Dallas Wayne – That’s How I Got to Springfield
Dallas Wayne Jr. was born in Springfield, Missouri, in 1956 and grew up in nearby Branson and Cape Girardeau, but he was over 40 years old before a phone call to Finland from a friend he met in Chicago finally hooked him up with Springfield’s roots-rock wonders, the Skeletons.
That friend was Robbie Fulks, and the long-delayed meeting of homeboys yielded Big Thinkin’, a heroic slab of honky tonk heaven released in September on HighTone.
“Back in about ’74, I was in a band in Columbia, Missouri, with Mike Henderson,” recalled Wayne. “He always talked about going down to Springfield to hear those guys, but I never went in all that time….I shoulda known ’em forever by this time, but I finally did meet ’em through Robbie. And I thought, ‘This is the way it ought to be.’ I’d always loved their work.”
Following schooldays spent across southern Missouri, Wayne had brief stops in Columbia and St. Louis before leaving for Tennessee. Upon arriving in Nashville in late 1975, Wayne worked on his songwriting, sang demos for publishing companies and picked up gigs as a singer and bassist. His roommate, Dennis Morgan, had some success writing songs for the likes of Ronnie Milsap and the Mandrells, but by 1982, Wayne had had enough, and headed up to Philadelphia.
In Philly, he took a job leading the honky-tonk house band at Hurley’s Tavern, but with only eleven days off in a year-and-a-half, Dallas had hit the burnout stage.
A suburban Chicago club called Nashville North was in the process of starting its own record company, publishing house and booking agency, so Dallas, sensing broader opportunities, took over the house band duties there in 1984. In 1988, he joined bluegrass band Special Consensus, staying on until late 1991.
“By that time, I’d started dividing my time here with overseas,” said Wayne. “I’d made a couple of records in Finland as Dallas Wayne & the Dim Lights, and had to go over to support them. The last six, eight months with Special Consensus, I’d have to jockey a tour over there whenever they had time off.
“And that became where I needed to be,” he continued, “because I never really was a bluegrass lead singer — I mean, I’m a baritone singer. That’s one of the things that made the band kinda unique, because there for a while, it was me and Robbie singin’ with Al Murphy on fiddle and Greg Cahill on banjo.
“But then Robbie left the band, and then Al, and I started thinkin’ I’d better get out, too. ‘Cuz 240 dates a year’ll wear you down.”
Wayne’s wife, Jo, had already been taking her holidays in Finland with Dallas, and his two sons from a previous marriage (Dallas III and B.J.) went to live with their mother in Florida to finish high school. When Jo caught on with Nokia in Helsinki, the gates were cleared for a move in 1995.
Wayne made five full-length discs for Stockholm-based Texicalli Records, where he also worked as a producer and songwriter. He’d tried pitching the records to HighTone’s Larry Sloven for Stateside release, but the label worried about Wayne’s ability to support them from such a distant outpost.
Along about October or November of last year, though, things began to fall in place.
“I wasn’t actually thinking about moving back, but I was kinda tired of making the same records,” Wayne said. “Then Robbie called me, and I told him I was gettin’ ready to make a record, and he said, ‘Well, why don’t you just come home and do it here? You and I will write the songs, and I’ll co-produce it. We’ll just use the Skeletons at Lou’s studio, and it’ll be great.’ And he was right, God bless him.”
Wayne’s wife applied to Nokia for a transfer back to the States this past February, and was offered Boston, Dallas or San Jose. They chose San Jose. “I’d never lived in California, and besides, it’s real close to HighTone, and that was the first place I wanted to pitch the record,” Wayne said.
“So, when Robbie called Larry, he said, ‘We just finished this record with Dallas, and we’d like you to listen to it.’ And Larry said, ‘Well, I really like Dallas’ voice, blah, blah, blah, but he lives in Finland.’ And Robbie said, ‘Funny you should mention that, because he’s moving about 35 miles away from your office.'”
And the deal was done.
Big Thinkin’ is buoyed by the dependably copacetic wizardry of the Skeletons’ Bobby Lloyd Hicks, Joe Terry, Donnie Thompson and Lou Whitney, with sublime pedal steel by ex-Buckaroo Tom Brumley and elegant mandolin and fiddle by Dave Wilson locking in the classic roadhouse sound.
Fulks contributes harmony vocals, acoustic guitar and writes or co-writes all of the songs with Wayne (the killer “Old 45’s” got additional writing help from Dale Watson and Robbie’s wife, Donna), but it’s Dallas’ playful, honeyed baritone that drives it all home. “If That’s Country” and the aforementioned “Old 45’s” define NashVegas tweaking and reverence for the classic era, respectively, and “The Only Way To Die” and “Coldwater, Tennessee” are flat-out vocal performances for the ages.