John T. Floore’s Country Store
14492 Old Bandera Road, Helotes, Texas 78023
210-695-8827 / www.liveatfloores.com
By Jim Beal Jr.
(LSM July/Aug 2014/vol 7 – issue 4)
A name-check in a song is no guarantee of immortality — unless, perhaps, it’s Willie Nelson doing the name checking.
By the time Nelson gave his 1973 “Shotgun Willie” shout-out to John T. Floore, Floore’s establishment had been, for 31 years, a honky- tonk/dancehall fixture in the (formerly) tiny community of Helotes, northwest of San Antonio. And Willie had been playing there for about 20 of those years. At one point in his career, Nelson made music at Floore’s every Saturday night.
Though Floore died not long after the release of Shotgun Willie, his “store” kept going. And four decades on, Willie Nelson and his Family continue to work Floore’s. They’ll be back in the place for a two-night stand on Oct. 17 and 18.
Through the years, Floore’s has hosted a mind-boggling array of legendary musicians: Ray Price, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, George Jones, Little Richard, Bob Wills, Buck Owens & the Buckaroos, B.B. King, Merle Haggard. It’s also been a regular tour spot (and regional home base) for a who’s who of Texas, Red Dirt and Americana all stars, including Robert Earl Keen (who recorded most of his No. 2 Live Dinner album there), Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, Kevin Fowler, Pat Green, Reckless Kelly, James McMurtry, Paul Thorn, Randy Rogers, Wade Bowen and dozens of others.
Johnny Bush, 79, first worked Floore’s in the ’50s when he played drums with Easy Adams & the Texas Top Hands. On Aug. 9, he’ll front his Bandoleros at Floore’s. “There’s a lot of nostalgic value there,” says Bush. “The Green Room is John T.’s old apartment. The bandstand has been enlarged, but the old part of the stage is still there. It’s become an events center. The improvements to the place are phenomenal, but it still has that great feel. Of course, that massive outdoor patio, the fence and all the improvements out there are new. It’s really come into its own. Spud Goodall and Curly Williams used to work there on Sunday afternoons for the tip jar. Now kids like Randy Rogers can pack ’em in on a Tuesday night.”
Among the improvements: unobtrusive air conditioning in the old bar; a greatly expanded Honky-Tonk Café menu (which still includes Floore’s linchpin offering, tamales); mixed beverages to augment beer; and a massive outdoor patio with the requisite amenities (bars, portable toilets and sturdy picnic tables).
Helotes-bred, Helotes-based guitar ace Rick “Casper” Rawls, 59, the favorite guitarist of a whole lot of great guitarists, played his first professional gig at Floore’s. He was 11. Rawls and his wife, Nancy, had their wedding reception at Floore’s. And yes, Casper sat in with the band that night. “John T. sponsored our Little League baseball team until some Christian lady objected to her son having the name of a bar on the back of his uniform,” Rawls recalls. “We could hear the bands playing there at night. I’d go up there during the day and musicians were just hanging out. Being a kid, I didn’t know who they were, but I sure figured out later who they were. The inside is almost exactly the same, with some of the same tables and chairs.”
In 2014, the balance of community service and all-out honky-tonk remains. Floore’s books benefits, high school reunions and a monthly good-cause gospel brunch along with a full calendar, which includes a traditional Sunday afternoon family dance.
Bush and Rawls say they feel a sense of responsibility, and feel the history, when they take the stage at Floore’s. That feeling extends to the current stewards.
“I know how much history is there,” says talent buyer Mark McKinney. “It’s like the layers of an onion.” McKinney, his family, and Steve Baker have owned and operated Floore’s for the past 12 years. “I’m part of only the fourth ownership group since Floore’s inception. I appreciate its history and I know someday we’ll pass it along, knowing it’s a place that will be here long after we’re gone. We’ve updated Floore’s without losing the vibe. We’re still doing it.”
Keeping the honky-tonk vibe includes the booking. “We need to respect and honor and do as many of the dancehall shows as we can,” McKinney says. “Then there’s this whole other chapter of the dancehall that started with Robert Keen and the people he’s influenced.”
Count Randy Rogers, 35, in the new chapter number. “I love Floore’s so much I recorded my latest album (Homemade Tamales: Live at Floore’s) there,” Rogers says. “The first time I played there, in 2004 or 2005, we opened for Kevin Fowler. There were 48 people in the audience. The first time we played there I never thought we could put people in the place. Now we do. Floore’s is not just another venue or just another gig. I feel like it’s my job to help keep the place going because it’s important.”
Disclosure: Jim Beal Jr. plays bass in Miss Neesie & the Ear Food Orchestra, the band that works Floore’s monthly First Sunday Gospel Brunch.