Louann’s – Part 2
Interviews by Paul Heckmann, Executive Director, Memories Inc.
If you missed Louann’s Part 1, be sure to check it out at https://memoriesofdallas.org/louanns1/
Micheal “Mike” Martinkus
Son of Anton Martinkus and nephew of Ann Bovis
Paul: Tell me about ‘growing up Louann’s
Mike: I guess you have to start with tragedy. We had 2 sisters that died before any of the rest of us were born. It was during World War II and my dad was off in the Army. My mother lived in a house behind the original club that was on Louann’s property. The house caught fire and burned with my sisters Tony (4) and Judy (2) inside. I never could get much of the story out of any of the elders about that tragedy. I guess it was just too painful to talk about. Nothing that could happen to you in your lifetime could come close to the anguish of losing a little child like that, nothing.
Paul: And the area you grew up in?
Mike: Before Medallion or anything else was built around Abrams and Northwest Hwy, my brother Pat, me and my cousins used to ride horses there. My Aunt Ann owned a lot of the land in that area as did the Caruths. They lived at the end of what is now Lovers Lane. Back then that part of Lovers was called ‘Anthony Lane’. She and my uncle Lou built about 10 houses there and would only rent them to returning WWII armed service members who had, or were expecting, a child.
There was a Cabell’s Mart on the east side Abrams at Lontos. There was a funeral home on the south side of Northwest Hwy about where Shakey’s Pizza was later built. I believe it was “Crane Funeral Home”. As a kid I have a recollection of this rickety one lane bridge that had a slight turn in it that I think was on Abrams just north of Northwest Highway.
Paul: What do you remember about the Lou and Ann?
Aunt Ann and Uncle Lou started Louann’s in 1940 and kept it going until about around 1970. Uncle Lou died in 1950, so most of the growth of the night club was due to Aunt Ann’s enterprise.
Lou and Ann had 4 children; Chelle, Tony who are still with us – and Phillip and Louis who are deceased.
Paul: And the club?
Mike: The club was on the SE corner of Lovers and Greenville. The Roma Motel was eventually diagonally across the intersection, there was a liquor store just south of the club on the same side of Greenville. A pizza kitchen called “To-Go” was opened on the Lovers Lane side and was operated mostly by cousin Phillip.
Across the street was a “Pitch-and-Put” golf. Lee Trevino worked there and Phil and my brother Pat would sneak over there when they were supposed to be selling pizza and play golf with Lee. Lee played against them using a Dr Pepper bottle as a club and still beat them!
Also across the road was a stable and boarding for horses. Of course that was all just open fields around there then until you got down to Abrams Rd. There might very well have been other stables on Greenville Ave. Aunt Ann had her own stable with horses, corral and lots of room to ride.
She talked to The Colonel once about booking Elvis in the late ’50’s but he wanted too much money. Same thing with the Beatles. She had Lawrence Welk there one New Years Eve and said she thought she had about 6,000 customers that night. She booked about every big band there was at the time like Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Gene Crupa, Harry James – big band was before my time. I was born in ’48. I remember seeing The Turtles, Jimmy Reed and Ray Price.
Paul: And didn’t your dad work for Louann’s?
Mike: My dad worked for Louann’s for a while. He was there when they built it and started it up but also worked at Ed Maher Ford, downtown on Harwood. He would work some Sundays when the dealership was closed and took me and Pat downtown with him. We would wander the streets looking for mischief. We climbed the unfinished Sheratan and Southland Life buildings. Pat broke his arm sliding down the strip between the escalators going to the basement of one of them. It’s a miracle we are alive.
Paul: I talked to your brother Pat more about your dad. Do you remember what happened to your Aunt Ann after she left?
When Ann sold Louann’s, she moved up to her “Farm” at Pilot Point. Phil moved up there also. She had a driller come in to drill a water well for her but he hit gas instead. She was ticked off, said she needed water not gas. They came in and put up a derrick with the mud pond for drill mud and my cousin Louie promptly drove Ann’s bulldozer into it up to the seat!
Mike: Ann is buried up at Calvary Hill Cemetery with the rest of my family including my 2 sisters.
Paul: Thanks for you time Mike. The interview with your brother Pat will be in Louann’s Part 3
Broadcast Engineer and Camera & Audio Operator for three years at CBS, Ch 11 KTVT and twentyseven years at FOX, Ch 4 KDFW in Dallas, Texas, also voice of Big Tex at the State Fair and the son of Marvin Bragg who worked at Louann’s for over two decades
Paul: Hey Bill, glad to finally get together with you. Can you tell me a little bit about where you are from and where you grew up?
