Ghosts of The Rockwood Club

As rock ‘n’ roll began to emerge in the Ozarks, there were a few clubs, especially around Fayetteville, where college students and young adults could kick back on a Friday or Saturday night to hear music with a good beat that you could dance to. One venue in particular, The Rockwood Club, would be a force in the 1950s and 1960s. Though Ghosts of the Rockwood Clubownership passed hands a few times, its most famous owner, Huntsville native and former Fayetteville resident Ronnie Hawkins, used the club to provide some young Canadian musicians experience with playing to American audiences. Hawkins, a rock ‘n’ roller with hit songs of his own, had settled in Canada by the early 1960s. He sent one young man, Richard Manuel, and his group, The Revols, to Fayetteville to be the Rockwood Club’s house band for a few weeks in 1961, sometimes sharing a billing with a group known as The Del-Rays.

At other times, Hawkins would bring down his band, The Hawks, to play as well. Many musicians passed through The Hawks, but those most memorable were Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Manuel. When this lineup parted ways with Hawkins in the mid-1960s, they returned to Fayetteville to play several dates at the Rockwood Club as Levon and the Hawks, living in the no-longer-existant Iris Motel on College Avenue. By the late 1960s, those exact same members would be known as The Band and would have hit songs with “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Weight.”

Oh, and The Del-Reys? The two key members, Earl and Ernie Cate, would become The Cate Brothers Band with a hit song of their own, “Mr. Union Man,” and continue to perform engagements to this day.

But to focus only on Hawkins, The Band and The Cate Brothers Band would be a disservice to the club located south of town near the Fayetteville airport. Many big names, such as Wanda Jackson and Jerry Lee Lewis, performed there, and Sun Studio musicians Sonny Burgess and the Pacers played there repeatedly.

So did many local bands who hoped to make it big. Echoes of the Ozarks would like to periodically salute those local bands in and near the Ozark region through a series to appear on here known as “Ghosts of The Rockwood Club.”

Featured today is Mike McAlister, who performed at The Rockwood Club on October 14, 1960, after returning from Canada, presumably courtesy of Hawkins. Not much is known of McAlister except he recorded with Hob-Nob Records in Harrison. This 1958 song, “Twenty One,” which he performed as a duo named Mike and Nancy, celebrates adulthood with a sound that has Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly influences all over it. The chorus: “Just leave me alone, I’m on my own, I’m 21!”

55 thoughts on “Ghosts of The Rockwood Club”

      1. Thanks, Marc! One little thing I didn’t mention, though I may in a subsequent post, is that the building was Fay Jones’ first paying architecture job. I believe he was hired as a consultant and was still in college at the time. The building dates back to the 1940s.

  1. When talking the Rockwood Club you need to include Dayton Stratton as one of the owners. Dayton went on to start The Rink and road managed The Band before he died in a plane crash.

    1. Yes, Dayton was my daddy. I remember going to the Rockwood now & then with moma,(Lois), & Daddy. Ronnie Hawkins felt like an Uncle Ronnie to me throwing me up & catching me, tickling…Lots of love & laughter! I must’ve been 4 or 5…Later on, The Rink, lots & lots of great childhood memories growing up until daddy’s tragic plane crash. I often wonder what our lives & his contribution to the music industry would be like if his life hadn’t been taken so young…only 42. Not a day goes by I don’t miss him.

    1. Thanks, Ed. Of the few images of Hob-Nob Records I found online, I noticed the publisher on many of the 45s was listed as Earl Barton, who may have not been an actual person. I’m also learning that Earl Barton Music was the publisher of The Box Tops song, “The Letter.” As for the owner of Hob-Nob Records, I would love to know myself! Other acts on the label included Upton Horn and Wallace Waters, if that rings a bell with anyone.

      1. OK. Probably should have known that. Upton was a long-time, very popular KHOZ dj, who had a couple of songs that played quite a bit on the station. “(Today you were a blonde, tonight you’re a redhead), What will tomorrow be?” and “The Mirror Behind the Bar.” Wallace had a local Boone County band that played for a long time.

      2. My husband was a barber in Huntsville and Ronnie Hawkins father worked for my husband in the barber shop, that is how we met Ronnie. We just watched a video of Ronnie’s 60th. birthday bash in Canada. We use to kick up our heels with Wallace Waters band, thought he sounded a lot like Ronnie Hawkins. Several years ago we talk to Wallace and he was deep into his children and family and beginning to want to be at home more, which I admire him for that thought. Suppose he has grandchildren now and just relaxing.

      3. Upton Horn was my uncle. I used to have the 45 of “What Will Tomorrow Be” b/w “Mirror Behind the Bar”. Unfortunately, I’ve lost it.

  2. I vaguely remember this place, although I was never in it. But thanks for reminding me of it. I seem to remember some of my friends talking about it. Maybe you had to be 21 to enter (and I couldn’t pass for 21 until I turned about 35.

