Fort Worth has a musical heritage; now let’s flaunt it

Now, which town would you guess is “Music City, Texas”?

Hint: It’s in East Texas. It should have been Fort Worth.

The tiny town of Linden, home of musicians from bluesman T-Bone Walker to rocker Don Henley, has boomed since leaders embraced the “Music City” theme five years ago.

Now, business is up sharply. Weekend visitors come for dinner and concerts on trips to historic Jefferson and Caddo Lake.

So here’s my question:

If a city of 2,200 can figure out that music is an important part of its legacy — why can’t Fort Worth?

We’re the home of musicians from Euday Bowman and 12th Street Rag to Kelly Clarkson.

At least two major movements — Western swing and avant-garde “free jazz” — have roots here.

Yet at the dawn of another Jazz by the Boulevard music festival this week, our city still has no unified effort to collect and celebrate our shared music history.

This is a city where music takes no sides.

John Denver grew up in Western Hills. Willie Nelson and Roy Orbison sang on the north side.

“King” Curtis Ousley and Glenn Miller bandleader Tex Beneke came from the south side. East side songwriters wrote Fraulein, Waltz Across Texas and more recently the Leann Rimes song Blue.

But we never pull together. Two little Stockyards music museums struggled. A planned Denver statue has never found a home.

Thanks to a few proud fans, the Fort Worth Public Library has started a modest little Jazz Preservation Project.

Our musicians deserve much more.

“What really is important about Fort Worth is that so many great musicians started out in that one town,” said Dave Oliphant of Cedar Park, a retired University of Texas English professor and author of a new history, Jazz Mavericks of the Lone Star State.

He was talking about jazz saxman Ornette Coleman, clarinetist John Carter and the late saxman Dewey Redman, Joshua’s dad. But he could just as easily have been talking about Bob Wills and Milton Brown — not to mention their announcer, future Gov. W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel.

Fort Worth trumpeter Clyde Hurley played the solo on the Glenn Miller song In the Mood. Beneke and Fort Worth drummer Ray McKinley both took a turn at leading that orchestra.

Oliphant said Fort Worth’s history is full of Carters and Hurleys — “people who aren’t a famous name, but they went off and played with everybody who’s important in music.”

Kellam called music “an integral part of the cultural history of the city.”

In Linden, folks figured out how important music can be — and how it could help their city make money.

I’m not saying Fort Worth doesn’t have music halls or nightclubs. But Fort Worth’s nightclub crowds don’t always seem to come for the music.

A couple of Saturdays ago in Linden, I saw older East Texans tapping their toes and nodding their heads to the beat of a band playing old Jimi Hendrix songs.

The same cross-cultural crowd shows up for the T-Bone Walker blues festival, or for rocker Jackson Browne, or for the Piney Woods Cowboy Gathering next week, starring Michael Martin Murphey and familiar Fort Worth faces Don Edwards and Red Steagall.

Host Richard Bowden, a Linden native, once played in a band with Henley and went on to star in his own country music duo.

“We’ve got people from here all over the music business,” Bowden said by phone. “A lot of them were just in the band or the road crew. But they all love music, and all kinds of music.”

Bowden sang more than a few nights in Fort Worth.

“The Stockyards is a really cool place,” he said. “But it’s kind of geared more to the alcohol and nightlife.”

Linden — Music City — is more about songs and songwriters, he said: “People tell us there is magic in this place.”

If only we could capture more of that magic in Fort Worth.

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