Steven Johnson talks about music, singing, and his grandfather Robert Johnson

Music has been a part of who I am since I was born. Just like my dad, I’ve always been singing. Born and raised in Crystal Springs, Mississippi in a Christian household, we have always sung Gospel music.

Music is a great part of my life. Gospel music is who I am at the core and has had a large influence on my life. The message of resurrection is who I am. And the blues is my heritage and my birthright. I embrace both. 

I didn’t actually know that my granddad was legendary blues musician Robert Johnson until I was about 15 years old. My great grandfather and great grandmother raised my father, Claud. My great grandfather, being a preacher, refused to allow the blues to be played or sung in his home.

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Dallas Street Choir to Open the Concert and Sing Alongside Johnson

Encore Park, an innovative cultural and social impact campus in Dallas’ historic Harwood District, is hosting theRobert Johnson Blues Revue on August 14 and 15 at its 508 Amphitheater. The public concert on August 15 will feature Robert Johnson’s grandson Steven Johnson and special guest guitarist Holland K. Smith and open with the Dallas Street Choir. The Robert Johnson Revue will also perform on August 14 following a VIP reception at the new amphitheater.   

Steven is returning to Dallas to celebrate and perform his grandfather’s music with his band at 508 Park, the exact location where Robert made music and blues history and recorded half of his songs in 1937. Robert Johnson’s only recordings were produced by Don Law and Art Satherley of the American Record Corporation (Brunswick and Vocalion). Johnson died in 1938. His music was rereleased by Columbia Records in 1961 as “King of the Delta Blues Singers,” influencing musicians around the world. Robert Johnson’s music inspired legendary artists like B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and Keith Richards.

 “The band’s sound is Robert Johnson-style blues catered to the 21st Century,” quipped Steven Johnson. “We play ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ and all of my granddad’s music with a rhythm he would have played if he’d had a full band.”

 The Dallas Street Choir will open for the main act at 8 p.m. on August 15 with four songs. The choir’s final song will be with Steven Johnson. Operating out of The Stewpot, which is located across Park Avenue from the 508 Amphitheater, the Dallas Street Choir is made up of people who are homeless and/or are severely disadvantaged. The choir is led by Jonathan Palant and aims to inspire people and lift the street community up. “Our sound is our own. It focuses on singing with heart and building a community through song,” says Palant. “We use song to forget the stresses of today, come closer together, and have fun.”

General admission tickets for the August 15 concert are $10 and preferred seating tickets are $40. Gates will open at 7:30 and event-goers are invited to bring small coolers. Chairs will be provided. No pets or firearms. Free public secure parking is available in the First Presbyterian Church garage at 408 Park Avenue at the northeast corner of Young Street and Park Avenue.  VIP tickets are $75 and include a reception and short show with Steven Johnson and his band on Friday night, August 14th. The VIP ticket will also include admission to the Saturday night concert. Both events will take place at the 508 Amphitheater starting at 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here

Free Blues Concert To Celebrate Juneteenth And Robert Johnson's Recordings At 508

Celebrate the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth and the 78th anniversary of Robert Johnson recording at 508 Park with a free, public lunchtime concert featuring acoustic blues musicians Rev. KM Williams and Joel Foy. Williams is a modern version of Old School Texas Country Bluesmen like Lightnin’ Hopkins and Blind Lemon Jefferson. Foy has shared the stage with a variety of blues artists including traditional artists like R&B piano legend Floyd Dixon, blues guitarist Lowell Fulsom, B.B. King’s organist Duke Jethro, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and more.  

For several years, Joel Foy oversaw the Robert Johnson Dallas Sessions Guitar Festival. 

Foy and Williams both performed for the 75th celebration of the recording sessions, the year after The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church purchased 508 Park. A part of our vision is to celebrate the music heritage of this remarkably important building. With the completion of the 508 Amphitheater, we are able to celebrate our past and enact our vision for a future in which caring and creativity intersect.

The concert is free, but let us know you are coming!