  3. Other local bands that regularly played The Rockwood Club in the early 60’s were, John Tollison, The Five Emcees, The Sessions (my band), The Trebles, Johnny Roberts and the Rebels, and many others. Those of us of that era who are still alive meet once a year for a jam session, normally at Georges Lounge in Fayetteville, sometime in mid July. A good number of the players at that jam were regular performers at the Rockwood. My band played there between ’62 and ’65 when I departed Fayetteville and went to Canada with The Emcees. Oh, the stories I could tell about the Rockwood Club.

  4. (Gus Smith, a very fine jazz guitarist from Harrison, who taught most everyone in the area who played guitar for 40 years [present company included], still plays gigs around NWAR with his son Matt. Patty Fredrick from Harrison, heard from Gus Smith’s wife about this)

    “Patty, That was easy. Gus knew that right away. Hugh Ashely owned Hob Nob Records. I thought the name was familiar. Gus played in a band in high school with Mike McAlister, Mike Collins, and George Kirby Coffman. HobNob recorded a single for them…..”I’m 21”, and “I Don’t Dig It”…

    (Hugh, of course, owned Ashley Music in Harrison).

    1. Hubert Carl “Hugh” Ashley was a radio child-star in the early 1930s. The story goes that he was a young teenager performing and recording with his family in Wiley’s Cove, AR when, with permission from his father, he was whisked off to Hollywood on a biplane. He starred as “Little Hubert Walton” on a network radio series, “The Beverly Hill Billies” (yes, in the 1930s, long before television) for two seasons.

      Returning to Arkansas, he finished high school and got a degree in music at U of A. He performed music in Nevada and California until enlisting in the Army in WWII, where he met his wife, Helen. They returned to Arkansas after the war and decided upon Harrison to be the site of their music store.

      Hugh taught music lessons and wrote songs for superstar country artists of the 50s and 60s, such as Brenda Lee, Bill Monroe, Porter Wagoner and Jim Reeves. He was elected mayor of Harrison and later to the state legislature, and owned a large forestry operation in Searcy County.

      Hugh passed away in 2008 at the age of 93. The Ashleys were friendly neighbors of mine in my childhood, and I only recently learned all these facts about Hugh’s life.

      1. Thank you for your post! Hugh Ashley, from what I can tell, was a real force. I was happy to see that the Encyclopedia of Arkansas has an entry for him:

        I also found a newspaper ad from the 1950s for some hillbilly music records by a Hugh Ashley on Varsity Records. I assume that it was THE Hugh Ashley of which we speak! I also keep learning that Jim Reeves had many connections in the Arkansas Ozarks. In fact, his visits cost him his life as he crashed the plane he was piloting after leaving Batesville and trying to navigate through a storm. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas entry notes that Reeves was to record some of Ashley’s songs had he not died.

      2. I’ve noted before that my father-in-law, Jack Howell, performed on mandolin with the Howell Brothers (his dad Lee, uncles Voyd & Loy Howell and Willis Frederick) in the Boone/Newton/Searcy/Marion County area in the 40s and early 50s. He joined Upton Horn’s band as lead guitarist around 1956 or so.

        Jack told me that Hugh Ashley taught him guitar scales and music theory, and he learned the rest on his own. He played on recordings Hugh made in Springfield in the 1960s.

  5. I played there with Greg Samples with I was 15 years old. It was Greg Samples on Guitar and Keys, Jimmy Bayles on Guitar, Butch Bertholamew on Bass, and me on Drums. We played there several time in the late 60’s. It seemed like every gig there was a fight and everyone in the place would all go to the parking lot to watch the fight leaving us in mid song wondering what happened. The name of the band was Pump Station Express. Jimmy Bayles Father James Bayles was a local police officer and he would keep the door for us. I will never forget the Rockwood Club.
    Jim Mills

  6. I got to jam with the Band, the Cate Brothers, and many more like them……..I played the Hammond B 3 with leslies and backed up many bands in the area……….I started in the 60s so most of these guys were the “older” players who influenced me and helped me connect to the music scene………….what a great time for live music……….I am truly lucky to have met them all

    Robert “Bob” Day

    1. BOB I have totally lost touch with you—computer crash and lost everything. I”m still in Springdale and phone number is 479-790-1197. Would love to hear from you! Daryl Price

  7. I just bought it recently. Upton Horn was my grandpa, but that wasn’t revealed until about 10 years ago. This is so fascinating to find his work, and to enjoy it. I can tell you where I got it from if want to get another copy.

    Don Horn says:
    December 6, 2014 at 1:25 am
    Upton Horn was my uncle. I used to have the 45 of “What Will Tomorrow Be” b/w “Mirror Behind the Bar”. Unfortunately, I’ve lost it.

  8. Took years of researching, $15 bucks for the conversion from 45rpm to CD (plus clean up of audio), 5 minutes to add photos and upload to YouTube. I hope someone out there find joy in this upload.

  9. Thanks for fixing this! I love this! Is there anything you can share about this recording? Like when it was recorded, circumstances, etc.? Would love to have any kind of backstory to it, even if it’s small. The whole point of this blog is to preserve these great Arkie/Ozark recordings so they’re not forgotten. This song is country music back when it was STILL country.

