Willie Nelson's Dallas.
There are a ton of songs about or inspired by Dallas, and they say a lot about who we are. So each week, in this space, we'll take a closer week at one of these songs — and we'll try to determine what, exactly, they say about this great city of ours. Check out this feature's archives here.
As we briefly mentioned last week, Willie Nelson paid tribute to the great state of Texas in 1968 with the release of his concept album Texas in My Soul. Although the song we touched on previously, “Who Put All My Ex's In Texas,” mentions a gal named Alice down in Dallas, another cut from the record speaks volumes about our city.
Simply called, “Dallas,” the album's lead track is one of the most comprehensive love letters to our city that we've examined yet.
The song was co-written by Dewey Groom, who at the time owned the Dallas country western dance hall called the Longhorn Ballroom. The venue, originally called Bob Wills' Ranch House, was to be the new home of Wills' Texas Playboys — until he was forced to sell the venue. Aside from once being managed by Jack Ruby, and a frequent tour stop for Nelson, the venue's other claim to fame revolves around a 1978 Sex Pistols gig. The band harassed the crowd, and Sid Vicious reportedly yelled out “All cowboys are queer!” at one point before he was then headbutted by a female in the crowd. Two shows, later the Pistols announced their split.
But that says nothing of this song's actual content. Speaking about Dallas as if she were a woman being fondly reminisced about, Nelson offers up the following lines rather early in the tune: “Would you believe she named her airport Love? Just a symbol of what she's got plenty of.”
At the time of the song's release in 1968, Dallas Love Field was the city's only airport. That, of course, changed when construction began on the DFW International Airport the following year. Five years later, DFW International Airport would finally became fully operational.
Long before that, though, a couple of historically significant events already took place at Love Field. On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy arrived at Love Field on Air Force One and was assassinated in Dealey Plaza while his motorcade was traveling from Love Field to the Dallas Trade Mart. A mere hours later, it was also at Love Field where Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as president — right aboard Air Force One, and prior to its departure.
Although the nation turned on the city following Kennedy's death — thrusting upon us the infamous “City of Hate” nickname — Nelson, it seems, never wavered. Instead, he boasts that it is love, in fact, that the city has “got plenty of.”
Next, Nelson tosses in a few lines about some of the city's more notorious roads; “Take a ride on her Central Expressway, breeze down the LBJ.” While the Central project was first proposed by Dallas City Planner George E. Kessler in 1911, the project wasn't fully realized until the early 1950s. Giving Dallas its first freeway, the project was initially viewed as something of an engineering marvel. By the 1980s, however, the explosive growth experienced by the suburbs made US-75 one of the most congested roads in the country.
The High Five project, which was completed in 2006, provided a five-tier interchange between Central Expressway and LBJ. As the largest interchange in the state, it carries over 500,000 vehicles per day on average.
It's interesting that Nelson mentions the LBJ in his song at all, though. Even though construction on the interstate began the planning phases in 1955, it wasn't completed until 1981. In fact, the first section of LBJ to open to traffic didn't happen until 1967 — only one year before the song's release. But our beautiful roads are just one of the reasons Nelson was so enamored with Dallas.
He continues: “Look her over once and you'll have to say, she's the best-dressed city in the USA. I love my city of soul, from Neiman's lace to the Cotton Bowl.”
We've already mentioned Neiman Marcus in a previous edition of this column, but the story doesn't end there.
No, Dallas may not be quite the fashion hub it was in the 1960s when Nelson helped pen this song, but, around that period, Mary Marcus (wife of Neiman Marcus chairman Stanley Marcus) was named to Eleanor Lambert's much-lauded International Best Dressed list.
More currently, a poll of Travel and Leisure readers ranked Dallas 30th out of 36 on their list of the best dressed cities in America. Interestingly enough, Dallas residents ranked themselves the ninth-best-dressed as part of that same poll.
But no matter why Nelson's become so infatuated with our city, the one thing that's certain is that he'll continue to make frequent stops here as long as he's physically able. That's a truth that's played itself out quite accurately over the last 40-plus years. Nelson just can't stay away from us.
Earlier this year, when health problems forced Nelson to be hospitalized and cancel a performance in Colorado, he was able to triumphantly appear at his scheduled stop at Dallas' House of Blues only a couple days later. This shouldn't come as a huge shock to anyone whose heard “Dallas,” though.
As Nelson sings near the song's conclusion: “And you can bet I never stay away for very long from Dallas. Because like a baby misses momma on his first night gone from home, I miss Dallas.”