Fair Park Coliseum and the Cotton Club
Lubbock, TX


The South Plains Fair Park Coliseum c. 1950s
Photo © courtesy South Plains Fair

In 1954 the Fair Park Coliseum was constructed in Lubbock, Texas on the fair grounds of the South Plains Fair which has been held there every September since 1914 except during the war years 1942-1945. The Fair drew people together in West Texas and helped Lubbock grow, earning it the nickname "Hub of the Plains". 


Billboard Ad - Oct 1, 1955

The Coliseum brought headlining performers to Lubbock year round and on January 6, 1955, Elvis, Scotty and Bill became one of the first acts to perform there when they appeared on the bill that included Martha Carson, Jimmy and Johnny and Billy Walker.  Billy Walker had also performed at Overton Park when Elvis, Scotty and Bill had made their debut performance. 


Webb Pierce performs for the Fair crowd in the Coliseum
Photo © courtesy South Plains Fair

By now Elvis, Scotty and Bill were regulars on the Louisiana Hayride and Elvis had recently signed with Bob Neal as his manager.  Tillman Franks during his association with the Louisiana Hayride, former manager of Billy Walker and currently managing Jimmy and Johnny, would sometimes pair the acts on other bookings.  It's possible that it was he who, at Bob Neal's request, organized Elvis' first appearance at the Coliseum with Dave Stone who was promoting the shows there.  "Pappy" Dave Stone, who started the nations first "all" country music radio station, KDAV, in Lubbock in 1953, often would add local acts to fill out the bill and for exposure.  For the January 6th show Stone hired Sonny Curtis, a young local prodigy to play with Jimmy and Johnny.  Jimmy and Johnny were originally Jimmy Lee Fautheree and (country) Johnny Mathis but Mathis periodically left and was sometimes replaced by Lynn Fautheree, Jimmy's brother.  Sonny recalls though that on this occasion Johnny was replaced by Wayne Walker, who later became a great songwriter.  Sonny also recalled that Billy Walker paid him $5.00 for performing with him, "Jimmy and Johnny" didn't pay him anything.

Peter Guralnick in "Elvis Day by Day" suggests that it may have been this date that "Waylon Jennings had first seen Elvis, Scotty and Bill perform.  In one interview though Waylon said while working as a DJ in Littlefield, TX he had heard about Elvis' first appearance at the Fair Park Coliseum and how he "stole the show in his red britches, orange sport coat, and white buck shoes".  He would later recall that he "eventually got to meet Elvis in Lubbock.  Even then, he was about the hottest thing to hit West Texas. They invited me backstage, gave me free tickets, and the whole show was there. He and Scotty Moore were standing over by the stage, and Elvis was just jumping around everywhere, bouncing and bubbling over with enthusiasm, full of more energy than anybody I ever saw. He was talking to me like he'd known me a thousand years.  'I'll sing you the next thing I'm going to record', he said. It was Tweedle Dee, the LaVern Baker song. 'My next single', though I don't think he ever recorded it.  He did it on the show that night."1


Buddy and Bob

On February 13, 1955 the band made their second appearance at the Coliseum in Lubbock.  According to "Elvis Day by Day", this was the first booking that Bob Neal obtained directly through the Colonel after arranging to have the Colonel and Hank Snow's company do booking and promotions just weeks earlier. They received $350 for their matinee performance and shared the bill with Charline Arthur, Jimmie Rodgers Snow, son of Hank, and Benjamin Francis "Whitey" Ford, a comedian and instrumentalist that performed under the name of "The Duke of Paducah".  For this performance Dave Stone added a local aspiring country duo to open the show, "Buddy and Bob".  They were Charles Hardin Holley and Bob Montgomery and in addition to performing locally they had their own half hour radio show Sundays on KDAV where their repertoire was mainly country (Holley's mother always thought that Charles Hardin was rather a long name so simply called him Buddy).

