The Downtowner Placemat

In March, 1975 several members of the Cripps and Bishop family were having breakfast at the Downtowner Inn in Jackson, Mississippi. Shortly after we arrived a tall fella, with an even taller cowboy hat, came in and sat down a short distance from us. He kept staring over toward our table and finally he got up, walked over, and introduced himself. He said, “Good morning folks, my name ‘s Ernest Tubb and I’ve been admiring this little boy. I think this is the most beautiful boy I’ve ever seen. Are you folks gonna be here for a few minutes?” We answered in the affirmative and he said he would be right back.

Downtowner Inn Jackson MississippiHe sat down at his table, turned over the placemat and began writing. After a few minutes he returned and handed me a song he had written about my son, J.T. He stayed and visited for a few minutes, then turned and said “I’ve got to be going now. I’m gonna go upstairs, and kiss my guitar, and turn this into a million seller.” And then he was gone.

My dad asked me if I knew who the man was. I told him I didn’t have a clue. He said, “Ernest Tubb is one of the biggest names ever in Country music.” I then reminded my dad I was a rocker, and didn’t know the first Country artist. I commented that if Led Zeppelin had walked into the room, it would have been different. .

I stored the placemat in my metal “keepsake container” for many years until the late Frank Swords nicely framed it up for me in the 90s. I would occasionally pull it out and show my son. Once we even looked for an Ernest Tubb record in our favorite record store, but it was mostly a rock and roll outlet. Before I got Frank to frame the song, I won a bid for an autographed photo on eBay, and another for an Ernest Tubb 45rpm single of “Walking The Floor Over You.” To show how much Ernest Tubb is still valued today, an autographed photo like mine is fetching $1000+ online. Can you imagine how much the placemat is worth? Of course, objects only have pecuniary value if you are selling them, and this keepsake is not for sale.

The Lyrics to “To A Little Boy”:

I know a little boy
Who must have ridden on a star –
How else could he have gotten here
When Heaven’s off so far.

The star, I’ll bet, was good and kind
& said I won’t shine less
I’ll place a twinkle in each eye –
& did! You must confess!

Oh, Ho! You don’t believe me!
Well, my boy, I know it’s true!
Where else, but in God’s home above
Is there a twin of you.

Ernest Tubb – The Man

In 1914, Ernest Dale Tubb was born on a cotton farm near Crisp, Texas to a sharecropping family. As a youth he was inspired by Jimmie Rodgers and spent his spare time learning to sing, yodel and play guitar. Rodgers died in 1933, and Tubb contacted his widow to ask for an autographed photo. They developed a friendship and her influence helped him land a recording contract with RCA. He initially lacked success and switched to Decca Records. In 1941 he was thrust into stardom with the release of “Walking The Floor Over You,” a song which eventually sold over a million copies. In 1943, Tubb joined the Grand Ole Opry and put together the Texas Troubadours band. He ended up being a regular on the radio show for four decades. He was also the first musician to use an electric guitar in the Opry. Rock on bro!

Ernest Dale TubbOne story about Ernest Tubb that interested me concerned his unusual singing style. Maxene, from the Andrews Sisters, had this to say, “He sang different than anybody I’ve ever heard. He sang the melody of the song, but the timing was different. It wasn’t like we were used to…you sing eight bars, and then you sing eight bars, and then you sing eight bars. Not with him. He just sang eight bars, ten bars, eleven bars, and then stopped, whatever it was. So, we’d just start to follow him, and then got paid on 750,000 records sold that never came above the Mason-Dixon Line!” Now, this is my kinda vocalist! I, too, despise rules and formulas in songwriting. Keep in mind, Bob Dylan was the same way.

E.T., as his friends called him, is considered one of the pioneers of Country music. His career stretched a half a century. This Country Music Hall of Fame inductee is said to have released over 200 singles in his career. Many of today’s Country artists mention him as an influence. His longtime radio show, Midnight Jamboree, helped launch the career of Elvis Presley and others. This man was certainly a heavyweight champion in his field.

I remember thinking he seemed like an unhappy man that morning in Jackson. Of course, he could of been exhausted from life on the road. Then again, we never know what goes on in a man’s mind. I later found out 1975 was the year Decca ended his recording contract. Just as Columbia Records foolishly believed Johnny Cash was washed up and dropped him, Decca felt the same about Tubb. It’s amazing how artists who sold so many records and made so much money for the record companies, could so easily be tossed aside. Ah yes, they say, “Nothing personal, It’s all about business!” In 1957, Tubb walked into the National Life building’s lobby in Nashville and fired off a .357 magnum, intending to shoot music producer Jim Denny. Tubb shot at the wrong man, but did not hit anyone. He was arrested and charged with public drunkenness. You just don’t mess with a man and his music!

Ernest Tubb continued performing until late 1982 despise ill health, and being on oxygen between shows. Emphysema finally took him on September 6, 1984. As for my son, music lives on in him. He learned to play guitar, and over the years has found fame in the Great White North of Alaska. Starting off in the band, Bullet 4 Daisy, he progressed through The Audio, and now plays for The Modern Savage. A couple of weeks ago, they released their second album.

Downtowner Inn – The Place

Walthall Hotel Jackson MS

Walthall Hotel in the 50s

┬áThe Downtowner Inn began as the Walthall Hotel, on Capitol Street, in 1929. N.W. Overstreet, the architect designed the building above a former three story bake shop and tea room. It’s appearance favored the famous Lamar Life building, which he also designed. It’s lobby was richly paneled in mahogany and must have been quite a sight.

In the 60s, the Walthall Hotel underwent an awful transmogrification into the Downtowner Inn. In the name of progress, all of the original charm was stripped away. About ten years after the Ernest Tubb breakfast, the hotel was sold and became the Quality Inn Executive Plaza. A 2008 sale and renovation has changed the look once more, and the original name has been restored.

Downtowner Inn Jackson Mississippi

Downtowner Inn – “Progress”