by Louis Vodopya

Nashville Nite Life, ‘50’s thru ‘80’s
Arcade Alley

A block up from Printers Alley was another lesser known but highly populated alley known as Arcade Alley. It started behind the Peanut Man store and ran to Church Street. Just behind the Peanut Man was the Arcade Pool Room, up a short flight of stairs in an old brick building. It had about 8 - 10 tables in a straight line and had the longest cues I’d ever seen. I loved them. I worked there occasionally as a rack boy. Anyone from that era remembers that there weren’t any slot pool tables. The games were generally a dime and when you finished you hollered ‘Rack!’ The rack boy would come around, collect the dime and rack up the balls for the next game.

This was also true in Pee Wee Austin's Downtown Bowling ALLEY (not lanes) of the period. Pins were all set by hand and the pinboy would roll the ball back on a two lane metal return above and between the alleys. But that’s another story.
One night, Willie Mosconi, the twenty time world champion, paid the Arcade Pool Room a visit for an exhibition. He played Jimmy Vester, an east Nashville pool room owner who was considered the best player in town. That was open to conjecture. The place was packed. I racked.
They played 150 ball straight pool. It was close for a while and then Mosconi ran 86 balls and out on Vester. He won by 150 to about 70. He made shots no one in the Nashville area had ever seen before. After the match he set up a bunch of trick shots and made them all. He set up one particular 6 balls in 6 different pockets shot and had me shoot it. I made all 6. Thrill of a lifetime, at the time. I can still set up that shot and make it. Next door to the Arcade Pool Room was El Cid, an eclectic darkly lit piano bar.
It was also packed, most of the time, with people from all walks of life, to hear Bobbi Jo Walls play and sing. She was hands down the best bar entertainer/singer/ player I’ve ever seen or heard, before or since. She could hold a crowd and play and sing anything anyone wanted, usually better than the artist who had the song out. She later moved to the Brass Rail Stables in Printers Alley where she held forth for many years.
Years later, I did a tour in a hospital in Madison. Bobbi Jo called me one night from the Brass Rail and sang ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ to me over the phone. Another thrill of a lifetime. Bobbi Jo was something special.
Next door to El Cid was Jakes Tavern, an old time no monkey business bar. It had a little rougher working class clientele and was known mainly for 15 cent draft beer. That was considerably below the going rate of an inflationary 25 cents most everywhere else.
A little farther down the alley was the Copper Kettle, an upscale, very highly thought of restaurant. This was where you brought your mother for lunch on a Sunday, well known for various dishes I don’t remember now.
Jakes and the Copper Kettle were a few steps down in half basements. On the other side of the alley, opposite Jakes and also a few steps down, was my favorite hangout for a while, the Rathskeller. The Rathskeller was possibly the smallest bar in the world. It had about 6 barstools crowded along a bar that took up one side of an equally crowded room about 12 feet long. A couple of small tables were opposite the bar and it was a tight squeeze to get around them if the place was packed. It had another even smaller room a few feet down a hall which held 4 tables that were crammed at least as tight as the bar. The rest rooms were at the other end of the hall.
Above your heads were all the pipes that serviced the building above, water, electricity, heat and air, covered with what was probably asbestos. You could reach up and touch the pipes. Nobody did.
With all the inconveniences, that little bar brought people closer together than any I have ever been in, both literally and figuratively. Everybody in there knew everybody else. You couldn’t help it. What really held it together was a bartender named Jerry who knew every joke ever told, that you had never heard, and he was all too willing to pass them on. He moved on to bigger and better things later at the Captains Table, across Church Street from Printers Alley, and the Rathskeller passed into history.

The Afterthought

Anyone who knew how to find it back in the ‘70’s, went to the Afterthought. It was in the center of the Belle Meade Plaza shopping center, just past White Bridge road on West End.
The most bizarre detail about it was its location. You went down a flight of stairs to the entrance, where you came out on a balcony overlooking the actual club floor, another stairwell below.
The bar was on this balcony and you went down another flight to get to the dance, entertainment, eating floor. (In those days it struck me as an ideal bomb shelter, since it was two floors below ground level and covered by concrete.)
You could stay on the balcony and watch the band or go downstairs to dance in the far right corner of the room on a postage stamp dance floor. Or you could order a relatively high priced meal and sit down near the downstairs bandstand. One of the chefs that worked there was Robert Glenn, a friend of mine and my group. We always called him Captain Robert because he piloted my houseboat whenever we took it out on the river from Rock Harbor.
Two of the most beautiful and talented female singers in Nashville history sang there at different times. Kim Morrison sang with Jimmy Key Jr's band and was married to him for a time. Jimmy Key Sr. was Tom T. Halls manager and he had supposedly discovered her. She had a spectacular, almost operatic, voice and, if you were deaf, you could just look at her and appreciate the song. She was that gorgeous. She also sang at El Cid, in Arcade Alley, when she was just starting. I don’t know whatever happened to her, musically or otherwise, but she was a lasting pleasant memory.
The other featured singer who packed the Afterthought was Darlene Shadden, a strictly from the gut, white, soul singer. I once went to a black jam session with her and she was asked to sing with a group of exceptionally talented black musicians. After she finished we were having some hors doevre’s in the kitchen when one of the black musicians turned to me and said, ‘Boy, yo’re lady there, she has got some kind of soul!’ He emphasized the last word. Darlene was still singing into the ‘80’s and 90’s. Don’t know what happened to her either. Pity.
Enough happy/sad memories. Anybody else remember the Afterthought?


