Halloween season in Denton means a plethora of spooky events in town along with brisk weather, which is totally ideal conditions for sharing ghost stories with friends around a fire! Well gather around, ye Denton faithful, so I can share with you the strange spooky tale of the Hipster Haint known only as “The Dude” who is said to still wander the studios of Denton’s Grammy-winning musicians and legendary local Nuclear Punk Polka deities, BRAVE COMBO.
When I first started the walking ghost tours around the downtown Denton Square back in 2011, sharing the stories I spent years excavating from buried local archives was often only half as fun as those then shared afterwards by locals who had come along for my evening story stroll. One brisk night I hit the jackpot after telling my intrepid audience about The Dude. Y’see, drawn from an interview done years ago with local Punk Rocker Richard Haskins, I’d explained that the onetime Black Bottle Recording Studio had a reputation for infamously haunted happenings, but hat night I asked one of my guests for confirmation. It just so happened that evening tour included Jeffrey Barnes, the multi-instrumentalist wind-man for Brave Combo, who now occupy that space. “Oh yeah, man, it’s true that weird stuff happens in there,” Jeff vigorously nodded then shrugged; “Do you wanna walk down and check out the place?” With his jangling keys, Jeff graciously led our giddy group down to look around Brave Combo’s studio to maybe get a glimpse of The Dude in his favorite hangout. No such luck, but it was a darn cool gesture nonetheless.
No one really knows much about the history of the ghost they’ve come to call “The Dude,” except that he just seems to keep showing up unexpectedly. Haskins was working late in the studio one night when he was startled by a pair of hands pressed against the soundbooth window… with The Dude peering in at him from the dark studio! Gathering himself and brandishing a boot-knife to confront the intruder, Haskins became puzzled when he turned on all the lights but found no one else there and all the doors locked tight. “He’s always wearing the same thing: a red-and-black checkered flannel shirt, bluejeans, brown boots, not long hair but shoulder-length parted down the middle,” Haskins says. “I always thought ghosts were supposed to be translucent but he isn’t. He looks like some real flesh and blood guy!” Thus, the tendency for the otherwise low-key Dude to get mistaken for a mute trespasser dressed like a scruffy 1970s roadie. Haskins shrugged off the encounter as his own sleep-deprived imagination, but his next meeting with The Dude wouldn’t be so easily dismissed.
Bands who rented the recording studio sometimes related odd happenings, but Haskins had forgotten about The Dude until another early-morning run-in. Having returned to the space thinking an amp had been left on after a late night session, Haskins entered through the locked back door. Since the light switch was on the other side of the room, he used his flip-phone as make-shift flashlight to navigate the pitch-dark room and check the amps. The sound of a slight boot scuffle made Haskins turn his phone light toward the dark corner, where the dim glow revealed a crouching figure in the corner. Scared out of his wits, Haskins quickly back-pedaled to hit the light switch to see The Dude crouched plain as day, like he was trying to hide inconspicuously. “I got out of there as fast as I could,” Haskins laughingly recalled, “It really freaked me out!” Once again, when reinforcements arrived to scour the place for the plaid-clad intruder, the studios were completely empty. The Dude had vanished.
Musicians would occasionally encounter strange noises that never showed up on tape during late-night sessions, or they’d sometimes spy red-checkered flannel shuffling around darkened corners just outside of view, but The Dude was eventually considered a pretty harmless if bizarre roommate. Brave Combo members still have their own kooky experiences, but seem okay sharing the space with The Dude – yet I forgot to ask if their 2003 album “Box of Ghosts” took any inspiration from him! There haven’t been any historical revelations that would explain the persistent apparition, despite differing pet theories, which may just prove that most ghosts have backstories that we will never really know for certain. Almost everybody in Denton is part of a band or wants to be, after all, so should we really be surprised that one of our lingering local spirits is no different?
Shaun Treat is a former professor at the University of North Texas and founder of the Denton Haunts historical ghost tour. Doc has written about numerous local places and personalities at his Denton Haunts blog, and is forever indebted to the great work of our local keepers of history like Mike Cochran and Laura Douglas at the Emily Fowler Library for their tireless work in helping preserve Denton’s intriguing past. Be sure to check out our local museums curated by the fine folks at the Denton County Office of History & Culture, and follow @Dentonaut on Twitter for local happenings.