Memorable Bar Fights
Updated: Nov 20
As a working musician, playing in bars night after night for years - decades actually - I've seen my fair share of violence. I've never personally been involved in a bar fight, though I've had a couple of close calls. I'm just a peace-and-love, live-and-let-live kinda guy. I abhor violence.
When I was young and green, the first few bar fights I witnessed I was shocked and traumatized. However, I quickly developed a detachment and learned to appreciate them for their drama and entertainment value.
I've played clubs where it was unusual when there wasn't a fight. I've known guys that just didn't feel right if they didn't get beat up on a regular basis. I had a student who was a doctor and spent his internship in the ER of a local hospital in Kansas City, Kansas. He told me they'd see the same guys every weekend. I told him,
"Yeah, I was in the bar playing for those guys and saw the fight that sent 'em to the ER!"
Lest I be open to the charge of romanticizing bar fights ("polishing turds" as it were), let me state upfront that the vast majority of bar fights are sad, pathetic, stupid events engaged in by drunk losers that are best forgotten. However, occasionally something happens to make a bar fight memorable.
The following incidents are what come immediately to mind. I'm using the club-names as titles. Most of these clubs are long gone. Besides, the statute of limitations has kicked in.
350 Showcase: Raytown, Missouri
Raytown is a suburb of Kansas City. I was in a house band there six nights a week for a year and a half in 1980-81. The owner, bartenders and bouncers all carried blackjacks &/or billy clubs. That gives you an idea how common bar fights were in this place.
One night after the gig was over, I had my guitar packed up and was visiting with some regulars before going home. I heard a couple of bottles shattering - that would be a couple of guys busting beer bottles on the bar and using them to cut each other. The bouncers made short work of throwing them out. I thought,
"You know, I think I'll just wait a few minutes before going out to the parking lot and heading home."
A few minutes later I stepped out the front door to be greeted by the awesome spectacle of at least 40 people fighting in the parking lot. The club owner and bouncers were indiscriminately pounding on anyone within reach, trying to break it up. Men, women, it didn't matter, it was the most out-of-control, drunken bloody brawl I've ever seen.
I was standing next to a bartender with my mouth hanging open, just watching.
A lone figure detaches from the mob, gets on his motorcycle and heads out. As he crosses right in front of us, the bartender whacks him on the helmet with a billy club. The guy rides off down the highway swerving back and forth, certainly stunned and probably drunk.
"Why would you do that?" I thought, "The guy was leaving the fight!"
Instead I asked, "Where are the cops?"
The bartender replied,
"They're not coming. No one will call them because the owner's son is in the middle of this thing and there's a warrant out on him. So we have to take care of it ourselves!"
The Red Apple: Sedalia Missouri
The Red Apple was behind a bowling alley in the same building. You could hear pins crashing between songs.
One night the power went out for about 10 seconds. During the 10 seconds the lights were out a guy got stabbed.
Coincidence? I think not!
Timber Creek Bar & Grill: Louisburg, Kansas
That means two women are going at it. When that happens the guys form a circle around them to egg them on and also to prevent the bouncers from getting to them for as long as possible. Catfight - now that's entertainment!
The band was on break when this happened, and normally an incident like this wouldn't be memorable but in this case I became aware of an amazing irony; the song playing on the jukebox providing the soundtrack to this little snapshot of Americana was John Lennon's Give Peace a Chance!
All we are saying...Catfight! ...Is give peace a chance!...You f---in' bitch! ...All we are saying!...You G--D---m little whore I'll scratch your eyes out!...Is give peace a chance!
Rhythm and Brews: Kansas City, Kansas
The club was in a not-so-good part of town, across the street from a railroad yard. The parking lot was not paved, just gravel.
One night as I was coming in to work I passed by two guys fighting in the parking lot. One guy was face down, and the other guy was sitting on top of him with a handful of hair, banging and grinding his face in the gravel. As Johnny Cash would say,
"Kickin' and a-gougin' in the mud and the blood and the beer."
As I walked in I told the doorman,
"Hey, there's a couple of guys going at it in your parking lot."
The doorman shrugged and said,
"Yeah, we just threw 'em out. What happens outside ain't none-a-my business."
Alrighty then! Maybe an hour later I'm onstage playing and I notice these same two guys at the bar all buddy-buddy, with their arms around each other's shoulders, laughing and talking and buying each other drinks, still bloody and dirty from rolling around outside in the gravel.
I came to the conclusion that what I had witnessed in the parking lot was not a fight but was actually a white-trash male bonding ritual.
