Swifton High School Gym and B & I Club
Swifton, AR 

Photo courtesy Frankie Rider, II

Located about 17 miles north of Newport, AR along the Rock 'N Roll Highway US 67, Swifton, AR was (and still is) a quaint little farming town full of hard-working folk. Elvis and his troupe rolled into town there on December 9, 1955 to play a couple of gigs.... one at the Swifton High School Gymnasium, and a later performance at the B & I Club. I had some time yesterday, so I thought I'd venture over that way and see what I could still find that might be related to his stop there.

Bob King's B & I club - Jul. 9, 2008
Photo courtesy Frankie Rider, II

Bob King's B & I club - Jul. 9, 2008
Photo courtesy Frankie Rider, II

Bob King's B & I Club is still there and open; today it is called Bob King's "King Of Clubs" private club. About two miles north of town, it is a famous local club that saw many of both country music's and rock n' roll's early pioneers venture through on their varied paths to greatness. 

picture in Bob King's B & I club - Jul. 9, 2008
Photo courtesy Frankie Rider, II

The inside is lined with photos of Bob with many of the celebrities who played the joint over the years. The club is in two sections now; a bar/cafe and a private dance club. Elvis played in what is now the private club "side"; I was told the stage is still there, although I was not allowed to see inside the room. The club requires private personal memberships and is only open on weekends. Its mosaic-like brick exterior harkens back to the '50s era, much the same as the tile work on the floor of the old Silver Moon Club does in Newport.

picture in Bob King's B & I club - Jul. 9, 2008
Photo courtesy Frankie Rider, II

Inside are numerous photos and also media articles relating to the club and its illustrious history. Not surprisingly, Elvis is the subject of or mentioned in more than a few of them.  There were no photos of Elvis shown purported to have been taken at the club itself, but there were many images of him.... some familiar and some not.

DJ and Elvis at Swifton High School Gymnasium - Dec. 9, 1955
Photo © Mary Lou Campbell courtesy "Elvis - The Sun Years" by Bill E. Burk

These photos were all listed as having been taken before and at the afternoon performance on December 9 at the Swifton High School Gymnasium....

Elvis at Swifton High School Gymnasium - Dec. 9, 1955
Photo © Mary Lou Campbell courtesy "Elvis - The Sun Years" by Bill E. Burk

Hopefully I'll be able to go back sometime and get some more info on this place; this was just a quicky trip. As for the other destination....

The Swifton High School has been largely replaced since those days, with the main school building being reconstructed in 1966. I found the gymnasium straightaway, but with this being summer and all, I could find no one in the office or in the surrounding buildings to ask questions of.  However, a last trip around the campus netted me one lone pickup in the back lot.

As I approached, an older fellow came out of one of the buildings and asked me if I needed any help. When I told him I was there trying to research Elvis a bit, he said "oh, I remember when he was here..." I told him I'd already been out to Bob King's club and then I remembered on the way back that Elvis had played the school as well. I introduced myself and he did likewise as one J Q. Harvey. He is a groundskeeper for both Swifton and Tuckerman schools.

After a few more moments of small talk in the rain he then said, to my astonishment.... "have you a few minutes? Come on over to the house.... we'll get out of this shower and my wife can give you some more information about when Elvis was here...." Jackpot, baby! 

His wife, Carolyn, was like "oh, an Elvis fan, eh?" She then disappeared into another room and came back with two large poster-sized objects. The first she deposited on the table:

Mary Lou (Kilgore) Campbell, Elvis, Carolyn Cheek and Patricia Dudley - Dec. 9, 1955
Photo © Mary Lou Campbell courtesy "Elvis - The Sun Years" by Bill E. Burk

It was a poster sized blow-up of part of the photo seen in Bob King's nightclub and shown above. The lady shown in it was named Mary Lou Kilgore; she was a huge Elvis fan at that time and the other ladies were classmates. Ms. Kilgore later married and spent her career as the librarian for Swifton schools. She has recently passed away, but Ms. Harvey told me this day was one of the highlights of her life and she spoke of it often. 

