Sit back, relax, and imagine. It’s August 3, 1965 in San Antonio, Texas. You just finished a hard day’s work at the Atkinson Candy Company and you are ready to unwind. You head home, put on a clean suit, hop in your Ford pickup and find yourself driving down St. Hedwig Road.
Where are you going? Well, you are on your way to see the illustrpious B. B. King play at the local Eastwood Country Club. Amazing, right?
How did San Antonio, Texas (so far away from New York or Los Angeles) attract one of the most incredible musicians of the 1960s?
A Historic Venue
Opening the Eastwood Country club in 1954, Johnnie Phillips pulled out all the stops booking huge names like; Dizzy Gillespie, Nat “King” Cole, B. B. King, Ike & Tina Turner, T-Bone Walker, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, Chubby Checker, Della Reese, Big Joe Turner, Etta James and so many more noteworthy musicians.
Eastwood provided a great opportunity for aspiring musicians like Fats Martin Band, Shake Snyder’s Band, Spot Barnett’s Band, Curley Mays’s band and many more iconic local bands.
Eastwood also had acts like comedian Redd Foxx, who would bartend after his performances, and Miss Wiggles, a renowned contortionist of the day.
Eastwood Country Club was part of the “Chitlin Circuit,” a group of venues in the eastern, southern and northern Midwest that were secure for African American musicians and entertainers to perform in during the period of racial segregation in the U.S. Other famous venues in the “Chitlin Circuit” were; the Carver Theatre in Birmingham, Alabama; the Cotton Club, Smalls Paradise and the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York; Robert’s Show Lounge, Club Delisa and the Regal Theatre in Chicago; the Fox Theatre in Detroit; the Victory Grill in Austin, Texas and many more.
Eastwood Country Club supported a progressive attitude concerning racial integration. San Antonio’s venues on the “Chitlin Circuit” were racially integrated by the 1950s, a decade ahead of other large cities at the time. Eastwood was a place where everyone could get together in a high energy atmosphere, dance, drink and have a good time watching incredible musicians and performers. As Phillips once said, “The Eastwood was one of the few places where people, no matter what color they were, were always welcome. Everyone from gamblers to politicians and Texas Rangers came there. We had the most mixed audience of any club.”
End of an Era
Phillips retired in 1978 due to health issues and later closed the Eastwood. He rented out the space to Douglas and Emma Lott, who had plans to revamp the club. Mrs. Lott said, “Eastwood was a place where everyone could be entertained by the best stars in the recording industry. We wanted those stars and others to return to Eastwood.” Sadly their dream never came true, the club burned down in a horrible fire in 1986. The damages totaled at over $450,000. The fire department labeled the fire as arson, due to patterns where the flames originated and a flammable liquid found onsite. Firefighters fought the fire for two hours before getting it under control. Now the Eastwood Country club is a ghost of its former self, broken walls and rubble fill the space where greatness once was. The club may have been destroyed, but I think everyone who knew The Eastwood would agree that its legacy lives on through the hearts and memories of the people of San Antonio.
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