Drive-Ins, Rodeos and Strip Clubs with midget tossing …Early Country Music Venues

Art by Stan Hitchcock

We, who were living the Classic Country dream, in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, learned, early on, to sing our songs, play our music and do our entertaining, under extreme, and often, very unusual circumstances. Shoot, we didn’t care, we just wanted to do our shows, hit the road and go do another one somewhere else.

It didn’t seem so strange to be standing on the top of the projection booth, at a drive in theater in the middle of Illinois, in March, 1964, cold wind blowing across the parked cars, a semi-frozen drizzle coating all of us with a thin sheet of ice, playing our old country songs to the cars. Windows rolled up, heaters going full blast, just the front window cracked to let the little drive in speaker stay hooked to it, windshield wipers providing the beat for the drummer, and when the song was finished….horns honking in a crescendo of appreciation. The Wilburn Brothers, Loretta Lynn, Harold Morrison for comedy, me, for my little country songs….all on the roof of that building, using a ladder to get to the top, fire of electric current popping out of the mikes when you got too close…freezing our country butts off, but glad to be there, even though we could not see one face behind the wet windshields, but doing our gig like big boys and girl. Fun times in the country.

Bobby Lord told me of the time, in the early 60’s, that he was booked to play a Rodeo in Oklahoma. He and the band arrived and the promoter showed them to the stage….a flat bed farm wagon, hooked up behind a John Deere tractor. The musicians that Bobby had brought from Nashville, including Hal Rugg on steel, started setting up their equipment as best they could, and got ready to play. When it was show time, the announcer said, “And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, all the way from Nashville, Tennessee and The Grand Ole Opry, The Bobby Lord Show!!!” The tractor, which had been idling, getting ready, lurched forward, and started across the bumpy surface of the Rodeo arena. If you can imagine the consternation of these fine pickers, trying to hold on to all their equipment, and Bobby trying not to fall off the wagon and mess up his stage suit by landing in some Bull crap, about like trying to ride a trampoline…when the tractor reached the approximate center of the arena, it jerked to a sudden stop…sending everyone to the very edge of the wagon, holding still to their precious instruments and amps, with a double hundred foot orange extension cord trailing behind. Now friends, that is show biz at it’s very best. Hal told me he never did get his steel in tune during the show, and then, after the last song, they had to make the return journey.

I was playing a show at the Imperial Room, in Tampa, Florida in 1970, the premiere show place in the whole region. The Imperial Room had a huge dance floor, all in front of the stage, and the Florida folks did like to dance to country music. It was a Saturday night, and although I did not know it at the time, Saturday nights were big for Professional Wrestling in Tampa. I had already done two shows and was into my third and last set at Midnight, singing my latest record, I looked to the back of the lounge and saw a group of men coming in….not just regular size men…huge men…big old hairy muscle bound brutes, followed by little bitty old hairy muscle bound midgets. The crowd, who were dancing to my song, saw them coming and kinda parted like the Red Sea for Moses. I kept singing….they kept coming…lining up on either side of the dance floor….big old brutes kinda swinging to the beat of the music….and then they proceeded to do something I had only heard about….Midget Tossing. A big guy would pick up one of the little people…swing him back and forth a few times to get the feel of it…and then, to the beat of my song….throw the little fellows all the way across the dance floor to the waiting wrestlers on the other side, who would catch them as easily as catching a baby bird falling out of the nest. Every time the song would come to the end….they would holler for more, and throw another little fellow across the room. Finally, after about 20 minutes of the same song, and 20 minutes of Midget Tossing, they gathered themselves up and quietly walked out the door. That pretty well did it for our show…who could follow that act? Midget Tossing, Hitchcock music doing the soundtrack, just another night in Classic Country Music.

Then there was the one night in Kansas City, at Genova’s Chestrnut Inn, where all the Opry Acts worked on Weekends for years….I was booked there on a night when Mr. Genova decided to try something new….Country Music and STRIPPERS! At the end of my first set…as the steel guitar was hitting the last lonesome chord…the Dressing Room door burst open and out ran four semi-naked ladies, swirling and gyrating, twirling little tassels on their almost naked breasts…causing the good Classic Country audience to gasp in surprise..and many of them to head for the Exits..including my old Uncle Clifford and his then girlfriend, Ida, who was the Church Secretary at the Assembly Of God Church. I like to have never lived that little Show down. stan

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