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Great Seats for Nascar!

In a Galaxy Far/Far Time away
 and Country Music
Column Nelson Thibodeaux
 Updated 05/25/13 06:54:59 PM   

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January 29, 2011 Grapevine, Texas
a column by Nelson Thibodeaux
Memories from 30 years ago in Grapevine
Earlier this month I received an email from a gentleman by the name of Andy Novak. Andy is a talented amateur musician that does an outstanding job of bringing the famous country artist Johnny Cash back to life on stage. The call from Novak brings back a flood of memories from 30 years ago during the period I owned the Grapevine Opry and managed its operations.  I will be in the audience to see Novak on February 5, 2011 appear at what is now the Palace Theater with Grapevine Opry shows under the directorship of the talented Rocky Gribble and reflect back on another time.

If you like Cash or if you just like to see live music in a family atmosphere, I encourage you to call for reservations and tickets at 817-481-8733. Ticket prices are only $15 for adults and $10 for children 12 and under.
Cash died from complications associated with diabetes in September 2003, he was only 71 years old. Many however say Cash really died from a broken heart after his wife June Carter Cash died at the age of 73 from heart surgery complications in May of 2003.  The couple married in 1968  and their lives were portrayed in the 2005 movie Walk the Line by actors Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.

Photo credit: WordPress.com
 
Novak learned how to play guitar by listening to Johnny Cash records.  Novak reflected that, "I soon became interested in singing and songwriting and became involved with school talent shows in my hometown of Cleburne, Texas."

Novak started early by playing at locations like the famous Cowtown Jamboree at Panther Hall in Fort Worth. He attended Baylor University in the late 70’s, and met up with Kurt Ritch one day while Ritch was playing a banjo in the stairwell of the dorm.  They struck up a friendship and continued to play music together at college, forming a band. While performing contemporary and classic country, Novak said, "I never played a show without bringing out my Fender guitar at some point and singing a Cash medley."

Andy Novak at 13 years old at the famous old Panther Hall in Fort Worth.

 
After college, Kurt and Novak auditioned for the Grapevine Opry as a duo in 1984. At that time, among other interests, the author owned and managed the Grapevine Opry.

Novak recalled in his email that, "At that time, the Opry was showcasing local talent during the first part of the show and then bringing on a big-name country act during the second half. Kurt played the banjo and I sang and played the Fender Telecaster. We’d usually start out with “Folsom Prison Blues” and Kurt would treat the folks to “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” at some point during our set."


Country Music Star Faron Young and Nelson Thibodeaux 1984 at the Grapevine Opry.
Novak wrote, "The first country star we opened for was Faron Young who was as nice as he could be. Faron remembered me later when I was vacationing in Nashville and happened to run into him at the Hall Of Fame Hotel Restaurant. Faron saw me and asked, 'How’s Grapevine'?"
Novak continued, "Among others, we also opened for Jim Ed Brown and The Judds when they rolled into town around 1985. The Opry was lucky in that The Judds had been booked months before “Mama He’s Crazy” went to #1 and they were a bargain to say the least. I think they got paid $3,000 for two sold out shows if I recall correctly."
Naomi and Wynonna Judd at the Grapevine Opry 1985.

Actually, I had been invited with other venue owners to a Showcase of talent by the Halsey Talent agency held at Billy Bob's in Fort Worth more than a year before their appearance at my Grapevine Opry location.  While I never personally had a lick of musical talent; I always felt if I really liked a group that maybe others would enjoy them as well.  I spoke to the agent and signed a contract to bring the Judds to Grapevine and yes the commitment was $3,000. One reason that stars would offer to perform for a better rate was their love of the Grapevine Opry as being a family concert theater.


Nelson Thibodeaux with the Judds during their 1985 appearance at the Grapevine Opry.  After missing their 10/84 date, "Momma He's Crazy" AND "Why not Me" had both hit #1 on the Billboard charts.
The Judds were actually scheduled to appear in Grapevine in October 1984, but their agent called and said the duo had a "Career Date" opening for Lee Greenwood.  However, they agreed to honor their contract and appear at the Grapevine Opry in January 1985.

By the time January rolled around the duo was commanding around $25,000 to $35,000 per date.  Regardless these professionals honored their contract and
remained to sign autographs for every fan that asked that evening.
The ending story of my time with the Grapevine Opry was difficult.  After buying the facility on an interim loan of $400,000 we put a contract on the old Yates Dry Good Store then adjacent to the theater.  Based on architectural drawings and our plan to add a country restaurant and entertainment facility to the theater I obtained approval on a permanent take out for $1.35 million to complete the project.  The S&L crisis hit and at the closing table we were informed our lender had been seized and closed. We didn't get to pull off my dream for the theater including a site for music videos and live broadcast, but it was a great ride working with both local and national country talent.
On the evening the Judds appeared; I showed them what real talent was as part of my MC duties I performed my version of Steve Martin's "King Tut"..."when he was a young man he never thought he see people standing in line to see the boy king!"  King Tut!  Having no talent never stopped me from giving it a shot!
While the Grapevine Opry underwent numerous changes, Novak continued his love of music appearing on the Johnny High show and has continued to hone his talent over the years. Novak recalled, "The last time I saw Johnny Cash in concert was 1997 at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas, Texas. Little did I know that the four musicians who were on stage with him that night would be at my house eating supper, doing a recording session together, and presenting a Johnny Cash tribute with me on the Johnnie High Show in 2001 at the Arlington Music Hall

Novak continued, "Since I was a kid, I had dreamed of playing lead guitar for Johnny Cash. Although I had met Cash a couple of times over the years before or after his shows, I never was able to play for him…but headlining a show backed by the Johnny Cash band was still a childhood dream come true. The late Johnnie High knew how important it was to me and just gave me the stage to do as I wished that night. A live CD was produced at the time that included all the hits such as “Ring Of Fire”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, and “I Walk The Line”. There’s nothing like a live recording that captures the essence of the energy of a performance."