The House

Back in the ‘70’s, one of the swingingest places around was an old three story building across the street from the original Irelands, in the bend of 21st Ave, called The House.
It had living (or playing) quarters for the owner on the third floor, small shops and boutiques on the second, and a restaurant on the first. But, in the basement was where it was all happening. That was where Buck Fell ruled.
Buck Fell was a George Clooney (sort of) look alike who could blow the wildest piano you ever heard. His piano was guitar shaped, at least on the top, and he played and sang rock, ragtime, country, pop, you name it and Buck could do his own personalized version or the original just like the original artist. He drew a crowd of other artists all the time.
How would you like to have 2 ½ hours from midnight to 2:30 listening to the likes of Doug Kershaw, Peter, Paul & Mary, Johnny Cash and June Carter, Flatt & Scruggs, James Taylor, Clarence (Frog Man) Henry, Laugh-ins Arte Johnson, Jerry Reed, and - Elvis? That’s what I did Wednesday night, October 20-21, 1971.
Never has there been - no, never will there be more top flight entertainment for less of an audience. There were 13 people in the room, 7 of them entertainers. Buck started off his midnight set with ‘Louisiana Man’ because he knew its creator, Doug Kershaw, was in the next room.
“Hell, I can do that better”, came from Kershaw, as he squeezed into the room. So, he did. And he followed up with more Cajun, ‘Amos Moses’, with Buck on the piano in Jerry Reeds distinctive style. Brought the House down! - all 13. Then Doug got the call from his 2 - count them - 2 dates and had to leave, understandably. His place was filled by George and Starr. Note: (For those who don’t remember this twosome of ‘girlfriends’, Starr was a Marilyn Monroe look alike who wore an American flag and not much else, most of the time. George wore black leather, top to bottom, and carried a long sword on her belt. Not hard to figure who played which role in that pair. They sang some and did comedy acts some but mostly they just - were.)
Back to Buck. He started a swinging late ‘50’s rock number. Almost every night he plays, there was some Afro-haired, seemingly introverted, grad student there who would sing along on some songs, like it or not, at the top of his lungs. He jumped up and said, “Hey! Do ‘All Shook Up’!”
Buck, semi-irritated and semi-loose, said “You do it,” and handed the mike to the guy. Reincarnation! Shut your eyes and listen to Elvis! This guy - behold and lo - was an absolute dead ringer, even to the hip movements. Obviously, what an introvert does in his spare time is study Elvis. He did ‘All Shook Up’ and ‘Houn’ Dog’ and about 10 Elvis standards - perfectly. Everybody from upstairs and in the next room came pouring in until the piano room was jammed, except for gyrating space for Elvis. Most of the room was gyrating with him, the best they could. Finally, he gave up, over-gyrated.
Buck also gave up and took a break. As he left, he noticed a pair by the juke, and instead of turning it on, he turned them on. “Hey, wait a minute! They’re going to get the banjo!”, Buck yelled.
This was quite a pair. The man, all 5 foot 2 or so of him was a dead ringer for Arte Johnson. He knew that because he grabbed the mike and said “Verrrry Interesting!” and trucked off to get his banjo. Can you say Willow Collins!
The girl, all 6 foot 2 of her, had beautiful eyes surrounded by a waterfall of blonde curls and a hole in her white jeans that ran from her knee all the way up. She also ran off to get her guitar. Can you say Marshall Chapman!
Back, they start. Never, in the annals of banjo and guitar-dom has there been a more perfectly matched pair. He launches into something approximately called ‘Flint Kiss Breakdown’, or something like that, in a pure Earl Scruggs three finger and she followed along with a Lester Flatt twang in her guitar. They did a number of perfect F&S bluegrassers, then quieted down.
Marshall started picking out Peter, Paul, and Mary sounds and Willow joined in on ‘Early Mornin’ Rain’, ‘Leavin’ on a Jet Plane’, heck, even ‘Puff, The Magic Dragon’. Everybody joined in on the last one. Too soon, they left. Buck came back and started plunking out something, but over his piano and singing there was another speaker. This was not just an ordinary speaker but someone with a tremendous basso-profundo. Obviously a DJ or announcer of some kind, he so dominated the sound in the room that Buck quit.
After a few seconds, he started back on Johnny Cash’s ‘Papa Sang Bass’. When he got to the chorus where papa sings bass, he pointed to this guy and, by golly, Papa Sang Bass!
After several choruses of the JC and June hit, this guy starts into Frogman Henrys best hits. He did every voice, and if you recall the Frogmans range, this guy had about 4 octaves and they were all exceptional. About 15 minutes of this and he gave up, amidst a slew of Bobby Goldsboro’s ‘BeeDeeps’, and sat down.
Buck finally had the piano to himself, so he started in on his usual array of Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, you name it, he did it. He finished off the night with ‘Fire and Rain’ and a medley of James Taylor, exactly (eyes closed) like old James.
I came out of The House that night with a strange mixture of exhilaration and exhaustion. When you have that much super talent crammed into you in one sitting, or gyrating, it leaves you full and empty at the same time.
Anybody else ever go to The House?

The Johnny Cash Show

Back in 1969, me and a friend took two dates to see the Johnny Cash show taping at the Ryman. His girlfriend, Connie, worked for Bud Wendell, who was the manager of the Ryman. He later became an executive with Gaylord. I was on crutches at the time so Connie had us park in the Ryman parking lot right across the street on the corner of 5th and Broad. We saw Bobbie Gentry in a spectacular red dress, (with her in it), and Dusty Springfield. After the show we went back to the parking lot to get the car. No car.
Back in the Ryman, Connie went to Bud and he said a tower named Luton patroled the lot for cars that he thought didn’t belong there. We called Lutons, up 4th Avenue close to Lafayette, and, sure enough, he had it. He said it would cost us $20 to get it out. We argued for a while but he was adamant. Bud gave us the $20, saying he felt the Ryman was at fault, but probably because Connie worked for him. Either way we thought it was a nice gesture.
At Lutons, we were told that someone had called in and reported the car. We asked him did he know who and he said no, he didn’t have to. If anyone called and wanted a car towed, he just towed it. My buddys mind started working.
Back at my apartment later, my friend called Luton. He said ‘This is Justin Springboard, (a nod to Dusty Springfield), and I’m the manager of the Krispy Kreme donut shop on West End at Murphy Road. Somebody’s left their car parked in my spot and I want it towed.”
Luton said OK. We hung up. We sat there howling with laughter, imagining Luton walking into the Krispy Kreme and asking for Justin Springboard. Revenge was sweet as a donut.


