Posts Tagged ‘Jimmy Menutis’

My Top Ten Early Rock ‘n Roll Hits

August 17, 2010

This has to be said up front. There really is no way to come up with a Top Ten Early Rock ‘n Roll Hits list that doesn’t leave someone or something deserving totally out of the picture. When it come to all the early performing giants, people like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis, we could take almost any of their songs and justify its place on a legitimate list.

With that much in mind, what I’ve tried to do here is simply list the songs that came along and struck me hard, from 1954 through 1957, when I was 16 to 19 years old, when Jimmy Menutis’s club in Houston was about to start its reign, as the mind-set, music, and culture changing songs of that era. The songs I love from that era are ten times greater, at least, so that means that my final top tem bunch leaves out many great hits – and even some great artists – people like Buddy “Cricking” Holly, for gosh sakes. That being said, here’s my list:

Turner's work fore-ran the great radio crossover of "black music" to mainstream radio, but it all begin to happen in 1954.

(1) “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” (1954). Who among us from that era could ever forget the beat and the lyrics of the song – and the deep, happy voice of the man who performed them, Big Joe Turner? “I’m like a one-eyed cat, peepin’ in a seafood store! – I can look at you and tell you ain’t no child no more!”

“Shake, Rattle, and Roll” should be the unarguable first rock ‘n roll song on everyone’s list. If it’s not, you weren’t listening at the moment of the genre’s big bang experience, when the music you could only hear on all black radio stations suddenly got too big and too commercial to be passed over any longer by the all-white “Goodnight, Irene” – playing music stations. I may be wrong, but I think “Shake” was the first to make it all the way over to Houston’s two most popular white AM radio DJ’s, Paul Berlin of KNUZ and Bob Byron of KILT.

"Maybelline" was a real gas pedal pusher.

(2) “Maybelline” (1955). This one blows past our earliest discovery of Elvis in “That’s All Right” and I don’t know how many other songs by Little Richard and Fats Domino, plus all those great group hits. like “Earth Angel” by The Penguins, but it was the great Chuck Berry at his “drivin’ fool” first best effort at singlehandedly taking over the new music that both accelerated and satisfied the angst of our testosterone-pumping, adolescent minds, bodies, and souls – and especially so when we climbed behind the wheels of our muscle machines and hit the Gulf Freeway for Galveston with our girls by our sides on those ever always practical bench car seats that used to be the app that made our driving world a happy place to be.

“As I was a motivatin’ over the hiil, I caught Maybelline in a Coupe DeVille; Cadillac rollin’ on a open road; nothing out-run my V-8 Ford.”

(3) “Long Tall Sally” (1955). Little Richard is one of the music artists with a legitimate claim on the “Father of Rock n’ Roll” title if it weren’t for the fact the presence of so many others in that category suggests that the change was a process movement in music and not a sudden birth in high C section from the rhythm and blues genre. If anything, rock n’ roll came together in a way that united early black and white music folk forms, taking a whole lot from black rhythm and blues, but also borrowing from white country and western too.

We could easily substitute “Tutti Frutti” or “Rip It Up’ here and lose nothing from the idea that Little Richard was a major first contributor to the earliest echoes of rock ‘n roll.

Bill Haley and The Comets hit us big time!

(4) “Rock Around The Clock” (1955). No rock and roll song ever landed harder upon my generation of the 1950s, not even “Blue Suede Shoes.” When a bunch of us first heard it, we had all gone together as a group to the Loews State Theater in downtown Houston to see the highly touted new movie of teenage rebellion called “Blackboard Jungle.” Unknown to us until that moment, the movie started with Bill Haley and the Comets performing this now iconic song for the first time that any of us had ever heard it.

“One! Two! Three O’Clock! Four O’Clock Rock! ~ Five! SIx! Seven O’Clock! EIght O’Clock Rock! ~ Nine! Ten! Eleven O’Clock! Twelve O’Clock Rock! ~ We’re Gonna Rock! Around! The Clock Tonight! …”

What happened next was both amazing and original to the situation. We were all on our feet cheering. And dancing in the aisles. We’ve been dancing and cheering ever since. And “Rock Around the Clock” remains today the same as it was from public birth – The International Anthem of Rock ‘n Roll Joy!

