I’ve been searching for the cockfighting man of Deslondes Street in the Lower 9 for nearly a decade. It hasn’t been easy. None of my connections here in the 9 know him but a few have known of him. I reckon it’s been tough going since 2008 when Louisiana outlawed the sport that kept the man’s bills paid and put food on the table.
The old rooster fighter may have passed but it hasn’t been that many years since the Lower 9 was rural, and farm animals were common even though the area was part and parcel of the cosmopolitan city of New Orleans.
Can you imagine what the 9th Ward was like in 1948?
Charlie Armstead had just built Club Desire which would go on to become one of the US’s most legendary venues.
The Selective Service Act of 1948 was due to be passed and countless young men were conscripted into the military. Jackson Barracks was the site of the conference where the decision was made.
The Louisiana Hayride, a live radio show broadcasting from up the road in Shreveport kicked off on KWKH, a 50,000 watt station on this day back in 1948.
It was a clarion time for country music. WLS in Chicago had a barn dance program. The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville was wildly popular, and the Wheeling Jamboree in Wheeling, West Virginia was routinely packing the house.
As with any creation story there are rival factions with each claiming full credit. On one side of the Louisiana Hayride myth we have the Bailes Brothers, a country act from West Virginia who were met with some success at the Grand Ole Opry in Tennesse before one of the lads girlfriends committed suicide. The puritanical Opry could not have that so the men were summarily fired. They moved west along with WSM (the Opry’s broadcast station) Artist Services Manager Dean Upson who quit his job in solidarity with the Bailes boys.
It was December 1946.
Shreveport must have seemed like the promised land.
Mr Upson landed on his feet and was hired as KWKH sales manager.
The Bailes caught on quick, and began building a following playing barrooms, picnics, auditoriums and church recital halls. Louisiana was super-rural back then and some of their fans reportedly arrived to the shows via oxcart. The Brothers claim they were recruited to come out west by the owners of KWKH to start a radio show based on the Opry.
Of course Horace Logan, a man who’d been employed by KWKH for over a decade had a different perspective. He “created” the Hayride as a linear heir to the Saturday Night Roundup, a formerly successful program that was gutted due to the war effort. After years of employ by the station Logan had scratched his way up the ladder and was now program director.
The wrangling between the Bailes Brothers adherents and the Logan devotees will be raging in minute circles of Louisiana music arcana long after we’re all gone.
But something magical happened in northwest Louisiana starting on April 3rd 1948 when Floyd Acuff strode up to the microphone placed on the stage of the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium. Sadly no known tapes of this performance exist as the FCC did not require radio stations to record their content. If there is a phono acetate of this landmark night it has yet to be found. The Tennessee Mountain boys with Kitty Wells, and Tex Grimsley and the Texas Playboys also commanded the stage that night.
The city of Shreveport leased the Hayride to KWKH for just seventy five bucks a night. The old room often went to capacity with nearly 4,000 people in attendance although it was more common for performers to look out over a hall that was half-full.
The most historically significant country singer to come off the Hayride’s stage was Hank Williams. In his young career he’d developed a reputation for hard-living dotted with only intermittent sobriety, and Shreveport would be the place of his rebirth.
In July of 1948: “(Hank) rode into Shreveport with everything he owned on top of an old Chrysler,” recalled Horace Logan.
A month later Williams would make his Hayride debut with country music scholars at odds over the setlist. Depending on who you believe, Hank played Move It On Over and On the Banks of the Old Pontchartrain or I want to Live and Love with x-wife Audrey accompanying
He was 24 years old. Just 10 months later Hank Jr would be born in Shreveport.
Hank would spend the next three years in the Ark-LA-Tex region before buying a home in Nashville.
When Elvis began performing in October of 1954 his guarantee was only $18 a night. In spite of local legend, Elvis’ popularity was a blow to the Hayride as the teenybopper girl-fans ran the old timers who’d supported the show since day one off. After Colonel Tom Parker spirited Elvis away for good on December 15, 1956, the company labored mightily to coax their former regulars back into the fold.
On August 27, 1960, the Louisiana Hayride ended its big run. KWKH would continue using the Hayride brand for touring packages and what have you but the good times were over. The dram had been drunk dry.
In 1971, in a tale fit for a sad country song, radio executive David Kent bought the Hayride from KWKH and moved the show to his barbecue restaurant in Bossier City. The former glory was gone and the concern lurched and stumbled along until 1987 when it finally expired
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