Albertine Hammond was her name, but they called her Pete. When she died I was going to pay her, but she died before I got there. She died on my birthday December 7th. I owed her $300. His name was Joseph Betrand Hammond. Some people called him Joe Bertrum. But his middle name was Betrand. He was born in Louisville, but he didn’t have any brothers and sisters. He was the only child. And Pete was the only child. And she was pretty. And she looked like a white woman. And one day a white man said “you up there living with this nigga” and she said “he’s a nigga, and I’m a nigga too.” That’s what she told the white guy, because he thought she was white too. But she wasn’t. I think when she was younger she could ride in Yellow Cabs when black people couldn’t because she could pass for white and nobody knew she was black. She was lovely. But she cussed a lot. Hell yeah. The first time I heard her cuss I couldn’t believe it. I was shocked when I heard her.
I was born in Louisville Dec. 7th, 1943. I’ll be 75 years old in December. I went to Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Madison Junior High, and Central High School. I graduated in 1961. I used to go to school with Ali. He used to talk to this guy named Salvis Crawford. They had to make Ali shut up every day. They talked all day. My father worked in the car business. My mother worked at Lucky Strike. All she did was sweep all day. Sweep up the tobacco. LS / MFT, we knew that as children, Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco. When she died you would have thought a celebrity had died. They closed the side that my mother used to work on. That place was packed. She died when I was 13.
I have 2 brothers and 4 sisters. My youngest sister Pat died. We grew up on West Street. There used to be a bar across the street called the Joy Room. Everybody used to go to the Joy Room. My mother wouldn’t let us stand in front of the bar. But we used to live across the street so you could see everything that was going on. You ever heard of Top Hats? They used to have kiddy day and I was about 14, they let me come in. I was happy. But, a soft drink was 50 cents. I had never heard of a soft drink being 50 cents. That was expensive. I couldn’t really afford 50 cents, but I bought one anyway. That was a fun day at Top Hats.
I worked for Joe Hammond for 30 years. I started in 1961, I was 24. See, I worked for a man on Walnut Street named Ainsley Kinser, at Menu Luncheonette. He asked my cousin if she knew any girls that needed a job. He had all beautiful women working for him. And, I came in on the end because I was a little chubby. Then I went to Joe’s, and by me being heavy, he wouldn’t let me get behind the bar. Cause he was afraid that no one would tip me. So, I started in the dining room. I was the cook. Coach Graves mother, Mrs. Jones used to work with me in the dining room. Coach Graves taught me how to play card games. There was a black woman and a white guy that owned 118 Washington. And, they used to come to Joe’s every night and I would cook breakfast for them every morning before we closed. And we would eat until 6am sometimes. And there was this guy by the name of Lil Joe Burkenmeier. I don’t know what happened to him. He was a bookie. He was a white guy, but he had a black daughter. He used to come into the kitchen and say “I want some fuckin chickin.” He would be all in my face. I thought he was gonna kiss me he was so close.
Then they let me wait tables. Then they closed the dining area and I went to work in the bar. When I first went to work in the bar they (customers) didn’t know me so they wouldn’t tip me a penny that first night. So, the bartenders gave me some of their money.
Shirley Crawford, Francis Hayden, and Harvey Tolly were bartenders. Richard Griffith, he was the service bartender. Then I became the service bartender when I was relieving them. I had the keys to the dining room and used to lock the bar every night. Then I became a bartender on the backside. But the front side was the busiest cause all the pimps sat there. And, they wanted Shirley. She had a fine shape. But, I had the good people that sat on my end. People that had prestige, Dr. King. Harold Howard, and Dr. Hughes.
There was this black team (basketball), where Artis Gilmore played. I forget the name of it. But, Artis Gilmore used to come to Joe’s. When he said “Majorie serve me a Bud,” I could have choked his neck. Just say “give me a bud,” don’t say “serve” me no Bud. “Serve” me a Bud!?! I couldn’t really say nothing back, but I just didn’t like the word “serve.” And he didn’t say Sterling beer. He’d put an S on it and say Sterlings. He was cheap as hell. One time he tipped me a dollar. I wanted to frame it. Let me tell you something. One day Artis Gilmore came to Joe’s and he bought all these girls, a whole row of them, he bought them drinks all night. And every time he bought them a drink, I’d serve myself one. I said I drank on Artis Gilmore tonight whether he knew it or not. I was drunk as a skunk (haha). But, I was a happy drunk. And, I got him back.
I waited on so many rich people. And I made lots of money because I was kind and nice. And people used to tell me Majorie, you are making me nervous. You are wiping out that ash tray too much. And Harold Howard, come there, and he’d say leave my ashtray alone. Cause I would clean them every few seconds. I didn’t like dirty ash trays. After one butt I would clean them.
Everybody came to Joe’s. My people came in the back door, until they started to lock the front because it would get so crowded. Sometimes you couldn’t get through there. A guy passed by me one night and he pushed me over. I dropped all them drinks, Grasshoppers and Pink Swirls, all over this guy. And he didn’t get mad or nothing. He just went home, changed clothes and came right back.
Everybody came to Joe’s. And, I knew all their personal business. But I would never repeat it.
Martha Gay came in, she used to sing at Sheeks. She was the funniest woman. When she was singing, and the band was playing, she would go in the restroom and sit, while the band was still playing. Then she’d come back out when she felt like it and finish the song. Billy Madison, played the organ. Joe Cooke was a singer that grew up with my mother. Boogie Martin was there. He used to also work at Joe’s. Thomas Queen worked at Joes. The guy from the insurance company, Ed Chestnut used to work there on the weekends. I think his son was some kin to me. Billy Higgins and Johnathan Higgins played there all the time. Bobby Ledford was really nice. His birthday was the same day as mine. Nelly was his mother and he she had these daughters and all of them were beautiful. They all had long hair and were really pretty. Harvey Sloan used to come to Joe’s. Julian Bond was dancing with a white lady one night at Joe’s. He was kin to Dallas Tinsley, who lived in Louisville. Joe and Lenny Lyles were good friends. I remember Joe said to him one day “Leonard, you’re dressing better!”
