Voyage Austin Interview

nicolette mallow

Imagery from VoyageAustin Magazine. Photography of Nicolette Mallow taken by Vivian’s Muse.

Last December, I received a note from an editorial team to inquire if I wanted to partake in a literary project called the “Inspiring Stories” series published by VoyageAustin Magazine. For the first time in 16 years, someone else interviewed me. It was so exciting since no one has ever asked in detail about my artistic journey. People usually only inquire about my writing career and forget about my performing arts history. I’ve conducted hundreds upon hundreds of interviews, but as far as I can recall. VoyageAustin Magazine is my first non-work-related interview where I was the subject matter instead of the interviewer. Perhaps on a few occasions like at The University of Texas at Austin. I spoke on behalf of the company. But this was the first time anyone interviewed me. http://voyageaustin.com/interview/check-nicolette-mallows-story/


Hi Nicolette, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.

My writing career began in 2005 at Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). I joined the District, an award-winning student newspaper, and started to get published in my undergraduate program. After graduation, I left Georgia to begin an internship with the Editorial department at Texas Monthly magazine in ATX. Then I was hired as a contract employee to work in their Custom Publishing department for a different magazine. I wrote three stories for the Texas Monthly website and that was exciting! SCAD and Texas Monthly are the launchpads of my professional journey as a writer. 

Internationally published in the United States and Europe, I’ve obtained 110+ publications thus far, and counting. For 16 years, I’ve interviewed an extensive list of talent and collaborated with companies, directors, and PR teams from The Hollywood Reporter, National Geographic Channel, Prevention Magazine, HBO Films, SXSW, The David Lynch Foundation, Cine Las Americas, The University of Texas at Austin and more. Presently, my portfolio entails 12 national awards or scholarships, including both individual and group projects. Obtaining two degrees from the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), I earned a Master of Arts degree in Arts Administration and a B.F.A. in Writing. But, writing is just one of the art forms I enjoy creating. 

From childhood until college, I focused primarily on performing arts. Born and raised in Texas and NYC—I’m an artist: writer, dancer, vocalist, thespian, model & (amateur) photographer. As a little girl, I was fortunate to be exposed to a colorful variety of music, artwork, and a beautiful array of cultures. A third-generation American, I’m a Latina, Lebanese girl that has always adored theatre arts, dance and music. 

Even at three years old, I knew I wanted to be a bellydancer after seeing the dancers and their costumes. My mummy says I ran to her at Disney in Orlando and declared, “I’m going to dance like that someday, too!” A year later, when I was four, my family took me to see The Nutcracker. Immediately, I was hooked. I needed to be part of the action on stage. I needed to dance! That desire only became more intense after seeing Phantom of the Opera at The Majestic Theater. Then, I wanted to be a vocalist, too. The makeup, the lights, the costumes and the music were hypnotic to me.

Anytime I saw a film, concert, or music video that inspired and enticed me. I wanted to be in it. Life just seemed so much more enthralling within the art world. And it is, for me. Tantalized by theatre arts and the world of music, beginning in pre-K and throughout elementary school, I partook in ballet classes. I attended music and voice lessons at the Jewish Community Center, even though I’m not Jewish. I was also part of our church choir. We showcased big theatrical productions in the winter and spring, as well as hymns every Sunday. 

When I got to middle school, I hid myself away artistically, at first, overwhelmed by the culture shock and the harsh adjustment from San Antonio to Lake Travis. In private, I auditioned for Barbizon Modeling and was accepted. In private, I kept singing and dancing. But I chose to focus on volleyball, swimming and academics, instead. In high school, I came out of my shell, once again. After I quit competitive volleyball and stopped swimming at West Austin Athletics, I re-focused my energy on performing arts. I became an Honor Thespian. And I think my favorite production we showcased was Daddy’s Dyin’ Who’s Got the Will? and I got to play Marlene Turnover. 

So, it began with theatres, classes and choirs, year after year. I tried the piano, too, but enjoyed singing and dancing far more than sitting still in one place. Although, I wish I had mastered at least one instrument. Anyway, I grew up in a house of musicians and artists. I am very fortunate to have grown up with such gifted, talented and intelligent individuals. I could go on and on with praise about each member of my family. 

But yeah, as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the performing arts and playing sports. As a kid, I was always torn between the arts and athletics. My first swim team in Kindergarten was the Shavano Sharks, up until my Master’s swim team in college at St. Stephen’s. I would bounce back and forth between my two greatest loves. In college, when I finally had to choose, I chose the arts. A decision I do not regret; alas, it was one of the most challenging choices of my young adult life. True, I am still an athlete—that energy in my heart will never die—but my career and my greatest passions lie within the art world. Art heals me and gives me a purpose in a way sports cannot. However, dance is a sport, too, not just a form of art. Regardless, it’s been a wild adventure ever since I devoted my life to the arts.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?

