Local legends

Neighborhood notables open up about life, work and making Oak Cliff their home

“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Andy Warhol coined the expression back in 1968, and it rings true today in the age of social media and reality television. These Oak Cliff neighbors, however, have enjoyed more than 15 minutes — and for good reason. They don’t have to wear a cap and sunglasses in public to avoid the inevitable gawking from starstruck passersby. But they have, no doubt, made their mark on popular culture.

 

Kenny Withrow. Photo by Can Türkyilmaz

 

Kenny Withrow

Guitar master

Fame came to Kenny Withrow in 1988, when the song he wrote with Edie Brickell, “What I Am,” became a major hit.

A ubiquitous pop song is not exactly what they were going for when they wrote the tune in the three-bedroom Old East Dallas house Withrow shared with five other dudes and six cats. But that’s what they got.

The New Bohemians went from playing shows for a few hundred people at Club Dada to launching their nationwide tour with a performance on “Saturday Night Live.”

“All of a sudden, we were on Y95 locally and power hit radio,” Withrow says. “We were like a Deep Ellum weirdo band, and all of a sudden we were on top-40 radio.”

Withrow now lives in Oak Cliff. He’s a member of The Electro-Magnetics, which just released an album, “Dirty,” with songwriter and frontwoman Cricket Taylor. He still plays occasionally with Brickell in her improvisational band Heavy Makeup. And he teaches guitar at the Kessler Theater and the Oak Cliff Cultural Center.

Even though the New Bohemians headlined a major tour right out of the box, Withrow says the band members weren’t leading a rock ’n’ roll lifestyle at the time.

“It was kind of like being on tour with your little sister,” he says. “We were kind of on our best behavior.”

After that, Withrow joined the popular Deep Ellum jam band Billy Goat.

“It couldn’t have been more opposite than being in New Bohemians,” he says.

Withrow got his first guitar at 11, and his sister’s boyfriend taught him some chords. Since he didn’t know any songs, he started making them up. Withrow, who graduated from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, has always favored an improvisational style.

He met most of his New Bohemians bandmates as a student at Richland College.

“There wasn’t very much original music in Dallas at all,” he says. “So a very popular band playing original music was a very new thing. It was the first time there was a big scene for music in Dallas.”

In the late ’80s/early ’90s Deep Ellum music scene, most of the musicians knew each other. They could put on last-minute jam sessions any night of the week, and hundreds of people would show up to listen, Withrow says.

Dallas still has a healthy music scene, he says, but it’s no longer concentrated in Deep Ellum.

“It’s diffused. There are things going on in different places,” he says. “I do think there’s a younger generation of musicians who all know each other, and there is a community.”

Withrow says Oak Cliff reminds him, in a way, of Deep Ellum in its heyday. Instead of clubs and music coming alive, it’s the whole community. Restaurants, shops, the arts and a musical culture are all growing at once here.

The latter is mostly thanks to the Oak Cliff Cultural Center and to Jeff Liles and Edwin Cabaniss of the Kessler Theater, Withrow says. Liles has always had a talent for introducing fans to bands they might not have heard before, he says. He brought different crowds and genres of music together at Deep Ellum’s Theater Gallery, among other venues.

“In a weird way, the Kessler reminds me of the Theater Gallery,” he says. “It has better sound, and the bathrooms are not disgusting, but it is a little bit of a melting pot. It’s getting more and more popular.”

 


 

DJ EZ Eddie D. Photo by Can Türkyilmaz

Eddie Murphy, aka DJ EZ Eddie D

Hip-hop radio DJ

EZ Eddie D says he has the second-longest running hip-hop show in the nation, but he might be selling himself short there.

According to the Internet, Jay Smooth of the Underground Railroad at WBAI in New York City claims his show is the oldest. But Smooth founded his show in 1991. Eddie has been on the air in Dallas since ’87. Minus a two-year hiatus to pursue the culinary arts, EZ Eddie D has been the host of Knowledge Dropped Lessons Taught for 23 years. So he has at least a year on Jay Smooth.

The Cincinnati native moved to Dallas in 1982, and he joined KNON two years later.

EZ Eddie D, real name Eddie Murphy, says he never wanted to be a radio personality, but he knew he wanted to play music after meeting DJ Ushay. He was impressed with how the legendary Dallas club DJ could control the crowd by the music he played.

“I was always shy to ask girls to dance, but I would always be interested in seeing how a song would come on and the reaction between the crowd and the DJ,” he says.

Murphy has lived in Oak Cliff for most of the time he has been in Dallas, and he has worked at Dude Sweet Chocolate in the Bishop Arts District for two years. Aside from his radio show, at 8 p.m. Saturdays, Murphy can also be found deejaying regularly at Lee Harvey’s and at events and parties around Dallas. We asked Murphy a few questions during a break at Dude Sweet Chocolate.

You quit KNON to pursue a culinary career a few years back. Are you still cooking?
I was a chef for two years at Palm Beach Club, and that was my walk through the culinary life. I like cooking, but I don’t like the meanness that goes with working in a kitchen.

