Musical Marginalia

Clubs that changed everything

Jazz greats passing through El Paso used to cross the bridge to the original Lobby Bar in Juárez for a drink and a chance to sit in with Max Schumake’s house trio. In the sixties regular patrons like Bobby Fuller watched blues guitarist Long John Hunter swing from the ceiling with one arm as he played with the other.

Don Robey opened the Bronze Peacock in Houston’s Fifth Ward in 1945 as an upscale supper club where folks could dine and dance to acts like Louis Jordan and T-Bone Walker. As Robey’s ambitions grew, the club provided the name, the talent, and eventually, the site for his new label, Peacock.

Austin’s Continental Club has been open for so long—43 years—precisely because it’s a musician’s club. The venue has provided weekly stages to up-and-comers like Little Charlie Sexton and aged music veterans like Grey Ghost, Erbie Bowser, and T. D. Bell.

In the fifties the Tiffany Lounge in downtown San Antonio was headquarters to the city’s wild Tex-Mex R&B scene. Standing in the audience on many nights, alongside the dancers and gangsters, was a skinny teenaged Doug Sahm, grooving on the sound he would soon make famous.

Bandera’s Silver Spur Room sat on a Hill Country bluff overlooking the Medina River. Hank Thompson and Bob Wills kept dancers shuffling under the stars on the club’s outdoor patio, and in the early fifties, after Adolph Hofner’s weekly Saturday-night dance, the parking lot would be so full that cowboys would have to back their trucks down the crooked one-lane drive.

From the forties to the early eighties, the three versions of Lubbock’s Cotton Club hosted everyone from Benny Goodman and Elvis Presley to Joe Ely. The joint was Buddy Holly’s favorite hangout, and as he moved away from country music, it was where he learned what rock and roll looked and sounded like.

Behind the stage of Austin’s Armadillo World Headquarters was a painting of Freddie King with an armadillo bursting from his heart, onstage was everyone from Captain Beefheart to Mance Lipscomb to the Clash, and in the audience was a curious mix of cowboys and hippies. By the time the club closed, in 1980, the whole ur-slacker scene wasn’t so curious anymore.

The wide-ranging history of Dallas’ most famous dance hall, the Longhorn Ballroom , includes its 1951 founding by Bob Wills and its subsequent ownership by Jack Ruby; Blue Monday shows in the sixties, featuring black acts like James Brown; and the night in 1978 when Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious took the old honky-tonk’s stage with an earnest plea for drugs—“Gimmie a fix”—scrawled across his chest in Magic Marker. JOHN SPONG

Places Where History Happened

On a cold February 25, 1957, Buddy Holly and his group, the Crickets, piled into a car in Lubbock and headed ninety miles west to Norman Petty’s Studio in Clovis, New Mexico, just across the state line. Petty was an enterprising musician and producer whose main draw was that he charged by the session, not the hour. That night Holly would record “That’ll Be the Day”—a phrase he’d heard John Wayne utter in The Searchers . Seven months later, it was the number one song in the country.

On November 23, 26, and 27, 1936, at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, bedeviled Mississippi bluesman Robert Johnson had the first of his only two recording sessions (the second would be in a Dallas warehouse in June 1937). One of the sixteen tracks he laid down at the session was the immortal “Cross Road Blues,” the plaintive song that alludes to Johnson’s trading his soul to the devil in exchange for prowess on the guitar.

It was in 1947 at I. M. Terrell High School in Fort Worth that young Ornette Coleman got kicked out of the marching band for improvising during John Philip Sousa’s “The Washington Post March,” leaving fellow bandmembers Dewey Redman and King Curtis Ousley holding their woodwinds. Coleman would go on to make history as one of the pioneers of the free jazz movement. Terrell High closed in 1973.

The Skyline Club in Austin was the site of the last performances of two country greats: Hank Williams and Johnny Horton. Also, they each died in a car wreck and were each married to the same woman, Billy Jean Jones, at the time of their death—Williams in 1953 and Horton in 1960.

On March 31, 1995, at the Days Inn in Corpus Christi, tejano superstar Selena was shot in the back with a .38-caliber revolver by her assistant, Yolanda Saldivar—a murder that proved to be as devastating to her legions of fans as John Lennon’s was to his. A television movie has been produced about the Lake Jackson native, and a Broadway musical is in production.

At a 1947 gig at the Bronze Peacock nightclub in Houston, guitarist T-Bone Walker became ill onstage, dropped his guitar in the middle of a number, and dashed for the restroom. Twenty-three-year-old Gatemouth Brown leaped to the stage, picked up the guitar, and started to play and sing. The crowd loved it, but when Walker returned, he angrily grabbed the guitar. The song Brown made up went “My name is Gate, I just got in your town/You don’t like my style, I will not hang around . . . ” and became the popular tune “Gatemouth Boogie.” JORDAN MACKAY

Labels That Changed Everything

Arhoolie The search for down-home Texas music—rural and urban blues, zydeco and cajun, western swing and country, conjunto and orquesta, Czech and Polish polkas—begins with this El Cerrito, California, label.

Crazy Cajun From late-fifties swamp pop (Joe Barry) to sixties rock (Sir Douglas Quintet) and soul (Archie Bell and the Drells) to seventies country (Freddy Fender), Houston producer Huey P. Meaux cut so many gems that they’ll be reissued for years.

Starday/D Starday got its start with George Jones. After Houston boss H. W. “Pappy” Daily expanded the label to Nashville and got major-label distribution in 1957, he started

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