Fats Domino: "Baby, don't you let your dog bite me!"

(5) “I’m In Love Again” (1955). So many other great hits from the music genius of Fats Domino would fit here. This one just happened to hit my teenage ears over the car radio on a night I was driving home from another new venture into falling in love. Unfortunately, it was neither my first nor last trip over the falls of bittersweet pain, but good old Fats did his part that night in helping to write the soundtrack of my early times life.

“Yes, it’s me, and I’m in love again! – Had no lovin’ since you know when! OOH-WEE, BABY! – OOH-OOH-WEE! BABY DON’T YOU LET YOUR DOG BITE ME!”

It wasn’t her dog that bit me back in the day; nor was it the bittersweet music of good old Fats that tore into my heart and soul where women were concerned. I just had some growing up to do about love and what was really possible in a relationship between a man and a woman, including the big bopper lesson that learning about love is a lifetime school.

Carl Perkins

(6) Blue Suede Shoes (1956). Carl Perkins wrote it. Elvis Presley gave it immortality.  In the minds of many, it remains as the greatest rock ‘n roll hit of all time. – I remember going to see Carl Perkins perform at the old Sam Houston Coliseum in Houston around this time. The place was packed because of “Blue Suede Shoes” hit and we were literally swept away in the human crush of a packed house when Perkins finally got around to doing his famous number. It was also around this same time period tha Carl’s friend, ELvis, was making and releasing his own version of “Blue Suede Shoes” in a much faster and hipper tempo and style on a record that would carry the hit to other galaxies.

Perkins wrote the song one night after he came home from playing a high school prom and over-hearing a young man telling his date, “Listen, when we’re dancing, please try not to step on my blue suede shoes. OK?” Sometimes good things happen when we are paying attention.

Right Carl?

Jerry Lee Lewis

(7) Great Balls of Fire (1956). Substitute “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” or any other favorite Jerry Lee Lewis song here and I have no problem with the change as long as the man and his dawn-stormin’ music makes the list. Jerry Lee was the most insanely talented early contributor to “R&R” from the country/white Protestant gospel culture that produced him.

The life and music of Jerry Lee Lewis left everybody breathless and with a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on.

(8) “Good Golly, Miss Molly” (1957). Little Richard returns to the list with a hit that was big enough to impress a 10-year old future President of the United States. Young Bil Clinton of Hope, Arkansas was busy picking up the saxophone and the music of Little Richard around the time this mega-hit came out. He loved it so much that he would one day prevail upon the “Father of Rock n’ Roll” to perform “Good Golly, Miss Molly at a party celebrating his 1993 presidential inauguration while he, the new American President, accompanied “LR” on the sax. (This act would have been big at Jimmy Menutis back in the day.)

(9) Johnny B. Goode (1957). “Go, Johnny, Go!”  The hard-driving lyrics of this classic rock ‘n roll number by Chuck Berry still pound the message of the genre out there at a rate faster than the culture of that time could absorb it. It was about freedom of artistic expression on a level that went way beyond the in-bred marriage of the majority white culture to the values of prudence and control of the arts, two qualities that eventually go beyond directing energy and start choking creativity.

“Long live rock ‘n roll! Deliver us from the days of old” – Chuck Berry.

"Thank you! - Thank you very much!"

(10) “Hound Dog” (1957). By this time in 1957, you could have picked a number of other Elvis Presley hits for this lace in the Top Ten List. I chose “Hound Dog” because I think it represents something of a final victory point in the culture war for rock ‘n roll’s right to survive. as an everyday part of our main culture life. Back in 1954-55, the airways were battling to play rock ‘n roll live over the air on pretty much of a case-by-case basis. Artists like Little Sylvia Vander pool were being banned for “suggestive” lyrics. Sylvia took the ban for a little song called “Fine Love,” in which she sang about “fine love…fine kisses…right here.”