  10. I wish I knew more, I really do. Upton Horn was my dad’s REAL dad. Not much was known about him through end of the family tree. I only learned of him almost 2 decades after his passing. I spent years and year scouring the internet for every scrap of information I could find about him. One article in a Harrison, AR newspaper spoke of him being a DJ at KHOZ in Harrison. I found his obit and it mentioned the same things I had found. I don’t know what year this was published. I do know he published another record on another label. Me finding this was, to my knowledge, the first time MY dad ever heard his dad. Wish I had more for you. That’s as much story as I’ve got. My dad’s mom passed away just a few years ago. She lived in Kansas for many years, wanted to be remembered as an Arkansas Hillbilly. She always could make me laugh.

    1. My father-in-law, Jack Howell, was a close friend of Upton Horn and from the mid 1950s was his lead guitarist for about ten years. Jack has a lot of war stories about traveling and working with Upton.

      I knew Upton and Jack and their families, growing up in Harrison and hearing Upton on the radio every day. I don’t think he ever had an enemy, everyone he met loved him.

      Jack took over lead guitar for him when his previous guitarist, Red Gale, left Upton to join Porter Wagoner’s band. Jack says that a Branson entrepreneur named Chris Meadows built a large dance hall near what is now The Landing in Branson, specifically to house Upton’s band on the weekends. This was long before any of the music theaters appeared. That building has been gone for years.

      We lost Upton in 1980, he was only 59. Jack still plays, and occasionally gets together with some of the oldtimers – including Upton’s brother-in-law on pedal steel (and myself on bass, which was Upton’s instrument) – for an impromptu show in Harrison.

      1. Please forgive a typo; Upton Horn passed away in September, 1984 in Harrison, just a few weeks short of his 60th birthday.

        One more interesting fact: Chris Meadows, mentioned above, was for many years involved in the Shepherd of the Hills pageant. He was also owner and operator of the Sammy Lane Cruise on Lake Taneycomo.

      2. We recently had one of the aforementioned jam sessions in Harrison, with about 75 in attendance. Jack and Sam (Upton Horn’s brother-in-law, who played pedal steel in Upton’s band for several years) were there. Upton’s family brought his 1938 Kay bass for me to play that night. Quite a lot of mojo in that old instrument!

  11. Ken Hada:

    When I was young in the seventies, the star DJ of the local radio station invited folks to call him and request songs dedicated to special people for special occasions. Upton Horn was his name. He was a likeable sort, but he had the propensity of rarely being able to “find” the song requested, so he would acknowledge the caller’s request, then play something else. One time in particular, I remember a fine and gallant country chevalier calling in to request a love song dedicated to his bride, as they were celebrating their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Typically, tragically, Mr. Horn couldn’t find the requested love ballad, so he said: “Here’s one I hope you like” and played on this occasion dedicated to committed, Christian, eternal love, the melodramatic, beer-guzzling, second or third time-around anthem: “It’s Not Love, But It’s Not Bad.” The inspired chorus is as follows:

    No, It’s not love, not like ours was.
    It’s not love, but it keeps love from driving me mad,
    And I don’t have to wonder who she’s had.
    No, it’s not love, but it’s not bad.


  12. We loved them all & spent many a night, dancing the night away—Great Memories–alot of weeks it was Wednesday-Friday & Saturday night!!!! May have read it too fast, but didn’t notice Ken Owens & the DelRays mentioned. We loved when Ronnie came in from Canada, but never heard a bad band play there!!! Thanks for sharing the memory!!!!

  13. I may add that Hugh Ashley and his family were neighbors when I was living in Harrison. The middle daughter and I were about a year apart, and the youngest married and divorced my brother-in-law. As a kid, I spent a lot of time at the store, ogling guitars that I could only dream of owning.

    In the mid-1970s, when I was a few years into the media business, some of my workmates and I considered the idea of opening an audio recording studio in or near Branson. We had financial backing, and while doing a feasibility study, I considered that Harrison was was familiar turf.

    So I naively picked up the phone and dialed Hugh. I can only imagine the deer-caught-in-the-headlights look he must have had (it was certainly palpable) while he listened to this kid’s game plan.

    After a pause, his terse response was that it probably was not a great idea. Later, I learned that he was planning a major upgrade to the small recording facility that he operated.

    My idea eventually ran out of gas, in part due to Hugh’s opinion. I kinda wish now that I’d gone ahead with it.

  14. I do want to say that the few times I was privileged to be in the presents of Levon Helm, my ex Kinfolk. It was such such a to spend time which Levon, and his younger brother wheeler helm, who became my brother-in-law. When Levon said, well Harold it looks like my brother is going to marry your sister. I reckon that makes us in laws.

  15. Hi there, I’m currently working on an article about Hugh Ashley and HobNob Records. Part of this article is also Upton Horn. If anyone has more info on him, please contact me. Best regards to all!

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