I was trying to think of some of the famous people that came. I was waiting on Richard Pryor one time, and my brother said Marj, she (another bartender) took him from you. I said, I’m not gonna argue with nobody over a customer. She didn’t make nothing but 15 bucks. I could make 15 dollars in 15 minutes. I called myself Joy back then. He said thank you Joy. I said it’s alright Rich (hahaha). He (Richard Pryor) was friendly as can be.
But oh hell yeah, I made boo koo money. I made $100 every day and it got better at Derby. The first time I made $500 I was amazed. But still, I used to borrow money from Joe on Monday but wouldn’t get paid until Saturday. But Joe would let me do it, because he knew I wasn’t going anywhere. Cause I wanted to pay him back. I wouldn’t borrow no money if I couldn’t pay it back. And on Saturday I was broke as the ten commandments (ha ha), cause I paid Joe back all his money. He would never refuse me. He lent me money all the time.
Joe was powerful, cause everybody liked Joe. He had gray eyes. He was beautiful. I liked him as a person. Joe paid you good! People would tip Joe all kind of money. He would leave it for Jackie Calherd to share with bartenders. Joe was also a gentleman until the end. I’d get off about 4am, and I lived in the 550s on Chestnut, and Joe would take me home. And Joe would get out open the door for me, then watch me go upstairs, cause I lived on the third floor. He was a gentleman, but he was a flirt too (haha). Joe would kiss you on New Year’s Eve. He would go around and give everyone a kiss. And he kissed so good, I went back and kissed him again. His breath was fresh as a daisy. That’s a true story. I wouldn’t shit you Sherlock.
Joe had a place down the street on Dixie Highway, he was the President. He used to have a Cleaners. He got it from a guy named Snyder. His real estate office next door used to be Emmit’s Barbershop. And then when Emmit closed it, Joe made it a real estate office together with Catherine Guest. Joe’s drink was JB and Soda. Catherine drank vodka on the rocks, double. They used to drink and discuss business in the office. Catherine was real nice. She helped me a lot. Catherine Guest’s daddy used to clean up the bar every night. His name was Mr. Anderson. He was a nice guy. They lived on Chestnut Street.
Joe was a millionaire, but he wouldn’t tell you he was. When he paid for Joe’s Palm Room to be built, he paid over $1M. And that was in the 60’s. I believe the wood or the stools were imported from Italy. They lived on Lindsey Avenue up off Story. It’s up on a hill where you can see his house. Some guys tried to rob Joe one time. But he didn’t have no money at the house. Joe had all his money in the safe at the bar. That’s where he kept the money. He had a big diamond on his finger. And, when he heard what was happening (robbers breaking into the house), he said he squeezed that ring off his finger and put the ring in his pocket. And Mrs. Hammond threw her big diamond behind the bed. And one of the guys wanted to kill Joe Hammond. And the other guy said, “I’m not gonna kill no Joe Hammond.” And later (years later) the guy apologized for trying to rob Joe. So, they didn’t get any money or the rings that time. I think Joe had been robbed a couple of times. They (different robbers) stole the diamond rings another time somewhere else. But Joe got them back. They sold Joe and his wife’s rings back.
Joe was a generous man. He used to always use the peace sign. I didn’t make it to his funeral, but the last time I saw him he used the peace sign. He left all his money to St. Augustine, from what I understand.
"...I’m from a small town in Western Kentucky named Nortonville, a really small coal mining town basically. It is between two towns called Hopkinsville to the south and Madisonville to the north. I had polio when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. And, being from a small community like that we didn’t have access to much sophisticated healthcare. And, that’s basically it. So, you did what you had to do during those times.
I play guitar. I think the first time I picked up the guitar I was a junior in high school. So, I had a lot of catching up to do. And, it eventually became my passion. I went to Kentucky State and I was a music major but my primary interest was jazz and R and B. I didn’t take full advantage of a lot of opportunities as far as classical music and music education and stuff. I wanted to do what I wanted to do. Basically, I had tunnel vision about how I wanted to run my race.
We had a jazz group on campus called Kentucky State Collegians. I was attending a basketball game and a guy came through by the name of Winston Walls. He was going to Louisville to play at a location and he needed a guitar player. And that was pretty much my introduction to Louisville. Then, I commuted back and forth from Kentucky State. There were like a lot of night clubs then. Louisville had a real vibrant night life as far as live music was concerned, for years and years. And there were lots of clubs. This was in around the time that Malcom X got assassinated. That’s the event that I use to mark that period of time, 65, 66, in there some place.
I wasn’t playing at Joe’s then, I was playing at a place called the Golden Barrel Lounge. It was a night club and a bowling alley. This was on Wilson in the West End. So, when I was in town I started getting acquainted with other clubs. Like I said, there were lots and lots of clubs, beautiful places, like a place called the Diamond Horseshoe. Maaaan, it was plush! And the owners name was, I don’t know his real name, but they called him Sheek.
When I met Mr. Hammond, well we called him Joe, the club was already on Jefferson Street. When I was first at Joe’s (The Palm Room), it was a piano bar. And the first musician that I knew was a key board player, playing at the piano bar, named Thomas Queen. Years later, the band that was playing there was the Higgins Brothers and Riley White. And, the trumpet player was Kenneth Stanley. He was one of the son's of the founder of The Louisville Defender, Frank Stanely. They re-built the stage that ended up being the latest configuration before it closed. The band didn’t play for several days while they got it built.