The lyrics to “Hound DOg” were fairly innocuous, but they were being sung by Elvis Presley, and it was now 1957, and rock ‘n roll was here to stay.

Places like the Jimmy Menutis club in Houston helped seal the deal on “R&R” becoming a permanent part of our everyday American lives. Thank you, Jimmy!

Long live rock ‘n roll! And long live Jimmy Menutis and his contributions to American music history!

Also, please comment below. We’d love to hear your own top ten lists too.

A Letter to Jimmie Menutis

August 15, 2010

This morning brought a pleasant surprise. It was an overnight e-mail letter to the readers of the Pecan Park Eagle from the one and only Jimmy Menutis. It’s already posted where Jimmy left it as a two-part comment on the PPE article headlined as “Jimmy Menutis: Houston Heart of Rock ‘n Roll,” but I wanted to repeat his two messages here to make sure that no one misses them:

(1) From Jimmie Menutis to Pecan Park Eagle Readers, 08/15/10, 5:06 AM ~

I am very happy to see all the reply and fond memory. I too have great memory of all my friends and customers. Guess what… wife of 50 years and I still dance the whip.
We are living in new orleans, also have a condo in the metropolis o w.gray in Houston. We have a business in Lafayette, la and spend time there.

We are considering having a reunion In new Orleans with one of the name artist if you wish to be invited send your name and address by mail to

Jimmie menutis
110 Travis street
Lafayette, la. 70503

Circulate this message to others you know would want to attend.


(2) From Jimmie Menutis to Pecan Park Eagle Readers, 08/15/10, 5:09 AM ~

Love to hear from all my friends.

Jimmie Menutis
110 Travis St.
Lafayette, La. 70503


Response Letter to Jimmie Menutis from Bill McCurdy, The Pecan Park Eagle ~

Dear Jimmie,

It is both an honor and a joy to hear from you. Although you have never met most or all of us who have written our happy recollections here lately of your once-great club on Telephone Road, we hope you will easily see from what has been written how big you still are in our hearts and memories of that wonderful period in our earlier lives.

I am also posting your contact information a second time here so that our readers will be able to contact you directly about their availability for a reunion party in New Orleans, Lafayette, or Houston somewhere down the line. My guess is that a Houston party might require the rental of a pretty large hall, sort of a “Jimmy Menutis II” site, if you please.

My wife and I would love to join you and Mrs. Menutis for such a party, if you decide to have one, and I also invite you to use this site to get out information to your many fans, as well, about a party, about the music of those good old days, or anything else you may be up to in these new good old days that you care to share with the general public. All you have to do is post it here as a comment following this article – or else, drop me an e-mail if it’s a whole new subject.

Thanks again for writing, Jimmie. And long live rock ‘n roll and the Menutis legacy.


Bill McCurdy, Editor, The Pecan Park Eagle

Jimmy Menutis: Houston Heart of Rock ‘n Roll

August 5, 2010

Jimmy Menutis: Houston’s Home for Rock ‘n Roll

Sometime in the late 1950s, a swarthy-looking, cigar-chomping, ever-smiling Greek fellow named Jimmy Menutis bought The Wayside, an east end suburban movie theatre on Telephone Road, near Wayside Drive, and turned it into a club for contemporary music and dancing. For about five years, the place flourished as the biggest big-name rock ‘n roll music venue to ever hit Houston.

Jimmy Menutis’s place boomed fast as no ordinary club in town ever had – and with good reason. Jimmy started bringing in some of the biggest, most popular rock ‘n roll, jazz, and blues stars in the country – and they were all pumping their talents into the lore of the Houston East End at a scale and rate that no one could ever  have predicted, or accepted as reality, until it actually landed on top of us and happened.

