If you drive down East Texas in Bossier City today, there are virtually no remnants of the famous—some would say infamous—Bossier City ‘Strip’. Some detractors might go so far as to say “good riddance” but the fabled Strip is many things to many people.
In its heyday, in the late 50’s through the 60’s, the Bossier Strip was a micro-Vegas, a shimmering Oz of neon that offered excitement featuring great bands and good food.
Ace Lewis, well-loved and respected drummer and bandleader (and also the brother of local legendary record store owner/distributor Stan “The Record Man” Lewis) still recalls playing The Skyway Club in the early days of what became known as the “Bossier Strip”.
“Particularly on Friday nights,” Lewis said, “stars would stop by from the Louisiana Hayride and sit in with us. Names like Jim Reeves, Johnny Horton, Faron Young, Webb Pierce and steel player Jimmy Day would always bring excitement to the shows.”
The late-great regional historian Eric Brock was one writer who repeated the oft-told “strip” joke that patrons would be checked at the doors on the way in to see if they were carrying a gun. If they were not, so went the joke, they would be given one. At some points in the Strip’s history, this might not have been too far from the truth.
There was certainly a seedy side that could occasionally see fights breaking out, but that was usually in the ‘dives’ more so than the ‘upper echelon’ of establishments. At the top of the food chain was The Stork Supper Club where owner Mike Theodos offered three separate venues under one roof. Stork Supper Club itself was the main attraction where you could find “The Only Floor Show in the Ark-La-Tex”, and you could eat well on fine steaks and seafood while also enjoying nationwide talent on stage like the incredible Coasters (“Yakety Yak”, “Charlie Brown”, “Poison Ivy” and more) and r&b/soul sensation LaVerne Baker (“Jim Dandy To The Rescue”, “What Am I Living For”). Big name talent was usually to be found at The Stork. Also under the same roof was The Sho-Bar (featuring top regional bands and an array of Go-Go dancers ‘twisting’ the night away) and the Hide-A-Way Lounge (continuous entertainment nightly at the Piano Bar).
Bubbling just under The Stork, was Merle Kemmerly’s Whisk a Go Go with its popular Boom Boom Room, which offered some of the hottest and best traveling rock bands on the circuit and a dazzling transparent plastic dance floor with 300 flashing lights beneath with psychedelic movies on the walls and the 3-D flashing psychedelic wall itself. Among the up-and-coming artists, you might have run into at the Boom Boom Room would have been the soon to be legendary albino blues-rock legend Johnny Winter backing his band The Black Plague, which also featured his brother Edgar, who would later tear up the charts with hits like “Frankenstein”. Also popular with the Boom Boom Room crowd was the darling of the West Coast club scene, “December’s Children” (obviously named for the Rolling Stones hit album) with their big hit “Backwards and Forwards”, Shorty and The Shays, Duke Royal (lead singer with the renowned Blues Incorporated) and the gimmicky, yet quite talented Johnny Green and the Green Men. This group of green haired rockers had been written up on the covers of Life and Esquire Magazines as well as having appeared three times on the 60’s campy TV classic “Batman”. They always packed the place. Besides the always exciting musical offerings, the Boom Boom Room was also known for their Go-Go dancers ‘go-going’ wildly in their suspended glass cages. Another ever-popular feature at the Boom Room was the Hurricane, the club’s signature drink with its signature collectible glass which I feel certain every patron left the premises with at least once.
Just down the road was the less sparkling but always entertaining Shindig. Larry Gordy, still a part of the Shreveport music scene, was bass player for the long-time Shindig house band The Rogue Show from 1966-1969. That well-remembered ensemble was primarily made up of Gordy on bass, the late Dino Zimmerman on guitar, Ellis Starkey on drums, and David Rowe on keyboards. Zimmerman later made a name for himself in Nashville playing for such illustrious names as K.T. Oslin and doing studio work for Alabama and more.
“There was always the unexpected to be expected at the Shindig,” Gordy says. “Once this real unassuming gentleman walked in and walked up to the bandstand and asked if he could sing a song. One of the guys in our band happened to recognize him as RCA recording artist Jimmy Elledge, who at the time, had a big hit on the radio of Willie Nelson’s classic composition, “Funny How Times Slips Away”. He got on stage and sang that hit with us and the crowd went wild. Another night, I recall the reputed New Orleans Mafioso Carlos Marcello came in with a small entourage. I watched him and I’ll never forget that he never touched the money, ever. His entourage took care of everything. That always stuck with me.”
Another still vital music luminary who has vivid memories of the Strip in its halcyon days through a familial connection is former singer, now entrepreneur, Jerry Hawkins. Jerry Hawkins managed the Shreveport American Federation of Musicians for 13 years and is the brother of the late famed recording star Dale Hawkins, remembered for his classic radio smash “Suzy Q”. “Before ‘Suzy Q’ hit big,” Jerry Hawkins recalled, “Dale played out on the Strip some at places like the It’ll Do Club. That was even as far back as when Merle Kimmerly had Kim’s, even before he opened Sak’s Whisk a Go Go.”
The Town and Country Motor Hotel and Restaurant, once owned by Marcello’s Shreveport attorney Mike Maroun, was a hotbed of activity with three dining rooms, “intimate cocktail lounge”, continental dancing facilities and top notch musical entertainment. Even as far back as the 60s, locally renowned band leader/keyboardist Bill Bush and his combo were drawing crowds to the Town and Country. Bush just recently passed away but he had remained a popular staple of Shreveport music stages.
Among the other late, lamented clubs that have gone on to that great Vegas in the sky that must be mentioned are Kim’s, Blues Lounge, The Black Knight Lounge, The Long Branch Saloon, Studio Steak House and the more upscale supper clubs like the Revana, with the legendary “The Fabulous Helene”—one of the most striking and beautiful singers to grace the Strip at any time in its history.
Though all the venues in this article have faded into the history books, for those patrons who were able to be regular or in-frequent habitués of them, they will certainly never be forgotten. Though it may never have rivaled Las Vegas, The Bossier Strip was a few miles of magic to those who knew and loved it.
Note: This article could not have been done without the generous assistance of staff at the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center: Laurie Dyche, Pam Carlisle, Marisa Richardson, Ann Middleton and Amy Robertson