Novak 2nd from right with the Johnny Cash Show Band at his house in 2001.

Novak remembered, "In 2003, after Johnny passed away, I was asked to join the Cash band at a post-television taping party at the Sheraton Hotel in Nashville. Once again I had the pleasure of picking with these guys who were my heroes. In 2005, I received a call from Tommy Cash, Johnny’s younger brother, asking me to back him in Memphis, along with the rest of the Cash band, at a celebration of Johnny’s 50 years since starting in show business. Still again, I was able to make music with these guys who I greatly admired. I was also pleased to get to know Luther Perkins’ widow, Margie, who said Luther “would be proud of me” if he were alive today. A joyous moment came when Cindy Cash, one of John’s daughters, expressed thanks to me for “doing such an authentic job on Daddy’s songs”. That meant the world to me."
Andy Novak will be presenting his exceptional talent at the Grapevine Opry next Saturday Feb. 5, 2011.  If you have not been to the Grapevine Opry or not visited for a while, join LNO at the Saturday night performance and remember a great talent and say hello to a great bunch of country fans. Novak said, "I was reintroduced to the Grapevine Opry in the early to mid 90’s after Rocky Gribble began managing the venue. I believe I was on 2-3 times during that period and quickly became aware of not only Rocky’s unique management ability, but also his superb musicianship. He made being on the show a lot of fun and also inspired me to be the very best I could be as a singer, musician, and guitar player. It’s been well over 15 years since I’ve been on the Grapevine Opry stage."
I promise you will not be subject to "King Tut" this coming Saturday but a gifted band leader and talented studio musician. Rocky Gribble has managed the musical talent at the theater for the past decade.  Along with the appearance of Novak, the show promises to be a showcase of a lot of stage talent.

The history of the Grapevine Opry still makes fascinating reading today.  Regardless if you are a new resident to the area or, been living in the area for more than 30 years, the story of the Grapevine Opry, now the Palace Theater, is always an intriguing read  The Grapevine Opry touched many aspiring country singers. Some that appeared as amateurs on the stage of the Opry in Grapevine have managed to sustain themselves in the business as professionals. From Nashville to Branson there are talented musicians that at one time or another appeared in Grapevine at the Opry.

Johnny High and Chisai Childs launched the theater in the mid-seventies.  After a breakup of the pair their roads took much different paths.  With Chisai's blessing the Grapevine Opry was sold to me while Chisai said she was going to concentrate on her Branson, Missouri theater with Las Vegas type shows.

Johnny High passed away last year but not without an amazing career in the local market performing every Saturday night.  High help launch the careers of many country stars including Leeann Rimes and others.  High's musical group played at Presidential Inaugurations and at the White House.  It is rumored that Chisai ended up getting a major slice of her wealthy Grand Aunt Susie Slaughter money albeit through Susie's sister known as "Annie Mouse".  I heard from someone four years ago that he was driving through Missouri and actually ran into Chisai working at a hamburger stand.  Guess $10 million just didn't go that far.


The Grapevine Opry 1976
To learn more about this once famous icon and about the interesting characters from the late Johnny High, Box Car Willie and even a stint of ownership by the author
visit the March 2003 column that appeared in Local News Only - Click Here


The Opry Stage before a 1987 fire gutted the building and destroyed the stage.
THE GRAPEVINE OPRY
In 1939 it was built as the Palace Movie Theater

In 1975 it was renovated as the Grapevine Opry

In 1982 Chisai Childs declares bankruptcy at the Opry

In 1983 Oil Millionaire Susie Slaughter rescues the Opry

In 1984 Nelson Thibodeaux buys the Opry

1984-1986 under Thibodeaux, the theater continued to featured locals but
brought in major country stars like The Judds, Faron Young, Kitty Wells,
 Porter Wagoner, Box Car Willie, Jeannie C. Riley, Lynn Anderson, Bobby Helms,
Jim Ed Brown, Little Jimmy Dickens, Leon Rausch, Shelly West, David Frizzell, Jeannie Seely, Charley Pride, Johnny Paycheck and more..Along with the history that Willie Nelson stopped by the Opry one night in the1980s in bus and did 45 minutes surprise show from the Grapevine Opry stage.

In 1987 new owner and fire alters original Opry design

In 1990s City buys building to renovate as Palace Theater

In 2003 the Palace Theater is Movies and the Grapevine Opry

Click Here for the legend of the Grapevine Opry story!

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Nelson Thibodeaux, Editor
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