Photo by Gary N. Audirsch

Musician Tom Battles, an Oak Cliff character since 1984, has died.

He was 59.

Battles died unexpectedly while working at the frame shop that he owned for over 30 years.

He was a prolific guitarist, playing with Tex Edwards and the Swingin’ Cornflake Killers, the Lucky Pierres, Lithium X-Mas, several Rolling Stones tribute bands and many others, some of which were short-lived and some that gigged for years.

“He would hit a wall sometimes and swear he was going to give it up,” says his wife of 29 years, Sophia Dembling. “But he’d always go back to it.”

Battles was born in Illinois and moved with his family to Arlington when he was 15. He played guitar in the stage band at Lamar High School and attended the University of North Texas before graduating with a degree in advertising from what is now Texas A&M University-Commerce.

He wanted a career that would allow room for his music, Dembling says. He worked as a framer for a couple of small companies and galleries before starting his own. Battles’ frame shop was in the Design District for many years, and he moved it to Tyler Street about 10 years ago.

“He’s an artist about framing,” Dembling says. “Just beautiful, beautiful work. Some clients would drop something off and say, ‘Just do something nice.'”

Besides his wife, Battles is survived by his parents, three younger brothers and many nieces and nephews.

He was a well-known curmudgeon whose soft side was just below the surface. Dembling says she is touched by the outpouring of love from friends and acquaintances.

“I wish so desperately that he could see that,” she says. “The thing that strikes me is how often the word ‘kind’ is being used. He was a very kind person, but I didn’t know people could see it through the curmudgeon.”