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House of Blues Heritage In Dire Straits

from the Dallas Observer

Downtown Dallas at the Crossroads

The city’s effort to clean up downtown could cost us important parts of history.

By Robert Wilonsky

It stands at the end of a short, out-of-the-way dead-end street a few blocks from City Hall: 508 Park Ave., where a man and a guitar more or less invented rock and roll 72 years ago. The building is vacant and decaying, but not alone. On a recent Saturday afternoon, the small block upon which it sits was lined with the homeless, who surrounded an idling car parked in front of the building where in the summer of 1937 Mississippi-born bluesman Robert Johnson recorded 13 of the most important pieces of the American songbook. The homeless gathered around the car with their hands out, and it drove away—it was like something out of a zombie movie, a sad and familiar sight in downtown Dallas. 

The building was carved out of marble in the 1920s, when it was constructed as the home of the Warner Bros. Pictures storage facility. Marble, builders believed, would contain a conflagration should the highly flammable nitrate film stock ever catch fire. Historians also believe the marble created the marvelous acoustics that led Brunswick Records to use the building as its branch office and makeshift recording studio.

Evidence of that sound clarity exists on the handful of recordings producer Don Law made there with Johnson in 1937. Decades old, they still resonate like a thunderstorm that’s only just passed.

It wasn’t until 2006 that historians had definitive proof that Johnson recorded such immortal, oft-covered songs as “Hellhound on My Trail,” “Love in Vain” and “Traveling Riverside Blues” at 508 Park Ave.

[ click to continue reading at The Dallas Observer ]

Posted on February 1, 2009 by Editor

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