Sunday, December 20, 2009

Jacksboro Highway in the 50s & Memories of the Sunset Ballroom by Phil Strawn

Here is a re-post from the Big D 60's Yahoo Group at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BigD60s/

Jacksboro Highway in the Fifties and Memories of the Sunset Ballroom by Phil Strawn

Back in the early fifties, my father for a very short while, owned the long demolished Sunset Ballroom on Roberts Cutoff Road, just off Jacksboro Highway in West Fort Worth Texas.
Dad was a country fiddle player and realized that trying to play nightly gigs at other clubs and managing his own club didn't work, so he hired his childhood buddy and best friend Big Dick Hickman as his trustworthy manager.
Dick was a huge guy that made an impression on you. His hands were as big as a ham and his head even bigger. Add his 6ft to the mix and he looked menacing, but was really a teddy bear. My father and him had grown up together in depression era Fort Worth and remained best friends their entire lives.
Dick, besides being the new manager, was also pulling double duty as the clubs bouncer. After seeing him in action a few times, the old place became less rowdy and business improved.
Dick was a family man and a peaceful sort, so he soon became weary of kicking unruly patrons rears every night, so my father hired Toes Malone to take his place as the official bouncer and security manager.
Toes was a likable two-bit north side thug that had one too many run-ins with the Fort Worth mob. The boys in the mob all liked him thought he was a funny guy so when he tried to horn in on their action or crossed them in any way, instead of just killing him outright like anyone else, they would shoot or cut off a body part to teach him a lesson. After two major discussions in back ally's with his admirers, and the loss of an arm , Toes got his new name. He didn't give up though. Being the mean little son of a gun that he was, he had two small pen knife blades fitted into the toes of his boots. He was pretty agile for a one armed cat, and could carve you up like a Winn Dixie beef before you knew what was happening to you. No one messed with Toes. He was the original Bad Leroy Brown of the south.
The patrons loved him so much, they would ask him to show his little toe knives to their wives just for laughs. He would hoist his boot up on the table and proudly display his shiny little blades to anyone who asked. The wives would open up their Lucky Strike packs on his boot tip blades. He was part of the entertainment, sort of a hoodlum head waiter that would kill you if you complained about anything. My father said his presence increased business, so in spite of his reputation, he kept him own. He did admit in later years that firing Toe's would have likely led to his own early demise. Toes couldn't help himself and finally crossed the mob too many times, so they blew him in half with a shotgun on a dirt road out buy the Crystal Springs Ballroom. My Father, though saddened by this, was relieved that he didn't have to fire him.
Toes didn't have any real friends, so the memorial was mostly attended by some musicians, the mob and patrons from the Sunset. On his casket, there sat his little knife boots and a nice 8x10 picture of a 10-year-old Toes . Very fitting.

The Sunset was also where the famous Roger Miller goosing incident happened. It's been said it happened at Rosas or any number of clubs in the area, but it happened at the Sunset. Roger Miller of future King of the Road fame grew up in Fort Worth and struggled many years in the joints before making it big in Nashville. Roger was a half assed fiddle player just starting to write songs and used to frequent the Sunset, Stella's, Crystal Springs and other places that would let him sing and play for a few bucks. One August night at the Sunset, he was onstage singing a tune and torturing his fiddle for the crowd . The dance floor was full of sweaty tummy rubbing dancers doing their best to not pass out from the heat. There was one lady in very tight peddle pushers dancing with a fellow and really putting on a good show for the boys on stage. She got her rear right up against the stage and Roger Miller, being the pre-Icky Twerp idiot that he was, couldn't resist reaching out with his fiddle bow and goosing her rear. She jumped.. pushed her dance partner away and slugged him in the nose. The injured fellow, with the help of whiskey and coke, stumbled and fell into a table full of visiting mob boys that had come to see Roger hurt his fiddle. The brawl lasted about ten minutes and cleared the club. Dick was carrying the fighters out two at a time. The mob boys whooped up on most everyone within a three table area, and the rest of the people just whooped each other. The FW police came in, sat and had a free coke, took their pay off money and left. Roger was told to not play the fiddle anymore. Soon after that, he went on to Nashville and Springfield MO, started writing tunes and working in better dives. My Mother finally told Dad to sell the place or he would be living there.
Dad sold it to Dick, Dick hated it, sold it to some other criminals and it finally became a gambling joint in the late fifties before closing in the early sixties. Most of the greats did manage to play there; Lefty Frizzle, Marty Robbins, Bob Wills, Bill Boyd and the Cowboy Ramblers, Willie Nelson, The Doughboys and others
. One Saturday night, Bob Wills had a show in Weatherford that was canceled, so on the way back into town, he stopped at the Sunset and being friends with my Dad, Bob took the whole band on stage and did a great impromptu show. Word spread fast, and within a short while, the place was packed wall to wall. I have an 8x10 black and white picture of Bob and my Dad playing twin fiddles. The place was in the worst part of Fort Worth and had a bad reputation, but it's stage saw some of the greatest musicians country music has ever seen.

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