BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — If you’re a fan of the Bakersfield Sound, the lively, unique twang that emanated from this city in the 1950s and ‘60s, you’ve heard of it: the Blackboard Cafe, that rowdy honky tonk on Chester Avenue where Buck Owens and scores of other performers cut their musical teeth.
The Blackboard has been gone for years, but a least one remnant remains and a few lucky former patrons were able to savor some of its leftover glory this week.
It was all made possible by financial advisor Dave Anderson of the Moneywise Guys, who, in the course of a conversation with clients Todd and Amanda Adamson, learned that they had possession of the 10-foot-long, curved-at the-end artifact. The world just had to know about this, they decided, and a week after 17 News was contacted, a handful of former patrons gathered in the basement of the Adamsons’ home in the Oleander-Sunset district of Bakersfield and sidled up to what should have been a familiar sight.
Or might have been, maybe, if not for the passage of a half-century.
A section of the old bar — beautifully refinished — is the centerpiece of the family’s furnished basement.
Todd Adamson was a bachelor when he bought the house in 1995 from Michael Bayne. The bar came with it, although Adamson didn’t really know what he had until he got a visitor one day.
“He goes, ‘Man, would you really like to consider selling it? I want to buy it,'” Adamson recalled. “He’s really pressing me hard. I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, this is mine and I’m not selling it.’ He’s like, ‘OK.’ He goes, ‘You know where that bar came from?’ and I’m like, ‘I have no idea where it came from.’ He’s like, ‘It’s from the Blackboard.’ I’m like, ‘Well, I’m really not going to sell it to you now.’
Bayne had purchased the house — bar included — in 1982 from Marie Baird — and here’s where we have the Blackboard connection.
Marie Baird worked evening security at the Blackboard. She was a substantial woman, according to Bayne, whose mother, he said, was a friend of hers, and she was not one to mess with. (Bayne said Baird worked as a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy, but the KCSO could not immediately confirm that possibility and Sheriff Donny Youngblood — who said he answered calls at the Blackboard as a young deputy — said he did not recall a deputy by that name.) When the saloon closed around 1980, Baird was given the chance to buy a slice of the iconic honky-tonk, according to Bayne, and she took it.
This is a piece of the same bar where patrons enjoyed the music of a young Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Red Simpson, and out of town talent like Marty Robbins and Wynn Stewart.
Longtime Blackboard patron Anna Reading, who had a chance to see the bar at the Adamsons’ house, hoped a little celebrity DNA might linger today.
“I was rubbing my elbow against it a while ago,” she said, “so I could rub elbows with all the people that’s rubbed elbows on there before.”
The Blackboard was infamous for the fights that would break out — according to legend — almost every night. Was that true, Ray Aldridge?
“Yeah, but it wasn’t as rough as what people thought it was,” said Aldridge, standing near the bar for the first time in 50 years.
Carol Knapp said the Blackboard was a great place to see and be seen.
“The second time I went in I had a broken leg,” she said, remembering one memorable day in about 1973. “And I’m just sitting minding my own business, not dancing. And a young man came over and asked me how I broke my leg. So I told him I broke my leg skydiving.”
She eventually admitted having tripped.
A honky tonk guitar player named Joe Maphis is said to have chronicled a typical night at the Blackboard in 1953 when he wrote a song called “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and Loud, Loud Music.”
But at this week’s mini-reunion, the lights weren’t especially dim, the air was smoke free and the music was authentic but mostly soft when the reverent group of about eight gathered to salute a holy grail of honky tonk — a surviving section of a legendary bar.