What Happened On June 19, 1937 At 508 Park?

On June 19 and June 20, 1937, Robert Johnson recorded at 508 Park.

Marvin “Smokey” Montgomery who played with the Light Crust Doughboys, remembered running into a blues musician on June 20. In one memory, he said it was on the stairs. Now that we’ve been in 508 Park, the question that comes up is why weren’t they taking the elevator? 508 Park has a beautiful Art Deco elevator in the front of the building and a freight elevator in the back. Imagine all the records taken up and down that freight elevator during the years that Brunswick (which became the American Record Company) and then Decca were housed on the third floor. Some have speculated that Johnson was going up the back stairs because of Jim Crow laws. But, would record producers Don Law and Art Satherley − both from Britain − have held to the racist apartheid then prevailing in the South, and required Johnson to come up the stairs?

Well, however he got there, what happened on June 19th happened on the third floor. It was a Saturday. The hustle and bustle of the downstairs Warner Bros Film Exchange during the week was over, and perhaps Law and Satherley and their recording guys had the 24,000 square foot building to themselves. They had several musicians scheduled to record that weekend.

It must have been very hot. Some of us were in the building in early June (without air conditioning) and it was extremely uncomfortable inside. By the end of June, with the windows shut, probably, to keep the city noises from intruding, it must have been very hot.

On June 19, Johnson made three masters.


He returned the next day, Sunday, and made ten more.


We will let Peter Guralnick's book, Searching for Robert Johnson explain about these recordings: "The recordings that Robert Johnson made at his second session were, if anything, superior even to the first. Actually, those last dates included both his most inspired and his most derivative recordings. ... 'Stones in My Passway,' like many of his most effective songs, is played with a slide, with the guitar tuned in 'Spanish' (open G) and the strings echoing the words almost as a second voice. Also, like a good many of Johnson's most ambitious compositions, it suggests both in its imagery and its language almost Biblical overtones (readily available through popular gospel recordings and preaching) which raise again the whole conflicted nature of Johnson's life and work. And, of course, like the rest of his most emotional expressive blues, the song suggests levels of real and metaphorical experience that can be extended indefinitely by the imagination of the listener, as he declares: "I got stones in my passway, and my road seems dark as night/ I have pains in my heart, they have taken my appetite... / My enemies have betrayed me,/ have overtaken poor Bob at last/ And there's one thing certain,/ they have stones all in my path."

Guralnick explains that with "Me And the Devil Blues," "Johnson raises the very questions that have been lurking in the background all along: the connection between pleasure and pain, the conflict between the satisfaction of music and its essentially sinful nature, the debt that must be paid for art and the Faustian bargain that Johnson sees at its core.

"Early this morning,/ when you knocked upon my door/ And I said, 'Hello, Satan,'/ I believe it's time to go.' Seldom has a number of such directly emotional impact been recorded, but then this is what the blues is supposed to be about.... What is almost breathtaking here is not simply the feeling but the artistry, an artistry not surprising in the tortuous poetry of Gerald Manley Hopkins but virtually unique in the annals of the blues."

Elijah Wald in Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues, says that "Judging by his new lyrics, he had also become a good deal somber and introspective. The second sessions included very little upbeat material, no 'Sweet Home Chicago' and certainly nothing like 'They're Red Hot.' There were no seductive invitations, and some songs patterned on current hit formulas, but he often followed the model of 'Cross Road Blues,' limning the dark wanderings of a traveler in an unfriendly world."

On this video, Elijah explains how Robert Johnson's musicanship changed between recording in 1936 in San Antonio and recording in 1937 at 508 and in that change helped innovate blues and eventually usher in rock 'n roll:

And that’s why we are celebrating this June 19th what happened on that June 19th and June 20th as well as the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth with a free lunchtime concert at the 508 Amphitheater with two local blues artists, Rev KM Williams and Joel Foy.


