Johnny Winter'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.
In December of '68, the Beaumont-born bluesman Johnny Winter caught the break of his life.
After joining guitarist Mike Bloomfield onstage for a performance in Chicago, he was noticed by representatives from Columbia Records, who were in the audience for that night's show.
Almost immediately, he was quickly given a $600,000 advance — reportedly the most ever given to an artist up to that point — to sign with the label.
It didn't take him long to get to work after signing on the dotted line, either. Within two months, he began recording his Columbia debut. That self-titled effort featured a handful of numbers that would go on to become some of his signature tunes, among them covers of B.B. King, Lightning Hopkins and Robert Johnson classics. But the album did feature a couple of originals, too, including his solo acoustic piece, “Dallas.”
And that song's opening bars indeed speak volumes about Dallas' somewhat deserved reputation as dangerous place to visit.
Sings Winter: “Goin' back to Dallas / take my razor and my gun / lots of people lookin' for trouble, man / sure gonna give 'em in some. / I believe old Dallas, that's the meanest town I know / because you're not safe in Dallas / I don't care where you go.”
The same year that song was released, Congress, at the strong urging of President Lyndon B. Johnson, passed its first major gun control laws in over three decades. The assassinations of President Kennedy in '63, and Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in '68 were the catalysts for these first major gun restrictions put in place since 1934. Among other things, the new laws prohibited interstate firearm trafficking and denied guns to felons, minors, drug addicts and the mentally ill.
Though it took him six years of preaching from his bully pulpit to convince Congress to sign his restrictions, Johnson was a huge proponent of increased gun control — ever since his first days in office. It wouldn't be a far reach to assume that witnessing his predecessor's death in Dallas had at least some amount of lasting impact on his long-term belief system.
And Winter had a point. Aside from Dallas' mean demeanor, the prevalence of gun ownership here can very much compromise one's safety, at least in theory. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, Dallas' 9,087 new concealed handgun license applications in 2011 alone represent over six percent of the state's total applications and give the Dallas County the second-highest total behind Harris County's mind-boggling 22,696 applications.
Similarly, our 83 revoked licenses ranked second only to Harris County's 245.
And, beyond our long standing history with violence (which we've covered in this column on multiple occasions), Dallas has certainly been home to its share of infamous murderers.
Take, for instance, Richard Speck.
In July '66, Speck made national headlines for systematically raping, torturing and eventually killing eight nursing students in Chicago. The fifth season of AMC's Mad Men even centered an entire episode around the killings. Speck spent his childhood in East Dallas, took up drinking at age 12, dropped out of school at age 16 and was subsequently arrested dozens of times for various misdemeanors.
Then, in '63, Speck was busted after forging and cashing a co-worker's paycheck and robbing a convenience store, landing him three years in the State Penitentiary in Hunstville. A week after receiving parole, Speck was caught trying to attack a woman in her apartment parking lot, earning him another 16-month sentence at Huntsville.
But, due to a clerical error, he was released early. A couple months later, Speck was able to get a charge for stabbing a patron at Ginny's Bar reduced to a disturbing the peace citation. Three months later, Speck stole 70 cartons of cigarettes from a grocery store and attempted to sell them out of the trunk of his car in the grocery store parking lot.
When he learned a warrant was issued for his arrest, he finally bailed on Dallas and caught a bus to Chicago. His demeanor didn't change, though. Four months later, he set the nation astir when he overtook a nursing dormitory armed with just a knife and murdered eight of the nine nursing students inside.
But the high-profile crimes tied to the area don't stop there. In the '90s, Charles Albright continued Dallas' familiarity with violence. If that name doesn't necessarily sound familiar, perhaps the nickname “The Eyeball Killer” rings a bell?
Albright was a bright child, skipping several grades in school, and even being accepted to the University of North Texas as a 15-year-old. When he expressed an interest in taxidermy while still in his early teens, his mother began teaching him how to skin and stuff small birds. Because his family couldn't afford expensive marble-like taxidermy eyes, his mother encouraged him to substitute buttons in their place.
As an adult, Albright took up an early morning paper route in order to make time for visiting prostitutes without triggering his wife's suspicion. Then, in December of 1990, he found a way to mix his two loves: He began murdering prostitutes and removing their eyeballs. Before his conviction for these crimes in March of '91, he had already killed three Dallas prostitutes.
And then there's one of the most infamous stories in the city's history. Like Speck, Antron Singleton grew up in East Dallas and began his career in rapping at age 14, using the name G-Spade. While recording his debut album, It's All Bad, the 23-year-old Singleton was involved in a car accident that broke his back. It was during his recovery that the rapper, who had since began going by the stage name Big Lurch, began to turn to PCP to help deal with the pain.
Two years later, in April of '02, Lurch was in Los Angeles, working on his album, when his girlfriend Tynisha Ysais was found partially disemboweled in her apartment with bite marks on her face and organs. Lurch, who was later discovered to be in the midst of a five-day PCP bender, was found naked and bloody. Upon further examination, a medical examiner found pieces of human flesh in Lurch's stomach that were not his own.
While the tired old “steers and queers” expression is one of the most common way outsiders view us Texans, Winter makes it clear in his lyrics just which of those two things one really has to watch out for when visiting our neck of the woods.
“You know that I'm evil, just wanna have some fun,” he sings. “There's so much shit in Texas, I'm bound to step in some.”