30 Jan '05 -20:01
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Texas Music Museums Git It On, Get Ready to Rumble

According to recent coverage in the Dallas Morning News and the Austin American-Statesman, the sleeves are rolled up and Dallas and Austin and maybe even Houston are fixing to fuss and feud over who should be home to the state's official music museum.

Coverage in the Dallas and Austin papers recently focused on the announcement that Fair Park in Dallas will be the site of a Texas Music Museum to open in 2006. It sounds serious enough. Plans are being made to clear out the Hall of Religion (at a values-driven time like this, no less!) in Fair Park, the art deco complex of buildings designed for the Texas Centennial in 1936 that hosts the State Fair every October. It sounds legit with three principal players behind the project including a vice-president at Ericsson. But I cringed at the name of the private foundation doing the funding—Texas! Music. Sound like an ad campaign or a bad musical.

A reaction piece in Sunday’s Austin paper quoted Wayne Miller, who’s been promoting the idea of a Texas Music museum in downtown Austin for nine years, along with folklore expert Pat Jasper, who’s joined the project as the Hall of Fame director, and other backers. They conveyed the sense they still had the upper hand, with heavier celebrity firepower (eg. The potential involvement and support of the producers of Austin City Limits and Lance Armstrong’s deep-pockets production company Capital Sports and Entertainment, though they’re hardly on the same page with Miller now) and more support from city fathers. There’s more of a scene to show off in Austin and more than enough music-oriented tourists in search of a museum for a bigger overview. Miller’s dilemma has been finding a site and nailing the deal down.

Meanwhile, a drive has been underway for several years to launch a similar museum in Houston spearheaded by Lizette Cobb the daughter of Texas tenor sax great Arnette Cobb and president of the Texas Jazz & Blues Archives.

Each city has its own strengths and weaknesses. Though music is a much more visible industry in Austin, especially with the abundance of live music venues, both Dallas and Houston have deeper histories with broader perspectives. Funding or no funding, the Dallas site appears to be on, and Austin seems ready to fight back. Right now, though, I’m giving Dallas the edge because they’ve got Texas’ most thorough and extensive historian, Mack McCormack, on board as an advisor. If they put his knowledge to use and produce the memorabilia in expedient fashion, they’ll be the first. Music museum handicapping out of 100 points: Dallas 45, Austin 40, Houston 15.

Then again, a fourth museum, the Texas Musicians Museum (www.texasmusiciansmuseum.com) may beat them all to the punch. The for-profit museum is run by Thomas Kreason, a former memorabilia collector for Hard Rock Cafes who opened the Sun Studios Gallery on Beale Street. Suddenly I smell cheese, although I got to say, the half hour tour of Sun Studios proper holds its own against a full day at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Sometime this year “a Texas-size museum, featuring more than 100 Texas music legends” will open its door, so says the website—my guess is somewhere near the wax museum complex in Grand Prairie by Interstate 30 just west of Dallas. In the meantime, this month’s feature exhibit on the web is “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott: Metal Master, on the recently-deceased guitarist for Pantera and Damageplan. Expect more SRV than the average Hard Rock. The advisory board includes Craig Hopkins and Timothy Duckworth, both with extensive Stevie ties, and music history authority George Gimarc, who knows a thing or two about the past.

Those big projects are hardly the only ones staking a claim to the right to showcase Texas music in a museum setting. UT professor Clay Shorkey owns the Texas Music Museum name (www.texasmusicmuseum.org) and has been collecting materials as a museum for at least fifteen years, though the institution lacked walls until two years ago, when it located at 1109 East 11th St in East Austin. The music collection at the Southwest Writers’ Collection on the campus of Texas State University in San Marcos is quite impressive, though small, featuring items like Willie Nelson’s first songbook. (Willie’s provided a bunch of other memorabilia to the Texas Road House on I 35 and Slaughter Lane in Austin in exchange for becoming a partner in the venture.) The Barker Collection and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas is a great archive, though you have to know what to look at both (Armadillo World Headquarters and Huey Meaux stuff at the Barker, Charlie Parker recordings at the Ransom).

Several other smaller music museums around the state that are already up and running capture the essence of Texas music and offer a comprehensive view of What It Is if you have time and gas money to visit them all: the New Braunfels Museum of Art and Music in Gruene (www.nbmuseum.org) which is a Smithsonian affiliate, the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Carthage, Tex Ritter’s hometown, the Lefty Frizzell Country Museum in Corsicana, the Bob Wills Museum in Turkey, the Heart of Texas Country Music Museum in Brady (www.hillbillyhits.com) organized by Tracy Pitcox which includes displays of show costumes including Johnny Wright’s Nudie suit, Johnny Bush’s pointy-toe boots and belt, George Strait’s Resistol hat, and Rose Maddox’ stage dress, as well as Jim Reeves’ 1956 touring bus, the Buddy Holly collection at the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock (www.buddyhollycenter.org),the Tejano R.O.O.T.S. (“Remember Our Own Tejano Stars”) Music Hall of Fame Museum in Alice, a rival Tejano museum planned for downtown Corpus Christi, the Little Joe Museum in Temple, the virtual West Texas Music Hall of Fame and Museum (www.westtexmusichof.com), a mobile gospel music museum in a bus that is being readied up in Arlington, Eddie Fadal’s virtual Elvis Presley Museum in Waco and Little Graceland in Los Fresnos.