Big D Jamboree, Dallas, TX

John Smith - - 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.

Back to the "Take Note" Main Page


Promotional Products, Discount Labels, Post-it Notes, Rubber Stamps, etc.