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Hank Williams, Darcy and Me

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Earlier today I was at the intersection of Braker Lane and Lamar Boulevard in north Austin. It’s your standard suburban Austin scene: CVS pharmacy on one corner, Goodyear Tire Center on another, Penske truck rental place, Thai restaurant. But that particular intersection is anything but typical for me, filled as it is with echoes of youthful innocence and ghosts of long ago. It all slides indelibly into the past, into a Texas of myth and pure, sweet memory...
1979. The summer between my junior and senior years in high school. I was 17 years old, skinny as a rail and recently liberated, having acquired my first car.

I headed to Austin with my friend Eric to spend a week with his older brother, Jerry, who was a senior at UT. Jerry had a roommate named Darcy, a beautiful, blond graduate student with a great smile, crackling wit, and knowing eyes. She was worldly and radiant and she’d go braless in the apartment and I’m pretty sure that I started sweating whenever she was around. And I was dumbstruck by the idea that Jerry was living with this woman in a purely platonic fashion and that it was treated so matter-of-factly, as were it a simple matter of course, the most natural thing in the world. I was smitten with Darcy, who was way out of my league but kind enough to pretend not to notice. And I fell in love with Austin, a magical place where such creatures abounded in a time of free love and so many other flavors of goodness.
Jerry was in summer school and one night he went to the library while Eric and Darcy and I stayed at the apartment and drank beer. After awhile, Darcy said, “Let’s go to the Stallion and get some chicken fried steak.” So we drove over to North Lamar and pigged out and drank some beer there, too. Mind you, the drinking age was 18 at the time and I was only 17 and I was just SURE the waiter was going to ask for some ID but this was Austin and it was that summer, that mystical summer when everything was safe and there were no terrorists and nothing was scary and we wore flip-flops everywhere and slept in late whenever we wanted to and crickets piled up at night beneath gas station lights.
When we were done eating, Darcy said, “I want to show you guys something.” So we climbed into her little VW Super Beetle and headed north on Lamar. It began to get kind of rural-looking by and by, especially after we got north of 183. Darcy said, “you know that this street, Lamar, used to be called the Dallas Highway? It’s true. Before they built I-35, Lamar was the highway that you had to take to get to Dallas.” A couple of minutes later she whipped into a dusty parking lot on the west side of the road —- exactly where that CVS pharmacy on the northwest corner of Braker and Lamar is, where I was earlier today.
We got out. There was a full moon and I could see a long, whitewashed, wood frame building in front of us. Darcy started getting mystical, launching into doe-eyed Stevie Nicks mode. “Listen,” she said, “Can you hear it? Can you feel it?”
“Feel what?” I asked.
“Shhh …. listen close,” she said. “Can you feel the vibrations?”
We’d been listening to John Prine’s “Illegal Smile” on the 8 track in her VW as we’d been driving along and I was beginning to wonder if Darcy had secretly partaken of some things that Eric and I had been unaware of. Because Darcy was all about the partaking.
“Darcy,” Eric asked, “What the hell are you talking about?”
That’s when she pounded Eric in the chest with the palms of her hands. “What am I talking about? I’m talking about Elvis, man! I’m talking about Hank Williams! I’m talking about Johnny Cash and Johnny Horton and ….”
“Johnny Horton?” I asked.

“You know, Johnny Horton,” she said, “he sang that song about the Battle of New Orleans.”

Then she broke into the chorus:

“We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they commenced to runnin’
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico”
I remembered the song because my dad practically wore it out on our record player when I was a kid.

“Okay, so what about Johnny Horton?” I asked.

“Guys,” she said, “you are standing in front of the world-famous Skyline club. They closed it down a year or two ago. The Uranium Savages played there on the last night of operations and then they shut her down. Anyway, this is the place where Elvis sang and where Johnny Cash sang and where all of the greats used to sing when they came to Austin.”
I stood and looked at the building in the moonlight. Maybe it was the beer, but I WAS beginning to hear, or feel, something.
Then Darcy ---- preaching to the breeze now ---- said, “But this is the strangest thing about this building. It is the place where both Hank Williams and Johnny Horton performed their last concerts before dying. Hank played here at the end of 1952 and died in the backseat of a car less than two weeks later. And Johnny Horton played his last gig here, climbed into his car afterward, and was killed in an accident. So both Hank Williams and Johnny Horton played their very last shows right here, in this building. You should both kneel down and pay your respects on account of you’re in the presence of greatness!”

I admitted that it was a pretty strange coincidence that both Hank Williams and Johnny Horton had played their last shows in this building.
“But it gets even weirder than that,” Darcy said. “Hank Williams was married to a woman named Billie Jean when he died. After he died, Billie Jean remarried ----- to Johnny Horton. She and Johnny were married at the time Johnny was hit by a drunk driver and killed in Milano, Texas. So not only did both Hank Williams and Johnny Horton play their last gigs in this building, but they were both married to the same woman when they died.”

I shuddered, beginning to feel kind of uncomfortable with the whole thing. I thought maybe she was making it all up. But I found out later that it was all true. Legends had played at that place and a few of them left it and never played again.
Hank Williams performed his last show at the Skyline Club on December 19th, 1952. Witnesses say that, in spite of his terrible health and drinking and drugging, he tore it up that night, playing for three hours. Less than two weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, he died while en route to a show in Canton, Ohio.
The first photo shows an advertisement for Hank's last show at the Skyline. The second photo is of the Skyline. The third photo shows Johnny Horton playing on the Louisiana Hayride, a traveling show. It was not taken at the Skyline. 

The last photo is a sketch of the Skyline Club.


skyline advertisement 1.jpg


Johnny Horton on the Louisiana Hayride show.jpg

Skyline Club sketch.jpg

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I saw many shows there when it became the new home of Soap Creek Saloon. Albert Collins was the most memorable, doing his signature parking lot walk. He sat on several motorcycles belonging to some rough looking bikers, but they were grooving with everyone else. 

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On 1/24/2023 at 5:02 PM, Baby Head said:

Doug Sahm performed with Hank Williams at the Slyline when he was eleven years old!

Absolutely right. I really wish Doug would have lived into the Traces of Texas era because I would have loved to ask him about that.  Plus, of course, there's all that great music we're missing. He died WAAAY too young!

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