Her class celebrated their 50th reunion this year and this print of Elvis and Ms. Kilgore graced the lobby of the reunion festivities. How cool was that?  Mr. Harvey then showed me the second object they had in-hand:

The original Swifton HS Gymnasium
Photo courtesy Frankie Rider, II

Another reunion piece, this shows the gym that Elvis performed in in 1955.... Mr. Harvey used to play basketball in it. It was the last of three wooden gymnasiums that eventually burned to the ground sequentially before the school district started constructing more permanent structures in 1958. As seen in the above photos, it is a wooden structure that Elvis is pictured in, on and off-stage. The wooden bleachers are plainly evident in one image in particular.

After a good twenty-minute visit, I went back over to the school and snapped this photo of the current gym:

The current Swifton HS Gymnasium - Jul. 9, 2008
Photo courtesy Frankie Rider, II

According to Mr. Harvey, the old Gymnasium stood about at the edge of the tennis courts on the back side and connected to the main school building via a covered sidewalk.

And then the 60-odd miles back home....

Not a great deal of info on today's quest, but I may try to go back to Bob King's club at some point in the future. Still I got meet some nice folks who were extremely courteous to a complete stranger.... and maybe walk in some of Elvis's own footsteps.

On second thought.... a very good day indeed. 

Frankie Rider, II
Arkansas USA

page added July 11, 2008
(with permission as originally posted July 10, 2008 on the FECC Forum with the addition of a few photos.)

Bob King dies at 83
By Lacy Mitchell Guard Staff Writer
Published: Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Editor’s note: This story includes portions of an interview with Bob King that Guard Staff Writer Lacy Mitchell conducted in 2006 for a college journalism class. 

Elvis, Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Sonny Burgess played at King of Clubs 

SWIFTON — Ask almost any area resident and they likely will know of the club near the railroad tracks between farmland and flatland along state Highway 67 in Swifton.

They will likely know who owned it, too.

Bob King, who owned and operated the King of Clubs for more than 50 years, died Monday. He was 83.

“He was one the best club owners I ever knew,” said friend and musician Sonny Burgess of Newport. “He was a great guy — a good friend. He’ll be missed by all that knew him.”

In a 2006 interview, King reminisced at home about his days as the area’s well-known club owner.

With a head full of gray hair and sitting at his kitchen table, King was eager to talk to anyone willing to listen.

Next door stands the business he is known for — but what bothered King the most was not being able to leave home on his own.

“I told (my wife) Evelyn I get so tired sitting and looking out that window knowing I cannot get up and walk through that door,” he said.

Born in 1924 at Battle Axe and raised in Swifton, it wasn’t hard for King to recall things that happened 50 years ago. Sept. 20, 1951 was a date that King remembered well because it was the day he opened the brick, one-story building that has had several names over the years. From the B&I Club to the King of Clubs, most people have heard of “Bob King’s.”

Minutes into conversation, King said he never had aspirations of being a club owner at 26 years old.

“Way back then I was a farmer. I worked and lived on the farm until I went into the Navy. It was rough just like it was everywhere else — I guess everywhere else,” he said. “All you had was what you worked hard for and that wasn’t much. It wasn’t like it is now.”

After serving during World War II in the South Pacific, King and his brother bought a café in Swifton. The location seemed to be a pretty good part of the country for it, he said. Looking back, “We’ve had a pretty good business,” he said.

But it’s the people who have passed through its doors that has made Bob King’s nightclub a place of history to many.

The idea for entertainment, however, was something that King never considered until he was approached by Burgess, who was looking for places to play with his newly formed band.

For $10 apiece, Burgess, Kern Kennedy, Russ Smith and Johnny Ray Hubbard performed for what Burgess called, “a redneck crowd” on Friday nights.

“They’d come out of the farms and they’d get drunk. They’d bring their babies in there and they’d set them on the table and go and dance,” he said.

On his first visit, Burgess remembered that the closer he got, the building’s screened-in front door looked as if it would explode. “There were a couple of men fighting and Bob was right in the middle of them trying to stop it” as Burgess entered the club. “Bob was tough back in those days.”

On one December night in 1955, Burgess said the club was so packed that “you could not believe how many people were there.” That night, a 20-year-old Elvis Presley, who had just signed a contract with RCA-Victor the month before, gyrated on King’s stage for $450.

Burgess and his band, the Moonlighters, backed Presley that night. The following year, they recorded on the Sun record label in Memphis that discovered Presley, releasing “We Wanna Boogie,” and “Red-Headed Woman” under the name Sonny Burgess and the Pacers.

King recalled Johnny Cash being there the night Elvis performed. Cash had opened for Presley at Swifton High School earlier that day, and “Elvis asked me if I’d give Johnny $10 to get him to sing a song,” King said.

“I told him no, I’d give him $20 to sing three songs.”

“He (Elvis) was friendly. Jerry Lee Lewis was the silly one,” King said, laughing.

Lewis, with his unique piano style, would play the instrument with his feet and the piano strings almost always would be broken afterwards, King said.

“I liked him as far as that goes. He played quite a few times ... Every time, I had to get Kern Kennedy (Burgess’ piano player) to replace the strings.”

While King has never taken full credit for the club’s longevity, he was always the first to tell people that Evelyn was the club’s lasting force. Conversation about King with those who worked for him does not go far without mention of her.

Married in 1956, King first hired Evelyn as a waitress in late 1955.

“It wasn’t a bad decision I made either,” King chuckled in 2006. “I have a wonderful little woman.”

Doug Greeno of Weiner, who was part of King’s house band in the late 1960s, said Bob and Evelyn were wonderful and great to work for. “They were good to me just like family,” he said this week.

“You can’t beat Bob,” Greeno said. King gave a lot of money away over the years. “If something happened to someone, he would give money from his own pocket or help raise money for them.”

King said in 2006 one of the best things about the club is how good people had been to him.

“When we first went in business, people were different then they are now — a lot different,” King said.

In the early days, when crowds got rowdy and people began fighting, King would tell them to go outside and settle it. The loser then had to buy everyone a beer.

“Sometimes THAT would settle it,” he said, laughing. “Everybody gets in trouble every once in awhile. I don’t expect that not to happen,” he said. “But most of them will come in and apologize to ya’ and say it won’t ever happen again.”

Harold Jenkins never forgot when he gambled away all of his and his band’s money behind the club after a show in the 1950s. King told Jenkins, later known as Conway Twitty, that he would replace the money so Jenkins could pay his band members, if the singer promised to never gamble again.

The two remained in contact over the years, and anytime King saw him, Twitty recalled that night and the promise he made. After a show in Branson, Mo., King said Twitty told him, “‘I promised you I wouldn’t and I haven’t.’”

That was a year before Twitty’s death in 1993, and the last time King saw his friend.

The business was sold and split in 2003. It is now called the King of Clubs and King’s Capri. King was pleased the club lasted 55 years and wasn’t surprised by its longevity.

“It has lasted this long because it had some good managers,” King said. “There aren’t too many people who can run a club right. What I’ve done all my life is run that club. It’s my life — 55 years behind a beer joint,” he said with a laugh.

Husband, father of three and friend, he was many things to many people. However, King’s best known role will probably always be club owner.

King’s second cousin, Mike Baker of Alicia, said King was a good man who will be missed.

“He would help anyone he could,” Baker said, recalling the times when King would let him and others “get all the sodas we could get.”

“When you’re young, that’s a big thing,” he said.

Burgess was among those featured in “Good Rockin’ Tonight: The Legacy Of Sun Records,” a television documentary filmed in the King of Clubs in 2000 about some of Sun’s artists. The documentary, aired nationwide on PBS, along with half-hour interviews with some of the artists, is now available on DVD.

Burgess credited King for giving him and the Pacers, as well as other young artists, the opportunity to cultivate their talents all those years ago.

“He was one the best guys in the music business,” Burgess said. “He was good-hearted. It’s tough to lose him.”

This article © The Batesville Daily Guard 
as posted on the FECC by LittleDarlin


All photos on this site (that we didn't borrow) unless otherwise indicated are the property of either Scotty Moore or James V. Roy and unauthorized use or reproduction is prohibited.

Home History Discography Scrapbook Guitars etc... The Studios

The Venues

In the Press Tour Dates Links Search

This site created and managed by James V. Roy for Scotty Moore with the sole intent to help promote the arts and history of American popular music and Scotty's major role in it. Every attempt was made to give credit for any images or text borrowed from the World Wide Web and we greatly appreciate the use of it. Technical difficulties or questions dealing with this Server should be addressed to the Webmaster. Copyright © 2002, 2014