"...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..."