Louis Armstrong, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, Brook Benton, Sam Cooke, Earl Grant, Jimmy Reed, and countless others were simply a few of the headliners who played at Jimmy Menutis. Except for Elvis, and I’m not sure what happened there; Elvis loved playing Houston; just about everyone else made it here to play this hottest venue in the South.

Menutis had gutted the old theater seats, replacing that area with ample table settings and plenty of room left over for dancing. The old stage remained for performers, but acts were free to wind their away into the seating areas and perform up close and personal for members of the audience.

As a young man who got to experience the greats of rock and roll in live performances because of Jimmy Menutis, all I can tell you is that it was one “cool and crazy” ride, my friends. For me personally, on a site  that stood no more than two miles from my childhood home in Pecan Park, I was getting to hear all of my major music heroes in person, doing all the popular music I then still owned on vinyl .45’s and very  breakable .78s.

“Maybelline” by Chuck Berry, “Good Golly, Miss Molly” by Little Richard, “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino, “Jeepers Creepers” by Louis Armstrong, “What a Wonderful World It Will Be” by Sam Cooke, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” by Jerry Lee Lewis, and “Ain’t That Lovin’ You, Baby” by Jimmy Reed,  are just a few of the great songs that came straight to the heart of Houston because of Jimmy Menutis.

Jimmy Menutis closed sometime in the mid-1960s, during the time I already had moved to New Orleans for graduate school at Tulane. Music was changing by then and so was the country. By then, the Beatles had captured the hearts of the even younger generation and Viet Nam and the Civil Rights Movement had put a final wrap on our old 1950s age of innocent denial or oblivion to weightier matters.

Rock ‘n Roll wasn’t going away with the death of places like Jimmy Menutis. It was simply heading into a quieter phase of it’s still continuous evolution as an American musical art form. Those of us who came of age with Chuck, Fats, Jerry Lee, and Little Richard will keep their brash bashing of words, beat, and melody alive for as long as we all last and longer.

By the time I came back to Houston from school and teaching at Tulane, some of the old rock ‘n rollers were still skirting through Houston for a few gigs and, as a still single young man at that time, I did what I could to catch their acts whenever any of the biggies came to town.

My favorite memory dates back to 1970, when my date and I went out to the Club Bwana in Pasadena to hear a weekend performance by Chuck Berry. It’s good we made early reservations for the Saturday night show because the little place was packed with people waiting on stand-by in the hope of getting in. Our small table was right near the performer’s dressing room, which was great because Chuck Berry would have to pass right by us to get to the stage. My back was to his dressing room door, but I kept looking over my shoulder, hoping to catch him from the moment he appeared.

I didn’t make it. I got distracted by the emcee’s introduction. Then it suddenly dawned on me that he was no longer doing a blah-lah about someone else. He was introducing Chuck Berry.

Chuck Berry Rocked the Club Bwana Back in 1970!

I turned to my left and abruptly found myself staring eye-level into the shine of a beautifully red-surfaced, heart-shaped guitar. Lifting my gaze, I just as suddenly found myself staring into the eyes of the one and only Chuck Berry. He was standing right beside our table, waiting for the emcee to finish his intro.

“Hi Ya, Chuck!” I blurted out.

“How you doin’, man?” Chuck Berry answered.


The golden moment had ended, but the imagery lives on forever in my brain, right there with the time I made eye contact with Joe DiMaggio in April 1951, right after he caught a fly ball in the outfield at Buff Stadium and I was standing behind the SRO crowd ropes in left center field near the spot of his catch.

People like me never forget a conversation with someone like Chuck Berry, even one as short as ours in 1970.

The rest of the night was legendary for all who crowded into the Club Bwana that night. Chuck Berry played on violently for about two hours, stopping only long enough to wipe perspiration and slug down another glass of water. He was getting all of our love that special night and he fed on it with a non-stop heart and soul performance.

I don’t get around much, anymore, but I sure remember the times I did. And I wouldn’t trade any of them for anything in the world. And places like Jimmy Menutis and the Club Bwana hold a lot of very special memories for me.