An Entertainment Foreclosure……#136 (the 70’s)

The Traditions left to right – Jack Hughes, Jerry Cooper. Jerry Connell down front – Gary Willson

.   It wasn’t a surprise when Eddy and Debbie approached Gary,  the  drummer and his vocal attraction wife deciding to expand their life in another direction giving notice, the two were no longer interested in remaining with the band.  Gary once again finding himself in search of envoys of music to fill the void with their departure.    A chance  introduction to  Jerry Cooper, a rhythm guitar playing vocalist and his drummer Jack Hughes, discovering they were in a  similar situation, looking for replacements  for their band.   Gary arranging to meet with Cooper at his day job as a T-Fal product pitchman at JC Penny’s in Crossroads Mall.

.   The pianist observing as Jerry demonstrated the attributes of the product in the housewares department, finally  taking a break,  the two concluding a possible union between the  bands would satisfy both group’s needs.  Cooper having  appropriated a band name , “Jerry Cooper and The Nite Beats”,  changing the names spelling from the once local Oklahoma City renown group  “The Night Beats”,  which had digress to Dallas in 1964.  It was readily apparent that Cooper hope to exploit the Night Beats  past reputation.  The meeting concluding,  a conditional decision being agreed upon, Gary insisting the Night Beats name be dropped, agreeing to  “Jerry Cooper and  The Traditions”.   The Norman Oklahoma Holiday Inn club owner Mitch somewhat disappointed with the departure of Debby and Eddie, but having no alternative but to go along with the change.  Gary could sense a wait and see attitude from Mitch, pondering whether or not the band would continue.

.   During an evening performance a very familiar person entered,  Jan Lawhon,  accompanied by her companion Mickey Rogers,  Gary having been introduced to  Mickey when playing with Jerry Connell at the Uptown Club.   Seated with the couple, the conversation wasn’t just a social call,   but more like a business one.  Jan relating that her and Mickey might be interested in hiring the band, Mickey having  procured the lease of a Night Club in the City.

.   Gary was somewhat taken back with Jan’s willingness to return to the bandstand, but with their years of  musical affiliation  at the Pirates Cove,  at least they would have an established repertoire.  The couple making an offer to hire the band,  the only immediate drawback was instituting an agreement was with Jerry Cooper’s ego,  Cooper accustomed to having his name highlighted.  Gary discussing the opportunity with the others.  Cooper, Connell and drummer Hughes agreeing to make the move.  The only concern being  it would be three weeks before the club would be ready to open,  and Mitch would have to be given notice, knowing that he wouldn’t be too willing to let them remain when he found a replacement.

.   Jan and Mickey having secured the Dungeon Club,  occupying  the below street level of the ‘Crows V” Restaurant,  located in the renovated once cathedral like monolithic,  saint Johns  Episcopal Church at 31 25 Classen Boulevard.   This midtown large two-story church structure having been remodel to resemble the declination of a castle, Gary having never visited The Dungeon Club, but had seen the past advertisements for the Kelly Q ’Ellar Trio, a semi-jazz group.   Gary was somewhat surprised when Jan and Mickey made a proposal ,  asking if the pianist would be interested in helping with the improvements to the club before its grand opening, offering to reimburse him for his time and effort.

.   Gary never one to turn down opportunity,  agreeing to help. the  first major improvement in a cleanup effort was to replace the once white, now yellowed,  tobacco smoke stained 24 x 48 inch ceiling tiles.   After pricing the expense for new tiles and with some thought, Jan and Gary came up with an alternative solution.   Securing aerosol spray paint at a cost of 99 cents  per can from T G & Y  in black and red colors,  The two would removing each of the old stained 24 x 48 inch panel,  painting them either red or black,  replacing them in a  checkerboard pattern,  and in the darken light of the club,  the finished product providing a colorful semblance of new tiles.

.   The grand opening of “Jan’s”  was enhanced,  Jan having purchased shirts for the band  scheduling a session with the photographer at the Hal Owens Studio.    Gary and Jerry Connell being familiar with Jan’s music,  the rehearsal sessions were for the benefit of Cooper and Hughes to establish their acquaintance with the Lawhon presence.  Just prior to the club opening,  the Oklahoma and Midwest City newspaper entertainment section wrote introductory articles about the club and the return of Jan Lawhon to the Oklahoma City nightlife scene, issuing a direct invitation to the many who experienced her and Gary at the Holiday Inn West’s, Pirates Cove Club.    The  opening night living up to expectations, Gary and Jan greeting many acquaintances from the past.  A strict disciplinarian, Mickey installed a non-drinking and smoking policy on the bandstand,  including a scheduling of regular rehearsals.  Gary very much in favor of this needed professional attainment, a first for the other band members, something he and Jan  had propagated in the past,  rehearsing at his residence as a convenience, because of her OU college schedule.

.   The pianist noticing a change in Cooper, the vocalist demeanor having diminished, no longer a headliner, there was a sense of animosity, Hughes and Cooper  having never  conformed to someone else’s concept of music.   The first three weeks found an exceedingly number of friends and old customers, but then a decline began to sit in, attendance was dropping,  a search for the reason,  discovering the debilitating attendance had nothing to do with the entertainment, but the location of the club.  Classen Boulevard  being a main thoroughfare to downtown Oklahoma City,  and after visiting with customers found that they were concerned with the constant appearance of  patrolling black and whites.  unlike the Holiday Inn,  which was adjacent to Interstate 40 and seldom frequented by local law enforcement.  It seemed the hand writing was on the wall, the continual Black and White’s presence was something the loyal aficionados of late night indulgent didn’t want to confront.

.   Gary was privy to an undisclosed facet from Mickey and Jan, he had remained resolute in his silence,  not sharing with the band of an upcoming possibility.   Mickey having set an eight week temporal decrement on the club’s financial disposition, and would make a judgement as to its  projected fiscal potential and whether to continue their club endeavor.  With the eight-weeks of litigation about to expired,  attendance never fulfilling expectations,  Mickey true to his word announcing the verdict of closure.

.   Gary somewhat dismayed,  but accepting the reality,  but also appreciative of receiving a recognition never bestowed.   for the first time he was a double wage earner, being paid for playing the piano, and a second stipend gratuity for fulfilling the role of  keyboard bass, a wage for each hand.  Gary aware of the clubs possible closure, having the foresight to assess the availability of a new prospect to the night life stage, in the adjoining town of Edmond

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