Dallas musician Jess Barr, one-time guitarist for Slobberbone, dies at 46
A Dallas-Fort Worth musician and club owner has died: Jess Barr, who was a member of seminal alt-country rock band Slobberbone, passed away in the early hours of December 6; he was 46. Friends of the family said he suffered from a heart condition.
A native of Pensacola who also lived in West Texas and New Jersey, Barr was guitarist for Slobberbone during its heyday, when the quartet put its hometown Denton on the map and created a vibrant local scene at bars like the Barley House. He also played with a Slobberbone offshoot band, The Drams.
Slobberbone helped coalesce the rising alt-country genre of the '90s, touring with acts like Son Volt, Drive By Truckers, and even pop acts like Cheap Trick, performing to rapt audiences both nationally and abroad.
Barr joined Slobberbone following the 1997 release of their second album, Barrel Chested.
“Jess had a full-ride scholarship in Austin, but he quit to join us,” recalled singer Brent Best.
His tagline was "Jessie Barr on the shiny gold guitar" — referring to his signature Les Paul.
In 2014, he left the band with the blessing of Best and band mates Brian Lane and Tony Harper, who lauded him for the contributions he'd made on albums like Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today ("especially the solo he did on 'Josephine'," they said).
In 2013, he opened Twilite Lounge, a bar in Deep Ellum, with partner Danny Balis, then opened a spinoff in Fort Worth in 2017. Both earned best bar awards and provided a platform for local musicians — another of his legacies, says Jimmy Morton, his partner at the Fort Worth location.
"Helping local bands is one thing that Jess, Danny, and I all championed," Morton says.
As a tribute to his passing, Twilight Lounge closed both locations on December 6.
"We closed both Twilite Lounge Dallas and Fort Worth, to honor him and allow his family, and our own, an opportunity to grieve," Morton says. "We turned our lights off and went dark."
Morton, whose friendship with Barr goes back more than 20 years to the Barley House days, says that Barr was celebrated not only as a skilled guitarist and banjo player but also for his personable, down-to-earth disposition.
One friend called him "one of a kind — nicest guy you could meet who would always remember where the conversation left off." Another said, "Jess always had the warmest smile and quickest wit. And he could solo like a badass."
"He was a super low-key guy," Morton says. "We would always joke that when he got on stage, he would turn into 'rock star Jess'," he says.
Barr is survived by his wife Ashley, son Liam, his mother Rae, and his sister Amy. Services are still to be announced.