Bill: Oh, I was born in Dallas in 1946. Went Vickery Elementary, then Benjamin Franklin Middle School and then Hillcrest High School. I went to college in Garland for one year but that didn’t take
Paul: And I understand your dad Marvin, worked at Texas’s first superclub, Louann’s.
Bill: Oh, my daddy worked there for about 20 years part time. When he first started working there, Louann’s was way out of town, wasn’t even part of Dallas back then. He worked for a drug company full time. He bartended there, took tickets, pretty much whatever Ann asked him to do. We got to know the Bovis’s pretty well. I got to know Tony. I used to go over to the Bovis’s house and go swimming. That’s where I learned how to swim, that was over around Abrams and Lontos area.
Paul: And you worked there too, didn’t you?
Bill: I used to do all sorts of stuff there, usually cleaning tables and picking up bottles. I remember Guy Lombardo was there one night when I guess I was about 10 years old or so. They had a special table for him and his crew. So Mrs. Bovis had me selling popcorn. I go up to his table, it’s all dark inside so I didn’t see who it was.
Anyway I ask him if he would like to buy some popcorn. And he says ‘Son, I will make you a deal. My wife and I wanted to go dancing, but the ladies don’t want to leave their purses. If you will stay here and watch the purses, I’ll buy all the g** d*** popcorn you got!’
So I did – and he did!
I saw Bruce Channel one night. He tried to date my cousin. He had that song “Hey Baby”.
Another night Roy Orbison was there, and he was signing autographs. So I was over there cleaning tables, picking up beer bottles and so on. He got real busy and couldn’t get to me but says ‘Hold on a minute and I’ll get you an autograph.’ I got busy cleaning and by the time I got back, he was gone. And he never came back.
Paul: Who were some of the other folk that you remember seeing there?
Bill: Oh gosh, Trini Lopez was a favorite. My mom had hired him for the “Round Up” program for her work as Secretary to several Bishops. So I got to know him pretty well and when he came to Louann’s, I spent a lot of time backstage with him.
I remember Harry James, Ray Anthony and most of those big band guys. I had pretty much moved on by the time the rock bands came around, but Daddy still worked there so I heard the stories about Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart and the rest of those guys.
I do remember The Chessmen with Jimmy Vaughn.
Paul: How about other employees?
Bill: There was Marty, Ann’s brother. He kinda ran the floor. And Nonnie, she was the head waitress. She was Ann’s buddy and best friend. And Clara, she was the cook. My Aunt Helen worked there as a waitress, she was my dad’s youngest sister, Helen Dolinger.
Paul: Tell me a little about working as ‘Big Tex’ at the State Fair.
Bill: I had a great time. I worked there 13 years as the voice of ‘Big Tex’. (in his Big Tex voice) “Howdy there folks! Big Tex is mighty proud to see all you folks down yonder. I just wanted to make sure that every last one of ya is having a really great time, and a really safe time while you are here.” I even have a 12 statue of Big Tex in my living room. They had a 50th birthday and they had a parade there and one of the floats had this massive statue of Big Tex. So the Fair was closing and I was on the horn “Goodbye folks, Y’all come back now”. So everyone is pretty much gone, I close down Big Tex and go out on and see some of the carnies that I was friends with.
So I look over and in the dumpster was this huge Big Tex statue that they were going to throw away. So I see Ray Landis who kinda ran the whole fair ground and he says they are throwing it away but I can have it if I want it. So I load it up and it still sits in my living room!
Bill: By the way, I have an audio file I think you will like. I made it back in the 90’s when my dad was still alive. It was a ‘Journey back in time to 1950 with Guy Lombardo on New Year’s Eve’. (will post that audio file as soon as it arrives)
Paul: Thank you Bill. And in my best Big Tex voice “Thanks Bill, ya’ll come back now!”
Excerpts from an interview with Carter Buschardt of The Nobelmen, Nighthog, The Wolverines, Rosco, Freddie King’s band and Krackerjack
Paul: And tell me about your Louann’s experience
Carter: I never played in a band up there, but I did go. I was too young to get in, but we all did. Ann was a tough gal and she knew she was letting kids in, but she kept them off the street and their parents appreciated that.