If there was a single influence that indelibly shaped Buddy Holly's life and music, it was Elvis.  "Presley just blew Buddy away," recalls Sonny Curtis. "None of us had ever seen anything like Elvis, the way he could get the girls jumping up and down, and that definitely impressed Holly. But it was the music that really turned Buddy around. He loved Presley's rhythm --it wasn't country and it wasn't blues --it was somewhere in the middle and it suited just fine. After seeing Elvis, Buddy had only one way to go," Rock and Roll.  Buddy himself would later tell Billboard columnist Ren Grevatt that "without Elvis Presley none of us would have made it." 2


The roadside Cotton Club neon sign
Photo courtesy Steve Bonner

On April 29, 1955 Elvis, Scotty and Bill returned to Lubbock and performed at The Cotton Club.  For over forty years the Cotton Club stood as the most influential and diverse performance venue in the region.  It was once the only profitable venue for a band to stop between Dallas and Los Angeles. The Cotton Club was unique because of its blindness to race, color and musical genre, presenting artists such as Little Richard, Elvis, and Willie Nelson among many others.2


Cotton Club, Lubbock, TX - April 29, 1955
Film by Ben Hall © courtesy EPE, Inc.

Some of the earliest film footage of Elvis was shot there of this performance and backstage by local, Ben Hall.  Ben would later write "Blue Days, Black Nights", one of the first songs recorded by Buddy Holly in Nashville after he signed with Decca and subsequently his first release. On later dates Ben also shot backstage film footage there of Buddy, Sonny Curtis, Don Guess, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.


Ralph Lowe Jr., Scotty and Elvis onstage at the Cotton Club - Oct. 15, 1955
Photo © I.G. Holmes courtesy Steve Bonner

The club/dance hall was actually in the city of Slaton, located in the Southeast part of Lubbock County about 15 miles outside of Lubbock on Highway 84.  It was owned and operated by Lubbock native Ralph Lowe and his family and according to the book "Rockin across Texas" by Stanley Oberst, the club booked the best talent that waltzed through West Texas from Bob Wills to Harry James.  Also according to the book Elvis had performed at the club after appearing at the Coliseum on their first two occasions.  First in January to a small audience and then again in February after word got out to a packed house.  Its possible that they also appeared at the club after performing at the Coliseum in Lubbock on all of their 1955 appearances.


Pat Lowe and Elvis at the Cotton Club - Oct. 15, 1955
Photo © I.G. Holmes courtesy Steve Bonner

According to "Elvis: The Sun Years", by Bill E. Burk, the Lowe's daughter, Pat, would go to the club after school and fix sandwiches for the night's patrons.  One time Elvis was entertaining her and they played Tic/Tac/Toe on one of the white tablecloths.  Ralph, the owner got angry, had it washed, and then took .75 cents from Elvis' check that night for the laundering.  She also would let Buddy Holly, Mac Davis and others slip in thru kitchen to see Elvis perform.
 


Sid King and the Five Strings outside the Cotton Club - circa '50s
Photo courtesy Steve Bonner

Sonny Curtis recalled, "I have many memories of the Cotton Club. For one thing, we all followed Elvis out there after his shows in Lubbock.  He performed a few songs and knocked everybody's socks off, especially ours. We (Buddy, Bob Montgomery, Jerry Allison, et al) saw Little Richard there once. Great! I saw the great blues man Charles Brown there.  He had a terrific orchestra. I was the only white person in the place and the guitar player let me sit on stage right next to him. It was an experience I'll never forget.  Also, I was in Tommy Hancock's band, The Roadside Playboys, and we played the Cotton Club to a standstill.  I don't know how we were able to get in at such a young age. I guess the "powers that be" just looked the other way."


