The Eagle's Nest


Lamar Ave. (Hwy 78) at Winchester Ave.

In the 1950's the Eagle's Nest in Memphis was a small nightclub/dance hall that catered primarily to a country and western swing dance crowd. Located off Highway 78 (Lamar Ave.) close to the intersection of Winchester Rd. it was just outside the city limits.  "Italian immigrant families had bought up most of the surrounding land, which sits east of Memphis International Airport, many to start up truck farms. The Garavelli family had built the entertainment complex, which included the circular Clearpool swimming pool, later selling it to Joe and Doris Pieraccini, which also owned the Rainbow swimming pool and roller skating establishment about three miles west on Lamar."1


1954 Memphis Phonebook Listing
courtesy Memphis Public Library

The Eagle's Nest occupied the second floor of a two story wooden building and contained an elevated dance floor, on the same level as the small stage, surrounded by tables about four steps down. The first floor of the building contained dressing rooms for the adjacent (outdoor) swimming pool and a 24-hour restaurant. Sid Lapworth, the guitar manager at O.K. Houcks, who played there many times, recalled that as the girls would dance and skirts would spin, the guys used to sit around the stage enjoying the view. Around 9:30 they used to start serving and selling French fries which were pretty good and the aroma would fill the place and people would buy more. They only used to serve beer and fries.


Elvis at the Eagle's Nest -1954
Photos by Clettes Presley courtesy "Elvis Day by Day" and Brian Petersen

In those days, most Memphis restaurant kitchens closed at 10 p.m., so going "out to Clearpool to grab a bite" became very popular with the late-night crowds.1


Memphis Press-Scimitar - Aug 7, 1954
courtesy Memphis Public Library

Capacity was about 350 and the club "drew from all classes of people, though mostly middle—class whites. They came from Memphis and from nearby north Mississippi. With mixed drinks taboo at the time, patrons were well familiar with 'brown bagging’ - buying your booze at a liquor store within the Parkways in Memphis (outside the Parkway and the rest of Shelby County was tea-totally dry at the time), putting it in a brown paper bag, then entering the nightclub and ordering Cokes, 7-Up or water as a "chaser," or a "set-up." These would run a dollar-fifty, up to two dollars."1


Memphis Press-Scimitar - Aug. 14, 1954
courtesy Memphis Public Library

The club sometimes booked larger acts from the Hayride or the Opry but mainly consisted of local acts. Tiny Dixon was a great local player, a very large man with hands the size of a Virginia Ham, said Sid.  He played a Fender Esquire guitar and played primarily Western Swing. Hugh Jeffries was a pedal steel player that played Jazz.  Sid would sometimes play bass along with him and Jimmy Walker on drums.


Memphis Press-Scimitar - Aug. 27, 1954
courtesy Memphis Public Library

On the weekends the Eagle's Nest was booked by Memphis station WHHM’s country music disc jockey “Sleepy Eyed” John Lepley.  Lepley took his nickname from a country song composed by Tex Atchinson and recorded by several western bands in the ‘40s and ‘50s.

He was not a fan of Sam Phillips or the music coming out of SUN but while Dewey Phillips heavily promoted Elvis’ “That’s All Right”, Lepley played the flipside, “Blue Moon of Kentucky”, often with disparaging remarks that made Elvis’ father Vernon want to go down to the station and, “take care of him.”2  

Lepley must’ve seen the potential, though, because following the release of their first record and their performance at Overton Park, Elvis, Scotty and Bill were booked and would appear at the Eagle’s Nest more than a few times between August and December of 1954.


Elvis at the Eagle's Nest -1954
Photo by Clettes Presley courtesy "Elvis Day by Day"

Ace Cannon was playing at the Eagle’s Nest when Sleepy Eyed John was hosting the show. He remembers one night Dewey Phillips brought a young man in and asked if he could sing with the band. It was Elvis. "We let him sing—I don’t remember what—and he did fine. The crowd loved him," Ace recalls. "But I thought at the time he would be a flash in the pan." He said as much at his day job at Layne Bowler. Years later, his co-workers were still laughing at his prediction.1


Memphis Press-Scimitar - Sep. 18, 1954
courtesy Memphis Public Library

On September 9, 1954, Elvis played at the opening of the Lamar-Airways Shopping Center with Scotty and Bill, as did Sleepy Eyed John and also the "Eagle's Nest Band."  Johnny Cash was in the audience that night. In an autobiography he wrote, that’s the first time I met him. Vivian and I went up to him after the show, and he invited us to his next date at the Eagle’s Nest.3


Elvis at the Eagle's Nest -1954
Photo by Clettes Presley courtesy "Elvis Day by Day"