Ramada Inn: Belton, Missouri
Every once in a while a musician winds up in a bar fight. What's not as rare are musicians fighting other musicians, i. e. the infamous band fight! The band fight is a different category, however, and will not be included here.
To call the following "a musician in a bar fight" is stretching it because it was one-sided.
The band was 4 or 5 pieces; a typical variety dance band, early eighties.
There was this one little drunk old lady who kept yelling, "Play 'Celebration!'" We ignored her; she kept yelling. Finally, she came up, put a whole quarter in the tip jar and demanded that we play "Celebration."
Everybody in this band could sing lead. We voted and the drummer drew the short straw. Instead of the word "Celebration" he inserted every other word he could think of that fit.
"For-ni-ca-tion! We gonna masturbate and have a good time!"
And so on.
Well, this little old lady was so pissed-off she physically attacked our keyboard player who was about 6'5" and 280 pounds! It was like a Chihuahua attacking a St Bernard! I mean she was pounding on him with her little fists!
Of course, he wasn't gonna deck a little old lady, but as he was blocking the flurry of tiny punches, being ever the gentleman he was, he exclaimed, "Get this f--kin' old bitch off me!"
"Lady!" yelled the drummer with exasperation into the microphone, "I don't know what your problem is! We gave you your quarter's worth!"
Chouteau Inn: North Kansas City, Missouri
Another dunk old lady and musician story - only this time the musician is me! Not my finest moment.
The club was large, I would guess capacity was around 500, maybe more. It was pretty rough; there was a sign that said all motorcycle helmets and chains were to be checked at the door - not allowed in the club. It was common for people to be patted down before being let in.
The band was instructed to play a ballad as the last song of the night; it was actually written into the contract. That way there would be less trouble in the parking lot after closing. That says something, don't it?
The gig was Tuesday through Sunday. Sunday night was usually pretty dead.
On this particular Sunday night there was a drunk old lady dancing by herself on the dance floor. She stagger-danced up to the stage which was raised about 4 feet, and out of all the space in this huge club, managed to pass out standing up, but draped across my pedalboard!
Continuing to play, but being mindful of the possiblity of having to clean old-lady vomit off my pedalboard if I didn't do something, I put my foot on her shoulder and pushed her off the pedalboard causing her to roll off the stage and collapse onto the dance floor. A bouncer came over and dragged her off.
After the song was over the drummer leaned over and said,
"Man I can't believe you kicked that old lady!"
Maybe I remember this because I still feel guilty about it. If I could, I would apologize, but she wouldn't remember.
P.S. I've written a whole blog post on another incident at the Chouteau Inn; see The Mob Got Our Gear Back!
Flamingo Lounge: Kansas City, Missouri
Dude, I could write a book about this place! 9:30-2:30, 5 sets a night, 5 or 6 nights a week. It was a brutal schedule. And...the doorman and bouncers all carried blackjacks.
One of the bands I was in that played there on a regular basis had a frontman/singer who was a Performance Art kind of guy. He would let things happen, even encourage out-of-control incidents, just so he could work it into being part of the show. He was also the bandleader.
So it wasn't unusual when this drunk guy came up and asked to sing with the band that Mr Frontman, sensing an opportunity, says,
"Sure! Whadda ya wanna do?"
"I wanna sing "Message in a Bottle" by the Police."
"Oooh!" I thought, "singing like Sting is not gonna be easy! This guy better be good!"
I started the guitar hook and the band kicked in. Welp, the guy was horrible, just awful. After about a minute, with the club owner frantically giving us the cutoff sign, Mr Frontman sidles up to the guy, smiling all buddy-buddy, and gently tries to take the mic back.
Mr Drunk Singer was not about to give it up. A tug of war ensued that escalated into Mr Drunk Singer and Mr Frontman physically wrestling around on the dance floor, fighting over the microphone while the packed house looked on.
While this spectacle is going on the band keeps playing. One of the bouncers looks at me with a question on his face; "Do I need to break this up or is it part of the show?" He was confused.
I shook my head, let's give it a minute and see what happens.
Mr Drunk Singer gets the upper hand and pins Mr Frontman. Mr Frontman yells,
"Uncle! Uncle! I give up!"
Mr Drunk Singer thereupon stands up with mic in hand and continues his horrifying rendition of "Message in a Bottle."
While he's doing this, unbeknownst to Mr Drunk Singer, Mr Frontman crawls across the dance floor on his belly and ties Mr Drunk Singer's shoelaces together, stands up, pounds him in the chest, knocking him off balance and grabs the microphone.
