Article Date: February 24, 2016
Author: Shawn Setaro
Saying the word “Dallas” conjures up more images of oil rigs than of guitar rigs. Yet the city has long been one of popular music’s best-kept secrets. Musicians from the Dallas-Fort Worth area have quietly been taking over popular music over the past nearly two decades, and two people from within the scene are trying to bring this movement to the light.
Crystal Z. Perry and Geno Young – the former a well-connected businesswoman and manager with ties to the city’s top musicians that go back in some cases to middle school and the latter an indie-soul artist and constantly working musician who has toured and recorded with Erykah Badu – have made it their mission to shine a light on Dallas’ music scene and the players who make it happen with their company DFW Crew Love.
A small cadre of musicians from the city – most of them alums of Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts – started banding together in the early 1990s. Many of the players who would later grow to prominence started out in the gospel group God’s Property, which would begin backing the genre’s preeminent star Kirk Franklin only a year after its formation and would go on to make a Grammy-winning album with him. Members of that group read like a who’s-who of contemporary sidemen: God’s Property alumni include drummer Robert “Sput” Searight; keyboardists RC Williams, Shaun Martin and Daniel Jones; and saxophonist Terrace Martin. Collectively, they have toured with, recorded with, and/or produced for Kendrick Lamar, Justin Timberlake, Snoop Dogg, Michael Jackson, Erykah Badu, Timbaland, Puff Daddy, Jeezy, Stevie Wonder, Jay Z, Timbaland, Janet Jackson, and countless others.
God’s Property is only a small part of the Dallas story. Many other prominent musicians and producers call the town home, including Bobby Sparks (Prince, St. Vincent, Lalah Hathaway, Herbie Hancock), Jerome Harmon(Nas, Missy Elliott, Jay Z, Beyoncé – he produced a little song called “Drunk In Love”), Madukwu Chinwah (Erykah Badu, Kirk Franklin, Snoop Dogg), and too many more to list.
With this abundance of talent, but a lack of local attention and outlets for it (the Dallas Observer once joked that the best place to hear Dallas musicians play was New York), the stage was set for Perry and Young to start their efforts.
The two friends initially met this past summer to talk about Young’s upcoming album, but the discuss quickly took a turn into something bigger.
“We were talking about things in the music scene, and our friends, and all this different stuff, and we came up with the idea,” Young told me. “We just said, why don’t we do a tribute to this particular segment of the Dallas music scene? We’ve got all these people who are friends, and grew up really playing in bands together and going to high school together. We all love each other, we all show up at the same clubs when somebody’s doing a jam session. But nobody puts it together and tells the rest of the music world, ‘Did you know that this was all from Dallas?’ So that’s the idea that we had to start DFW Crew Love, to give the whole scene a spotlight and some shine.”
They quickly decided that their initial project would be a t-shirt bearing the names of the city’s most well-regarded producers. The shirt was in the Helvetica list style that began with “John & Paul & George & Ringo” shirts fifteen years ago, though Perry’s inspiration was actually culinary.
“I said, ‘I have a shirt that’s based on that Beatles format that has all of the names of the ingredients for guacamole. We should do that, and we should do one for all of the instruments,’” Perry recalled. “I thought that we should start with the producers. Every shirt should be the people at that instrument who are making a global impact.”
For the shirt, Perry and Young chose Sparks, Jones, Young, Harmon, Chinwah, Williams, Searight, and Shaun Martin (“because we knew they are these glossy guys,” explained Perry). They told the producers about their plan, and unveiled the shirts at a tribute concert for a local engineer named Eric Hartman who passed unexpectedly.
“Snarky Puppy [a Grammy-winning instrumental fusion band whose frequently-shifting membership includes Searight, Sparks, and Shaun Martin] came back to Dallas and put [everyone on the shirt] all on a show together,” Young said. “We all took the stage and did a tribute for Eric. The funny thing is, we had no plans of wearing these shirts. Crystal and I had gotten them printed up, and then when this tribute thing happened for Eric, and we realized that all of the guys were going to be in the same place at the same time. Eric’s tribute show synergized the movement a little bit, because everybody was there.”
erry and Young followed up the Producer Love shirts with another, more contentious one for drummers.
“The Drummer Love shirt was actually interesting because it started a very necessary dialogue about who was on the shirt and who wasn’t,” Young told me. “Some of it was a little bit salty, because people felt certain people should be on the shirt and certain people shouldn’t. But that was actually a part of the dialogue that we wanted. I think it forced people to think about a hierarchy within the musician scene in Dallas. It prompted people to put some of these musicians in perspective, and to recognize their accomplishments. It was ultimately good for the conversation.”
In addition to t-shirts, Young and Perry put together a monthly panel series called The Exchange. The first event focused on moving from performance into production, the second on women in the music industry, and this month’s upcoming event will feature Young performing and screening his new video.
The two friends feel like they’re off to a great start promoting the Dallas-Fort Worth scene (“I never say ‘local’ – I wish people would stop saying that,” Perry clarified. “How are you saying ‘local,’ when our people are playing at every awards show?”)
“We’re only three months old,” Perry said. “What we would like to do is grow it into being able to bring talent as well. We want to continue having monthly panels to provide the education exchange. We want to continue to be an educational platform. We want to continue telling all of those untold stories. That’s really it.
“There’s not a goal for it to become this complex business model organization,” she continued. “But when you come to understand the Dallas story, knowing how big that is, getting that told is enough of an undertaking, especially when you realize the amount of detail that it takes to get that told right.”
Young likewise has big plans for the future. “The hope is that Crew Love will be an online hub for all things Dallas music-related,” he said. “I want the musicians here to realize, we are the city. We’re literally making and carving out spots to play, carving out a style of music that we play, carving out the rules and regulations of how the music scene works. We’re actually creating the culture by doing the work in our city, and not feeling like our success is based on jetting to another city.