June 3, 1955 Advertisement in the Lubbock Avalanche Journal
Courtesy Mark Tate - Lubbock Public Library


1956 HS Yearbook advertisement with showroom Johnson-Connelley Pontiac
Scan courtesy Monterey H.S. Library Lubbock, TX

On June 3, 1955 Elvis, Scotty and Bill returned once again to Lubbock.  This time they performed a free show in a roped off area of the showroom at the Johnson-Connelley Pontiac dealership at the corner of Main St. and Avenue Q (Hwy 84) prior to their performance at the Coliseum.  Attending those shows that evening were a couple of other Lubbock locals, Mac Davis and Glen D. Hardin.  Mac, only 14 years old hearing 'That's All Right' on the radio, had been hooked on music since and described himself as "flabbergasted" after seeing Elvis perform.  Fourteen years later  Elvis would turn three of Mac's songs, 'In The Ghetto', 'Memories' and 'Don't Cry Daddy' into pop hits.  Buddy and Bob also attended the June shows.


June 3, 1955 Advertisement in the Lubbock Avalanche Journal
Courtesy Mark Tate - Lubbock Public Library

 
Elvis at the coliseum with Buddy Holley and Bob Montgomery looking on - June 3, 1955
Photo courtesy Steve Bonner

The June 3rd show at the Coliseum featured both Opry and Hayride acts.  On the bill with Elvis were Ferlin Huskey, Jim Ed and Maxine Brown and Onie Wheeler.  The Browns and Elvis had shared many dates in Texas and Arkansas.  Maxine would later write about touring with Elvis, Scotty and Bill in her book, 'Looking Back to See', and that Bob Neal contacted their booking agent, Tom Perryman, who then packaged the two acts together.  Tom likely arranged this date at the Coliseum as well.  It was Tom, a deejay in Gladewater, in fact that had helped the boys get many early dates in Texas, once when they had run out of money there and didn't even have gas to get home.


Photo courtesy Steve Bonner


Buddy Holley, Larry Welborn and Bob Montgomery
Photo © Bill Griggs - Rockin' 50s

On October 15, 1955 Buddy Holley and Bob Montgomery with Larry Welborn on bass opened for Elvis at the 8 p.m. show at the Coliseum.  Sold now on rock and roll, at every opportunity, the boys would cut demonstration records.  Generally, they invited other local musicians, including Larry on bass and Sonny Curtis on guitar, to join them. They sent their 'demos' to record companies, hoping they'd be offered a recording contract.  The show also featured fellow Sun artists Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two.  After Elvis' performance at the Coliseum that evening they again performed later at the Cotton Club.

As fate would have it the exposure was about to pay off for them. On the day prior, the 14th, they had opened for Bill Haley and the Comets and Jimmie Rodgers Snow at the Coliseum and were noticed by Eddie Crandall, talent scout and agent for Marty Robbins.  He noticed Buddy again when on a later date they opened for Marty Robbins which resulted in Crandall sending Dave Stone a letter requesting demos saying, "Dave, I'm very confident that I can do something as far as getting Buddy Holley a recording contract. It may not be a major one, but even a small one would be beneficial…. Col. Parker suggested I try and help Buddy as he's pretty well tied up…Marty Robbins also thinks Buddy has what it takes. So, all we can do is try…"3

As a result, Buddy (only) was offered a contract from Decca, misspelling his name as "Holly".  He signed and along with Sonny Curtis and Don Guess traveled to Nashville in January of 1956 where they recorded 4 songs with Owen Bradley under the name, "Buddy Holly and the Two Tunes."


Faron Young and Elvis entertain fans backstage while Jane Giles,
Elsie Medlin, Bob Montgomery and Valerie Harms look on - Apr. 10, 1956
Photo © I.G. Holmes courtesy Steve Bonner


Faron Young and Elvis backstage with children from the March of Dimes - Apr. 10, 1956
Photo © I.G. Holmes courtesy Steve Bonner

On April 10, 1956, just one week after appearing on the Milton Berle show broadcast from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hancock in San Diego, Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ performed once more at the Coliseum.  Elvis by this time had signed with RCA, had been on national television, Heartbreak Hotel had gone gold and he had signed with Paramount Pictures to a seven year contract.  His popularity necessitated two performances that evening, one at 8 and the other at 9:45, both to packed auditoriums which totaled over 10,000 people.  Ken Kennamer in the Lubbock Avalanche Journal reported that Elvis "appeared in Lubbock less than 18 months ago for $75, picked up $4000-plus in this return appearance."  He also wrote, "In his dressing room between shows, Presley still couldn't get away from his following.  The fans oblivious to the dressing and undressing members of the band, leaked through police at the doorway to get pictures, autographs or just to look.  He signed autographs on pictures, notebooks, papers, legs, arms and foreheads."