Joe’s had a lot of competition. But, Joe had a particularly loyal customer base. Some people would get in their cars at 5’oclock and their car would automatically go to Joe’s. There were local politicians, people in real estate, business people, and government workers. And there were a lot of people from the cigarette making plants like Brown and Williamson and Phillip Morris. People would get off work and head to Joe’s.
I remember Pam Grier coming through. They were in Louisville filming a movie. I think it was Blacula, something like that. And, William Marshall, I believe that’s his name. And, Red Foxx. When people would come through town for shows or something, when the show was over, and they would have to wait to get out of town or leave the next day, they would come to Joe’s. Louisville had a professional basketball team in the ABA called the Kentucky Colonels. The pro players would come through. Muhammad Ali would come through a lot when he was in town. When he was in Louisville, he didn’t run around with an entourage like he did in other cities. When he came home he was down to earth. Just a kid from down the block.
When Joe sold the business to the Rosens, I was playing at another club when that deal went down. I guess he saw an opportunity to get out from up under it, because it was pretty stressful. The demographic was changing and the whole vibe started changing. I guess the generation flipped the script. You had people come in Joe’s and started seeing their sons and nephews, daughter’s and nieces. And, they were like it is time for me to go. It flipped that way. People didn’t want to be out in the clubs with their kids.
One of the main differences when Joe was running it versus when Al Rosen and a guy by the name of Ken Lewis ran it, was that Joe never had a cover charge. The bar supported the business. And they (Rosens) wanted to have the cover charge. Then the business dropped off for a little while until people got used to it. But they would bring great artist in like Richard “Groove” Holmes. So, I think the Rosens did ok but were not as financially successful as they had imagined. They lost a lot of regulars with the cover charge. Then the Whitfield’s acquired it from the Rosens. The Whitfields had another club at the time, a really really nice club on 15th and Broadway called Page Four. They had a great location. And they had a liquor store right across the street. So, for a couple of years, they had two clubs. By then the music had flipped. The kind of music that we were playing previously was considered classic jazz. Ya know the notes are always gonna be the notes and the chords are always gonna be the chords but the rhythm had changed.
But out of all those years that he (Joe) operated it, there was never ever a cover charge. Not even at Derby. And Derby was a spectacle jack! I just remember how long the band had to play (laugh)! Instead of closing at 2am as usual, Joe’s would stay open on Friday and Saturday night until at least 5am, even though it was illegal. And there was a matinee Sunday at 5pm until. People were coming through from all over the country man. All the exotic looking automobiles. Eventually, people start coming in and they’d bring RVs in. And, park them right there in front on Jefferson Street and spend the whole weekend, just at Joe’s. It was just a really really nice time.
Joe was a proud black man. He sued the United States Navy when he was younger. And his attorney was Thurgood Marshall. I think it had something to do with discrimination of some kind, and I do believe that they won the case. He was well connected in the political scene nationwide.
At one time there was a black bank called Continental National. I don’t know the actual business agreement, but he was invested. He was very proud of it. It was on the ground floor of the Mammoth Life Building. It was viable for maybe 3 or 4 years. And, then they ran into some kind of difficulty. I don’t know about his holdings, but real estate was an interest of his. He had a partner that was a lady. Her name was Catherine Guest. Joe had a record label called Palm Records. He executive produced 3 songs on the label called Stand Up Baby, You Can’t Buy Love With Money, and Kiss Me Goodbye.
Interesting enough he had a dog that was an Afghan. And the dogs name was Jodie. He had a Rolls Royce, it was silver with a black top. But the steering wheel was on the right-hand side rather than the left. Joe would go to the Superbowl every year. He would take about 10 days off in January, he and Lenny Lyles. But surprisingly he was a very humble guy. He didn’t take his affluence for granted. He didn’t carry himself like he was above every day people.
Joe was before his time, but he was right on time. And he really left a nice legacy as far as the way he treated people. And the way people treated him. But he could go south on you if you crossed a certain line. He didn’t have a problem with that. He was a stickler’s stickler. He was a stickler for having the club spic and span. At anytime that the clean up crew didn’t take care of business or if something needed repairing but didn’t get repaired, he would really clock about that. I would say he was a perfectionist. I don’t know anything about his upbringing or whatever, but his way of expressing himself and trying to compete with other businesses and other cultures, he just wanted his to be top of the line, top shelf stuff.
A lot of people envied Joe, as you can imagine. He did enjoy nice things and wanted to enjoy (life) but he never rubbed anybody’s nose in it. He carried himself that way. But he was envied by just as many black people as he was white people. A lot of black people envied Joe and the way he carried himself and his influence. He was an influencer guy. He was a Kentucky Colonel. The Governor or Secretary of State must bestow it on you.
Interesting enough, when Joe died (late 90’s) Charles Whitfield Jr., we called him Junie, we went to Joe’s wake together up in the East End. I can’t remember the name of the church. And we spent an hour or hour and a half there. And, on the way back to the West End, Junie said he wanted to run something by me. He was thinking about changing the name of Joe’s Palm Room to something else. And he asked my opinion. And, I told him that Joe’s had already built its reputation. So, I suggested he leave it like it was. That was the night before Joe’s funeral..."
Charles Weathers Jr.
"...I’m 88 now. I was born in Louisville, on 22nd and Chestnut and raised in California on Breckinridge Street. I was a basketball and baseball player. When I was in school it was segregated. I’m a catholic and I couldn’t go to St. X. Wasn’t no Flaget and wasn’t no Trinity. I went to Catholic Colored High at 8th and Cedar. It was called St. Mary’s after Catholic Colored High. I graduated from high school in 1950. Segregation was still on. Back then there was a law, black and whites couldn’t play against one another. Or play with one another. It didn’t merge around here until 56.
