Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air: Legends
of West Texas Music
by Christopher Oglesby
Published by the University
of Texas Press:
"As a whole, the interviews create
a portrait not only of Lubbock's musicians and artists, but also
of the musical community that has sustained them, including venues
such as the legendary Cotton Club and the original Stubb's Barbecue.
This kaleidoscopic portrait of the West Texas music scene gets
to the heart of what it takes to create art in an isolated, often
inhospitable environment. As Oglesby says, "Necessity is
the mother of creation. Lubbock needed beauty, poetry, humor,
and it needed to get up and shake its communal ass a bit or go
mad from loneliness and boredom; so Lubbock created the amazing
likes of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Terry Allen, and
"Indeed, Oglesby's introduction of more
than two dozen musicians who called Lubbock home should be required
reading not only for music fans, but for Lubbock residents and
anyone thinking about moving here. On these pages, music becomes
a part of Lubbock's living history."
- William Kerns, Lubbock Avalanche Journal
A Lock of Bonnie Parker's Hair
A Short Story by Johnny Hughes,
author of the novel Texas
In 1963, I formed a strange friendship with this old gambler
named Soft Shoe O' Shea, or just Shoes. He was a regular fixture
around the lobby of the Adolphus Hotel, the fanciest hotel in
all of Texas. The lobby was a beehive of activity and a real
power center. There were several lush, leather couches that sat
beneath these huge oil paintings of western scenes. There were
often big oilmen there looking at maps, trading leases, or listening
to another story from Shoes. The oilmen wore the big hats and
boots. Soft Shoe O' Shea was always nattily dressed in an older
suit and tie, french cuffs and cuff links, a dress fedora or
pork-pie hat, and highly-shined, often two-tone shoes. Very often,
he had a rose bud or white carnation in his lapel. He was a tall
man, too thin for his suits, very agile and athletic. He was
eighty and seemed to know everyone in downtown Dallas. I was
only twenty-three, and that age difference became the reason
for our friendship. Sometimes when he'd walk up, one of the oilmen
would sing out, "It's Soft Shoe O'Shea." He'd do a
few dance steps.
Shoes had been an early partner in a dice game with Rowdy Martin,
who got big rich as a wildcatter. Rowdy was chasing oil in the
sky, but his two sons, Little Rowdy and Sonny, with more money
than good sense, seemed to keep Shoes in money. They ran a big
poker game weekends in a plush suite in the Adolphus Hotel. They'd
chippy there too. I got to playing lucky there, even though it
was over my bankroll. Shoes never played, but he would be up
there telling stories while we waited to get our first hole cards
of the day. Once the game kicked off, he mummed up. The Martin
boys both had displeasing personalities,even for nouveau riche
Texans. They often teased Shoes.
Once, Little Rowdy asked Shoes to "tell that story about
Bonnie and Clyde." There were four us waiting for enough
to start the poker game. Shoes pulled his chair up closer to
the poker table where we were sitting. He hitched up his trousers.
His watery, blue eyes began to shine. He took off his black fedora,
exposing a full head of snow-white hair. I'd never seen him so
"Well, I was working the stick at a crap game on the north
edge of Dallas around Christmas of 1933. One night the boss said
we was gonna stay late and fade this high player. About one o'clock
in the morning, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker and two other
guys show up. Clyde and the boss went way back, so Clyde knew
we wouldn't snitch them off, and we hoped they wouldn't rob us.
Clyde goes to shooting and drinking whiskey. We didn't have nothing
to eat but Vienna sausage, crackers, cheese, and onions and he
ate his own self two plates full.
"They was real famous and in the newspapers and all robbing
them banks, when banks were unpopular. I asked Bonnie for something
to remember her by. We didn't have a pencil for an autograph.
She pulled this little pair of scissors out of her purse and
gave me this....a lock of her hair." Shoes leaned up on
one cheek and pulled out his ancient billfold. Inside a piece
of hotel stationary, there was a lock of brownish, dry hair.
