Big D Jamboree, Dallas, TX
John Smith - email@example.com - January 19, 2004
Ronnie Dawson was older than me, and a big local hero. I saw him a
number of times when I was a teenager in Dallas. The Jamboree was
unique in comparison with other big live shows of the fifties like
the Grand Ole' Opry and Lousiana Hayride and the Wheeling Jamboree in
that it was unashamedly rockabilly in addition to it's traditional
country sensibility. Even people who later became traditional country
legends flexed their rockabilly muscle early in their careers at the
Jamboree - George Jones, Marty Robbins, Conway Twitty, Sonny
James and so on, were much closer to rock and roll than country in
their formative years.
The show was held at the Sportatorium, a
drafty old tin wrestling arena in a dangerous part of town (Cadiz
Avenue at Industrial Boulevard) that could hold upwards of five
thousand people. My dad would take me to the wrestling matches on
Tuesdays, and the Jamboree on Saturday. I don't remember a lot about
performing there as a seven or eight year old, even though I was on a
show which Elvis headlined in 1957. My sister was about fifteen - she
told me he patted me on the head in the dressing room as he was
trying to pick her up.
The show finally closed down in the late
sixties, but when I returned to Texas to do my last six months in the
Army at Fort Hood in 1973, they were reviving it. I took a bus up to
Dallas and auditioned and became part of their stable of local talent -
they'd call me about once a month. just as in the old days, the show
would be in two parts -a dozen or so local or regional acts would
perform, then after an intermission, a big country act would go on.
My first night onstage (I have it on tape), I remember looking at the
large old clock hanging from the rafters, with it's pearl beer logo,
and thinking to myself, 'damn, Hank Williams has stood where I am and
looked at that clock; so has Elvis Presley, Buddy Holley, Johnny
Horton and just about every other significant country and rockabilly
singer of the fifties.'
I got so wrapped up in the romance of the
moment I missed my cue to come back in on the next verse of 'today i
started loving you again,' and the steel player had to take another
lead. I walked off the stage, signed some autographs, went back to
the dressing room, collected my fifty dollars and took a Greyhound
back to Fort Hood. I was not a great singer, but I was a tanned, good
looking, in shape G.I. and became pretty popular.
The new version of
the jamboree only lasted a year or two - the promoters finally moved
it to a little town outside Dallas called Grapevine, where it became
the 'Grapevine Opry,' and launched Leann Rimes. My sister sent me a
clipping from the Dallas Morning News a few weeks ago about the
demolishing of the old Sportatorium. It was the end of an era, to be
sure. I'd pay a thousand dollars for that clock.
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