An exciting aspect of the development of Encore Park is the creation of The Museum of Street Culture. It will forge community between disparate worlds, bringing together all facets of urban life. Some of the permanent exhibitions will be located at 508 Park, offering a place where people can engage in dialogue they never thought they’d have. Its core permanent exhibitions, educational activities, and public programs will link the early film history of 508 Park with the Blues, Western Swing, and Mexican music recorded there. MSC provides new perspectives on historical issues and diverse cultures.

The Museum of Street Culture (MSC) is planning sound/video installations, interactive technologies, social media and other innovative modes of presentation that will broaden its outreach to people of all ages and backgrounds and engaging underserved populations. In addition, MSC will focus on the homeless and the art they create, exploring current directions in street culture and their historical antecedents.

The street is a gathering place -- a physical and metaphorical way for us to travel with one another to unfamiliar territory and find common ground. The street is a place of abundant life and creativity. With our partners, we will illuminate the street, inviting disparate communities to meet, learn, and thrive together.

The Museum of Street Culture (MSC) will help to expand the outreach of The Stewpot. Together, MSC and The Stewpot will use art to progressively tackle redevelopment of two new buildings, integrating and normalizing - not displacing - the existing homeless and at risk population.

Dallas has made significant investments of time and money, and created independent alliances in the Arts District and around homelessness, and mental illness. MSC will energize these strategies by engaging leaders/artists/thinkers from across this spectrum. MSC complements the goals set forth by the Mayor of Dallas through his initiatives to transform areas of South Dallas and other sectors of the city that are in need of urban redevelopment. In fact, the redevelopment of downtown Dallas is propelled by changing attitudes toward the City and its street culture. People in Dallas are now hungry for urban experience, evidenced by unparalleled attendance growth at cultural institutions and public free events.

MSC integrates homeless artists by introducing them to innovative concepts, offering interactive exhibitions of folk, traditional and contemporary art and music, open access to new technologies and media, performance opportunities, visual art installations, and emerging art forms.

MSC humanizes the arts by presenting visions of trained and untrained artists side by side, nurturing creativity among rich and poor, and those from different cultural neighborhoods and socioeconomic backgrounds. MSC will uniquely present folk, traditional, and contemporary art in ways that can catalyze public dialogue about creativity and social change.

Watch this video for more information.

Bob Wills Day 2015 – April 23-25

The remarkable musician Bob Wills (1905-1975), first of the Light Crust Doughboys and then the Texas Playboys, has been called one of the founders of Western Swing.  Most of their earliest and first recordings were made at 508 Park, produced by the remarkable team of Don Law and Art Satherley.

Art Satherley (American Record Corp producer) and Bob Wills in front of 508 Park in the 1930’s. 

Art Satherley (American Record Corp producer) and Bob Wills in front of 508 Park in the 1930’s. 

In 1935, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys recorded 24 songs during recording sessions at 508 Park.  A great example of those recordings is “Spanish Two Step.”

In 1937, 28 songs were recorded at 508, including Steel Guitar Stomp.

In early 1938, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys recorded 25 songs at 508 Park, including Black Rider.

Then, later in 1938, San Antonio Rose as well as 20 other songs were recorded at 508.  

One day recently on the third floor of 508 Park, we listened to a 78 recorded by Bob Wills on a 78 1930s Brunswick portable record player.  We all got goose bumps thinking about the incredible music recorded by Wills in that very spot.  Ninety-eight songs in all, recorded in this venerable building! We’re mighty proud.  Hope to see you all in Turkey, Texas to join in the celebration of Bob Wills Day!

For more information

508 Park in the News:

As part of their series on the Blues in North Texas, the Fort Worth Star Telegram's Cary Darling provides insights and background into 508 Park, after his tour of the building in December.  Three of the recordings made at 508 in the 1930s can be heard as part of the article. We've got an ambitious vision for 508; but that is exactly what this historic and beautiful building deserves!

Meanwhile, Preservation Dallas executive director David Preziosi identified 508 Park when discussing the plans for five historic gems in downtown Dallas.

