Shreveport’s Pop/Rock Music Scene: The 1970s and 1980s
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338 Shreveport’s Pop/Rock Music Scene The 1970s and 1980s —John Andrew Prime Shreveport native John Andrew Prime documented music and culture in his role as reporter for the Shreveport Times during the late 1970s and 1980s. During that era, he kept tabs on the flourishing of art rock that happened in the city, centered around bands like the Picket Line Coyotes and A Train, and venues like the now-defunct fourthousand -seat amphitheater in Veterans Park. In this piece, drawn from his years as a journalist, Prime ties this musical culture with the city’s economic, political, and social history during the same era. He also notes pop musicians from Shreveport—such as Victoria Williams and Joe Osborn—who have influenced music well beyond the boundaries of the Ark-La-Tex. His piece ends the volume on a note that is not only informative, but poetic as well. Clearly, the Ark-La-Tex has more stories to tell than those contained within these pages. While it managed to escape the worst of the violence and flux of the 1960s, Shreveport and northwest Louisiana had a reputation, deserved or not, with both residents and outsiders as being a conservative, sometimes reactionary enclave that did not welcome or want change. This was as true of the arts as in other areas of life, and so few people in Shreveport at the start of the 1970s would have predicted that decade, and the 1980s after, would leave the city with any measurable music and entertainment equity. To be sure, the 1970s and 1980s were marked by demographic changes wrought by the rise of the oil industry and the flight of money and jobs from the area. Firms such as United Gas fled the city for major business capitals, notably SHREVEPORT’S POP/ROCK MUSIC SCENE 339 Houston, and others closed as wells were shut down or capped and exploration ceased. Also by the end of the 1980s and in the 1990s, manufacturing peaked and began a decline, with AT&T the best example of an operation that once employed thousands seeing its work force thinning and finally disappearing. A similar music exodus had occurred in the 1960s, exemplified by the demise of the Louisiana Hayride radio show that had provided a modest living and some exposure for new artists. There was some unrest in the 1960s—Sam Cooke was detained and humiliated by authorities in Shreveport, and at least one near-riot occurred in the city’s Allendale neighborhood on September 22, 1963, when police stormed a black church, dispersed a crowd, and beat a local black leader, the Rev. Harry Blake. And questions lingered about the February 1964 suicide of Ann Brewster, secretary of the local NAACP chapter as well as a participant in sit-ins at the lunch counter at a downtown store the previous year and in the Freedom Riders movement in 1961. Part of the exodus was due to the siren lure of major population centers on the young talent of the day. Two stellar studio players who would literally shape world rock, pop, and country of the ’60s through the end of the century—guitarist James Burton and bassist Joe Osborn—left to work in Los Angeles, New York, and, of course, Nashville and Memphis. Burton’s guitar work can be heard on releases by hundreds of artists as can Osborn’s bass lines. Burton, now in the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame, is mainly associated with Ricky Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, John Denver, Emmylou Harris, and, especially , Elvis Presley. Osborn, who doubtless will join Burton in the R. & R. H. O. F. sidemen’s gallery some day, has appeared on works by hundreds of artists , notably Johnny Rivers, the Fifth Dimension, and the Carpenters, whom he discovered. Others who left and found fame and fortune, as well as trial and tribulation or early deaths, were players such as Dale Hawkins, Roy Buchanan, and Tommy Blake, the stage name of singer Thomas LeVan “Van” Givens. But by the 1990s, Shreveport’s reputation for music was finally more positive. Burton and Osborn returned to become involved in local clubs or recording, as did Hawkins and, briefly, Givens. Top national and international songwriters and producers—Keith Stegall and Michael Garvin come to mind—made no effort to cloud or obscure their origins. And top national artists with local roots—Eric Leon “Kix” Brooks of Brooks and Dunn and guitarist Danny Johnson, sideman to Rick Derringer and Rod Stewart, to name but two...


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