I remember Elvis’ show at the Eagle’s Nest as if were yesterday. The date was a blunder, because the place was an adult club where teenagers weren’t welcome, and so Vivian and I were two of only a dozen or so patrons, fifteen at the most. All the same, I thought Elvis was great. The thing I really noticed that night, though, was his guitar playing. Elvis was a fabulous rhythm player. He’d start into “That’s All Right, Mama” with his own guitar alone, and you didn’t want to hear anything else. I didn’t anyway. I was disappointed when Scotty Moore and Bill Black jumped in and covered him up. Not that Scotty and Bill weren’t perfect for him - the way he sounded with them that night was what I think of as seminal Presley, the sound I missed through all the years after he became so popular and made records full of orchestration and overproduction. I loved that clean, simple combination of Scotty, Bill, and Elvis with his acoustic guitar. You know, I’ve never heard or read anyone else praising Elvis as a rhythm guitar player, and after the Sun days I never heard his own guitar on his records.3


Memphis Press-Scimitar - Sep. 24, 1954
courtesy Memphis Public Library

Lepley had his own eight piece western swing band that featured Cowboy Jack Clement as the singer and emcee. Clement remembers some of those appearances well. “Elvis got paid ten dollars a night to sing during intermissions," said Clement. "On those nights when Elvis was to appear, my job, at the end of one of our sets, was to introduce Elvis. And Elvis would always tell me, just before my introduction, ‘Give me a big buildup, Jack.’" 2


Elvis at the Eagle's Nest -1954
Photo by Clettes Presley courtesy Brian Petersen

It was said that the young people hanging out at the pool would rush in to hear Elvis and then go back outside when the main act came back on. Often in the audience would be Elvis' parents Vernon and Gladys, Gladys' sister Clettes and her husband Vester (Vernon's brother), as well as Elvis' bosses from Crown Electric, James and Gladys Tipler.4


Elvis at the Eagle's Nest - 1954
Photo by Clettes Presley courtesy "Elvis Day by Day"

"Even when he wasn’t singing, Elvis would hang out at the club. I got to know him fairly well.", Clement said. " It’s amazing how people went for him. A lot of people didn’t understand what it was Elvis was doing, but when he was on stage, they jammed the dance floor, not to dance, but to stand there and watch him and clap. The people were totally sold on him. "Elvis played his own rhythm. Some notes might change from one playing to another, but it seemed to work for him."1


Memphis Press-Scimitar - Sep. 25, 1954
courtesy Memphis Public Library

Though the Eagle's Nest helped Elvis, Scotty and Bill build a local following; it was nowhere near making it big time. Bill E. Burk wrote that the “hottest night club in Memphis was the Whirlaway Club, about a mile west on Lamar, toward the river. Where the Eagle’s Nest catered to rednecks, country and western fans and pickup truck drivers from across the state line in Mississippi, the Whirlaway drew the college students, young lawyers and businessmen and their degreed dates. The pedigreed crowd, so to speak. Elvis approached the Whirlaway’s owners, Johnny and Jean Ogden, about playing the Whirlaway. We mostly played juke box music, said Jean, but now and then we would have live music. We had been down to the Eagle’s Nest to hear Elvis and we liked him, but when he came to us, we had to turn him down. I told him, 'Elvis, honey, we love you and we love your music, but we just don’t want the crowd you would bring in here.'"1


Memphis Press-Scimitar - Oct. 1, 1954
courtesy Memphis Public Library

On Saturday October 2, after appearing at the Eagle's Nest the night before, the boys made the four hour drive to Nashville to make their first and only appearance on the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman auditorium. Introduced by Hank Snow, they performed their version on Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” to a polite, but less than warm reception.


Memphis Press-Scimitar - Oct. 6, 1954
courtesy Memphis Public Library

Thinking that was it, that they had been to the top at the Opry, they were back in Memphis the following week playing at the Eagle's Nest.


Memphis Press-Scimitar - Oct. 9, 1954
courtesy Memphis Public Library

There was some speculation that the band had performed at “The Sliver Slipper” on October 8, 1954. Peter Guralnick wrote that on the 23rd, Billboard magazine had announced "Presley, with his guitar and bassman, Scottv and Bill, made an appearance recently at Texas Bill Strength's Nitery {The Silver Slipper Club on Highway 42} in Atlanta."5 Scotty however has no recollection of this gig and doubts seriously that they would have driven to Atlanta and back at that time. There was though a club in Memphis by the same name, which as Guralnick also wrote, “leads one to wonder if it may not have taken place in Memphis, where Strength, a brand-new DJ on KWEM who had only recently moved to the area, had just started performing and booking gigs.5 Scotty, when asked though, was not familiar with any performance there either and did not even remember the club.