Charley Watkins left Al Hirts club in New Orleans 30+ years ago and moved to Nashville to build his first restaurant right across the street from Vandy. I stood in that concrete floored, bare walled, half done building while he regaled me of his big ideas about a strictly beef restaurant, home baked puff rolls of bread, a big baked potato, and, mostly, about the lettuce wedges. They were his big idea and probably led to the salad bars of today. There’s a copy of the original menu over at Marty’s place,, under restaurants.
Later, when he was up and rolling, he brought Deadeye up from New Orleans to front the building. Deadeye Dick was a barker, doorman, incredible character who had been in vaudeville years before and could and did still do a polished song and dance and comedy act on stage. Al Hirt frequently brought Deadeye in off the door to do a set. Deadeye also worked Printers Alley for a while, in front of the Poodle.
I took a former New Orleans ecdysiast friend of mine who was visiting, out to eat at Charleys new restaurant. She knew Charley from New Orleans and they had a grand old get together. But she also knew Deadeye, and before she left she talked Deadeye into going back to Atlanta with her to front the Nitery where she was, at that time, the feature stripper. Deadeye left O’Charley’s and I was barred for decades.

The Red Dog Saloon

In the early ‘70’s, on the corner of Division and Lyle, was the predecessor of Maude’s Courtyard, the Red Dog Saloon. Prior to that it had been Calamity Janes and then the Last Chance Saloon when Ed ‘Red Dog’ White bought it. He later put his own name on it in its final days.
It was an old brick house that you entered through the front door and went down a long hallway to the saloon part. It had two pool tables on the right behind a half wall, and the bar on the left. The room opened up from there on with tables and chairs and a large stage running the length of the opposite wall.
Many of the underground music scenes best played in there like Dave Olney, Satch Wright, Steve Runkel and the Pretenders, and Pat McLaughlin. I saw a set one night when Kristofferson, and many of the best music row writers were there to see a guy named Joe Belotin. Don’t ask me who he was but he had some great songs and was, apparently, one of the many undiscovered great writers of the period. I don’t know if he ever got discovered or not but he had a lot of his peers there that night to hear his work.
The business dwindled for a while and Red Dog was apparently heavy with debt, (not to mention the belly he carried around), and he offered to sell it to me for $1500, period. I told him I’d be there the next night. I didn’t make it. The morning paper after that night had the picture of Red Dog sifting through the ashes of the Red Dog Saloon, picking up dollar bills. I was one day too late.
There was always a question of whether the fire was caused by a certain kind of lightning which shall go unnamed, or not.
Later, Maudes Courtyard rose from the ashes.
Who else remembers Red Dog and some of his later incarnations as a private eye and an antique dealer? He is one of the main characters in my novel.

The Mucky Ducky

Okay, here we go. This one’s for all of you hippies out there.
The Mucky Ducky sat second from the corner on Bandywood Drive in Green Hills for a short spectacular period in the late ’60’s early ‘70’s. It had a large flag of a drunken duck blowing in the breeze outside. I confiscated the flag when they closed up and had it hanging over my houseboat, The Mucky Ducky, at Rock Harbor, for five years.
It was a converted house, built in the ‘40’s, owned by the triumvirate of Phil Sigel, Nat Moore, and Mike Magid. Magid ran the place most of the time. He wore a ball cap with willow branches stuck down in the holes and called himself ‘Willow Man’. He got them from a huge willow in front of the head shop next door. Such was the mind set, or lack of it, of the ‘60’s.

Below is a couple of excerpts from a short story I’m doing on the period. It will serve to describe the fabulous Mucky Ducky. The names have been changed slightly
to protect the guilty.

