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 Debby 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 groups needs.  Cooper having  appropriated the band name “Jerry Cooper and The Nite Beats”,  changing the spelling from that of a once local Oklahoma City renown group  “The Night Beats”, that 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 insistent that the Nite Beats name being dropped, agreeing to  “Jerry Cooper &  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 a social  but business,  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,  the musician 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 the three weeks before the club would be ready to open and Mitch, the Holiday Inn club owner would have to be given notice, knowing that he wouldn’t be too willing to let them remain if he found a replacement.

TG&;Y – at 74th and S. Penn

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 St. Johns  Episcopal Church at 3125 Classen Blvd.   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’eller 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 discussed in a cleanup effort was to replace the 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  (Tomlinson, Gosselin and Young),  in black and red colors the two would remove 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.

Jan Lawhon

The grand opening of “Jan’s”  was enhanced, Jan having purchased shirts for the band and scheduled a session with photographer at the Hal Owens Studio.  Gary and Jerry Connell being familiar with Jan’s music, several rehearsals 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 advertised the club and return of Jan 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.   A folding business card made to stand on a table , the front  with a stairway logo stating: ” Welcome to Jan’s your stairway to entertainment” in bold print .  The inside reading: ” The song styling of Jan Lawhon with Gary Willson at the piano,  featuring Jerry Cooper and the Traditions”  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, Gary very much in favor of this needed professional attainment, including a scheduling of regular rehearsals, a first for the other band members, something he had propagated with Jan in the past meeting 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 never before  having to conform 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 Blvd being a main thoroughfare to downtown Oklahoma City and after visiting with customers found that they were concerned with the constant appearance of the patrolling black & 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 & White’s presence was something the loyal aficionado’s of late nite 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 a eight-week temporal decrements on the club’s financial disposition, and would make a judgement as to its  projected fiscal potential and whether to continual the 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 recognizing 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.

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