First time I ever went to Louann’s was Jeff Beck in 1968. A friends brother had tickets but couldn’t we were pumped. The British Invasion had taken me by storm. I don’t remember the sound being that good from the speakers but it didn’t matter. It was Jeff Beck. And Rod Stewart.
And that’s where I met Lou Bovis. I played in a band with him for about 3-4 years. He was Lou and Ann’s son.
I remember they had some ‘Battle of the Bands’ there but by the time I was in a band, we were booked at The Studio Club most of the time.
Paul: What else do you remember?
Carter: Oh, the back of the club was all open. Everybody went back there to smoke, not the cigarettes either. And also to dance.
Paul: Why wouldn’t they dance inside?
Carter: Ann wouldn’t let folks do certain dances inside. Anything that was bump-and-grind or otherwise too close, she would be out there on the floor pushing you apart so they would go out back.
She would even tell the bands to quit playing certain songs. There were certain songs she was appalled at. Every once in while you would hear, ‘Sorry but due to Management, we can’t play this tune’ and they would move on.
Jerry was the lead guitar for Kenny and the Kasuals and co-wrote their top hit. He is currently with The Legendary Woo Brothers
Excerpts from an upcoming article:
Paul: Mark Lee and you wrote a song together, didn’t you?
Jerry: Yes. He was the co-writer of “Journey to Tyme”. I wrote the music and we collaborated on the lyrics. It was the only song he and I wrote together. We actually wrote it at ‘The Studio Club’. He and I went up to the balcony and wrote it while the rest of the band was downstairs getting their stuff together to rehearse.
We really loved playing at the Studio Club. I think we were playing there 2 or 3 times a month. The acoustics were great. It was like playing in a movie theater, there was a big stage with balconies on the side with a dance floor up front and tables underneath the balcony.
And we opened for the Yardbirds there.
Paul: That’s amazing! Those guys are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Jerry: Jimmy Page was with them then. We opened and played a full set, then they played a set, then we did our second and they finished up
Jerry: We also opened for the Turtles at Louann’s. I think we played in the big room that night. We also played the smaller room quite a bit. It was huge place. Lots of great bands would play there including several folks we knew.
We were good friends with The Chessman who would play there all the time. Kenny and I were buddies with Jimmy Vaughn who was with them then. We would go over to Jimmy’s house and there would be Stevie, a little gawky kid (with a laugh) hanging around. We would say ‘Hey Stevie’ just kidding around and pick on him a little. You know, big brother-little brother stuff and we were big brother’s friends. But he was a good kid.
Kirby St. Romain
Kirby was a longtime employee of Ann Bovis, working both as the house-band backing up the name acts, and returning later as part of the group ‘The Expressions’
Paul: You and I have known each other for way too dang long!
Kirby: We are old!
Paul: Tell about your rock and roll childhood.
Kirby: I started playing and singing while I was still in High School at Thomas Jefferson with Forest Murphy and Eddie Wurst back in the garage band stage of my life. Not sure if you would actually call it a garage band as Forest’s mom let us play inside the house.
The name of our first band was the Road Runners. I kinda stumbled into it. The old Yellow Belly drag-strip had a Battle of the Bands. They knew I had been singing for a while, and I was the only one that knew the words to the Chuck Berry songs. None of the other guys wanted to sing…or could. That’s how I got started – started singing because no one else wanted the job.
Paul: Did you have any choir or music experience?
Kirby: Not really. I took piano back at Catholic School as a kid, but I decided that piano wasn’t cool. So instead, I got a trombone. I guess it was kinda like Music Man. The guy comes into town with his trombone and all the kids follow behind. Well, the trombone thing didn’t work out like it did for Robert Preston. And I wasn’t taking lessons, so if just kinda fizzled out, meanwhile my little brother Michael had got himself a guitar. The folks had got him a Silvertone electric guitar from Sears. And they bought me a snare drum.
After a while I got tired of the snare drum too, so I picked up Micheal’s guitar and started playing it. And then ran into a couple of guys at TJ that played guitar too. One of them had this Fender guitar. I had never heard of them. That’s gotta tell ya something.
Anyway we would just kinda hang around, listen to old Jimmy Reed records and try to figure out what he had been playing. Chords, where to go, where to go… that’s how ‘The Roadrunners’ got started.