Jerry Allison, Sonny Curtis and Buddy Holley - Apr. 10, 1956
Photo courtesy Steve Bonner


Don Guess, Jerry Allison, Buddy Holly and Sonny Curtis open for Elvis - Apr. 10, 1956
Photo courtesy Steve Bonner

Buddy, with his first single weeks away from being released, opened the shows with Sonny Curtis on guitar, Jerry Allison on drums and Don Guess on bass.  It was the first time that both Buddy and Sonny together opened for Elvis.  Aside from Buddy's Fender Stratocaster, they used Bill Black's bass and DJ's drums.  Sonny and Buddy traded off on using what appears to be Elvis' alternate Martin D18.  (It will no doubt make Sir Paul McCartney, the owner of Bill's bass and publishing rights to Buddy's song catalog, happy to know that this bass was used in a performance with Buddy.)


Scotty,  Elvis, DJ and Bill - Apr. 10, 1956
Photo courtesy Trevor Cajiao of Now Dig This


Bob Montgomery and Elvis with fan club members after performing - Apr. 10, 1956
Photo © I.G. Holmes courtesy Steve Bonner


Buddy, Jerry, Sonny and Elvis at the Coliseum - April 10, 1956
Photo courtesy Steve Bonner

Of Elvis' performance the Journal reported, you heard very little of his voice Tuesday night. As soon as he would sing a few bars of a number, he was greeted by wails, screams and swooning acts that brought back memories of Frank Sinatra's hey-day.  "Heartbreak Hotel," "I Got a Woman", and "Blue Suede Shoes" literally brought down the house as did every gymnastic movement of his body.  It was their final appearance at the Coliseum and in Lubbock.


Buddy Holly, Joe B. Maudlin, Jerry Allison and Niki Sullivan - 1957
Photo courtesy Steve Bonner

Buddy's recordings with Decca failed to chart successfully and his contract was not renewed in January of 1957.  In February he recorded "That'll Be the Day," at Norman Petty's studios in Clovis, New Mexico with Larry Welborn on bass and Jerry Alison on drums.  They signed with Coral Records, a subsidiary of Decca as "Buddy Holly and The Crickets" which consisted of Buddy, Jerry, Joe B. Maudlin on bass and Niki Sullivan on guitar.  Petty became their manager and producer and booked the Crickets on a couple of Nationwide tours supporting the likes of Chuck Berry, The Everly Brothers and Paul Anka.  Niki left the band in December.2


Jerry Allison, Buddy Holly and Joe B. Maudlin - UK March 1958
Photo courtesy Steve Bonner

During 1958 the Crickets toured the US, Hawaii, the UK and Australia.  By then Waylon Jennings was working as a DJ in Lubbock and Buddy produced a session for him.  In November Buddy ended his business partnership with Norman Petty and moved to New York with his new wife.  Jerry and Joe decided to remain in Lubbock.  With funds from royalties tied up due to pending legalities of splitting from the group he toured with Waylon Jennings on bass and Tommy Allsup on guitar.2


Waylon Jennings, Buddy Holly and Tommy Allsup - Jan 31, 1959
Photo courtesy Buddy Holly online

On February 2, 1959 Buddy gave his last performance, at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.  Having chartered a plane to take them on ahead to their next performance he died when the plane crashed shortly after take off at about 1:00 a.m. on February 3rd, approximately 5 miles north of Mason City Municipal Airport, Mason city, Iowa.  Killed also were Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper (J. P. Richardson) and the pilot, Roger Peterson.  Though Buddy's career was short his legacy has lived on and has influenced generations of musicians.