He passed it around for everyone to see. "It was just a
few months later, the Texas Rangers shot them down like dogs
on the street. Don't seem legal, the Texas Rangers ambushing
folks in Louisana." Little Rowdy was rolling his eyes and
After that, Shoes and I sat in the lobby and talked nearly every
time I played in the poker game. He had a key to the suite, and
we go up there and make coffee some mornings. Sometimes he would
be in the lobby in the middle of the night. I thought he lived
at the Adolphus, but he lived in a residential hotel a.k.a. flop
house where old men paid by the week and you heard coughing all
night. Shoes could sign for room service up at the suite, and
he often got a chicken-salad sandwich or egg-salad sandwich to
go. He'd drink half a beer in a glass, and put the bottle back
in the suite's refrigerator. One night late, I ran into Shoes
in the lobby when I had $84 left in the world and dark, low feelings
to match the occasion.
"Poker money ain't got no home." he said. "When
I was young, every time I pumped a healthy bankroll, I never
dreamed that I would get broke again, but I did lots of times.
If you ain't got enough character to be broke, go to nine to
fiving it. Get a job. Be a square John, 'cause a gambler has
to know how to be broke in style. Yessir, in style."
Jack Ruby was a regular in the Adolphus lobby, walking around
fast, giving away passes to his strip club. Ruby and Shoes seemed
to be absolutely best friends. When Ruby came in, Shoes would
walk toward him, and they'd often laugh or do a little dance.
Shoes gave conventioneers passes to Ruby's joint. I heard at
the poker game, but Shoes never told me, that Shoes ran football
bets for Ruby, who was a bookie.
One time, Jack Ruby got in a fist fight in the Adolphus' big
fancy Burgundy Room and was arrested. Folks were talking about
that big time, and Little Rowdy guessed we'd not see Ruby again
in the hotel. The next day, there were Shoes and Ruby strutting
around the lobby as if nothing had happened.
Another night, I ended up bigger behind that a cotton patch spider.
Shoes wanted to talk and I didn't, at first. He told me that
he once had a big joint on the Jacksboro Highway in Ft. Worth
during World War Two. They had three dice tables and sometimes
a roulette wheel. Then the Texas Rangers raided. "That was
the best bankroll of my life, but every shiny dime went for crooked
lawyers and crooked politicians. I barely stayed out of the pen."
When Kennedy was assassinated, I was playing poker in Hot Springs,
Arkansas. When I saw a familiar figure, Jack Ruby, blasting away
at Oswald on TV, I headed for Dallas. It wasn't as if I had a
boss, or a budget, or a schedule. I went straight to the Adolphus,
figuring Shoes would tell me all about it. Only I never saw Shoes
again. Not ever. Neither did anyone else, best I could tell.
As the days passed, even the Martin brothers showed concern.
I found the fifty-cent limit poker game in the back of a pool
hall that Shoes had told me about. No one had seen him. I found
the Dallas Arms, the flea bag where he had lived for some years.
They had carefully boxed up his impressive wardrobe, but no one
had seen him since the assassination.
Little Rowdy didn't take any convincing to file a Missing Person's
Report. The police checked the morgue and hospitals and found
The bellhops at the Adolphus were these old, black men, in maroon
uniforms. I had often seen Shoes talking to them. I asked one
of them if they had heard any thing about Shoes.
He said, "The F.B.I. and the Dallas detectives asked around
about Jack Ruby and about Shoes, but we haven't seen him. I told
the man that if he found old Shoes, to ask Shoes to show him
a lock of Bonnie Parker's hair."
Johnny Hughes is the author
of the novel Texas
Also by Johnny
Lubbock Then and Lubbock Now - an essay - All
Those Things That Don't Change, Come What May - short story; Texas Poker Histories:
- "Old 186" - "Titanic Thompson
- "Hard Luck Harry & the Owl" - "George