Anyhow, Walnut Street was the main street as far as blacks were concerned. It went from about 6th street down to about 22nd street. Some people will go as far as 26th. Then after you passed 29th Street, all of that was white all the way down to Shawnee Park. Once you passed 29th was the rail road tracks. It’s an expressway now. But then it was the rail road tracks, and all on the other side of that was white, all the way down to the river. Wasn’t no blacks down that way at all. Then they started breaking the blocks, ya know how that works. Then they started moving out. Most whites then started going out Dixie Hwy. All of that was farmland mostly, out in Shively and places like that.
After we moved off Breckinridge, we bust the block down on Grand, 28th and Grand. And it was nice down there. The alleys were clean (laugh). My mother and father bought another house down there. We moved down there, then I went to the service. I got drafted to the army during the Korean War. When I came back that’s when I got to see the house (on Grand). Before that, I went down to New Orleans to Xavier. I went on an athletic scholarship down there. I didn’t do what I was supposed to do, let’s put it like that. So, I came back and got drafted. I went back to school to Jackson State, an all black college down in Jackson, MS. I finished in 1970, then became a teacher. I taught at old Male High School, old Brook and Breck, and I end up being the athletic director at Shawnee High School down on Market Street. We won the state championship (basketball) in 73. We beat Male for the state championship at the fairgrounds. I was also the coordinator for a work study program. So, I stayed in the system 25 years, and I retired in 1994. I frequented Joe’s often on my way home from the classroom along with Tom, Dick and Harry, all of them (laugh), every Friday.
I knew him (Joe Hammond) personally. I knew him back when he had the place over at 13th and Magazine. My grandfather, Augustus Randolph Ford, had a good job. He was the superintendent over at Mammoth Life Insurance Company and lived right down the street from The Palm Room at 650 South 13th Street. He knew my grandfather and my father from the block.
Before it was Joe’s it was Dave’s Palm Room. Snyder was his last name. He was a Jewish fella. His mother and father had a grocery store right across from Joe’s on the other side called Rose’s Grocery. Snyder’s brother had a place in the East End called J and H, that was on Clay and Lampton. I knew those two guys enough just to speak to them. But I was young. I’d go there and peep in the window like all the rest of the young kids, until I got grown enough. I had no business even looking in the window. But as I got older, and got in high school, ya know how you sneak in with the crowds!?! It was that popular. Ya sneak in with the crowd, and Joe would look up, and look at you, and you know what to do (laugh). Get on out of here (laugh). He didn’t allow no youngsters to come in there. He’d catch you in there and just look at you. Then you would come back from college or something, vacation, he knew you wasn’t 21 then. He knew ya. He’d look at you and you’d get on out of there. He would never embarrass you. He’d just look at you. He called me Junior Weathers. And I knew what Junior meant, get the hell out of here (laugh).
It was plush. And the one on Jefferson was plusher (laugh). Yeah, Yeah. And, it was larger, cause the one on 13th Street was small. But it was a classy place, anyhow. And, the clientele that you had, I would say middle class to upper crust, the doctors, lawyers, and teachers. He lived the style too. And, was a good example. To me he looked like he never had an enemy. I imagined he had some in business, but he appeared to like everybody. And, he didn’t put up with no foolishness in his place, he or his wife, Pete. She never was there at night that much. She worked in the daytime. She took care of the books and stuff. And, I remember years ago, I was probably in high school then, he was a beer salesman for Falls City, the first black salesperson.
I lived in Prospect then (70’s), I still do now. I’d come up River Road. I had bought some property back then from a lady who offered it to us, to my wife and I. We went out there and looked at it. The price was good. So we grabbed it, off of Shirley Avenue. It was about 98% black out there at one time. My grandfather told me that the area around Shirley Avenue, Bass Avenue, Duroc Avenue, that’s where the servants had to live back in those times. That’s why it was mostly black.
Anyhow, Joe didn’t drink much. But he would open up a Falls City Beer, pour me a glass and then finish the rest. And, I was in there one time. We talked. He was interested in people that were doing good, ya know. Or trying to do good. He was that type of fella. Anyhow, he said Junior what are you doing now. I told him I had just bought a piece of land, and I gotta get somebody to build something on it. So, he introduced me to a gentleman that was in building (construction). He had built a lot of houses up off Shelbyville Road, back up in that area. We got to talking. He came down to the school, came down to the house with the plans and things, where my wife and I were living. And, we eventually got it done.
I didn’t think it was affordable back then but compared to now then yes. But, everybody said I beat the man out of it. We paid $44,000 for it. That was a whole lot of money back in 1973. We weren’t making that much, because she (wife) was a teacher and I was a teacher. We did well to make $20,000 between us, $22K at the most. But he did an excellent job. The house is still standing. Joe was instrumental in me building my house.
Joe was in real estate himself. He had a manufacturing company out on Dixie Hwy. I’m not familiar with the insides of it. But I know he and Lenny Lyles were good friends. And, I think they were hooked up in it some kind of way. But I never really got into their business. They weren’t the type that was gonna tell you too much anyway. And, I never was the kind that wanted to find out. I was too worried about what I’m gonna do (laugh).
But, they were part of the Epicurean Club on 7th Street between Walnut and Chestnut. That was a classy black club. It was a Black Men’s Members Only Club. Everything was straight down the line then. And you had to be a certain status to get in it. When Urban Renewal came through they moved down to 34th and Broadway. And that (Urban Renewal) reminds me when I went to college down in New Orleans. We didn’t have any segregation on the busses here (Louisville), on the street car. But down there they had signs ya know, “Colored Patrons Only.” I wasn’t used to that part..."
"…my father, Al Rosen, purchased Joe’s Palm Room from Joe Hammond in the late 70’s. He wouldn’t sell the building at that time. He still had his real estate office next door. He continued in the real estate business for several years after we bought it. But we just bought the business.
My dad was from New York. As a child, jazz was all we listened to. That was the music that was in our household every day. The story is, and I can’t swear to the accuracy of this, he was in the Air Force during the Korean War, and he was stationed in Oklahoma. And they were driving back to New York and this (Louisville) is where the car broke down, literally.
My dad was best friends with a couple that owned 118 West Washington Street. Eddie Donaldson and Gloria Donaldson. It was a jazz club that later became a strip club, then it became The Great Midwestern or something like that. A guy named Doug Gossman owned it. Eddie and Gloria got divorced and Eddie moved to the Virgin Islands. Gloria ran a club in the basement of Actor’s Theatre in Louisville called The Starving Artist. They had a son named Turtle. My parents were Turtle's, God parents. But, Eddie had musicians (in his club). As a kid, I mean I was way under age, but I saw Joe Pass, Rashaan Roland Kirk. He had just a myriad of great jazz musicians at this club. He had that place at 118 Washington then he moved to 100 West Washington, right across the street from where the Presbyterian has their center. Anyway, my parents and the Donaldson’s where famous friends.
My father was a salesmen and entrepreneur. He was selling flatware door to door. He had a bar restaurant thing later on at the corner of 2nd and Kentucky that he called The Chicken Shack. He was in the car business. He had a couple of used car lots. I wasn’t estranged from my father, but I wasn’t at home. And, ya know it was just life as it is. And, I was working for a guy named Tom of Tom Kemp Construction. We were framing up this building and doing all of this work in Jeffersonville. Basically, the day we got it completed, I got fired. And, I was really shocked. I thought I was doing a good job. And he was like, you need to go see your Dad.
My dad had a small liquor store right down the street. And my Dad said the building that you have been working on, that’s my building. I wasn’t aware of that. And he said in two weeks I will be opening a new liquor store, and you are coming to work for me. It was called Cut Rate Liquors.
After several years, he divested from Cut Rate, sold it to two other guys, and was looking for something to get into. The opportunity came to him through a friend of his named Kenny Lewis who owned Consolidated liquors, a store at 15th and Jefferson. I think it might have been a life long dream of my father’s, because he talked about going into clubs when he was under aged in New York. Owning a jazz club was enticing to him so when the Palm Room opportunity came up he took advantage of that. So, I started working for my Dad at the liquor store and I was with him all the way through. We mopped the floors, we cut the grass, we did everything. I worked at Joe’s Palm Room every day. I was in my 20’s and I am 60 now.
When we took it over, they had offered food. We didn’t. We got out of the food industry. So, we were just running the bar. The building itself was beautiful, it was well maintained. But it was in the middle of a poor neighborhood. It was kind of odd. You can tell the houses that were built, it was part of a fairly affluent neighborhood at one time. But at this point it was a poor neighborhood. We were within a block and a half, I think there were 3 churches. There were 2 churches at the corner of 19th and Jefferson. So we were only a stone’s throw from there. It wasn’t a kind of place where you would get walk in traffic. To come to The Palm Room you had to want to come to The Palm Room. The inside of the building, it wasn’t paneling. These were maybe 36 X 36 inch squares. The wood had to be with double edges. That was throughout the whole place. It had dropped ceilings. It had recessed lighting. It was really ahead of its time when it was built. I think all that wood was imported from Italy or something. We had to keep the wood clean.
One thing about the club was the front and back doors were solid glass. Inside the bar itself was dark, colors were red and black. When anybody walked up to that door to come in during the day, there was kind of a light that shined in. So, for a moment you were on stage when you walked in, while everybody tried to figure out who just walked through the door. It was part of the creative atmosphere.
One of the other things was, when you went behind the bar, there was a 14 inch step down, so when you tended, you were 14 inches shorter. Part of the reason for that was, when you were behind the bar, you would not obstruct the vision to the band stand. There wasn’t a bad spot in the place. It was well put together. Well thought through. And, the clientele that came there required you to have an extensive liquor inventory. People would come in and want AquaVit Bloody Mary, which is like a Polish Brandy or something. The bartenders that were there during the day, hand polished every glass. That place was spotless every day, every piece of glass, every window. There were doors on some of the liquor cabinets because some of that stuff you didn’t use often. But every bottle was wiped down every day. Every piece of glass got washed. It was built so you could accommodate that kind of stuff. It was a well thought out design. It was a great building.
Some of the bartenders and waitresses that worked there, were there over 20 years, an unheard of thing. If you had been there before and your drink was Old Grand Dad 100 proof, they knew it when you walked in the door. It was excellent service. Rudolf Stitches’ son’s name was Don Stitch. He worked there.
When it comes to the music, we had a rhythm section. The drummer was a guy by the name of Darryl Cotton. A guitar player named Billy Clemons, who walked with crutches. We had Pete Peterson, was our piano player. And we had a guy by the name of Riley White, was on bass. We owned the sound system that was in the club. The musicians brought their own instruments, but we owned like a Fender Rhodes piano. And we owned some instruments too. We had music every day of some type. We had people that wanted to come in and audition to play. People that came in and played just because they wanted to play there. When the band was playing, there were always people that would bring their instruments with them and try to play with the band. So, in the time that we were there, there was just a tremendous amount of music. Johnny Lytle played there, a friend of the family. Rue Holmes, Eddie Harris. But the other thing about it was that if they were a musician traveling through Louisville, they stopped. If there was an opportunity to come to Joe’s, they’d come. Count Basie’s guitar player Freddy Green, he came to Joe’s. Helen Humes, a jazz singer from Louisville, came to play before she passed away. That was one of the most memorable nights for me while we owned it.
We opened at 10 o’clock in the morning, even though we didn’t serve breakfast. One of the things we did was matinees or happy hours or whatever. Two or three days a week, we’d have live music from 5 to 9. Then the night band would come in and start playing at 10. Like I said, this was a destination. You didn’t show up to Joe’s by accident. And everybody who came there was a VIP. There were about 13 seats at the bar. And there was a guy that came in there one evening that was a pretty infamous guy around Louisville. He had some friends coming from out of town later. And, he came in with a stack of 100 dollar bills and started at one end and went past about 5 stools. I don’t know how many there were. But he started spreading 100 dollar bills to cover 5 seats. And he said he wanted those 5 seats for the matinee. And we took the 100 dollar bills, folded them up, and gave them right back to him. Because everybody that came there was somebody. It was first come first serve. There were never really reserved seats. Everybody was important and got treated the same. He thought that he could come in and buy 5 seats for the night. But we just didn’t do that. His name was Bimbo Taylor.
Now, Joe had his real estate office next door. And Joe would come through every single day. He was the kind of guy that could wear a suit. I never saw him not in a suit. He was immaculate all the time. He was a tall thin guy, about 6’3 or 6’4. Of course, by this time, he had silver gray hair, but just an elegant person. He always spoke to everybody. He never spoke down to people. He had a stature, that when he walked in the room, everybody knew he was there. A nice man, that worked hard all his life. He earned a lot of respect from everybody. Joe was just a force and just a pleasant person to be around. I know he lived up on Lindsey Avenue. And he had some apartment buildings that were right next to his home. He had a Rolls Royce, but he always drove a 4 door Lincoln. That was his daily drive. He didn’t have any children. And they called his wife Pete. But his wife didn’t come out (to Joes Palm Room) at that stage in their lives. She never came to the club.
Joe was a master customer service guy. We’re talking about a time before Jefferson County and the City of Louisville were one. Joe had created an environment where, if you wanted to hold a city-wide office in Louisville, Kentucky, you had to come to The Palm Room. If you wanted to do anything in the city and you wanted to get the black vote, you had to come to The Palm Room. All the politicians at that time came to Joe’s. During the day, during those daylight hours, there were the black Republicans, the black Democrats, they all spent time at Joe’s, trying to get their people elected. Joe’s Palm Room was a political force by itself, which was all created by Joe Hammond. He was that powerful. He had influence that you wouldn’t see today in the political world. If you wanted to hold a city-wide office in the city of Louisville, you came to Joe’s.
Everybody who wanted to be somebody, came to Joe’s. Joe’s had lawyers, doctors, judges, politicians, anybody of real influence, especially in the black community, came to Joe’s. He had tremendous amount of influence in the politics in the city of Louisville. I’m telling ya, all the influential people in the African American community, came to Joe’s. If you were a professional athlete from Louisville, when you were home, you came to Joe’s. And, during Derby, it was just mayhem.
A lot of our patrons at that time, were members of Epeturian Club, at 34th and Broadway. They were salesmen, politicians, Lenny Lyles was a regular patron, Laken Cosby, Kevin Cosby’s father was a regular there. And Joe’s is twelve blocks from city hall on Jefferson Street, like 4 stop lights, ya know. So people from downtown would come there when they got off work. And, we’d be packed at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. The place would be completely packed. At least 3 or 4 nights a week, somebody would set up a table outside and register voters every week. Most people came through the parking lot entrance and there was always a table out there. The political landscape at that time, Joe’s had a huge part of that. I’m telling you everybody came to Joe’s. It wasn’t the center of people’s universe. It was a part of their universe. Ya know what I’m saying.
I think Joe was also influential in helping a lot of entrepreneurs acquire financing, small business loans. He knew how to work all those angles. And people came to him for a lot of advice. And, I would think that he helped a lot of people, whether it was monetarily with investments or whatever he could do to help the community he would participate but stay in the background. He was the front man at The Palm Room, but a lot of the other stuff that he was involved with, he stayed in the background and didn’t play that hand.
The area had changed by the mid 80s. Ya talking about the beginning of the cocaine epidemic. There was never anything that happened inside the bar. But there was a night that a kid got shot to death, not on the property, but in the middle of Jefferson Street. It was kind of a cultural change going on throughout. And my Dad was like, it was time to get out of it. Plus, we were not making any money anyway. Bringing those bands in, paying for them most nights of the week, we were holding our own, but we were not really making any money. It wasn’t hugely profitable. It was a lot of fun. We didn’t really lose money, but I guess it was that time where if you bought a jazz club then you go broke. So we sold the business to the Whitfields..."
"...I was born in Detroit, but my family background was in Kentucky. We moved to Louisville when I was like 12 or 13. I did one year at old Parkland Junior High. And, then we moved out to PRP and I went to Valley High School because PRP High School wasn’t built yet. Then I went to Murray on a journalism scholarship for one year, got involved with theatre people, and had too much fun. And my Methodist mother did not approve and made me come home and go to U of L where, guess what? I got a theatre scholarship!
I first met Mr. Joe Hammond around 1965. He was working at a bar café on, you better check me on this with somebody else that’s old, it was on Magazine Street. It was across from a bar called Bucket and Lena’s. And, we were students at University of Louisville. We went in there because Mr. Hammond had the best juke box with jazz and blues in the entire state.
Then he built the new place. It was the finest night club physically. The nicest! You walk in the back door from the parking lot. And you have the wrap around bar, on your rightish. Mr. Hammond’s office was on the extreme right, through a door. And the bartenders always seemed shorter than they really were because I believe the floor was a little bit lower on their side of the bar than on the customer’s side of the bar. We had this friend that worked there every once in a while and we called him Hobo. And Hobo was big and strong. And I was much much lighter than I am now. And Hobo would reach from his side of the bar and pick me up and put me over inside that bar. That was just an amazing feat in my mind because he was so strong. And, I tell you who was a bartender there for a while too. One of Stitches son's. The boxer Rudell. One of Rudell Stitches son’s was a bartender there for a while. And, I believe he is still alive.