- - - - On the left wall was a painting of a blonde, Marilyn Monroe type, with a floor length red dress on. She was in a sitting position with her hands stuffed down somewhere between her legs in the red folds of the dress. She had a look of ecstasy on her face. You could draw your own conclusions.
On the front and right walls were several Peter Max-like walkers, also done by my den artist. This was where I’d found him. I had him paint my den when I lived up on Sneed Ave. The regulars were all at the bar with the giant free peanut barrel that sat at its end. The shells went on the floor.
“Willow Man greets you, Louie. We’ve all started without you. We know you can catch up.”
Marco Macuid was one of the three owners, the one that cared. He always worked the bar as waiter, bartender, goodwill ambassador, or as Willow Man. The head shop next door had a large weeping willow in their yard. Marco would cut off a couple of small limb ends, two foot long or so, an stick them in the holes in his cap. He became ‘Willow Man’, an appelation the significance of which was known only to him. But it was accepted since everybody in the place was crazy or stoned or both.
“Are you sitting at the bar tonight, or should I send ‘Buns’ over to a table,” Willow Man went on.
Buns McGurk was a spectacular blonde whose knickname was bestowed in college and was still valid and appreciatable, ten years later.
“I’m heading for the back room, Marco,” I said. He knew when I used his given name, business was in progress. “I’ll tell whoever asks,” he said, serious looking even with the willow branches.
I made my way around the partiers at the bar and down the short hall to the back room. The back part of the house had been an add on of two bedrooms at normal room height, about 8 feet. The walls had been knocked out and one large room opened at the end of the hallway.
It had two pool tables and a shuffleboard at the center and right of the room, respectively, and a small bandstand stuffed in the left corner. The music came from that left corner. “Somebody robbed the Glendale Train, this morning at half past nine,”. Kevin was lagging shuffleboard pucks, always close to the end, and looking for a sucker. Janice and Susan were playing each other some eight ball on one of the tables and looking pretty good. Better be. I taught them both. “Somebody robbed the Glendale Train. It’s the truth, I aint lyin’.”
“C’mere, Louie,” said Janice, “and show me how to beat this bitch. I think you
taught her better than me. She can bank like a damned pro.” “Just talent, darlin’ Lou, she just can’t make a straight in,” said Susan. “They made clean off with sixteen Gs, left two men lyin’ cold,”. The place was packed, obviously knowing Zilch and Gerald would soon be there. “You’re both super talents,” I said, “just think your line, Janice, like I told you, and stroke through the ball.”
“Somebody robbed the Glendale Train, and they made off with the gold.”
The band finished their set and started wrapping up. The back door was open onto the patio, lit with chinese lanterns. I went out. Several couples sat at the small round tables, nuzzling, talking, or just waiting for the main acts to arrive. I took the last empty table. Willow Man showed up with a pitcher.
“Your regular, Louie. I assumed. Gerald just came in.”
“Send him back, Treeman, and don’t weep so much.”
“Requirement of the job, my man. We take on the woes of the world.”
“What woes? In this goldmine? Isn’t there a laughing tree you could become?”
“Ah, if you only knew what my partners do with the riches I make for them. Here comes Gerald.”
Willow Man marched back inside and Gerald Robertino came out the door, carrying an ornate guitar case. He parked it as much under the table as would fit and sat. “You have apparently heard of the bizarre bill tonight, Louis, or you would not be out at this late hour.”
Gerald was recruited into town by one of the greatest guitarists of all time to teach that person how to play classical guitar. That pretty well describes his talent. He was the best classical guitarist this town had ever seen and that made him the best in the world.
Trouble is, classical guitar was not exactly in great demand in a country town, so Gerald had to develop other talents. He was also one of the best pool hustlers who ever opened a guitar case and pulled out a two piece cue.
“Just heard of it, Ger. I’m here to meet Leapy. Didn’t know you were sharing top billing with anybody. Who is this Zilch character. I’ve only heard rumors.”
“Well, I can only say you are in for a treat or, maybe, a regurgitation. He writes some plenty wierd stuff. I’ll let him fill you in for himself.” Gerald pointed at the door.
I heard giggles from the surrounding tables before I ever looked at the door. I knew why when I did. Filling the door, lights shining around him the best they could was Zilch Leftrech. Six foot four, two hundred twentyish, and completely covered, to the ankles, in a World War I brown trenchcoat. On his head was a matching WWI steel helmet. On his feet were red tennis shoes. No socks, or anything else, apparently, above the trenchcoat line. He had on a pair of huge, head wide, black horn rimmed glasses and the biggest mouth in the western world was wide open in a smile as he peered around the patio. He looked like a happy owl looking for a mouse.
“Geraldissimo,” he roared when he spotted us. He lumbered around the tables over to us where he plopped down in the remaining chair. “We are finally on the same bill, Maestro,” the roar continued. “They have finally recognized true musical genius, in all its extremes. Who’s your friend?”
Gerald stifled his own giggling and made the hellos. “Zilch, this is Louie. He’s a
writer, also, but mostly he’s a partier through life. Louie, this is Zilch. He’s, well, he’s just a Zilch. The only one.”
“A partier through life,” roared Zilch, “Now there’s an appellation I can understand. We should all be one. But some of us have to toil to create beauty. Who’s up first tonight, Ger?”
“Well, following a rock band, Willow Man thought I’d be a more appropriate change of pace. In any case, no way in hell would I be following you.”
“No, I understand,” Zilch chuckled, “Your classical expertise will put the audience in a more relaxed mood so that they will be more amenable to my melodious social commentary.”
(I leave momentarily and come back)
There was silence coming from inside this time, except for the Montoya coming from Geralds guitar, better than even Montoya. The back room was empty except for a few regulars squeezed in the door looking outside. We squeezed by them out onto the lantern lit packed patio.
Gerald had set up acoustically on a chair in one corner. People were sitting on chairs, benches, (two had mysteriously disappeared from a local park and appeared here), even on jackets or sweaters on the concrete deck. The rest stood all around the patio edges or out on the grass. No one spoke. Gerald mesmerized people that way.
He finished his set and the silence remained for a few seconds. The country writers, the rockers, even those who didn’t know much about music all knew they had just heard greatness. Then a collective roar of applause from the eclectic mob rose into the night sky and rolled out over the neighborhood, to irritate some and make the curious follow it back.
Gerald put his guitar back in its ornate case and bowed to the crowd. He left the stage corner of the patio and came over to us. We had taken up residence with Zilch, who had held the table ‘for the nights stars’, as he put it. Willow Man and Buns were refilling pitchers and mugs and people were making pee runs. Gerald sat and Zilch opened his considerably less ornate guitar case.
“Incredible as ever, Gerald,” Zilch roared. “You inspire even me to further greatness.”
“I can’t imagine how you could be any greater, Zilch,” Gerald laughed, “or what kind of greatness you’re talking about.”
“You’ll see, my classical contemporary,” Zilch pulled a battered Gibson out of his case, “as my futuristic social commentary downlifts the crowd from the unreachable heights of your expertise to the proletarian realities of our probable futures.”
He arose, Gibson in hand, and strode purposefully to the corner of the stage Gerald had just left. He plopped down into the only chair there and looked out over the crowd. They started snickering, under their breaths.
He positioned the Gibson for action, gave the crowd a serious look, as best he could with his unconventional physical presence, and started singing: “What would you do if all the holes in your body healed up,” he yelled, musically. All the mouths in the audience flew open. “You couldn’t see, you couldn’t pee, you couldn’t sock it to me,” he sang on. The open mouths started to giggle; a few laughed out loud.

