Everybody has an opposing player they hate. Maybe it’s a player who acts too brash for your taste, maybe it’s a player who seems to regularly put the dagger into your team’s back...maybe you just hate their stupid face. (I’m not saying Eduardo Najera is all three of these people, but I’m not saying he isn’t, either.) There are incredibly hatable players out there - especially when it’s a rival - but there are those that are incredibly lovable, too. There are players from an opposing team who are so enjoyable that they modify your view of the entire fanbase. This story is about the latter.
Coming out of college and being deep in the heart of all things Texas Longhorns, there was a special place in the fire of my soul for Sooners. I made three trips to the Red River Shootout/Showdown/Rivalry and the results were a win, a tie, and an overtime loss. I have experienced all of the possible emotions of that stadium and the tie was definitely the worst. Every person in that stadium walked out angry. If there was an Infinity Stone for anger, it would have been crimson and I would have gladly snapped my fingers to ensure the demise of our northern neighbors. Even after leaving school and heading to DFW, I seldom missed a chance to talk a gravy boat full of shit at anyone I knew who went to that hellscape institution. Then I met Reggie Zeno.
Reggie Zeno played football at Oklahoma. You probably don’t remember him, which is understandable because he never played. He was a career backup in the 80s, a big lumbering lineman from Berkner High School who was good enough to get a scholarship but not good enough to see the field in Barry Switzer’s heyday. He was crimson and cream through and through though, and he repped that school at every chance. The football isn’t why I know him, and it’s not why most people knew him; Reggie was much more successful in another realm: raves. Reggie was a hip-hop fan who made ends meet in the late 80s/early 90s as a bouncer, and it was this side gig where he came across house and techno music such as it was in the early days. He was hooked, and he dove into the music scene headfirst as an event promoter.
I should probably set the scene: back in the early/mid-90s, Dallas was a much different musical place than it is now. Today promoters text each other about upcoming dates, they split nights at clubs so they don’t overlap when possible because they know clubbers who are into the non-EDM genres are a finite resource and it’s best to schedule around each other if you can. In the 90s, promoters were....less pleasant. There were precious few legal venues where they could setup shows and the illegal events outnumbered the legal ones. This introduced a level of shadiness in promotion that flourished for the better part of a decade; when promoters weren’t snatching venues from each other, they were calling the cops on each other or coming up with even more creative ways to screw over the competition. One New Years Eve, a promoter hacked the voicemail of his competition and changed the directions everyone heard. People who thought they were going to a three-day campout in Carl’s Corner ended up in south Dallas instead, including some of the sound crews. Promoters were up to a lot of no good, including one promoter who had, let’s say questionable ties to a rather notorious regional gang. To say going to parties back then was very much ‘buyer beware’ is an understatement. The one promoter who stayed largely above the fray was Reggie. Reggie was friends with everybody and everybody was friends with Reggie; he would throw shows with multiple promoters at the same time in the same venue, he would arrange a metaphorical cease-fire between warring factions and get them all to set their shit aside for awhile. He helped launch the first dance music message board (Zedan, the name of his production company) in DFW, if not Texas. He opened a record store named Core Records and catered to the electronic genres that places like Oaklawn Records tended to avoid. His store became one of the prime spots to find flyers for upcoming shows, one of the best places to pick up vinyl, and he had a robust consignment section for local DJs to sell their mixtapes. He was a nexus of the dance music scene locally and throughout the tri-state area. Everybody knew Reggie Zeno, and everybody loved Reggie Zeno. His ‘Big Friendly’ nickname was well-earned.
I moved to Dallas in 1999, and one of the first things I learned about this city is that I needed to familiarize myself with Core Records. I had heard of it - and of Reggie - but it wasn’t until I lived here that I made the trip to the sketchy strip mall off Royal and 35 where Core Records lived. It was on the second floor of a teal-painted strip mall that housed the kind of massage joints Robert Kraft likes; the street behind it was regularly used for late-night drag races. You had to be a bit brave to enter that area the first time and parking spots under the lights were prized for a good reason. I went inside the glorified office space - also painted teal - and the first person to greet me was Mr. Zeno himself perched behind a glass countertop on a stool that had seen better days. Reggie had a gruff exterior and his size was intimidating as he still looked like a D-I lineman, and he sizes up everyone who enters his shop. He eyed me as he asked what I was looking for, and when I told him ‘techno’ he hit with the inevitable follow-up asking what kind. I started to list some of the European labels I coveted and his face lit up like I was offering up Kathy Ireland nudes. Reggie loved techno. I mean he loved techno; he could talk about techno DJs and techno labels for hours, and he did on more than one occasion.
I quickly learned that Reggie liked customers but he loved talking even more, which was fine by me. What started as me coming by for 30 minutes to listen to new records quickly became me coming by for 30 minutes to listen to new records and staying for 2-3 hours talking about anything and everything under the sun. We talked about his old shows, his upcoming shows, and after awhile he let me start ordering directly from the weekly faxes. At some point he found out I was a Texas fan when the shit talking began in earnest and never really ended. We would hammer each other about how the football teams were doing, we would hammer each other about how the basketball teams were doing, and he would hammer me about Texas not having a wrestling team. God, Reggie wanted wrestling to take off in Texas in the worst way. Mostly we just gave each other hell and traded stories, and given that Reggie was at OU during some of $witzer’$ mo$t $ucce$$ful team$ the stories were always great. Every year after the RRS ended, one of us was jumping for the phone and one of us was running from it, but we enjoyed it.
Reggie’s health was an up & down affair over the years due to his size and the toll football takes on a body. There were times when his business partner Lance would have to man the store for a couple weeks as Reggie was dealing with something or other; one time he came back with a cane that never left, he had a hip replaced in his early 30s that was the result of football. He got gastric bypass and dropped a lot of weight, but the damage was done. In March of 2008 he had a heart attack that put him into a coma from which he never recovered and on March 21st of that year he passed away. The funeral service was attended by more people than you can imagine, and a last-minute event put together to help his parents with funeral costs generated thousands and packed the main room of the Lizard Lounge. I was asked if I wanted to speak at the funeral but I declined because I wasn’t ready to say what needed to be said. I do not regret the decision; others conveyed the emotions and truth as well or better than I would have. If I were to eulogize him now, I would spend less time talking about his accomplishments as a promoter and more about those conversations at Core. I would tell people how when I went to Awakenings for the first time I thought about him a lot and how during Speedy J he would’ve been headbanging at 140 BPM. I would tell people about his wrestling fixation. I would definitely tell people about when he saw freshman-year Brian Bosworth get his ass ground into dust by a 140 lb wrestler at a Norman-area bar. But mostly I would tell them that I only have one reminder in my phone about the date someone died and it’s Big Friendly. The world needs more Sooners like him, it needs more Longhorns like him, it needs more people like him. A world full of Reggies is a better world.
BWG’s writing tunes provided by DJ Rush, because Reggie loved DJ Rush.