Memphis Press-Scimitar - Oct. 13, 1954
courtesy Memphis Public Library


Memphis Press-Scimitar - Oct. 15, 1954
courtesy Memphis Public Library

After the night’s performance at the Eagle's Nest on October 15, the band traveled the 7-8 hour drive to Shreveport for their first appearance on the Hayride. They were very well received there and within a few weeks would be signed as regular performers on the show and started appearing less at the Eagle's Nest.


Memphis Press-Scimitar - Oct. 29, 1954
courtesy Memphis Public Library

Bob Neal brought Oscar Davis to the Eagle's Nest on either October 29th “or the following night. Davis, a flamboyant vaudeville, carnival, and country music promoter a little down on his luck, was working at that time as an advance man for Colonel Tom Parker on an Eddy Arnold show booked into Memphis‘ Ellis Auditorium for this weekend. Parker had continued to book Arnold in certain markets after his managerial split with the country music star the previous year."5


Memphis Press-Scimitar - Oct. 30, 1954
courtesy Memphis Public Library

That Sunday, the 31st, Bob Neal took Elvis “backstage at Ellis to meet Oscar Davis, who told the young singer how impressed he was with his performance at the Eagle's Nest. Elvis also met the Jordanaires, Eddy Arnold's smooth backup singers, who had a solo spot on the show as well. With what they take to be youthful naiveté, he told them he hoped he would be able to have them sing on his records someday.5


Memphis Press-Scimitar - Nov. 17, 1954
courtesy Memphis Public Library

Performing on the Hayride had introduced the band to a new market and more dates in Louisiana and Texas which convinced them to finally give up their day jobs and devote themselves fulltime to their musical careers. They would only make two more appearances at the Eagle's Nest, on November 17 and December 10, 1954. During their November 17th appearance for example, Tillman Franks from Shreveport, who's act Jimmy and Johnny were appearing with Elvis, brought along Biff Collie, a deejay from KNUZ in Houston.  Collie was impressed enough to start playing their records in Houston and to book them for several appearances.


Memphis Press-Scimitar - Dec. 10, 1954
courtesy Memphis Public Library

Ace Cannon would go on to a lucrative career as a recording artist and join Bill Black's Combo. Jack Clement later bought a tape machine from Sleepy Eyed John and helped start Fernwood Records before becoming a producer at Sun Records.  Clement produced many of the hits of Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison while at Sun. He was inducted into the Country Music Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973and remains in the producing business in Nashville today.  Very little is known what became of Sleepy Eyed John, Tiny Dixon, Hugh Jeffries and the other local musicians that performed at the Eagle's Nest.


Scotty's (mis)recollection of where the Eagle's Nest may have been (NE corner)

Though long since gone, the Clearpool complex, and Eagle's Nest had been a staple in Memphis for many years. There has been much speculation, and confusement, as to the actual location and has often been mistaken with another nightclub, the Americana*, situated on the Northwest corner of Lamar and Winchester. Unfortunately, the area has been completely redeveloped and there is no longer any real landmark to identify its exact location. What were once single lane roads are now multi lane roadways.


Approximate location of roadway from Lamar leading into the Eagle's Nest

Upon a recent visit to the area, as best as he could ascertain, Scotty seemed to believe that it was located in the property on the Northeast corner of the intersection. He recalls that traveling north (or west) on Lamar you would turn right onto a road that would take you to the facility that was set way in the back. He said that the driveway to the old Eagle's Nest would be approximately where the driveway is to an existing building just off the road on the right. He said that if the old place still existed, it would be where the housing complex pictured with the long roofs is now.  The area has all been redone with streets and houses where there was once open space, a swimming pool and the club.


Clearpool Circle at Lamar Ave.

Sometime in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s when the property was redeveloped and housing put in, they named the street Clearpool Circle. That is the only indication of what might have been originally on the property, and a strong suggestion of the proximity of the original location.

MapQuest.jpg (56822 bytes)


James V. Roy
September 4, 2008
 

1 excerpt from "Early Elvis: The Sun Years" by Bill E. Burk
2 according to "Last Train To Memphis" by Peter Guralnick
3 excerpt from CASH: The Autobiography,1997 by John R. Cash
4 excerpt from Newsletters by Elvis.com
5 excerpt from "Elvis Day by Day" by Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen



The Americana club on the NW corner, believed to be the site of the Eagle's Nest

*Several other sources suggest that the Clearpool complex was actually on the Northwest corner.  Bill E. Burk in "Early Elvis: The Sun years" for one, Ace Cannon and several of Bill Black's nephews.  Alan Black (nephew) remembers going swimming there in the '60s on the Northwest section of the intersection and said that the establishment changed ownership several times through the '70s and early '80s, was eventually a biker type bar. His younger brother played there with his band in the '60s, remembers it being knocked down and the building there now has been there for the last 20 years or so.

NwNe.jpg (225875 bytes)
Northwest and Northeast corners of Lamar at Winchester

 

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