Before I get too long winded, I’ll stop here. The two entertainers above were Jerry Roberts on classical guitar and Zilch Fletcher on classical hilarity. Zilch has a site online called Check it out and you will see who I have described. Anyone who remembers Zilch has multi stories to tell, I’m sure. He was in Demetria Kalodimos’ documentary ‘PreMadonna’ last weekend at the Film Fest. I don’t know whatever happened to Roberts.
The Mucky Ducky was one of a series of stopovers for super musical unknowns of the period that included Bishops on 32nd and West End and Our Place, roughly in the MacDonalds parking lot next to Centennial Park. Some of the folks that played on this circuit were Uncle Walts Band, The Pretenders, and Satch Wright. I had Satch sing PP&M’s ‘Wedding Song’ at my second wedding.
Eventually the Duck succumbed to money troubles between the partners and lay dormant for a while. Then it was bought by John Livingston, who also owned the Green Hills Roundup and the Gulf station on the corner of Hillsboro Rd and Abbott Martin. He called it ‘John-o’s’, installed a girlfriend of his to run it and run it she did, straight downhill. John had the unfortunate idea that it had to look different to make it, so he paneled up the painted walls and tried to make it look like a redneck bar. The aura was gone. This was one of the downs of the building, spaced evenly between the ups. After a few months, it shut down again.
Time for an up. Ray Waxman and his mother, Dottie, bought it and reopened it as Waxies and it boomed again. Shuffleboard and dart tournaments, plenty of music and packed houses for a time in the ‘70’s. Then the Waxmans got the former service station on Eliston Place from Sonny Mooney and moved the Waxies name over there, across the street from Rotiers.
They sold their interest in the former Duck to a group of business men that included Richard Fulton Jr., the former mayors son, and Chip Worley, a long time bookie of Green Hills. They reopened it as the Bandywood Inn. It had a brief upswing but the Waxman mystique just wasn’t there and it soon closed again.
A new partner came into the mix and it reopened as the Bandywood Inn again, (We always called it Bandywood Inn II). This time it boomed again as if it had to have an upturn after every downturn. But its fate was cast. Chip bought out the other partners because they didn’t have the time to keep up with it. Turns out, as Bandywood Inn III, he didn’t either. Down the tube it went for the 6th time.
Many a time during this period, I suggested, even begged, that whoever owned it should tear off that cursed paneling and reveal the original walls beneath. No one took my suggestion. I believe those walls were the soul of the building and when they were covered up the building put a curse on all subsequent residents. Even the best of the upswings never lasted very long after the days of the original Duck. The building has changed hands many times since then, I understand, but there’ll never be anything like the original Mucky Ducky. Today, the same building still stands as the End Zone.
Any other former Ducks or Waxies or Bandywooders out there?

House of Canton, Green Hills

When a group of my (reprobates) friends and I went over to Ming Louies original House of Canton in Green Hills back in the late 60’s, he always had mixed feelings about seeing us. He liked me because we had the same name. When he came over to say hello to us, however, one of my buddies always greeted him with, “How’s the dog today, Louie?” He’d just smile and curse my buddy out in Cantonese.
When he moved over to E. Iris Drive, opposite Hundred Oaks, and opened the Ming Palace we didn’t go as often. I went over when he was still fixing up the place and gave him my advice on a few things which he, of course, ignored. It always struck me as strange that the light plugs were about 6 feet up on the wall, not near the base. When I asked him about it, he pointed to the lit Chinese lantern lights he had hanging from the ceiling. He just said, “A lot closer to the plug.” He had the wire strung across the ceiling and down to the 6 foot high plug.
There’s a copy of the Ming Palace menu over at Martys historicnashville site.

D’Scene and Zodiac Lounge

In the early 1960’s, a thriving gambling community existed in underground Nashville. Across Church Street from Printers Alley was another alley. On the left corner of the alley a few steps above street level was the Zanzibar, an all night bar and general hangout. Below the Zanzibar and down a long flight of stairs was the Subway Lounge, later to become the Captains Table. It was a dine and dance club with live bands and top notch food. It was owned by Mickey Kreitner, who also owned the Zanzibar and several Printers Alley clubs, including the Brass Rail Stables.
A block down that alley was a large brick building that started in the alley and fronted on Third Avenue. At the back of the building was a concrete loading dock with a roll up door that had been sealed shut at one side.
Opposite that was a large steel door with an eyehole in it. To get in, you knocked on the door and someone eyeballed you through the eyehole. If you were known or otherwise acceptable, the door was opened by a man about the size of the door and you entered. You went through a room that was apparently a dining room with
tables and booths and no activity. There was almost no light in the room.
At the back of the room was another door with another eyehole. The same procedure got you into the back room. A bar ran half the length of the left side of the room. The front right side had a blackjack table. A large Vegas style crap table ran down the middle of the room, opposite the bar, and there were several tables and booths in the back corner. It was known as the Uptown Club. Just like Vegas, you got your drinks and food free while you were playing, all served at the table by a beautiful waitress, usually a stripper from one of the Printers Alley clubs, getting in extra work.
The top levels of Nashville society, legal or otherwise, were always there. Of the many I saw were Mickey Kreitner, noted restaurateur, Kermit Stengel, head of Crescent Amusement Company, Joel Vradenburg, who owned or co-owned several Printers Alley clubs, Skull Schulman, who owned the Rainbow Room in Printers Alley, and Jimmy Washer, the owner of the club and the head of Nashvilles gambling community.
Washer was a quiet, smallish, graying man who dressed impeccably if a bit on the ostentatious side. I saw him once, standing in front of Loew’s Vendome Theatre on Church Street, wearing an ankle length camels hair overcoat with two diamond stickpins in his lapels. He had on a Palm Beach white Fedora and was carrying a cane with a silver head on it. The silver was probably genuine. He ran downtown Nashville gambling.
His only competition was the Automobile Business Club, known as the ABC, in Bordeaux. It was owned by Al Alessio and had the same facilities and plush interiors as the Uptown Club. To my knowledge, Washer and Alessio had no wars over their territories or clientele.
Later in the 1960’s, for whatever reason, the Uptown Club was shut down and the building was sold to an entrepreneur, I think Shug Baggott. He gutted the interior and built the first and best Nashville Disco, D’Scene And Zodiac Lounge.
You entered D’Scene on the loading dock through a double door where the roll up door had been. Everyone was ID checked. The first thing you saw was a wall with corridors leading around it on either side. Following those about twenty feet you entered a huge two story room that was an incredible visual experience.Where you entered the room a bar ran the length of the back wall. Down eachside of the room were two more rolling bars spaced evenly so that you were never more than about fifteen feet from a bar. They were about the size of a small home den bar and carried refrigerated bottle beer and enough mix and liquors to service well drinks. In the middle of the room was a lighted one step raised giant disco dance floor. Along the sides of the dance floor and reaching back to the back bar were various small round high tables with stools around each.
Above the back bar and completely glassed in was the Zodiac Lounge, which you reached by a short stairway on either side. It consisted of another room width bar with a go-go girl cage at either end. You could see the girls from the main room or much closer in the Zodiac Lounge.
The Lounge had only the bar and booths along its back wall and was kept dark, presumably for privacy in the booths. You could sit at the bar and watch the proceedings below or the go-go girls or make out in a booth.
All of this would have made D’Scene And Zodiac Lounge a super disco but what made it spectacular were the walls. All of the walls were used as movie screens.Multiple cuts from many movies were always running simultaneously on the walls, from floor to ceiling. In addition, they were partially overlapped, so that you might see scenes from A Clockwork Orange overlapping Casablanca overlapping Gone With The Wind overlapping a Three Stooges cartoon. Erotica, drama, comedy, Disney cartoons, all seemed to be fighting each other for attention. Scarlett was talking to Bogey while a nude scene went on beside them. Bugs Bunny was gaping at Bridget Bardot while she talked to Brando on the other side.
All of this was controlled by a DJ/projectionist booth above the Zodiac Lounge. A DJ played Disco music and monitored the multiple projectors, probably programmed in advance. Sometimes the music playing would be from one of the movies which would make the dancers on the big floor turn toward the movie while they were dancing. Some would try to mimic what was going on in the movie as they danced. Everything about D’Scene was designed to keep you in D’Scene. You wanted to see how a movie you hadn’t seen turned out, even though you really couldn’t see it in its visual entirety. You wanted to watch the dancers or dance. You dug a particular go-go girl or a pickup you were romancing in the Zodiac. It was a spectacular visual, sensual experience. I’m sure many alcoholics got their start trapped in D’Scene And Zodiac Lounge.