An exciting series on the blues in North Texas from the Fort Worth Star Telegram

Back in December, Cary Darling, a writer for the Fort Worth Star Telegram came for a tour of 508 Park. At this point, we have removed the interior office spaces that were created in 1960. Walking inside it now, we can imagine how the floors might have appeared in the 1930s. We knew Darling was working on something interesting, but when his series on the blues in North Texas began to appear, it thrilled and amazed us, filled as it is with wonderful blues artists, timelines, and insights. Of course, we were pleased that his series kicked off with a focus on Larry Lampkin, the blues artist who headlined our Dedication Weekend in October.

First, though, Darling offered a poetic introduction about the history of the Blues in North Texas. Darling writes, referring to some of the blues’ most important figures, “Their legacy lives today, even if it's often unseen and unacknowledged by the wider world.

“It pulses through clubs like R.L.'s Blues Palace No. 2 in Dallas and Keys Lounge in Fort Worth.

“It haunts the floorboards of the long-dilapidated 508 Park building - now undergoing an exciting renovation in Dallas - where Robert Johnson recorded Hellhound on My Trail and other classics.”

The press responds to Dedication Weekend

After three years of quiet, steady work, we were thrilled to finally unveil our vision for 508 Park. Even more thrilling was the positive response by the press.

Peter Simek of D Magazine, referred to 508 Park as "an unacknowledged shrine in the history of music." After his hard-hat tour of the 508 Park and an introduction to our vision for Encore Park, he wrote, "Encore Park seeks to adapt and reuse the historic property in a way that doesn't necessitate displacement and gentrification. Standing on the roof of the building, which features what is perhaps the most magnificent view of downtown and will surely be a popular spot for events and weddings, you can immediately see 508 Park's significance with regards to the redevelopment of the rest of downtown."

The headline to Sharon Grigsby's blog for the Dallas Morning News exclaimed, "508 Park's bluesy historic restoration in downtown Dallas shows how to do it right." She writes that what we are doing with 508 "shows what can happen when preservation and new urban ideas are braided together."


Celebrating Phase 1: Dedication Weekend October 2014

At the end of October, we celebrated the completion of Phase 1 for 508 Park. The weekend included a free concert by local blues musician Larry Lampkin, guided tours of the Sculpture Wall, information on 508 Park and the Community Garden, and a sidewalk sale by the members of The Stewpot’s Open Art Studio. Everyone got to take home a “Walk the Wall” button.

The 508 Amphitheater with 508 Park in the background.

Stewpot Open Art Studio Sidewalk Sale

After the unveiling of the Sculpture Wall. 

Larry Lampkin

Walk the Wall

Blog #1

When First Presbyterian Church purchased 508 Park in 2011, it had been vacant and vandalized for 20 years, with its history and potential boarded up. A 508 Project Committee was formed to envision possibilities for the building. We recognized that several constituents existed: downtown Dallas residents who were our neighbors, The Stewpot with its important and innovative programs, music lovers who visit 508 Park to see where Robert Johnson and other musicians recorded, musicians who wish to record at 508, people interested in film history, preservationists.

We structured the renovation into phases. Phase 1 would include restoring the exterior of the building and tearing out the office spaces created during a renovation around 1960. It would also include developing our “backyard,” The Community Garden, and our “front yard,” The 508 Amphitheater. We also invited Brad Oldham International to create a site-specific sculpture wall.

Meanwhile, the project added another property to its vision, a Dallas Power & Light Building, across the street from 508 and next door to The Stewpot, currently owned by Oncor. The project was renamed to encompass our new vision, Encore Park.

In October 2014, we dedicated the 508 Amphitheater, unveiled the Sculpture Wall and were able to share the results of our research into the history of 508 and our care in restoring this beloved building.

Some of us get goose bumps every time we enter 508 Park, and one day, Pat Bywaters, a member of the ProComm, brought to the third floor of 508 Park, a record player that played 78s, and played a record that had been recorded in that space more than seventy years earlier.

At that moment, we all felt goosebumps. We look forward to the day when we can share this experience with you.