The Dan Blocker Singers Start a Commune at Greers Ferry

Thanks to Eric Johnson, who, after reading the Black Oak Arkansas post the other day, pointed out that another singing group started a commune in the Ozarks in the early 1970s. That the singing group was named for an actor in the TV western “Bonanza” only adds intrigue.

The Dan Blocker Singers — yes, named for the actor shown above with Arkansas musician Johnny Cash — decided they had had enough of the show business life in Los Angeles and high-tailed it to Arkansas after learning of property available in the area. (Their only affiliation with Dan Blocker is that they performed onstage with him once, and the actor allowed them to use his name.)

When they moved to Arkansas, the musicians changed their name from The Dan Blocker Singers to The Group, which eventually attracted dozens of members. This wasn’t your typical long-haired, pot-growing commune. Nor was it some weird, cultish religion. These appeared to be ordinary people who didn’t do drugs, went to mainstream churches, was involved in civic affairs and didn’t practice free love. Because they were entertainers, they also operated a local dinner theater. Still, for rural Arkansas, it was all suspect, especially since the word “commune” invoked visions of counterculture and hippies.

Yet, many of the members reported to the press of feeling persecuted. At one point, they even filed a lawsuit against the local newspaper for what they felt ran articles that was a campaign against them. There were reports of bomb threats, acts of vandalism and gunfire against commune members, which, after a few years, drove them out of Greers Ferry to Little Rock, where they bought houses in the historic Quapaw Quarter. One of its leaders, Dixon Bowles, remained in Little Rock and founded Aristotle, an Internet service provider and web design company. He died in 2010.

 

13 thoughts on “The Dan Blocker Singers Start a Commune at Greers Ferry”

  1. Thanks for the shout out! I ran into this when I was doing the since-abandoned Ozark dissertation topic about real and imagined landscapes in the area from roughly the mid-60s to the late 00s.. First I was looking for instances of people coming to the Ozarks in the late 60s and early 70s in order to get back to the land, and then I later started looking more specifically at communes and other land-holding groups. My thought was that I would write a kind of counter-narrative, or side-narrative to the development of Northwest Arkansas as the home of Wal-Mart, Tyson and Jones Trucking in those years.

    My plan was to tie alot of this into the “Boston Islands” mythology promulgated by Fayetteville singer-songwriter Mike (Mudcat) Acklin in the 70s. This was a kind of future-history mythos that imagined a future where the seas had risen and the tops of the Boston Mountains were once again islands. I don’t think its a coincidence that Mudcat and his friends dreamed this story up while the commercial forces that would reshape the area so powerfully were just beginning to take shape, or that Windy Austin used it as the anchor story for his 1994 concept Album “Romeo’s Last go Round” in 1994, after those changes had really set in.

    Romeo’s Last Go Round was built around songs by Mudcat and Mike Sumler. Sumler has roots in another landholding group South of Fayetteville, Weedie Rough, which my dad is part of. That whole history of semi-communal landholding back to the land groups in the area is, I think, waiting to be uncovered. One lead that I found was in a book about the women’s movement in Northwest Arkansas published by the Shiloh Museum. That mentions a few different women’s separatist communes in the area. I know that there’s more, but its hard to get at, and was especially hard to get at from Iowa.

    But somehow, in all of this, in a project that music played a large role in, I never connected it to the Black Oak Araknsas encampment. Duh!

    1. I remember seeing members of one of the women-run communes near Fayetteville on the Phil Donohue Show back in the late 1980s. I have been unable to find anything about it online, however.

      If you haven’t read it already, you need to read “The Un-Natural State: Arkansas and the Queer South,” which talks about the women’s communes in the Ozarks. (The entire book is an entertaining and informative read, especially with the chapter on Eureka Springs and Anita Bryant’s presence … yet I digress,) There was one commune near Eureka called Huckleberry Farms, and you can read about some of it from Google Books:

      http://books.google.com/books?id=MA0-OVAKpNYC&lpg=PA142&ots=U-slXJhd3h&dq=women%20commune%20%22northwest%20arkansas%22&pg=PA143#v=onepage&q=women%20commune%20%22northwest%20arkansas%22&f=false

      I have been fascinated by the Ozarks as part of the back-to-land movement as well. I remember wanting to write about it as early as the 1990s, but could never figure out a way to pitch it to my editors.

      1. I followed the link just long enough to realize that I need the whole book. Now. BTW, I could be wrong, but I think that “Pharr” on the page your link leads to is Suzanne Pharr, math teacher at FHS when we were there.

  2. i WAS A FRESHMAN IN COLLEGE AND BECAME PART OF TH E AR VALLEY SINGERS, WHICH CONSISTED OF THE DAN BLOCKER SINGERS AND SOME OF THE LOCALS NEAR RUSSELVILLE, AR. tHE GROUP HAD A RESTARAUNT AND SHOW AT THEIR COMMUNE IN BIG PINEY. THIS WAS IN 1970. DAN BOWLES WAS THE LEADER. HE WAS STILL IN HIS 20;S THEN.
    JOAN WILLEMS DAVIS

  3. I was in high school in Clarksville in 1969-1971. In our Junior year, Dixon volunteered to direct our Junior play. If my memory serves me it was “You Can’t Take It With You.” The group lived at Flat Rock and managed the Tree House restaurant, where they put on shows. Some of them were performing a show at a local State Park and upon leaving the show to return home were involved in a terrible car wreck. Several of the members were killed and injured. After that they moved on. But the support from the local community was very good and there were good crowds at their shows as I recall.
    Mark Hodge

    1. I loved singing in the Arkansas Valley Singers. Pandy got me involved. They were good people and dedicated to each other’s endeavors.

      1. It would be lovely to learn more about your time with the Arkansas Valley Singers and your memories of The Group, Dixon Bowles, etc.

  4. I knew most of the “members” of The group and this story is WAY OFF. I lived behind one of the biggest motels they were running and I actually got along with all of them. It was a little strange to see all of them piled up in 1 house and they seemed to want to take over the entire town (Which was very new at the time due to the flooding of the town Higden to make the lake) people who had their jobs and livelihoods taken away because they had taken up almost all the businesses in the area were upset… understandably.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: