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"Johnny Moss" - "Old 186" - "Titanic Thompson and Son" - "Hard Luck Harry & the Owl" - George McGann

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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 Joe Ely."

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"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

by Johnny Hughes © 2007

T.J. Cloutier has written that George McGann was a Dixie Mafia hit man responsible for thirty murders. He was a well known player around the biggest Hold 'em games all around Texas all through the 1960s. I played a lot of poker and gin rummy with George before folks like T.J. tried to give him a bad name. Buford Purser of Walking Tall fame believed George McGann was one of the Dixie Mafia hit men that killed his wife. Several in the law enforcement community believe that Purser killed George but I know that is not true.

George Albert McGann was this almost comic Texas road gambler and con man when we used to play poker and gin rummy together back in the mid-sixties in Lubbock, Texas. He was born in Big Spring in 1937. Many of our opponents were crossroaders from distant towns and nobody knew or cared where they got their money. Poker players were by definition outlaws. Jack "Treetop" Straus was playing one time with a guy who would leave the game and go rob a bank. The FBI followed the guy back to the poker game. Treetop spoke for all gamblers when he told the FBI, most truthfully, "We don't know or care how he got that money."

George was a real mystery man. He'd get out on the blacktop and go all over Texas and show up in the middle of the night at some poker game. He seemed to mostly lose. Like most practiced con men, he was most charming, likable, and extremely well dressed. Watch out for a player whose shoes are new and a little too fancy. And those pinkie rings. If you told George, "I like your watch or hat or sweater."

He'd say, "It's for sale."

Once, George sold a bag of fake diamonds to this gullible gambler I knew. He told him they were hot diamonds from big Dallas burglaries that were in the newspaper. The guy had to promise to hide them for a decade before he moved them. George bragged about these things but he often told cryptic stories, talked in riddles, and hinted at a dark side. Much has been written about George McGann being a hit man for the Dixie Mafia. Some of the Kennedy assassination researchers think George was involved, even one of the shooters. One of the huge factors in being a professional poker player back then was finding a game and keeping the game going. This led to a lot of loaning and staking.

Be careful about borrowing because then you are obligated to make a loan to that guy. If it was the middle of the night and a guy says he is going to quit the poker game if it gets down to five-handed, you might put some railbird like George in the game if you were bigger behind than a cotton-patch spider. I loaned George $150 once. He soaked two beautiful expensive sweaters. I wore them for a few years. He had this long list of the people he owed money to. He'd pull it out and show it to me. He said paying all the poker players around Texas back was very important to him. Years later, some Kennedy assassination researchers led by Gary Shaw of Cleburne. came here and we had dinner. He mailed me some pictures of George and George's list of debts. I was on it as were a Doyle, a Slim, and a Sailor. George would go down to Odessa and try the big game with all the future World Champs. He couldn't beat it and neither could I.

I wasn't afraid of George but I had not heard all these bad things. Looking back, I guess George could pump all that money on the tab because the smart money was afraid of him. He was the kind of poker and gin rummy player that you knew would go broke. On fifth street, he'd study and puzzle, and shake his butt all around in the chair and convince himself that some guy that had not bluffed since the Great Depression just had to be bluffing this time. If you held a hand, George would pay you off and he was pleasant about it with the con man's semi-permanent big smile on his face. One of the places we played was up this long flight of stairs. The houseman kept a shotgun leaning against the wall visible to all players. Now it was expected that the houseman would have firearms, but tastefully out of sight. Someone suggested he hide the shotgun if George came around. This was the first hint I had that the gambler's were wary of George and his nocturnal ramblings.

Mornings might find me driving all around Lubbock looking to play one of my side games, bridge or gin rummy. I'd prop folks to play heads-up Hold 'em but settle for gin. I'd try the golf course or one of the dice games before it opened. A few times I went by George's fancy apartment in Lubbock's best apartment house. George had a whole closet full of fancy clothes and shoes. We'd play gin rummy and then go for mid-afternoon breakfast. I was careful not to break him but he was the type of gambler you could carry all the way to busted. I do not really remember ever seeing George win. One morning, we sat down to play gin rummy. He had left the two major suit nines in the card box on the kitchen cabinet. I figured this out early but didn't see any sense in saying anything. He knew two nines were gone. I knew two nines were gone. He did not know I knew. At first I thought he was holding them out. I jumped up and suddenly looked in his lap. Nothing was there.

There was some other shiny-shirt road slick there. The way they kept carney-talking and eye-dancing each other, you'd know they gaffed he deck. After I beat him out of a day's walking around money, I pulled up. I went in the kitchen and could see the cards in the box. Neither of us mentioned it. As George was getting ready to go to breakfast, he slipped a pair of brass knuckles in the front pocket of his very tight slacks. These showed for a mile. I asked him,"Why don't you carry a pistol like everybody else?"

He made a lengthy reply about his uncontrollable temper. He said he'd kill somebody if he had a gun. Later, he did just that. George McGann told me a lot about Jerry James who he knew. James was on America's top ten most wanted. James robbed other outlaws all over the south. When the word hit the gambler's grave vine that James was in Lubbock, joints closed and folks stayed armed and indoors. George said that when I got robbed at a poker game, it would be Jerry James. James was later a leader in the New Mexico prison riot where thirty-nine were killed. He befriended Jimmie Chagra in prison at the behest of our government and James gained valuable information. Now Chagra is out and made as appearance at the World Series.

Later, I was at a big poker game that was robbed by three masked gunmen. They told us to face the wall and not look and that was fine with me. Only one of them spoke but some of the players later said one of them might have been George. Big Fred threw his healthy bankroll behind the ice box and saved it. After the robbers left, there was a hastily arranged small posse who had guns in their cars. They gave chase but played lucky they didn't get to smell any gun smoke on that particular beautiful summer night. T.J. Cloutier has written about the time George robbed a poker game in Dallas. He came back the next day and bought chips and played. Every body was too afraid of him to spoil the mood with the rude mention of yesterday's robbery.

George McGann told me the most curious thing of our friendship after the Kennedy assassination. He showed up with a brand new Cadillac that was red on the bottom and white on top. He said Jerry James had a matching Cadillac. George said that after the assassination, the Texas Rangers arrested him in East Texas and had at first mistaken him for Jerry James who they were chasing. George said they shuffled him around to various small town jails with charging him with anything. Finally, they let him go and drove him to the Cadillac which they had pushed off into a bar ditch and dented up.

George married Beverly Oliver, the so-called Bakuska Lady, a Dallas night club singer, who said she filmed the Kennedy assassination but the FBI stole her film. Most of what she said has been discredited. She said George killed Doris Grooms and George Fuqua. She was the source for the information that Ruby met Oswald in Oliver Stone's movie, JFK. Beverly Oliver said that she and George McGann met for several hours with Richard Nixon when he was running for President. If they played poker, I am sure Nixon won. He financed his early political career on poker winnings.

A friend of mine, Marshall Perry, was an eye witness to George McGann's killing in Lubbock, Texas, September 30, 1970. He was an old thirty-three. According to Perry, a group of honky-tonk heros numbering four were at a house in the middle of the night. George got a phone call from a woman who said that Jerry Meshell,30, had abused her. George shot him twice, killing him, while the woman was still on the phone where she could hear. Then George didn't know what to do. He held my friend and Ronnie Weeden, 31 captive for several hours. Finally, Weeden went to the back of the house and came back with a pistol. He killed George and did some time for it. It wasn't very mysterious.

I think the Kennedy assassination was a small Dallas-New Orleans conspiracy headed up by Carlos Marcello. At that time, bookies in Dallas laid off bets to Marcello, the real Mafia. Jack Ruby was a bookie. His telephone records are at Texas Tech's Southwest Collection. It is obvious he was calling Ft. Worth every few minutes in relation to Fall football. If the Kennedy Assassination was a conspiracy, they would have barred George just like a lot of the poker joints across Texas did as his reputation grew. It just didn't occur to me that he was all that tough considering the field.

Johnny Hughes is the author of Texas Poker Wisdom, a novel that will be published in late 2007. This article originally appeared in Bluff Magazine,Bluff Europe, and Player Europe.

For more Johnny Hughes' stories, go to: "Johnny Moss","Hard Luck Harry & the Owl", "Old 186" or "Titanic Thompson and Son"

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