I laughed when I read this question. No, it has most certainly not been a smooth road, and it still isn’t, especially with COVID-19. Artists all over the world can relate to this struggle. First, the most obvious challenge is that I’m a dyslexic writer, an oxymoron. It took many years, tears, and many successes for me to fully believe: I’m a writer. When it came to my writing, my confidence was intermittent, inconsistent. Even if I always knew from birth, I’m an artist and an athlete. I used to doubt my writing skills. 

Writers are supposed to be flawless at grammar. My dyslexia was and is a constant challenge. For decades, there has been a harsh stigma about dyslexia: if you have dyslexia, you must be incompetent, which is far from the truth. Earlier this year, I saw an article with a video featuring a dyslexic woman, Laura Schifter, that graduated from Harvard. She spoke of her struggles with dyslexia. Right before she attended Ivy League Harvard, an older man said something to Schifter: “Well, if you’re going to Harvard, then you must not have dyslexia.” Oy! It was hard to watch, but she talks about the brutal comments and the misinformed judgments many people hold towards dyslexia. 

For years, I kept my dyslexia a secret from employers. I was advised that no one wants to hire a dyslexic writer. It was implied most editors see a dyslexic writer like a deaf musician, a colorblind photographer, or a one-legged runner. I heard from other professionals that employers see a writer like me as too much work. It’s unfair, it’s wrong, and it’s saddening—but it’s the harsh truth. So I kept my dyslexia secret, which ended up hurting me in the end. Sometimes, I still get hate mail from a reader like, “You should learn to improve your grammar if you consider yourself a writer.” Or people will stop to correct me, mid-sentence, while I’m talking. I’m often treated as incompetent by insensitive people. But, I do not see myself as disabled or having a disability. Regardless, I am blithely aware that my grammar is a bit more “colorful” than most professional writers. 

Thinking back on it, I was always writing. I even had some of my little chapter books laminated. My first research paper for this gifted and talented program was about Ramses II (Ramses The Great). Obviously, I had assistance from my parents, but I still picked the topic, read about it, and put together the project. I’ve always loved reading and writing! And no one should be able to take that away because I’m dyslexic. It makes me sad for younger generations, the children, because what kind of message does that send out. “Kids, you can be anything you want to be, so long as you don’t have a learning disability.” 

It’s funny because I learned to read at the age of three using Hooked on Phonics. So I was already reading chapter books on my own before I even got to elementary school. When I read books, I felt like I was entering this other world of daydreams and imagination. Writing, the written word, was a safe place to have a voice of my own. I loved my diaries! Art is a healthy escape for me from the real world. Through artwork, I can create, express, or alter my reality; convey my mind, heart, and soul in a safe place: light or dark. 

Sometimes it can be frustrating to create art when your mind gets the words, times, and tenses all mixed up. I advise reading aloud, helps you with pronunciation for public speaking, and catch errors or issues with chronological time waves. I hate it when I jump around from the first person to the third person in my diction. The worst! 

Nevertheless, I still struggle between writer versus performing artist: introvert versus extrovert. Initially, I was accepted to Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) to study Media & Performing Arts in my undergraduate program. In my sophomore year, I switched my B.F.A. to Writing and was amongst the first crew of SCAD Writing students to ever complete the program. I recall the exact moment I knew I’d become weary of performing arts. I remember the class and the assignment. Up until then, I loved being on stage! I loved being in the spotlight. I loved role-playing. And I was so thrilled to be centerstage: all eyes on me! 

I was always on a euphoric high each time we began something new. Suddenly, to much surprise, I dreaded playing someone else. I dreaded memorizing someone else’s lines and someone else’s voice. Because I didn’t know my voice. I felt like I’d been roleplaying my whole life and had no idea who I was. I didn’t want to wear a costume anymore. Suddenly, I didn’t want to be the center of attention. I wasn’t as extroverted any more. That’s a long story, too. 

Ultimately, writing helped me rediscover my voice and identity. Writing reminded me of my role in life. Writing helped me begin to heal from any secrets I was harboring. I could rewrite the story or not, but I had the control to make it fact or fiction. After college, I got back into dance and learned belly dancing through Stacey Lizette and Suhaila Salimpour. I performed at restaurants, nightclubs, and parties. Then I got into my Master’s, and I haven’t been on stage in a few years to sing or dance. Not including karaoke. I’ve hidden away, once again, for good and bad reasons. Of course, now I miss being on stage. So, I need to find that perfect ambivert balance of writer and performance artist.

