown, the obscure or the forgotten are also worthy of note, musician Fred Lowery believes.

Lowery, 79, has gathered his musical brethren into his home near Kiest Park for the past 21 Memorial Day weekends. These singers, instrumentalists and fans from the city’s blues and soul clubs of the late 1950s to the early 1970s offered that the holiday tradition was a way for them to unite the past, relive personal highlights, and appreciate the expressive form that meant so much to them.

Lowery, grey-haired, jubilant and with a tendency to keep peanuts in his pockets to feed the squirrels on his property with coaxes of “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty,” recalled those earlier club-circuit days.

“It started with the singing groups. I was in a group called The Five Larks; that was my first group. The next group I got with was The D Notes. Once we got with The D Notes I had to learn how to play the guitar,” he said, punctuating “guitar” with the Southern style of two syllables.

Soon after, Hill asked Lowery to join his group.

“I said, ‘Man, I can’t play.’ He said ‘They can’t, either,’” he laughed.

He remarked that by the age of 14 or 15 he was touring around the state with his doo-wop groups, and picked up the ability to play piano, upright bass and the electric organ at that time. The performer also wrote lyrics, a creative task he continues today.

Despite the physical lines of segregation mapped out across the city at the time and Lowery’s relative youth, he played many legendary, but now defunct, clubs: The Zanzibar, The Pride and Joy, the Ascot Room and the original Blues Palace among them. It was his work with local musician and club owner Bo Thomas that brought him the most notice, Lowery affirmed.

“I joined his band and then we started playing with a lot of stars. Little Willie Johnson, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Al Green, Ike and Tina Turner, Sam and Dave …” The Drifters he added, and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown.

“My life at that time, was really a good life,” he recalled. “I was 20 when I got with Bo.”

With the group Big Bo and His Arrows, Lowery was able to perform the blues, soul and rock that he loved. Songs such as Work with Me Annie, I’m Sorry and You’re Not Worth the Tears, were recorded on small regional labels like Gay Shel as well as on the national labels Chess and Cotillion Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records at the time.