I'm not sure if I'm so tired today because of watching the Boston Red Sox lose a 17-inning game to Minnesota last night that didn't end until around 1:30am, or because of two days of mental anguish during the viewing, Mass, burial and wake of John A. Hobbs, my beloved friend of 61 years.
Whatever the cause or reason, I'm more tired than usual. Maybe it has something to do with the fact all four of my children were in town to help Christine and me celebrate a beautiful Father's Day, or perhaps, it's simply the fact that in one month, July 18, I'll be 86.
Hobbs was 91 and thank goodness, he did not suffer. He was ready to go even though many of us, quite selfishly, I suppose, tried to hold on to him for a little bit longer. The night before he died, he was searching for a baseball game on TV, and his son, Ronnie, called me to find out what stations they might be on. I would often call him late at night and tell him his favorite team, the Dodgers, were on.
Over the years, we spent Christmas Eves shopping, sitting in the press box for Notre Dame football games, thanks to my connection with the late Joe Sassano, who ran the Joyce Athletic and Convocation Center, attending at least 20 trade shows of the International Independent Showmen's Association in Gibsonton, Fla., and probably half that number of International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions trade shows in Orlando. Each year, he and our other buddies would purchase all kinds of fake jewelry in Gibtown which they would use to dazzle people back in Nashville. At one park convention, he was so enamored by an electric chair he almost bought one. He did wind up buying a punching bag, which he displayed for years in his front lobby.
We enjoyed thousands of nights drinking, partying and hobnobbing at his Nashville Palace with every Country music star imaginable, plus the likes of Governor Ray Blanton, Minnesota Fats, Fast Eddie Felson, Jerry Springer, Tommy Lasorda, Billy Russell, Mike Scioscia and his entire Albuquerque baseball team (before he managed the Angels), and his bench coach Mickey Hatcher, who danced with Christine, John McNamara, who managed eight major league teams, and Chicago Bears QB Bill Wade.
When Springer walked in, he immediately asked that the television set be tuned to ESPN. The former mayor of Cincinnati was a sports fan. I asked politely if he'd pose for a picture with some of the RDs (regular drunks), and he obliged. One of the women, whose name I won't mention, gushed and said that she watched his show every day. Springer, who later that night appeared with Hobbs, by remote on the Jimmy Kimmel show, looked at her and said, “Get a life.”
Little Jimmy Dickens used to come in and have a couple glasses of wine before appearing on the Grand Ole Opry. Semi-regulars included Jim Ed Brown, Vern (The Voice) Gosdin, Porter Wagoner, Del Reeves, Danny (of The Nashville Brass) Davis, Mel McDaniel, Jimmy C. Newman, Johnny Russell, Ricky Van Shelton, Alan Jackson, Lorrie Morgan, and Randy Travis, whom I spoke to for several minutes before Hobbs' funeral Mass. Travis, known then as Randy Ray, and I have an autographed album to prove it, was a cook and dishwasher there for over three years. I saw Randy once at the Great Allentown, Pa. Fair and he asked about Maxie, Shorty, Mr. Mac, Pigskin Louie, Fast Eddie Paschall, and all the regulars. Then he and his lead guitar player, Rick Wayne, wondered if Hobbs still worried about me getting home safely. Whenever McDaniel would come in the front door, we'd all get up and sing “Stand Up and Testify,” his signature tune.
Hobbs, who joined the Merchant Marines at the age of 15, was there for the Japanese surrender to General MacArthur. He was a real patriot who asked me to sing the Pearl Harbor song every December 7, which I did for more than 50 years. They played a rousing rendition of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish fight song as the crowd slowly filed out of the church. It was very appropriate. As was a “Mother's Love Is Endless,” by Billy Mangan, who owns Mangan's Irish Pub in Mt. Clemons, Michigan, a place we frequented quite a bit. Mangan, his wife, June, and Tommy and Joanie O'Halloran, who owned the Tipperary Pub in Detroit, made several trips to Ireland with us for Notre Dame-Navy football games. We first met when I was covering the Michigan State Fair.