 The 101st Airborne

Back in the early ‘80’s, one of the best happy hour, nite life, special occasion places to be was the 101st Airborne out on Murfreesboro Rd. This was in the days of free happy hour food at many bars and 101st really laid out a spread. Sometimes on special days like Cinco De Mayo or St. Patricks day, they’d barbecue a whole pig with all the fixings and you could absolutely pig out, all for free.
Every Friday KDF would do happy hour there with Shannon the DJ as MC. They’d play games like musical chairs or trivia for prizes and interview people with stupid questions on air. One day I was there, doing my best to keep up with the beer they kept putting in front of me, when the manager came out of his hole and said he had a big announcement to make. It was some regulars birthday and he led him out onto the dance floor and sat him down in a chair, supposedly to receive his gifts. His ‘gift’ was a waitress who had formerly worked there. It so happens she left 101st to take a job as a stripper. She proceeded to give the birthday boy a detailed example of her work. He was impressed with her expertise. So was I.
Another time I was sitting at the bar when a guy dressed all in black walked in and stood a few notches down from me. I stress his attire because it was dead in the middle of summer and you didn’t wear black unless you didn’t have sweat glands. And to beat that it was all black leather, with fringe and tassels all over it. I had the fleeting idea that maybe he was a funny boy. But he was also drop dead gorgeous and that would have been a waste to the women.
He kept looking around like he was anticipating meeting somebody. Then, four business girls, dressed up, came in, all giggling and in a party mood, and took a table across the dance floor. When they got their first drink and were joking around with one of their number, it appeared that it was her birthday.
The guy in black suddenly finished his drink, turned to me and said, ‘Time to go to work’, and walked over to the jukebox. He put a quarter in, picked a song, and strode straight over to the table with the four girls. It seems that he was her ‘gift’. All those tassels on his leather outfit were attached to zippers and he knew how to use them. Chippendales would have been jealous. Talk about Deja Nude.
When you weren’t looking at strippers or playing radio games, you could sit out on the patio and watch planes landing or taking off. I once went on that original B29, (or maybe it was a B17), they had sitting out on the grass. They say the original owner of the bar had flown it in when he opened the bar. It was really cramped. Made you appreciate the pilots of WWII. Bet they’d have loved to land it at the 101st.

 Printers Alley, 1950's
posted 6/26/04

The original Rainbow was on 4th Avenue directly above the center of Printers Alley. (Incidentally, the Alley got its name because in early Nashville, all of the printing companies plied their trade there). I went in the Navy in ’55 and when I came back on my first leave about 6 months later, the Rainbow had disappeared and reappeared at the north corner of the Alley as ‘Skulls Rainbow’. The owners before him were unknown to me, probably a consortium of underworld figures, and apparently Skull had acquired the name when he reopened. To digress, the Alley today ends at Skulls. In the ‘50’s it extended across the alley beside Skulls running between 4th and 5th. In the bottom of the building across that alley from Skulls was the ‘Pirates Den’, a dark little plain old bar with a not so plain old 6 foot tall Australian honey named ‘T’ Potter as bartender. She insisted on ‘T’ because her name was Thelma. 'T' had a great Outback. I had a little fling with ‘T’.

Down that part of the alley from the Pirates Den was the original Brass Rail Stables. It was originally an actual stable that was where Andrew Jackson parked his horse whenever he came to Nashville. The booths were actual horse stalls. Thank goodness they’d got rid of the smell. It was one of Nashville's top restaurants then and still is today. All of the clubs in the Alley back then were on the west side. The only thing notable on the other side was an apartment belonging to Jack Norman, Nashville's best and most flamboyant lawyer, who, among his high profile clients, numbered several of the Alley owners. Coming back down the Alley toward Church St, next to Skulls was Jimmy Hyde's Carousel soon to become Boots Randolph's Carousel, where he played when he wasn’t touring or in the studio. If you don’t know who Boots Randolph was then you ain't very much up on music, especially the sax.

Next to the Carousel across a small empty space was a string of clubs all in one building that reached up to 4th Avenue. First was the one club in Nashville that I have partially forgotten. I think it was called the Sundowner, but it was an eclectic little piano bar with a black Tennessee State student named Humphrey tickling the ivories. (You want me to tell you about the ‘50’s I’ll tell you in authentic ‘50’s lingo. Attached and next to the Sundowner was the VooDoo Lounge. It was a small stripper bar about to be run over by Skulls monster club. Next to the VooDoo was the Western Room with a country band of studio musicians and a girl singer, all star wannabes. Between the VooDoo and the Western Room was a hallway that led to a stairwell that led up to the original Rainbow Room, so this whole set of clubs was apparently owned by the same consortium. When the Rainbow folded and the VooDoo faced competition the whole group of clubs in that building were sold to Joel Vradenburg and Nelson Griswold, also known as Nero. Nero owned a very well known bar/restaurant/night club in Green Hills called Nero's Cactus Canyon and Silver Slipper Lounge. I was the day bartender at the Cactus Canyon while I went to night school, so I knew Nero well. He was about 5’4” and roughly 200 pounds and he wore cowboy boots and walked around playing the western role greeting everybody with a ‘Howdy Podnuh, how’s the vittles?” What a phony. But he had the money and he put up the bulk of it, he claimed $250K, to buy the alley bars. Joel Vradenburg was 6’ 9” and roughly 300 pounds of no nonsense, former bouncer and multi bar owner. He was to manage while Nero took care of the business end. What a pair.