The Crickets - Sonny Curtis, Jerry Allison, Jerry Naylor and Glen D. Hardin - 1962
Photo courtesy Steve Bonner

Sonny Curtis later joined The Crickets and they backed and recorded with The Everly Brothers.  Sonny also went on to become a successful songwriter.  The Crickets at times added other members which included Larry Welborn, Jerry Naylor and Glen D. Hardin who eventually became one of the members of Elvis' TCB band in the '70s.  Bob Montgomery went on to become a songwriter, solo artist and a noted record producer and publisher in Nashville.


The Cotton Club - rebuilt version
Photo courtesy VirtualLubbock.com


Nibble's Adult Bookstore

In the early '60s the Cotton Club burned down and was rebuilt on the same location, at 6410 E Highway 84, Slaton, TX.  Almost torn down in 1978, the building was sold and turned into an Adult Club/Bookstore.  It is said that all of the stars that performed there had signed one of the clubs walls but the new owner painted over the wall.  Today it operates as Nibbles Adult bookstore.


The Fair Park Coliseum
Photo courtesy Buddy Holly online

FPC1.jpg (28422 bytes) FPC2.jpg (30963 bytes) FPC3.jpg (29875 bytes)
Aerial Photos courtesy Microsoft Corporation © EathData

The Coliseum is still fairly much the way it always has been and still holds live performances.  The Fair and the city have grown almost simultaneously since those humble beginnings. Today, the Panhandle South Plains Fair is known as "The Granddaddy of West Texas Fairs," and ranks second only to Dallas's State Fair of Texas in attendance and continuous history.  It features all you expect from a big fair: a midway, horse and livestock shows, industrial and military exhibits, flower festival, women's and educational exhibits, and lots of contests.4

James V. Roy
January 11, 2008
 

1 "Waylon Jennings remembers Elvis Presley" by Waylon Jennings courtesy Elvis Australia
2 courtesy Buddy Holly Center
3 according to Remembering Buddy: The Definitive Biography of Buddy Holly by John Goldrosen and John Beecher
4 courtesy South Plains Fair

All copies of the Lubbock Avalanche Journal advertisements courtesy Mark Tate of the Lubbock Public Library


Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, April 12, 1956

PRESLEY CREATES MUSICAL STORM HERE
by Ken Kennamer

Elvis Presley, a dynamic rock ’n. roll singer who appeared in Lubbock less than 18 months ago for $75, picked up $4,000-plus in a return appearance Tuesday—turning Fair Park Coliseum into a bedlam before two screaming audiences totaling 10.000 persons.

The blues singer, who shortly before that first Lubbock appearance was a $35 a week truck driver, was literally, the center of a human storm - most of it generated by teenagers.
Presley is a 21-year-old singer from Memphis, Tenn., with long sideburns, a ducktail and a delivery that, at its peak, makes Johnny Ray look like slow motion.
And Tuesday night he turned Fair Park Coliseum into an amphitheater where the thousands of screaming, screeching, clamoring for-more fans put on an act themselves seldom seen in Lubbock.
Jim Crook, assistant manager of Lubbock Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday night that the Coliseum would seat 5,500. But during Presley’s performance, there was almost as many standing as sitting. Crowds filled the back of the auditorium and the aisles, and ringed the platform where Presley performed as a full house watched the second show.
Twice during Presley's show, mobs of teen-agers pushed through the locked doors behind the platform, before police could stop the flow and re-lock the doors.
How can you describe his performance? And can it be called a performance or production?

Voices Not Similar
He’s been described as Johnny Ray, with the St. Vitus dance, but the voices are in no way similar.
In fact, you heard very little of his voice Tuesday night. As soon as he would sing a few bars of a number, he was greeted by wails, screams and swooning acts that brought back memories of Frank Sinatra’s hey-day.
"Heartbreak Hotel," "I Got A Woman," and "Blue Suede Shoes" literally brought down the house as did every gymnastic movement of his body.

