East Austin’s most infamous corner used to be called “The Ends” in the 1930s because that’s as far as the streetcar went on East 12th St. When buses replaced streetcars in 1940, 12th and Chicon was still the last stop. “We called it the Ends when I was coming up,” said Dorothy McPhaul, whose grandfather Simon Sidle, the antique dealer, lived on 12th and Chicon in the early ‘50s. The corner had it’s own language, like everyone called the liquor store “Blue-eyed” because the proprietor was an African-American with blue eyes.
From its 1935 opening until it burned down in 1973, the Harlem Theater anchored entertainment on the Ends. “They showed anything and everything that the ‘white only’ theaters were done with,” said Ed Guinn, one of the few blacks who was part of Austin’s hippie scene as a member of Conqueroo. “Saw lots of scratchy versions of films there for years.”
Our first entry is Willie Hutch’s “Brothers Gonna Work It Out” from The Mack, one of the last films shown at the Harlem Theater:
“I Got Rhythm” by Teddy Wilson Trio
Samuel Huston College dean of boys James Wilson and his teacher wife Pearl had a son Teddy, born in Austin in 1912. The family moved to Alabama when Teddy was six to take teaching jobs at the prestigious Tuskegee Institute. Teddy became the Jackie Robinson of jazz in 1935 when he integrated the Benny Goodman Trio (with Gene Krupa) and then went on to play with all the greats, but especially Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. (Ironically, THE Jackie Robinson taught P.E. at Huston in 1945.) This number features Gene Ramey, also born in Austin, on bass. Ramey’s illustrious career included stints in the bands of Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis.
“Blues After Hours” by Pee Wee Crayton
Rockdale-born guitarist Pee Wee Crayton moved in 1935 to the West Coast, where he was a contemporary of Dallas guitarist T-Bone Walker. But he played Austin often after that, visiting some of his old haunts like Manning’s Café at 1810 E. 12th or the Club Alabama next door at 1808, currently the home of Dozen Street. He sat in at the original Charlie’s Playhouse at 1201 Chicon before it moved to E. 11th in 1957. Crayton had his first R&B #1 in 1948 with this instrumental on Modern Records.
“No Way Out” by Joyce Harris and the Daylighters
In 1960, rock n’ roll history was made when black band Clarence Smith (nee Sonny Rhodes) and the Daylighters backed Joyce Harris, a white female singer on Domino Records. Their raucous single “One Way Out” is a classic, highly valued by collectors. To this day some still think Joyce Harris is black. But the logistics could get hairy in Jim Crow Austin. Harris recalled looking for the Daylighters the day of the session. Finding them coming out of the White Swan (currently King Bee Lounge) she called out “Get in, fellas, we’ve gotta make a record,” but they initially refused to get in the car of a white woman in East Austin. They eventually got in and rode to Roy Poole’s studio on East Sixth Street ducked down below the windows.
“Stop Now” by Bells Of Joy
Gospel and blues resided next to one another in urban neighborhoods and the best acts of those genres learned to borrow from the other one. Ray Charles has credited the smash 1951 religious smash, “Let’s Talk About Jesus” by Austin’s Bells Of Joy with inspiring his first #1 hit “I Got a Woman” (1954). In turn, the Bells, influenced by Ulit Street barrelhouse piano player Lavada Durst, put a lot of R&B into their sound.
“Tuxedo Junction” by Erskine Hawkins
Legendary band director B.L. Joyce, who founded the L.C. Anderson High Yellow Jackets in 1933, was a tailor by trade at 1706 E. 14th St. He also taught alterations at Sam Huston College and made sure all his musicians looked tight. Disciplinarian Joyce was a J.P. Sousa man- if he caught you playing jazz he’d throw you out of the band, so the top players like Kenny Dorham, Hermie Edwards, Ray Murphy, Paris Jones, Warner “Rip” Ross and Buford Banks (trumpeter Martin’s dad) would sneak off after band practice to play improvisational jazz in the backyard of Roy and Alvin Patterson at 1709 Washington Ave. Joyce bent his “no jazz” rule only once, when Anderson was not only getting its butt beat on the football field, but in the band section, by archrival Wheatley High of San Antonio. “They were showing us up, playing all these hot, big band swing numbers,” recalled Alvin Patterson, who replaced Joyce as band director in 1955. “So Mr. Joyce called me over and said, ‘What was that swing thing you and Kenny were playing the other day when you thought I was out of listening range?’ I said that was ‘Tuxedo Junction’ and he said, ‘OK, let’s hear it.” The crowd went crazy when the band came out swinging.