I was playing with The Roadrunnners at some school and they had a special guest, Scotty McKay. And we backed him up. After the gig, he came over and asked me if I wanted to play a job with him. I thought he was asking about the whole band. He wasn’t. To make a long story short, I had borrowed money from my dad to buy a bass guitar as we didn’t have a bass in the band. And I was quite literally new to it, but Scotty liked the way I played and ended up leaving the band and playing with Scotty for a long time.
As a matter of fact Scotty is the one who got me into the recording studio to do my own stuff. It turned out to be “Summers Coming” which I wrote in the back seat of his car on the way to the studio. We already recorded the A side of the record with a tune called ‘Walk On’ and needed a B for the release. Two DJs from KLIF heard it, Chuck Dunaway and Bill Enis and they played it for Diamond Records in NYC and they agreed to distribute it. Made it to the Top 50 that year. The next time I walked into KLIF, they said ‘You want to be on American Bandstand in Philadelphia?’ I says ‘sure, I guess…’ So I went on the Dick Clark tours.
After all that was over, I decided to go back to school at North Texas State. To make money, I worked on the weekends at Louann’s. It was the ‘Kirby St. Romain Band’ – we were kinda the house-band for a few years.
You know people would ask me all the time how Ann could get all these stars to come to Louann’s. Well, she would get them in the middle of the week which was normally a down time for them, and very inexpensive. And she would only book the star, then she would call me and my band would come back them up so they didst have the bring their own band.
One night she brings in Chuck Berry. Well, we normally had a rehearsal or two. Not with Chuck. He says ‘when I stomp my foot, we are starting and when I stomp it again, the song’s over’. So we get up on stage, Chuck didn’t bring his own amp so he looks around for one, see’s my bass amp is the biggest so he goes over, plugs in, turns all the dials up full and starts playing! Nearly destroyed my bass amp – bass is not really compatible playing the same time as lead guitar.
Paul: Who were some of the other folks you played with at Louann’s?
Kirby: Oh man, there were a bunch, we backed up Ike and Tina Turner, The Coasters, The Drifters, folks like that. Ann would get so many of the acts on their off days for a really good price. It was really smart of her to fly in only the headliners. She was a sharp gal.
Paul: Tell me about Ann.
Kirby: Oh yes, she was really fond of me because I was going to college. She had a lot of respect for that. And I was working for her on the weekends and whenever else she needed me. Anytime I would show up, she would take me back in the kitchen and fix me something to eat. She was really something.
Paul: Its quite interesting for Ann to have been so successful after Lou died. She ran the club by herself for nearly two decades.
Kirby: She was really a tough old bird, she didn’t take any crap from anybody. She could wheel and deal with the best of them.
Paul: And the rest of her family?
Kirby: I knew Chelle. Great gal. I ran into her years later when I was working on the cruise ships and she was a passenger. She slid a note under my door to let me know she was onboard. It had to be twenty years since the last time I saw her. And I knew Tony, her son.
My guitar player back in the Louann’s days was Bobby Rambo. Bobby was always sniffing around Chelle. Between sets Chelle was the DJ, playing records to keep the crowd going. Bobby would be over there hitting on her. And momma-bear Ann did not like that! She would go over and break that up before anything got going.
Paul: What kind of money were you making at Louann’s?
Kirby: Oh, it wasn’t great, probably $100 for Saturday and Sunday but it was a lot for back then. Ann would come by at the end of the night with an envelope full of cash to pay the guys. We’d divvy it up and that was that.
Meanwhile I was doing a bunch of recording at Bob Kelly’s studio, he was a DJ at WRR radio. He’d call me and I would come by and we would record. Bob, Jay Linsey, Jerry Brown and Frank Cole were starting this vocal group called The Expressions, which would be about 1964. They were purely vocal and would go to various clubs and play with whomever the house bands were to back them up.
They signed with Nat Goodman who also managed a group called The Diamonds. He told The Expressions that they were not going to be able to play Las Vegas unless they played their own instruments like The Diamonds. That was okay but they didn’t have a drummer. So I see Bob Kelly at the Palace Theater one night and he says ‘I’ve seen you mess around with the drums at the studio before. You think you learn how to play your drums good enough to go on the road with us?’
I says ‘Well, sure.’ You know I did! So I spent some time learning how to play the drums but still working with my group at Louann’s.
Paul: So tell me about leaving Louann’s and the Kirby St. Romain Band.
