“I sang blues and rock ‘n’ roll in some of the clubs on The Avenue. I got my start at the King Club talent shows in 1957 when he was 15. I sang at the Flame Club, the Jolly Spot, the Brown Dot, the Moonlight and the Kool Kat Club. The Moonlight and the Ponderosa were close to Roger Williams projects. There were four clubs around that ditch.
Mobile was popping. The Avenue stayed lit up 24 hours and the clubs were making good money. We had shake dances at the Flame and a fire eater. Peg Leg Martin also tap-danced there. We had great Mardi Gras parades and parties on The Avenue
I sang five nights a week, making $15 a night. I wore suits that were black and red, yellow and blue or black with yellow pockets. I was well dressed. A few of those suits still hang in my closet. The band usually started about 9 p.m. I would have a Falstaff beer at another club, I called it a “Papa Joe Griesey’ because he was the maker of the beer. Then went on at 10. I We played until 2 or 3 in the morning. Some clubs were packed out with more than 200 people. White people also came in and we had a good time.
I met a white guy who had his Army suit on. He had just gotten out of the service. He lived out in Semmes. I took him home and he introduced me to his mama. I told him I was playing at the Kool Kat Club. He came to see me play and the place was packed. That was a good night.
There was good music everywhere. Stevie Wonder came here when he was 12 years old. Etta James, B.B. King and Sam Cooke all played here. Mobile musicians were just as good. Johnny Williams sang with The Drifters. Jabo Starks went on to play with James Brown. My brother played saxophone for the Five Rods. I was one of the first young black men to sing at the Municipal Auditorium in Mobile.
Things died down when the younger generation came in and messed it up. The robbing and killing started. No one took over the clubs, and most of them were torn down.
I turn 80 next year. I don’t sing anymore, but I miss the days on The Avenue.”
This is from an interview with Alfred Johnson for the story “Life on Davis Avenue” that is now running in Lagniappe. It is the third part of the series “Buried in Oaklawn.”
There will be more stories from Davis Avenue on Our Southern Souls. Nicknamed The Avenue, it is now Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue in Mobile