Unless you’re the queen of England, you have to wait seventy-five years to celebrate a diamond jubilee. (Thanks to Queen Victoria, monarchs get to celebrate fifteen years before the rest of us plebeians.) This year the John T. Floore Country Store—the venerable honky-tonk in Helotes whose stage has been graced by everyone from Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb to Elvis Presley and Patsy Cline—has reached that momentous milestone. To celebrate the anniversary, Floore’s has put together an impressive roster of artists to perform throughout 2017, including Dwight Yoakam, Charlie and Bruce Robison, Turnpike Troubadours, and Billy Joe Shaver. But to kick the festivities off, they’ve booked not one but two of Texas country’s crown jewels: Randy Rogers and Robert Earl Keen.
Both Rogers and Keen have an extensive history with Floore’s. Keen’s best-selling album, No. Live 2 Dinner, was recorded on the outdoor stage in August 1995. He returned twenty years later to make the star-studded Live Dinner Reunion, which came out in November of last year. In 2014, Rogers also released an album that he and his band recorded live at Floore’s. That LP, Homemade Tamales, featured twenty-eight tracks which, like Keen’s two records, spanned the band’s catalogue. Now the two are returning to Helotes to help the dance hall throw a blow-out birthday bash. Keen and the Randy Rogers Band will double bill two consecutive nights starting Friday, April 14.
In a series of videos, the two songwriters got together to swap a couple songs and reminisce about the memories they’ve made at Floore’s. In the first video, Rogers shares a story about the time some record executives flew down to watch the band open for Cross Canadian Ragweed. Rogers remembers he didn’t put his best foot forward that night, and ended up botching the band’s major single, “This Time Around.” (He nails it in the video.) In the second video (shown below), Keen talks about how he managed to get his first gig at Floore’s. He then plays “Rollin’ By,” one of the classics he cut on No. 2 Live Dinner.
Keen also shared with Texas Monthly his favorite memory of Floore’s that didn’t take place on a stage. “Rich Brotherton produced my album What I Really Mean in 2005,” Keen recalled. “On that album we recorded a song of mine called ‘A Border Tragedy.’ It was funny and surreal. We wanted to push the otherworldliness of the song to the limit, so we asked the legendary Ray Price to sing the classic cowboy ballad, ‘Cowboy’s Lament,’ as a musical epilogue. We met Ray at Floore’s before his show, went across the street to an old empty house, and, after couple of false starts, made a beautiful recording. Outside of the Robert Johnson 1936 recordings in room 414 of the Gunter Hotel, it’s the coolest music ever recorded in Bexar County.”
That’s not the only bit of history Keen offered. “The tamales [at Floore’s] used to be made in Oaxaca and transported via Underground Railroad to the chainsaw store across the street from Floore’s,” he told us. “All was shut down after director Robert Rodriguez exposed the operation in his movie Desperado starring Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek.” Rogers chimed in with his own bit of trivia: “Legend has it, one of the pair of boots hanging inside Floore’s belonged to John Wayne.” (Our fact-checkers have yet to verify either of these claims.)
For those who plan to make the trip to Helotes this year, Keen and Rogers had some advice for first-timers ordering food at the equally storied cafe at Floore’s. “When in Rome, eat tamales,” Keen quipped. As for Rogers: “Tamales. Duh.”
(Further reading: The history of Floore’s has been documented in the pages of Texas Monthly for nearly half the dance hall’s lifetime. In March 2001, writer Joe Nick Patoski proclaimed a visit to Floore’s was one of the “50 Things Every Texan Should Do,” and in our December 2009 cover story, “Step Right Up,” John Spong wrote about John T. Floore, the venue’s original owner and founder. Floore was a larger-than-life character who used to lounge around “in front of the swamp cooler in just boxers and suspenders” before greeting his patrons in a suit and tie at the nightly dance. He was, of course, immortalized in the song “Shotgun Willie” and played an important role in launching the Outlaw portion of Willie Nelson’s career after the troubadour returned to Texas in the early seventies.)