Due to COVID, I’ll probably go digital until the pandemic clears. I do my best to keep my professional writing career separate from my performing arts interests and my nonfiction memoirs. I want employers to see the distinction and that the two are not intertwined. However, I’ve discovered that some employers dislike my modeling and dancing career. They think it’s too sexy or salacious, which saddens me because I’ve never been fired from a single job, and my credentials are pretty solid for my age. Thankfully, many employers do not feel that way and love having artists and creative types onboard. Who I am at the workplace is not who I am on stage or in a photoshoot. We all wear different masks and different costumes at work. I am grateful to everyone that believed in me along the way. I have so much work to do in the future. I am still far from where I need to be. But I am on the road. Books are my next goal.

So let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?

One of the proudest moments of my career is when my editors at WideWorld Magazine in London, UK, commissioned me to interview a photographer for National Geographic and a sponsored athlete for The North Face, Jimmy Chin. They flew me out to Washington DC, where I interviewed Chin at The Madison Hotel before attending a banquet at National Geographic headquarters in his honor. The interviews were published in 2010. In 2019, he won an Oscar for his Documentary, Free Solo. It’s amazing! 

This interview made me internationally published in the US and Europe, a massive step for me in my career. Plus, I’ve adored Nat Geo since I was a child, and this was a dream come true. Mr. Chin was also very kind to me, and I remember that kindness because I was so new to the game and trying not to look or sound like a rookie.

Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?

Well, I’ve learned the hard way that not everyone is eager to help you. Especially if they’re competing for the same goal, you might find cold comfort from those who want to see you fail. Even if they like you, they might be disinterested in assisting you on your journey. And you may never know why. So, I advise going where you’re wanted and trusting your instincts. My advice is to seek mentorship from someone that is smarter than you, possibly older and wiser, but definitely more advanced in their career. You should not be competing with a mentor. You need someone to look up to. Seek out the “angels” of the art world that want to help aspiring artists. People that love and adore the arts and see their value. Also, be sure to remain open-minded to constructive criticism. Negative enforcement is not healthy, and you will know it when you hear it, feel it… Artists can get a little egotistical and hypersensitive when it comes to their craft, and rightfully so. But it’s imperative to be able to take advice from others that hold your best interests. 

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Stories from Texas Monthly

Art in the time of COVID-19, it’s proven to be a quiet year for many artists, myself included. Sadly, the coronavirus is still rampaging the world and it will be sometime before things return to normal. (A word I try not to use.) During this quarantine, I realized that my Texas Monthly publications from 2009/2010 never made it to my business website. I have all three listed under publications with a link to Texas Monthly’s website, but I’d yet to repost. So, here they are for reading pleasure. Enjoy!

“The Illusionist”− Vol. 38 Issue No. 2

Born and raised along the Texas Gulf Coast, Damian Priour has a special affinity for water. And in his artwork, he uses glass to portray it. For more than thirty years, he has crafted beautiful sculptures made of limestone, metal, wood, bronze, and glass. Imagine water being trapped inside two pieces of glass, sometimes even dozens of pieces of glass. Priour either hand carves or sand blasts the glass, working to make it resemble water. Oftentimes by using different textures, shapes, and tricks, he creates the illusion that there is water inside the glass.

Fifty of Priour’s pieces were recently on display at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum in Austin. And while a majority of them depicted the water in diverse shades, hues, and tones of blue, many proved quite colorful and lively (think green, periwinkle, emerald, orange, lavender, and red). Most impressive was the way the sun hit Priour’s sculptures, light bouncing and absorbing. There were quite large pieces, some even twenty feet high, and others that could fit in the palm of a small hand. “Childhood Dreams” was a horse made of 24 to 26 pieces of thin-yet-sturdy pieces of blue glass and tilted wooden sticks. Other notables included a nineteen-foot-high arched doorway, a dragon, giant spheres, shadow boxes, and thronelike chairs.

“Water sparks my imagination, my memories,” wrote Priour. “Water sparks my ability to go places that only exist in my imagination … Water sparks wonder at life. Water sparks curiosity about death. Water sparks.“ Priour’s work has been exhibited across the United States and in Canada, Japan, and Germany. Many of his pieces are in private collections, public spaces, and local churches throughout Texas, Arizona, Florida, and California. For more information, go to damianpriour.com.

Paper Trail” – Vol. 37 Issue 6

At a glance, Shou Ping Newcomb’s artwork appears flat and two dimensional, like a colorful still life. At some angles it resembles origami. But as you step closer to the picture frames, the fragility and detail of the paper art comes into focus, and you can clearly recognize that the art is three dimensional, mini paper sculptures of flowers, fish, hummingbirds, swans, plants, pueblos, hearts.

