Dallas, OR

The Sugar Shack


I don’t know when the last time you’ve been to Dallas, or this little area in Dallas called Deep Ellum, or this little place in Deep Ellum called Prophet Bar, but when I was there Wednesday nights were slamming.

On those Prophet Bar Wednesdays, there was a DJ, some pretty cool bartenders, a live band, and an open mic there waiting on us without fail. And … well, I like all of those things a helluva a lot and so every Wednesday I’d find a way (any way) to make my way up in that joint.

I remember always feeling like I was in that one painting of the sugar shack. You know which painting I’m talking about? From Good Times and I Want You. It’s an essential piece of post-modern Black American culture. The one with all the colors, packed with people full of party in their bones, hips, and limbs trying to sweat the pain of the day out. This one.


More than anything, sugar shacks are just spots filled with people looking for something sweet to make it to the next day. So even if you’ve never been to Prophet Bar specifically, maybe you can still catch my drift.

And to cut to the chase, being home less in Dallas like I was, more times than not I could use something sweet.

So yeah, Prophet Bar. It never disappointed. The whole thing was run by Erykah Badu’s band, RC and the Gritz, and they knew how to party. Live music was everywhere, and when they weren’t playing, DJ Jay Clipp was spinning records. He knew I wasn’t from around there and he’d even play some old school Outkast when he saw me; I felt like family. And the bartenders? Let’s just say they made drinks strong enough to make you wanna stay a while.

And that’s usually what I did. Because when you’re home less in Dallas, sometimes it’s nice to just be still.

I remember being surprised to see Chrisette Michelle in there once … and a couple Cowboys players as well. Badu performed with the band in there one time too! Dark, rhythmic, and lively, these were the types of nights we’d have there.

But anyway, all of this was great, but it’s not why I wrote this piece. This one is about an actual homeless man name Original (pronounced Oh-Ridge-Gin-Owl). You may have heard that my definition of being “home less” in Dallas meant that I simply did not have one. But there were offices and cars and couches and such that I found myself occupying from day to day.

But this dude, was homeless for real. Like, I’m not sure how he actually spent his time — but I don’t think it was ever inside anywhere.

Tall, matted dreads, rangy. Quite the eccentric fellow, he’d roam the streets of Deep Ellum like any other homeless person you’ve met before. An invisible man, hiding in plain sight trying to make it from day-to-day.

But on Wednesday nights, he was king.

Most of the night, he’d post up in the back of the bar; maybe having a sip, or outside shorting a square with the other party people. To know him was to love him, it seemed, which may seem strange, but when he got on that open mic it all made sense.

Do not misunderstand me, this dude was no Frank Sinatra, Frankie Beverly or Frank Ocean, but it didn’t stop him from performing every… single…Wednesday. And to much fan fare at that!

You’d know he was coming up when you heard RC (he played keys in the band) slam the lowest note on his keyboard. It would sustain deeply throughout the entire place like the dinner bell at summer camp; a magnetic force pulling Original (pronounced Oh-Ridge-Gin-Owl) on to the stage — and the rest of us as close as we could get to it.

And there we’d all be. The band, the DJ, the bartenders, and the crowd, looking up at him…. waiting.

And in those brief and quiet moments I remember thinking to myself how weird this all was. Weird that I was in this club, with people I barely knew anxiously waiting to hear from this sort of cult hero homeless man just before I left the club to go and be home less myself.

And also how ironic it was that for once, just once, as he reigned supreme on stage, we were the invisible people, hiding in plain sight, and he was the only one that mattered.

And then, he’d start.

They called him Original (pronounced Oh-Ridge-Gin-Owl) because all of his songs were his own. He’d spend the week rehearsing them on the streets of Dallas, and come in with it down pat. To the average person, you’d probably assume he was just murmuring to himself around town. But on the contrary, he was preparing like a preacher waiting on a Sunday.

He wouldn’t even tell the band what he was about to do. He’d just get up there, open his mouth and let them and the rest of us catch up. They’d have to find the key, the rhythm, the beat and everything, and sometimes it was tough. But without fail, after about 30 seconds or so, the house would rock! Every… single… Wednesday.

And, as you could imagine, the songs were weird as hell. Some were about big breasted women, or a missing cat, and some about the president, or collard greens, but he sang them with a confidence and cleverness that was so infectious that we’d all be in a trance, singing these strange lyrics to the tops of our lungs by the time he finished.

I don’t know how everyone else felt, but these were some of the best concerts I’d ever been to. They were real and rugged, and felt like home more than anything else I knew at the time. More times than not, I found myself simply basking in those moments while I had them.

And then that would be it. He’d walk offstage to a roaring applause, migrate back to the back of the club handing out rather awkward daps and pounds, maybe stay for a couple more drinks and a cig and bounce.

And then eventually so would me and everyone else. We’d all leave, and go to live our lives and the next day. And sometimes on those quiet Thursday mornings, his song from the night before would pop in my head and I’d be humming it to myself while I tried to find some breakfast.

Original (pronounced Oh-Ridge-Gin-Owl), the homeless dude from the bar, had found a way to become part of my soundtrack to being home less itself. I never really knew how he’d become the way he was, or why the band started showing him love like that, but I did know I’d see him the next week in the sugar shack and he’d have a new song for me and everyone else.

And, after all these years, I still find it ironic that that lowest note on RC’s keyboard came to signify one of the highest points of my week. And odds are I’m not alone. More than anyone else, he was the one that made our little sugar shack sweet — and I won’t soon forget that.

And that’s the thing about being home less in Dallas, you learn that we are all the same (home or not), just trying to make it to the next day. Life can be tough, and searching for something sweet to get you through is never a bad idea I’ve come to realize.

Good Times and I Want You knew it all along. Maybe a spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down.

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My thoughts from the worlds of Music, History, Poetry, and Culture. For lack of a wetter bird, I can show you better than I can tell you.

Atlanta, GA

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