They immediately tore out the wall between the VooDoo and the Sundowner and made it into the biggest and best strip club in the alley. They called it the Black Poodle and booked only top notch strippers. Mickey Martin was the feature stripper at the 500 Club at the corner of St. Louis and Bourbon in New Orleans. A trained modern dancer she couldn’t find work and had far too much body to be in a chorus so she turned to stripping. I met her and offered to get her booked into the Black Poodle. She said go for it. Back in Nashville I went to Nero with a bunch of promo pictures of her and negotiated a four week contract for her for $450 a week, almost twice as much as she was getting at the 500 club. She came up. She saved on rent by staying with me. HooBoy! She packed the place. I had more than one patron come up to me when they found out I knew her, saying they’d never seen a stripper who could actually dance. I had a 3 foot diameter round stool/couch covered in leopard skin that she used in her act. She’d dance all around it for a while, stripping on the way, and then end up doing all manner of erotic moves rolling around on that couch. She was a major hit. In the middle of the second week, I went home early one night. She came in a few hours later, hopping mad. It seems that Joel and Nero had invited her into the office after work and just raved about her work. Said they hadn’t seen the place so packed ever and they’d like to extend her contract. There was just one little detail to be worked out. They said, practically in unison, ‘Do you like ‘em big and fat or little and fat!” There wasn’t much doubt what they were talking about. She quit on the spot and came home to me. The next morning she headed back to New Orleans. I never saw her again. What a pity.

That’s the way the Alley worked. You had your dirty old men at the top also. Skull would never have done anything like that. Later I saw an article about some guy who handled all of the stripper bookings for the Alley. I’m sure he didn’t do anything different from me, he just had more contacts and got a percentage. I didn’t.

Around that period of time, the Brass Rail Stables burned. It was reopened next door to the Western Room by Mickey Kreitner another Alley entrepreneur who had several high class eating places in the vicinity, most notably The Captains Table. The new Brass Rail didn’t have the stalls or any of the original décor, just the name. He kept up the top notch menu, though. It’s still there today as are the Poodle, the Western Room, Boots Randolph's Carousel and Skulls Rainbow. They have added clubs on the east side where Jack Normans apartment was, among them the Bourbon St Boogie and Blues Bar, undoubtedly a franchise from the one in New Orleans. But the old Alley was the best.

Printers Alley Update

I hadn't been down to the Alley in years when I wrote that piece, so I decided to go down and have a look. None of the clubs in the Alley are the same now except the Western Room. The Carousel is now the Bourbon St Boogie and Blues Bar. The Black Poodle is no more. Skulls Rainbow is gone. The Brass Rail Stables that burned and was replaced by the Brass Rail is now the Brass Stables, a strip joint. The Alley has succumbed to a fact of economic life I used to notice on many trips to New Orleans. If it don't work, change it. A rich history doesn't make the cash register ring. Let's turn up a glass to the old Printers Alley. It's preserved now only in our collective memories. Alas.


Downtown Nashville in the ‘50’s

Well, now, that was a different world from today, but probably the same as most cities then. I could ride my bicycle downtown and park it on 7th Avenue behind Candyland in an alley, unlocked, and expect it to be there when I got back. I could walk down the street without any fear of some gang approaching me with mayhem on their minds. There were groups of guys who hung out together but they didn’t think of themselves as ‘gangs’. That was reserved for New York, Chicago, LA. Strictly a big city phenomenon. I could go into Hershels Tic Toc, just past Candyland, the absolute center of the race riots a few years later, and get 6 Krystal sized hamburgers for 60 cents, the same ones that cost you 60 cents apiece today, or more. A coke was a dime, most big hamburgers a quarter, any good sized meal 2 to 3 bucks.
I also could go into a bar, any bar, and get a beer, at 14. I looked old for my age, plus nobody checked Ids. Anybody could fake an ID. Eighteen was the legal age at that time.

I bowled in a mixed league at Nashvilles first bowling alley, the Nashville Recreation Center, in the basement of a building on the corner of 8th and Church. One of my team members was a 23 year old honey named Janeen. We dated. I grew up fast. There was a sporting goods store next to the building the bowling alley was in called Roy Nowlins Sporting Goods. It was a whorehouse, so they say, never raided. I racked balls for Willie Mosconi, if you recall the name, at a match at the Arcade Alley Poolroom, one alley up from Printers Alley. He beat Jimmy Vester, a local hotshot, 150 to about 70.
I bowled agains’t the Budweisers, the greatest bowling team in history, and wore Don Carters shirt into a bar after the match. He gave it to me because I didn’t have one with a collar, which was required.
The point of these last two examples is that a giant in a sport could come to town and not get mobbed. The media consisted of the newspaper and the radio. TV was young and still thought of as more of a novelty, not the all-consuming Big Eye it is today.

Overall, there was a general attitude of trust. If somebody said they were something, they were. People didn’t lie like they do today. Con men were around but few and far between. People dressed more formally then. When you walked down Church St. most of the men would be in a suit or at least a coat. They’d have bought it at Levys or Davitts on 6th Avenue. Most of the women would be in a nice dress. They’d have got it at Loveman’s or Alans or Kleins on 5th. I went to high school with Emily Loveman and Jerry Klein, the heirs to those stores. There weren’t many casual dressers out in public and no one wore blue jeans. They weren’t invented. Denim was for overalls. If a woman was seen in shorts she was thought ‘loose’. If a man was he was thought to be a fruit, or a nut. My dress-up for dances or formal dates was a pair of sky blue pegged pants, a pink shirt with french cuffs, and a pair of blue suede shoes, (believe it or not). I wore a Harvard hair cut. That was a crew cut top with long hair on the sides combed back into a ducktail. Sideburns were obligatory. Elvis didn’t invent them. We did.

