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Hosea Hill’s Sugar Bowl

Hosea Hill’s Sugar Bowl

In 1964 Bob Dylan’s anthem “The Times They Are A-Changin’” warned America and Cajunland a new era was coming. It would be named the “Hippie” generation. The “Greatest” generation had fought and won World War II and brought peace (for a while) and prosperity to America and the Cajuns, but it was now the “Post War” generation and I was a member.

By 1950 big swing bands were passé and the radio and jukeboxes played solos by Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Jo Stafford, (Shrimp Boats), Rosemary Clooney and Nat “King” Cole. Pretty music but the kids now had money in their pockets and wanted something different. They found it!

Formerly named “Race” music by the music industry, it was now “Rhythm and Blues” and “Rock and Roll”!

The segregation laws of Louisiana barred white people from black nightclubs like Hosea Hill’s “Sugar Bowl” in Thibodaux where all the cool early Rhythm and Blues bands played. Those laws were later over turned by the Supreme Court, and rightly so, but at the time the law was the law and KTIB manager Hal Benson and I wanted to hear those bands. Hosea Hill was a friend of ours so we had a meeting and devised a plan which Hosea said “broke no law, just bent them a little.”

The Sugar Bowl nightclub had a big rectangular opening in the wall between the kitchen and the dance floor for food and bar service but it also framed a great view of the bandstand.

Hosea’s plan was to stack beer cases next to it, technically hiding and segregating us, set up a table and chairs and arrange holes in the stacks big enough to see and hear the bands.

Hal and I enjoyed his hospitably as we sipped our quart bottles of beer and watched some of the legendary acts of the Rhythm and Blues era. We were in the presence of greatness, Big Joe Turner, Fats Domino, Lloyd Price, Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones, Ike and Tina Turner, Frogman Henry, (who later recorded some of my songs), and a young Allan Toussaint, who I had the pleasure many years later to accommodate to Washington, D.C. on music business.

We were thrilled to be able to talk to them in the kitchen. Once the young and future great Ray Charles shook my hand and jokingly said “Leroy, its good to ‘see’ you.” Unforgettable!

Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones was Mr. Hill’s star attraction. Eddie was born in Greenwood, Mississippi on December 10, 1926 and spent his youth in the local clubs singing and dancing. He was so talented he was nicknamed “Limber Legs”.

After returning from World War II military service he came to New Orleans where T-Bone Walker introduced him to the guitar. About that time he met Thibodaux nightclub owner Hosea Hill who became his manager.

Mr. Hill convinced a young Ray Charles, who played at his club, to produce a record for his new singer. He did and a recording session was arranged with Specialty Records in 1951. “The Things I Used To Do” sold over one million records and became a blues standard and made “Guitar Slim” a national star.

Hosea continued to book and promote him but after a few years he lost tract of him and his career faded. He became an alcoholic and died of pneumonia in New York in 1959 broke and penniless. Hosea was called and had Eddie transported to Thibodaux where he is buried next to him.

One gimmick Eddie had was a 350 ft. electric chord between his guitar and the amplifier and he danced out into the street where he stopped traffic. He also dyed his hair the color of his outfit and his last performances were with Muddy Waters in California. We saw his act several times and sometimes fellow announcer Jim Michie and young musician Sydney George would sneak in with us.

Were we breaking the law? That law was later overturned and declared illegal by the Supreme Court so therefore you cannot break an illegal law. Makes sense to me. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


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