So back to the physical structure. They had a restaurant in the building, the side room. They used to serve dinners there. There was food on that one side for a while. Then they stopped it and moved in pool tables. Of course, it was carpeted. And when you walked in the back door, you had all the old regulars there every afternoon sitting at the bar. And, you had tables and booths on your left. And up a couple of steps from those, you had more tables. Then at the street end, you had the band stand. Oh, it was just lovely. It was our Cheers for my sister and me. And you had some Louisville Jefferson County politicians, coming in, schmoozing. You had people, like myself, who worked in the West End, at different schools, going in the afternoons after work and also going in at nights for the bands. There were not that many white women that went there back in those days. And there was one older man that shall remain nameless, who was heard to refer to me, my friend and my sister as incidental white whores. So we named ourselves The IWWs (laugh). But we were not. We were there for the relaxation, the drink, the conversation and the music. Hazel Miller was lead singer there for years. And, of course Tanita Gaines sang there too. And, Billy Clements, was guitarist there. He played for my husband’s memorial service in Louisville.
My husband was Otis Franklin. And Otis taught around town at several places when he returned to the city from Atlanta. And we were married for almost 34 years. And, he passed in 2010. He went to Central, because that’s the only high school he could go to. He bought his clothes at Levy’s. Because that’s the only place that blacks were allowed to shop, there and Byck’s, I believe. He went to K-State. He would be 80 right now. He was born in 1938. And, I still have his college buddies as my friends. And, I still have his daughter, my step daughter, who is like my daughter, and her 3 boys and her husband. They live in Atlanta. And she is precious. And, I feel rich being her step mother and step grandmother to her three sons.
We never had any real problems with being an interracial couple. We had it fine. We got married in 1977. And, we owned a home in Crescent Hill. And see, that was something I learned about Mr. Hammond in the late 60’s, early 70’s. I learned that there were African Americans living in Crescent Hill. I never knew that. All along Brownsboro Rd. That’s where Mr. Hammond lived. I passed by it (his house) all the time. I knew which house it was. And, of course he drove that Rolls Royce. Do you know about the Rolls Royce? It was a Silver Cloud. That was the model. Oh, he was a piece of work, I tell ya. He was pure class. He was MISTER Hammond..."
Ed Chestnut Jr.
“…My father and I both played at Joe’s Palm Room. My father, Ed Chestnut Sr., retired as the President of Mammoth Insurance Company (the largest black owned company in Kentucky at one time). He was the last President before it was acquired by Atlanta Life. My father was born in Jeffersonville. He lived over there with his aunt and his father, because his mother passed at an early age. And he lived between Jeffersonville and Bardstown. His mom was one of the Pipes from Bardstown, that was her family name. His father was from Carolina and settled in Jeffersonville.
I recollect that the first Joe’s Palm Room was on the South East corner of 13th and Magazine. On the outside it didn’t look like much, but on the inside it was laid out. It had sort of a plush effect to it. When you walked in, the atmosphere changed. A really inviting atmosphere. Ya had the huge aquarium behind the bar. It was laid out really nice.
One of the core individuals that performed there, the musician that sorta organized a lot of the entertainment there, he was a multi-talented musician, his name was Barrington Lee Morton. The nickname for him was Boogie. He played organ, saxophone, he played bass. Boogie, was one of those extraordinary musicians who had played nationally, and actually had relayed to me that he played out of the country. I was fortunate enough to know about him because I went on the road with him a few times. He and my father were really really good friends. They played together at Joe's for years. He and my father both were involved with music when they were in the service up in New York and spent some time in Harlem.
I like to say Boogie had devilish ways (laugh). Ya see, in jazz music, this happens with the older cats when they perform. Say a guy comes in with an instrument and wants to sit in. You normally have a list of what they call standard tunes, which are tunes everybody should have in their repertoire, regardless of what genre they play. Ya know the changes, and you improvise over that. Everybody does that. Well what Boogie would do, he would raise the tempo to challenge you. He would choose a song that would challenge tempo, the structure of the song or harmony. And if you went in and proved yourself then you were ok. He was the band leader at Joe's after my father. He was from Smoketown and lived in the West End until he passed last year.
My father played with Boogie and these guys. He played guitar. He was a melodic guitarist. I know when I used to play, he used to come in and sit in on me. Say for instance, if you had the instrument that they played, and they didn’t bring their instrument, they would take yours. So my father would come in and get my guitar and then he would burn the set up and want to give it back to me, and I was like nah I don’t want it back (laugh). You finish the night, I aint getting back up there (laugh).
He (my father) used to tell me that he and Wes Montgomery used to hang out together. Wes is the jazz guitarist from Indianapolis who was known for playing with his thumb. Normally guitarists played with a picks. But he played with his thumb. My father and Wes hung out down at Walnut Street at the Top Hat. Wes came here and played at the Top Hat during the war. The soldiers would come in town from Fort Knox. Walnut Street would be jumping. My father would be playing and Wes would come in. And Wes did to him, what my father did to me. He would sit in, play the guitar, and want to give it back to my father. And my father would say nah you keep playing. I ain’t getting back up there. Wes died of a heart attack at a pretty young age.
There is a guy named Jamey Aebersold, he’s got a street named after him in Indiana. He is famous for publishing jazz works. Jamey and my father were good friends too. Jamey plays the Sax too.