Kids had neighborhood ‘hangouts’, usually drug stores or sweet shops, or poolrooms. The perfect one was the Sweet Shoppe on 21st in Hillsboro Village, because the Twentieth Century Poolroom was upstairs. You could be ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’ in the same building. As an aside, Little Nick, fresh back from the Inchon Resorvoir in Korea, ran 20th Century and could be talked into an occasional game of Keno. Oh, Where Are You, Tommy Cranch or Bunny Appleton?

Downtown, the main hangout was Candyland at the corner of 7th and Church. It was literally a ‘dessert’ store. Ice cream, cakes, pies, and all manner of sweets was all they sold, so it was always full of kids.
I had a high school friend who acquired a Vanderbilt lettermans sweater, black with a big gold ‘V’ on the front. He used to go down to Candyland, stand on the corner and wait for a honey to pass. When one came along, he’d say, in a deep voice, ‘Hey, baby, you go to Vandy?’ I can’t say that this was a very effective opening line but he kept at it. He’d get a lot of giggles and an occasional disbelieving ‘No, Do you?’ Nobody thought of this type of activity as ‘hitting on’ someone. No harassment lawsuits followed. Most of the girls took it as a compliment and some even stopped to talk to him. What do they call that; ‘a more innocent time’. Too bad it’s gone.

The ‘high class’ portion of Church St. ran from 4th to 8th. The further you went down the street toward the river, the lower the class of people and establishments. At 2nd, you dropped off the planet. Nobody had any business down there unless they had a business there. Today 2nd Avenue is a renovated entertainment street full of bars. It’s the ‘in’ place.

There were several churches downtown, which was the reason for the main streets name. The Downtown Presbyterian Church was on the corner of 5th and Church next to the Princess Theater and McKendree Methodist Church was next to the Tennessee Theater which accounts for the fact that neither of those movie houses showed risque movies. They’re still there. They outlasted the movies.

There were very few blacks strolling around Church St. They had their section of town, along Jefferson St. and they stayed there. Their only presence was caused by economics. The Paramount and Loews Theaters had sought their business but only in segregated balconies as I said before. This was what caused such an uproar during the sit-ins at Woolworths lunch counter and Hershels Tic Toc a few years later. They were allowed to come in some of the higher class restaurants because the people that ate there knew their presence would only be temporary. They couldn’t afford to eat there on a regular basis. The folks at Woolworths and Herschels knew that blacks could afford to eat there every day, so they were rabid about keeping them out.
If you went shopping in Nashville in the ‘50’s, you went downtown. There were no shopping malls in the suburbs. There were no suburbs. When you left the city limits you were in the country. Urban sprawl hadn’t been invented.

The three main department stores in Nashville were all on Church St. Castner Knott was across the street from Candyland and was mostly for working class folk. Cain Sloan was at the corner of 4th and was for a more upscale shopper. Harveys took up the whole block, opposite Cain Sloan, from 4th to 5th, and was for everybody. Harveys became a Nashville institution. It introduced the escalator to Nashville. It had a kids play area upstairs with monkey bars and the like that essentially acted as one of the first day cares while parents were shopping. There’s a whole section on Harveys over on Chip's Nashville Memories site so I won’t waste time on it here. If you ate downtown, aside from lunch counters and Hershels the best places were up 6th Ave. The B&W Cafeteria had a walk through line of home cooked foods of all kinds. Across the street was Cross Keys, a more dress up and sit down kind of place.

Up Church St. between 8th and 9th was Varallo’s, first opened in 1907, a Nashville landmark still there today. His 3 way chili was sold at grocery stores and I used to stuff on his Tamales.
Down on 8th was Zager’s delicatessen, straight off a New York street corner with everything ethnic you could handle. There was another one (I forget the name) down on 4th.
Just down the block from the original Rainbow Room was the Arcade. It was an enclosed walk thru between 4th and 5th with every kind of business under the sun in it. It had a Walgreens at one end with a popcorn machine out on the sidewalk. A box cost a dime. You could smell the PopsRite popcorn all up and down 5th Avenue. My father was the accountant for the owner of PopsRite. Then there were shoe stores, a pawn shop, jewelry stores, small specialty clothing stores, a bank, several quick food shops, a small grocery, a barber shop, and a peanut store, among many other businesses running its one block length. It was and is Nashville in miniature, still there today.
Halfway through, a guy or girl, dressed as a Planters Peanut, stood out on the promenade and handed out spoonfuls of peanuts to anybody who wanted some.
Right beside the Mr. Peanut Man store was the Arcade Alley, lesser known than Printers Alley but full of its own entertainment. I have a writeup about it on my page so I’ll save time here, except to say that another of the better restaurants, The Copper Kettle, was in Arcade Alley.
Overall, there were less traffic jams and smaller crowds because there were only half the people and less than half the cars. Nashville had about 150,000 people, now its over half a million. The roads were clearer because there were less 2 and 3 and 4 car families. Most families had a family car, period. Kids got rides or had a bicycle, or took over the family car.
My mother used to take me to Melrose Bowling Alley to bowl in a league. Then one time daddy came along to pick me up, (he didn’t drive), and when he didn’t find me upstairs, he came downstairs to the Melrose Pool Room and there I was. I found out that day that he had once been one of Nashvilles, and the countries, best pool players. He had given it up when he married my mother.
Nashville in the ‘50’s. Would that we all could live it again.

About the author:

A 50+ year Nashville or surroundings resident, he was part of a major Nashville memory, the West High Class of ’54. He has been a manufacturing supervisor, songwriter, systems programmer, house painter, pool hustler, video game producer, bartender, restaurant owner, farmer, pro bowler, record company owner, poet, athlete and, currently, undiscovered classic novelist.
BA in Social Studies, MA in Economics, PhD in variety. Currently lives in Clarksville. You can find more of his writings @

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