Kirby: Well, just after the club closed for the night back in the summer of 65, I got all the guys together and told them that I was leaving the band to go on the road with The Expressions. All of them had other jobs to go back to expect for Bobby Rambo. Of course he went on to be one of the great guitar players of all time. He was nominated for a bunch of Grammies and ended playing with folks like Jerry Lee Lewis, The Five Americans, Carol King, Ronnie Dawson, Jerry Jeff Walker, B.W. Stevenson and folks like that.
Bobby is still playing. Every once in a while we have a revival of The Expressions and Bobby will show up for that. We usually do it in a little placed tucked way away called the The Pocket Sandwich Theater.
Paul: And then the Expressions
Kirby: I joined The Expressions in 1965 at a club in Oklahoma City. At the same time, I was just graduating from college. And the night I graduated from college, I wasn’t there, I was onstage in Phoenix, Arizona at the Playboy Club because we had already gone on the road. I felt kinda bad for my mom and dad as they didn’t get to see me graduate, that really bugged me for a long time.
Anyway unlike a lot of folk at North Texas, I wasn’t into music there. You were really considered an elite musician if you went there for music. I got my degree in ‘radio and TV broadcasting and communications’. And I never got a job in the Radio and TV. Not a single one. It was music all the way for me.
So we crisscrossed the country. It wasn’t like now with the big motor-homes. You pretty much loaded everything into whomever’s car was biggest, hooked up a trailer and took off. No roadies, just doing whatever was necessary.
Paul: So tell me more about coming back to Dallas
Kirby: Oh man, we were really popular in Dallas. They loved us at The Loser’s Club there on Mockingbird. We used to pack that place. I still have the second hand smoke to prove it. I still have clothes to prove it. Back in those days you could smoke in the clubs and it was like playing in a dense fog.
We played Louann’s quite a bit too until Ann sold it. I really loved my time there. Ann was the best.
I was with the Expressions for 10 years. In January of 1976 I left the group. It began a hard time for me, I learned the hard way ‘you don’t leave one job without another one in the wings’.
Paul: So was that when you started doing stand up comedy?
Kirby: Well, I had been doing some with all my bands, but it’s a whole different world when you get up there by yourself without a group of guys backing you up. Just you, the microphone and room full of people. I literally had to re-learn how to preform as a entertainer as a solo act. I ended up moving to Reno, Nevada where I got a job as an Entertainment Director for one of the hotels, the Riverside Hotel. It turned out to be a job in name only. A lady named Jessie Beck was the owner. She kept trying to move me to the front desk, she said I would be much better there…
So I left there and did a bunch of menial jobs. One of them was being a bartender at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor. One day this big guy walks in and says ‘I’m looking for Kirby St. Romain’. It turned out to be Donnie Brooks, had a #1 hit in 1960 called ‘Mission Bell’. So I started to work for him in Reno. Then he would call me for work in Los Angeles and would fly me in. He hooked me up with different agents, so I started doing even bigger shows like Johnny Cash, Jimmy Rogers, Red Skelton, it turned out to be quite amazing.
Then I started working on the cruise ships, 1983. It was a total disaster, it was a brand new ship, the New Amsterdam for Holland America and it was already falling apart. That nearly kept me off cruise ships forever. Anyway a couple of years later I had moved to LA as that’s where most of the work was and was working at the Elks Club in Long Beach. An agent there said ‘I’ve got these the little ships that make runs to from San Pedro down to Ensenada on 3 and 4 day cruises. So I decided to give it one more shot and had a blast. And then they bought this new ship, The Stardancer, so I ended up splitting my time between them
Paul: And of course that is where we met. I was Chief Purser on the Stardancer when you were headliner.
Kirby: Oh yes. Those were the days.
Paul: Charlie Dawson and Mike Moloney. And the bands like Garnett Morse and Dayle St. Dennis, Bill Doyle and all those singers whose names escape me right now. Ben Decker doing his best to juggle while the ship was going hard from port to starboard. Absolutely my favorite ship with a great itinerary.
Kirby: Oh yes, all my friends . Lots of nights in Stanley’s Pub after my sets were over.
I loved going to all the places on the cruise ships that I probably never would have gone if not working on this ships. And remember the Stardancer also had the basketball court down in the hold.
Paul: Oh yes. We could carry 100 full size RVs to go with 1,000 passengers. It was amazing.
And you are still working after all these years. Quite remarkable my friend. Thanks so much for your time. And as always, it’s been a blast!
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