A Great Texas Honky Tonk American

2021 Feb 1

The country music community took a hard punch to the gut when Austin’s own icon James White, proprietor of the world famous Broken Spoke, passed on 24 January 2021. 

About thirteen years ago, I came to Austin on vacation and that weekend I saw Dale Watson with Jason Roberts at the Broken Spoke. I fell in love with the Spoke and Austin right then and there. It was packed to the gills, the band was incredible, and the dance floor was rocking! I was awestruck by how amazing the vibe was. 

I thought, to be on that stage playing for all these dancers, that would be like riding my ’72 Triumph 500cc to the moon! BUT… life has crazy twists and turns; I moved to Austin with a broken heart and broken dream. And even though I quit music, music didn’t quit me. My very first band gig in Austin was on that historic stage of the Broken Spoke. 

James White, from the first time I played there with Alvin Crow, was super nice to me. I think it took him a year or more to remember my name, but that first time he said, “How ya doin’ Johnny!”, I was *filled with pride. ‘James White knows my name!’ I thought to myself, ‘how cool is that!’. 

Alvin was asked by James’ wife Annetta to get his white 1954 Cadillac Series 62 coupe running again; to park it at the Spoke on display for all JW’s fans and friends to see. James, at 81 years old, was still working on it himself! Between Alvin’s Okie engineering and my hillbilly tenacity, within 24 hours we had it running, washed, and on the road. 

Annetta said, “Well Alvin, back it out of the drive and see if it’ll make around the block.” Alvin said, “I don’t drive. Johnny you drive, I’ll ride.” And with reverence, I gently sat behind that big old steering wheel, turned the key and fired up JW’s Broken Spoke caddy. What an honor and a thrill. 

Backing out of her driveway, she looked right at me, smiled and said, “James *never* let anyone drive that car but him. But I think he’d be ok with you behind the wheel.” Wow!   

Alvin slid in the passenger seat, I dropped it in D1, and smoothly we rolled down the block. Alvin and James’ best pal, Don Green showed up about then and jumped in back. “I don’t think I’ve *ever* seen anyone else drive this car. Maybe Jerry Jeff Walker.” 

We rolled down S. Lamar. Honking that humungous horn, getting waves and smiles. “That’s the Broken Spoke Caddy!”, “I’ve seen that car in parades.” We eased into the gravel lot at the Broken Spoke, where I parked it sideways, front and center for all the world to see. 

James White was a great American. And although he may have passed on to the great honky tonk in the sky, his rugged Texas spirit will live on - just like his 1954 Cadillac coupe.