At that point 3 bouncers descend on Mr Drunk Singer. Mr Drunk Singer does not go easy into the dark night. He fights 3 bouncers at the same time, who never have him totally under control, knocking over tables, spilling drinks and scattering customers, all the way to the door, WITH HIS FEET TIED TOGETHER!!!
It was freakin' epic!
The last time I played the Flamingo Lounge, probably mid-nineties, was with the same Frontman/Bandleader.
We were onstage and could see trouble brewing at the end of the bar. We were motioning to the bouncers to step in before things came to blows. The bouncers saw us, acknowledged our gestures, but did nothing.
They let it happen, then beat the crap out of those two guys. And it was all legal; they were just "doing their job." At the end of the night they were all sitting around bragging about how they broke this guy's nose and that guy's teeth and I was sick and disgusted by it all. So was Mr Frontman.
"That's it!" he said, "We're never coming back here! When people would rather fight than f--k I don't want anything to do with it!"
True to his word, we never booked back. About a year later a guy got shot and killed in the parking lot.
Good call, Mr Frontman.
Froggy's: Knobtown, Missouri
Knobtown is not actually a town. It's an unincorporated intersection where Noland Road crosses Missouri 350. It sits between Raytown and Unity Village southeast of Kansas City. It's just down the road from where the 350 Showcase was.
"Knobtown" is an apt name because the anchor business of the intersection is a strip club, which, as I write this over 30 years later, is still there. It sits on the northeast quadrant of the intersection. Across MO 350 on the southeast corner is a row of shops, including a massage parlor, which is also still there. On the northwest corner is a fruit stand and on the southwest corner sat Froggy's. That corner is now an empty lot; Froggy's has long since been torn down.
Anyway, Froggy's had a concrete dance floor with a drain in the middle. At the end of the night they would just hose the broken glass, beer, blood and whatever else down the drain and call 'er done.
About half a mile north on Noland road was a dirt racetrack, complete with grandstands.
I used to play Froggy's every Sunday night with singer Jim LaForte. I've written several blogs about Jim. You can find them in Jam Tales. I'll also link to them at the end of this post.
The bass player in that band was Blake Hughes. He's one of my favorite bass players and I've worked with him a lot over the years, and still do, occasionally. He uttered one of the funniest lines - in my opinion - ever spoken onstage:
"We've become caricatures of ourselves!"
Contrary to my usual practice I'm naming Blake because if you know him, that makes this story ten times funnier. We're friends and I don't think he'll mind. Blake is not a brawler. He's intelligent and sensitive; the ironies of being a musician, and of life in general, are not lost on him. He's built like me, thin but not quite as tall. However, I think he channels Loki the Trickster at times.
One Sunday night in August Blake and I arrive together. There had been motorcycle races up the road all weekend and the place is packed with bikers. No air conditioning either. I'm talking acres of hair, sweat and leather.
So these two skinny guys (me and Blake) are standing in the middle of all this and suddenly, with no warning, Blake says real loud,
"WELL, YA BETTER WATCH OUT CAUSE I'M GONNA START SOME SHIT IN HERE TONIGHT!"
It got real quiet; I was sweating bullets. I was thinking, "What the hell, Blake? Are you insane?"
There was no bar fight; 20 or 30 bikers turned around and looked at us - and then turned back, laughing.
Tinker's Lounge: Grandview, Missouri
I was in the house band at Tinker's for several months in 1978. The wall behind the stage was a floor-to-ceiling mirror.
Every Thursday there was a wet t-shirt contest. The band would play while the girls "competed." Then we would take a break while the girls would line up and be judged by applause. The winner would get maybe $100.
Of course, the place would pack out every Thursday and there would always be a couple of Grandview cops standing just inside the door, making sure all nipples were covered, if only by a wet t-shirt.
Perhaps I was naive. It just occurred to me that maybe the "law" was the excuse and they were really there to check out the girls. Cops... you just never know.
On the particular Thursday in question, the band had left the stage and the girls were lined up in front of the stage for the judging. The place was packed with testosterone-fueled hooting and hollering. Suddenly, from out of the crowd, someone threw a glass. I didn't see where it came from; my eyes happened to be elsewhere. The glass hit the backstage wall, shattering the floor-to-ceiling mirror into a thousand pieces all over the stage.
For about 3 seconds the silence was so intense you could cut it with a knife. I remember wondering what the cops were gonna do; it felt like something was about to explode. Then from somewhere in the room I heard our keyboard player say,
"Let's kill him!"
I was shocked that he would say that, but the tension broke, there was laughter and a couple of bouncers quickly and quietly ushered the guy out the back door.
To this day, I don't know if our keyboard player was good, or lucky.
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