20 Policemen On Hand
He wasn't mobbed, thanks to 20-or-so policemen on hand, unless you consider being surrounded by teen-agers wanting him to sign a picture, a slip of paper, their forehead, their arm - "sign your name on my arm and I’ll never wash it again" — as being mobbed.
But as Presley put it, "I’m not mobbed until they start getting my clothes. They’ve done that in several places last night in Wichita Falls, in fact."
What’s he got'?
Ask the fans.

Marlon Brando With Voice.
"Whats he got? He’s got everything. He’s Marlon Brando with a voice."
That was one of the thousands of teen-agers who pushed close to the platform where Presley was raising the dust with one of his western renditions.
Another said. "Man, he looks and acts just like one of us crazy mixed-up kids. Only when he gets up steam, he blows it off. "
"Don’t he look cool, Man, don’t he look cool."
"Why do we like him'? Man, are you crazy? Why did we have James Dean? Why do we like Marlon Brando?"

Get Scornful Look
But mostly when you ask "What’s he got?" you only get a withering, scornful look in return.
What’s he got?
Ask the manager, Col. Tom Parker.
"I started managing him last year. You see what he’s doing now?"
Whats he got?
Ask Presley himself. "I don’t know what it is, but I sure hope it doesn’t stop, I just sing."
That latter statement could be ranked with the understatements of the year. Presley doesn’t just sing.
He sings - in a shaking, wavering voice that somehow manages to remain strong and give off emotion.

Beats On Guitar
He beats a guitar. You couldn’t say he plays a guitar, he beats it.
He emotes. His face mirrors the words he’s singing. Not the grotesque patterns that characterize Johnny Ray, but a more subtle display.
He moves. And how he moves. After a chorus or two of singing he backs away from the microphone shakes, rattles and rolls. He does a shimmy, a shake-everything that caused burlesque to be banned on Broadway.

He Gets Results
He gets results. His fans will tell you he’s not a passing fancy, not a craze, and they point to his ever-rising records sales, his increasing fan-clubs, and his latest achievement, a seven-year contract with Paramount Studios in Hollywood.
Presley announced the signing of the contract Tuesday. He said his first picture would be called "Rainmaker, and he would be starring with Burt Lancaster and Katherine Hepburn. He’s scheduled to begin working on the picture in June.

article transcription courtesy Ger Rijff's "Elvis, Faces and Stages" Tutti Frutti, Amsterdam 1986

article added July 20, 2009

Be sure to check out the interview with Larry Welborn, here


Special thanks to Steve Bonner for his major contributions to this page and this website as a whole, and also to Sonny Curtis for his input.

Steve, of Dallas, Texas is a major collector of photographs, original records and history of recording artists that interest him from the 1950s. Many of his photos have appeared in several publications and websites and many in the book "Elvis in Texas".


Jack Davis and Steve Bonner outside the dressing room door at the Coliseum
Photo courtesy Steve Bonner


Jack Davis in the crowd with Elvis June 3, 1955

Photo by John Beecher courtesy Steve Bonner


Jack Davis and Steve Bonner outside the Coliseum
Photo by John Beecher courtesy Steve Bonner


Steve Bonner sent me this last week and I thought it would be cool to add to the page.

Jim, 

A good friend in the UK named John Beecher runs RollerCoaster Records. I put him on to your discovery that Holly was playing Elvis' guitar and he used it for the cover of this vinyl 10" LP that was just released. I will follow this with back cover with liner notes which you should like. The liner notes are all made up to make it look like it first came out in 1956 which it did not. This is the first for it.


click for larger size


click for larger size

Steve
March 6, 2009

check out RollerCoaster Records at http://www.rollercoasterrecords.com/ for this another great titles.

note: there are no plans for a CD release of this but they have already released a CD which includes 9 of the 10 tracks - "Ohh Annie" by Buddy Holly and the Three Tunes.

Please note that neither Scotty Moore or his website is responsible for the ordering, sale or delivery of these items

appended March 20, 2009

 

All photos on this site (that we didn't borrow) unless otherwise indicated are the property of either Scotty Moore or James V. Roy and unauthorized use or reproduction is prohibited.

 
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