All the guys that my father played with, I feel fortunate and why I’ve begun to practice at home again is because these guys took me under their wing. Spent time with me. A guy by the name of Bill Jordan, he was a saxophonist. This guy sounded like Coltrane. This guy would play his sax and it sounded like fire was coming out of his horn. I kid you not. It just mesmerized you. I mean, where is he getting all this stuff from? I played a gig with him one night. It might have been at Joe’s. And I was still in the formative playing years. I knew the basics. I had training in different aspects of music. So, after the gig, he lived not too far, just down the street, he invited me to his house, after we had just played for 4 hours. He handed me his father’s guitar. His father’s guitar was an acoustic. And, the strings were almost like ropes. It was like a man’s guitar, ya know what I’m saying. This guy kept me up until sunrise, playing music. Let me tell you, it was an eye opener, an awakening, an epiphany for me to see this guy get so into his horn. He helped me get passed the physical challenge of playing his father’s guitar.
Bennet Higgins, a saxophonist, he took over the leadership in the later years. He had a brother named, Jonathan Higgins, a drummer. Boogie played with them too. He played through several generations of music, my father’s group, then with some of the younger guys. A player by the name of Billy McClain, young guy. This guy was a generation or two younger than my father. He was considered a musical genius because he never had any formal training. He played the Hammond B3. He could hear a song, and he would take off, and I mean he was gone with it. He didn’t have an organ of his own. But he practiced on everyone else's. The fact is that he picked up things so quickly and did so much with it.
I was fortunate to have been exposed to my father’s era of musicians. I am one of the only guys still around that had the chance to play with all of these guys and to have known Joe Hammond. Joe was a regal type individual. He stood erect. He smoked a pipe. He had that noble air about himself. Somebody that everybody looked up to. Recognized by his accomplishments and what he was doing in the community. See, I retired as the VP of Information Technology from the Louisville Water Company three years ago. When I was promoted to management, I used to go to report to the board and I used to have to go to the board meetings. Well Joe Hammond was on the board of Water Works. I met him there too. I met him at Joe’s playing but also knew him for being on the board. He may have been the first African American to be on the board, not sure about that, but at the time he was the only African American. You can tell the way that he carried himself that everybody respected him.
Joe drew people that were in various business activities in the community to the Palm Room. These were the professional folks in the community that would come there. This was their stop after work and on weekends. The thing was, it was a carry over of the days in the 30’s and 40’s and 50’s when people dressed. The attire was like suits. And the women wore their dresses. And they would come in to socialize. It was the meeting place. The place to be."
"...I am originally from Louisville, the West End. I graduated from Shawnee High School in 1967.
I knew Joe Hammond through my best friend's parents. They were really good friends. Charles and Irene Lowry were their names. So we always got VIP treatment when we went to Joes. And he always made sure that no one bothered us if we didn't want to be bothered. He was a nice man, a very nice man.
Oh wow, when I think of Joe's Palm Room, it reminds me of something that you might see in a movie. You would get dressed up to go. He didn't want us sitting at any tables so he would allow us to sit at the bar, because we were actually too young, and he wanted to keep an eye on us. And we didn't have much money so one time we went with rolls of pennies lol. But we knew Mr. Joe would take care of us.
You didn't find any commotion, cussing, or fussing. It was just very smooth, and relaxing. And, Ed Chestnut, I think it was his name, it was his trio there then. They really had nice sound, just smooth jazz! Laid back! You sat and listen to the jazz, sipped on your wine, and had good conversation. And it was the place to be on Friday and Saturday nights.
The Globetrotters came through one time and that was a big to do. Because they all kinda crammed in. Everybody knew who they were. They had a VIP table, champaign buckets, and so forth. It was a to do for us to see that. Tanita Gaines used to come through and sing a lot. I'm taking you way back, to about 68. Bill Paul, and the Delphonics stopped through.
In 1969, I met a guy who was the President of Armidial. He introduced himself and we talked. He was talking about how much he would come in to Louisville for business and this was his place to stop. He said I feel like I am at home when I come to Joe's Palm Room. And, that kinda stuck with me.
I was there probably every Friday night. I had Uncles that would come through that knew Joe Hammond. My Uncle Odell and he was close close. So they frequented Joe's Friday and Saturday night also. Joe's had a really good reputation. They don't make'em like Joe Hammond anymore. He was one of a kind. Let's keep him alive..."
Zephra M Crawley
“..I’m an East End Smoketown girl. My grandmother is Thelma May from R.G. May and Son’s Funeral Home. My mom is Zephra May Miller, known as the Bag Lady of Louisville. Yeah, pronounce it right or I’ll be upset (joking). Mr. Joe Hammond, to me still is a member of St. Peter Claver Church on East Lampton Street (Smoketown). He looked after the young and young at heart. A man of class and distinction and his wife a classy lady.
We had a group named Zephra May and Family. We were an acapella singing group. A gospel group. There was 4 of us. My mother, my sister, my brother and I. And we used to sing all over Louisville. My family competed at the Kentucky State Fair Gospel Quartet Competition one year. We were the first African American group to compete. Mr. Joe Hammond helped my family to be involved in it and helped us purchase some clothes. He said to me, when you dress the part you act and do your part. Growing up that meant a lot. We had clothes but when you step in the lime-light you want to look a certain way. We competed at the Gospel Quartet Competition and he was so proud of us. We didn’t win, but he was just ecstatic for us to be involved. He was just smiling and just proud of us. He believed in the community. That’s just the way he was.
Walking into there (Joe’s Palm Room) you felt welcomed. There was no fighting. You might have some heavy discussions, but not much cussing, everybody being themselves. It was a relaxing atmosphere. You had a good time. I think they had a pool table, darts, drinks, music. It was just a sociable gathering place. A place you can go and take your friends to have a good time. To me it was just real nice..”