John loved being around people. I introduced him to many from the amusement industry. He loved it, particularly carnival people, and whenever many of them passed through Nashville they made it a point to come visit with him and listen to his incredible stories. I believe the last ones I snapped a photo of him with were Jeanette Gilmore and Greg Ruda, Rick Reithoffer, Charles Panacek, Gloria Myers and Lucky Klinger, and the foursome of Bonnie Culpepper, Jo Ann Koza, Mary Jean Leonard, and Barbara Wilson. Hobbs actually had a double wedding with carnival owner Hillman Snyder.
Johnny became close to Paul (Duke) Smith of Allied Specialty Insurance, George Millay, founder of Sea World and Wet N Wild, Bryan Wittman, a vice president with the Walt Disney Company, Don Sandefur, who ran the Harlem Globetrotters, Buddy Lee, who booked most of the major Country acts, park owners Dick Knoebel, Albert and Dennis Carollo and George (Bud) Gilmore of Smokey's Greater Shows, whom we always sat next to during the trade shows. We enjoyed lunch with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and drinks and a baseball game with Gene Autry. We were on the field for a Yankees Old-Timers game, and he even visited my hometown of Scranton, Pa., and was hosted royally at Hershey Park by J. Bruce McKinney and Paul Serff.
When he built the Music Valley Amusement Park, Hobbs brought in ride inspector Joe Culver to manage it. Helping get it off the ground were Michael Wood, Mike Demas, Patrick Sheridan, Joe Bixler, and Kevin Dalton. We spent time in St. Louis with Carl and Roberta Mathis, Theresa Noerper and Ann Sedlmayr of Archway Amusements. When Sam Giordano, who became manager of the State Fair of Louisiana, Shreveport, worked for Rod Link Shows, Sam told Rod he was going to Nashville to see me. When Link asked if he had called, Sam said he knew I'd be with Hobbs at the Nashville Palace.
Every time Kenny Smith, Rick D'Aprile, Rene and Judy Piche, Jim and Janice Swain were near Nashville, it was a must to see Johnny Hobbs. I've taken pictures of him (always on the job) with the likes of Ed Gregory, who held all his employee parties at the Palace, Milt Kautman, Ray Cammack, Bernard Thomas, Jerry Murphy, Jim Strates, Frank Zaitshik, John (The Peddler) Curtis, Jerry Bohlander, Billy and Sue Clark, James Roy and Petrina Pope, J. D. Floyd, Butch, Kim and Ronnie Netterfield, Billy Baxter, Bobby and Sue Wynn, Claire Morton, Jean Clair, Ed Murphy, Jim Murphy, and so many others.
When Harold Case and David Starkey entered the door, Hobbs would have a double Crown Royal ready for Harold and a waitress on call for Starkey's order. They once were waiting for a shipment of goldfish at the Greyhound Bus station, so they lingered at The Palace. By the time they had left, the goldfish had died. The regulars loved when Gene (T-Shirt Kelly) Spezia passed through town because he always had tee shirts and other novelty gifts that he passed around generously.
Hobbs attended all our Polish Picnics at Andy and Ethel Osak's Showtown USA Bar in Gibtown, with Nashville buddies Eddie Paschall, Eddie Bryan, Wayne (Trucker) Beck, Bill (Gun Show) Goodman, Pat Mitchell, Paul Hatfield, and Jack Burns. Also there were Gene McQuater, who had owned McQuater's Greater Shows and kept the picnic going after Osak's death, Father John Vakulskas, Leah O'Neil, Terri Swyear, Marilyn Portemont, Ned and Lori Ludes, Bill Alter, and Umpire Joe West. Monsignor Robert J. McCarthy said several Masses at the Palace, often to the astonishment of those sitting at the bar. John always made sure there was a collection.
Dianne Sherrill sang one of John's favorites, “You Are My Sunshine,” which Louisiana Governor Jimmie Davis wrote about and dedicated to his horse of the same name. While in heaven, I'm hoping Hobbs doesn't try to get on that horse and ride. He fell off a motorcycle while he was down here.
For anybody I failed to mention, it was not intentional, and if you have a memory of meeting John, let me know. I have many more columns to write. He went on his terms, and that's how I'm ending this.
(read article in the Nashville Scene about John A. Hobbs here >>>
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Have all great days, and God Bless!