What Texas hip-hop artists are you excited about right now?
I get asked that question a lot, and the problem with answering is, I’m going to forget someone. I’m going to leave someone out. But I like Fonz out of Houston. I think he’s extremely fresh. The Co-op out of Dallas. Legendary Fritz. Original Soul. I really am digging him.

Who are your top five emcees of all time?
Grandmaster Caz, Folk & Stress, KRS-One, Chuck D, Rakim.

Do you listen to the radio?
I listen to KXT sometimes. That’s OK. I like to spin music like that when I play music in bars. I don’t stay in one genre. You’ll hear anything during my sets. But radio is a problem. They’ve dumbed it down so much. These kids are force fed this crap, and it’s all they have. They don’t know how to escape from it. They don’t know anything else. It’s like kids in south central L.A. who have never seen the ocean. As big as the world and the Internet are, there are boundaries.

How did you get the name DJ EZ Eddie D?
I thought of this name called Fresh Express. I went home to Cincinnati, and there was this little kid, Percy, and he said, “Why don’t we just call you EZ Eddie D?” The kid was 10 or 11. And that was it. EZ Eddie D.

So the D doesn’t stand for anything?
No. It’s just EZ Eddie D.

Do people have a lot of misconceptions about you?
Yeah. That I’m vegetarian. That I’m tall. Some people thought I was Mexican. That I don’t eat pork.

You used to always say, “We’ll be right black,” before cutting to a break.
I still say that sometimes, but I stopped for a while because look, my skin color is brown. Why would I call myself black when I’m not black? Your skin color is not white. It’s some other color, but it’s not white. Being black is not what I am. Don’t define yourself by that.

Why do you like community radio?
I got my start with Nippy Jones, who went on to play at K104. He’s probably what we consider the godfather of hip-hop in Dallas. He gave a lot of people opportunities. That’s where I kind of got my thing of community spirit. People are going come down and bring you their music, and you give them an opportunity to play. If they suck, they’re eventually going to find out they suck; it’s just not going to be from me.

Recently, you lost an hour of airtime because of a lack of pledges. I’ve heard other community radio DJs say that people who listen to hip-hop shows don’t pledge.
I don’t even get support from the people who actually get their music played. It’s always been like that. I have to say I’m amazed that I’ve been there this long because of the lack of community support. I believe I made my pledge goal this time, which is cool. But they took an hour away, and I’m trying to get that back. I’m not blaming KNON because it’s hard times. We don’t get any government funding, so it’s just KNON on its own. I don’t know how to reach people to feel the importance of sustaining that.

 


 

JoAnn Holt. Photo by Danny Fulgencio

JoAnn Holt

Newspaper columnist, PR maven

When Jo Ann Holt started writing her arts and entertainment column for the Oak Cliff Tribune in the ’70s, there was so little going on in our neighborhood, they had to call it “Cross Over the Bridge.” In more than 20 years at the Tribune, Holt interviewed Ethel Merman, Rita Moreno, Lana Turner and many other celebrities. And she saw Tina Turner, Ella Fitzgerald and the Gatlin Brothers, to name a few, perform in the Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel downtown.

She still lives in Oak Cliff, where she was born and raised. Minus a decade or so in Denton, she’s been here all her life. Her husband, Durhl Caussey, also wrote a popular slice-of-life column for the now-defunct Tribune.

“We still run into people in the streets who say, ‘Oh, we miss your column so much,’ ” Holt says.

Holt and Caussey still write car columns for the Epoch Times, the Daily Commercial Record and other publications. And Holt runs her own public relations and marketing firm, which she started in 1984.

Her biggest client is the Dallas Summer Musicals, and in that 18-year relationship, she has rubbed elbows with many a Broadway star. But it hasn’t always been glamorous.

She got her start with the Shakespeare Festival of Dallas. Since she had no experience, she took the job for very little pay, and she did anything the client asked. She planned events, raised money and even cleaned apartments for the out-of-town actors.

“That’s how I learned to do PR,” she says. “And that’s the advice I always give young people. Do whatever you can in the business, even if it doesn’t pay anything, and learn as much as you can.”

Holt is legendary for her mentorships in the PR business. She gave many PR and marketing mavens their start, including Oak Cliff residents Lisa Taylor of Taylor Made Press and Melanie Ferguson of the Trinity Trust.

“I have a little army of former interns all over the place,” she says. “I stay really close with most of them.”

Holt started at the Tribune as a young mother and student at Mountain View College in 1978. As editor of the college paper, she laid out the paper the old-fashioned way, literally cutting and pasting copy onto the page before bringing it to the Tribune’s press. Publisher Ray Zauber soon hired her as the women’s editor, mostly covering weddings and engagements. It was an opportunity to learn on the job, and eventually she was able to explore her love of theater and the performing arts.

When the 106-year-old Tribune folded in 2009, it was a sad day for Oak Cliff, but it was heartbreaking for Holt. The thing she misses most, she says, “is that daily contact,” the letters, calls and emails from readers.

“The people of Oak Cliff have been really good to me,” she says.


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  • Teia Collier

    So glad to have found this article. Love these local legends, particularly JoAnn for welcoming me to Dallas with open arms and ideas.

  • lisa taylor

    Congrats to all three of these greats!