“Runaway Love” by Linda Clifford
Another graduate of the Yellow Jackets was Gil Askey, the Motown trumpet-player/ arranger who was Diana Ross’s music director for 10 years. Askey’s mother was Ada DeBlanc Simond, the noted African American historian and author who penned the “Looking Back” column in the American-Statesman for several years. Nominated for an Oscar for his score for Lady Sings the Blues, Askey also wrote and produced this 1978 disco hit for NYC singer Linda Clifford.
“Night Train” by James Brown
All-black Anderson High produced not-only substantial musical talent, but a couple of major NFL players: Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson and Richard Lane. Nicknamed “Night Train” by fellow Los Angeles Ram Tom Fears in 1952, Lane intercepted 14 passes (in a 12-game season) that rookie year- a record that’ll probably never be broken, even in 16 games, plus playoffs.
“Here Comes the Judge” by Pigmeat Markham
Blues music integrated Austin like nothing before it. Bill Campbell, a white guitarist from Smithville, picked up blues singles at King’s Record Shop at 1812 E. 12th and East Side Records at 1213 E. 12th and learned to really play by sitting in with guitar slingers like Freddie King at Ernie’s Chicken Shack (1167 Webberville Road) and Sam’s Showcase at 1922 E. 12th. He showed a couple of brothers from Dallas named Jimmie and Stevie Vaughan where to find the real stuff. Campbell was especially valuable on tour with musical comedian Pigmeat Markham, whose 1968 recording of “Here Comes the Judge” laid the blueprint for hip-hop. Fellow guitarist Major Lee Burkes recalls that Campbell would rent two or three rooms in all-white motels and the black musicians would sneak in. Campbell was also the take-out king at restaurants in the south.
“I’ll Save the Last Dance For You” by Damita Jo
Gil Askey’s cousin was R&B/jazz singer Damita Jo, the only child of Creole chef Herbert DeBlanc and schoolteacher Latrelle Plummer DeBlanc. They both stayed at 1010 Olive Street with their grandmother Mathilde when they returned to Austin on yearly visits. Damita Jo had hits with “answer songs” to “Save the Last Dance For Me” by the Drifters and “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King. She also possessed comedic flair and was a regular on Redd Foxx’s 1977 TV variety show.
“Scuttle Buttin’” by Stevie Ray Vaughan
When Stevie Ray Vaughan was recording his second LP Couldn’t Stand the Weather in New York City in 1984, he wasn’t getting the right feel, so he had someone call up Sam’s BBQ at 2000 E. 12th for an overnite shipment of his favorite food. That got the record back on track.
“Alone Together” by Kenny Dorham
Dr. James Hill (chief of the University of Texas community relations department), John Q. Taylor King (former Huston-Tillotson College president and head of King Tears Mortuary), longtime H-T music department head Beulah Curry Jones and educator Charles Akins, who became the first black principal of a predominantly white high school in Austin in 1973, were all former Yellow Jacket band members. But, musically, the standout has to be Kenny Dorham, who replaced Miles Davis in the Charlie Parker Quintet in 1948. Although Dorham, “the thinking man’s trumpet player” was on the bandstand with Parker on the sax great’s final public performance in 1955, he spent most of the early ’50s freelancing for Thelonius Monk, Bud Powell, Sonny Stitt and others. In 1954, he co-founded the highly influential Jazz Messengers with Art Blakey.
This selection is an instrumental version of a tune made famous by Ella Fitzgerald. The lyrics speak out for a segregated East Austin community that may have lived in the shadow of mainstream Austin, but shone brightly on its own.
“Alone together, beyond the crowd/ Above the world, we’re not too proud/ To cling together, we’re strong/ As long as we’re together”
“Sweetback’s Theme” by (an uncredited) Earth Wind & Fire from the soundtrack to Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song, which was held over at the Harlem Theater in 1972.
One thought on “12th and Chicon Soundtrack”
Thanks for your nice histories.
I wonder if you or some of your corresponders could help me recall which venue I might have been in one day long ago. It was the summer of 1971, I was young and living in Austin (house sitting a famous UT professor’s house in West Lake Hills, which was largely undeveloped in those days, a handful of houses widely separated only) and I attended a musical variety show in East Austin. Robert Shaw, the Manor Road store owner and piano player, had invited me and my wife, and we went to see him play, but he was only one act of a fair number, the others I do not know, but do recall that they represented a variety of musical styles. Of course I remember that the venue and the crowd were both very large and almost all African American. This was a daytime show, almost certainly a weekend. I do recall Shaw saying ‘hello’ to us at the show.
If anyone here has a memory of this and can fill in any details or a guess at where this was and who else performed I would like to know.