Shou Ping Newcomb, who was born and raised in Taiwan, started out as a cartoonist, a commercial artist, and an art teacher before moving in the nineties to the United States, where she was inspired by the landscape. Her artwork began to revolve around her love for her ecological surroundings and the splendor of the natural world. And so it is a natural fit for her work to be on display at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, in Austin, through May 31. The center, founded by the late first lady, is a testament to nature’s beauty, with a pond, wild fauna, outdoor sculpture, hiking trails, and a butterfly area.

After wandering the trails, step inside the McDermott Learning Center, where on the wall is a story by Shou Ping’s daughter Wendy describing the artist as a “paper magician with her enchanted scissors and magical brushes.” And that is how Shou Ping interprets nature—through paper, scissors, watercolors, and time. In this exhibit, Shou Ping pays homage to both Asian and Texan cultures—orchids, wildflowers, ginger lilies, magnolias, banana trees, hummingbirds, cacti, butterflies. Up close, the little pieces of her work begin to pop out: the petals of a bluebonnet, the scales of a koi. Within each piece, Shou Ping’s love of nature shines through. See for yourself.

“Toy Story” – Vol. 38 Issue No. 1

Got some last-minute holiday shopping to do? Well, remember that toys aren’t just for kids. This December we discovered three local toy stores around Austin that are unique in appearance and in merchandise. From a Magic Garden crystal kit to a plastic replica of R2D2 to stained-glass coloring books, the diverse offerings at these shops proved suitable for almost every age. In fact, we were so taken with all the fun items, that we couldn’t help ourselves and ended up buying three pocket-size metal music boxes that each play a different song. (My favorite was “Michelle” by The Beatles.) Here’s a sampling of what you’ll find. Get your wallet ready.

Terra Toys

At this spot that screams family friendly you’ll find everything from antique robots and magic kits to dinosaurs and wooden train sets. There is a variety of educational toys, including Zoob and Bilibo, and classics as well (think Madame Alexander dolls). We found ourselves drawn to the ultra-cool chemistry sets, action figures, solar system sets, and memory games. Never fear, there are lots of girlie-girl items too. The store is somewhat organized by category and has plenty of room to play. In fact, one of the sayings is, “If you can’t play with it, why bother?” Take your goodies home in white bags decorated by local kids and families. 2438 W. Anderson Ln (512-445-4489). http://www.terratoys.com

Toy Joy

Even if you aren’t in the market for toy, you must stop by this colorful spot near the University of Texas campus. This store has it all: peacock purses, Hello Kitty items, tinker toys, makeup kits, clothes, stationery, robots, sea monkeys, moleskin leather journals, music boxes, ancient Egyptian kits, 3D animal skeletons, ant farms, board games, Asian lanterns, coloring books, alphabet blocks, looming kits, and more. Custom gift wrapping is available. 2900 Guadalupe (512-320-0090). http://www.toyjoy.com

Anna’s Toy Depot

This is the spot to find classic, antique, or gently used toys. Anna’s specializes in selling and trading toys, so you can find just about anything you want here: doll houses, musical toys, action figures, stuffed animals, dinosaurs, kaleidoscopes, tray puzzles, dominoes, kitchen sets, Nerf bats, costumes, masks, cartoon memorabilia, rubber snakes and spiders, cars, airplanes, kites, puppets, books, puzzles, Legos, mosaics, tea sets, and more. In addition to the great selection of inventory, the prices are right too. 2620 South Lamar Blvd (512-447-8697). http://www.annastoydepot.com

Interview: James White talks 54 years at the Broken Spoke

broken spoke

The Broken Spoke marquis. Photography by Nicolette Mallow.

With only five cases of beer to sell, James White opened the Broken Spoke in 1964. After he was released from the U.S. Army at the age of 25 – Mr. White decided to pursue the quest, his dream, of opening a honky tonk in Austin, Texas to feature live country music and a dance hall. In the beginning, Broken Spoke was a local roadhouse where beer cost .25 cents a bottle and customers could get ice and a soft drink for .30 cents to chase down their liquor. Back in those days, before the peak of craft cocktails, people could bring their own liquor bottles to the bar in Texas. Now in 2018, over 54 years later, Broken Spoke has become a worldwide famous dance hall with a full bar and restaurant. By the late 80’s the Broken Spoke started to gain more and more fame. Featured in Texas Highways magazine, The Food Network, The New York Times, CBS News, Texas Monthly, the Smithsonian and more; Broken Spoke is a historical landmark. The Spoke has showcased talent like Willie Nelson, George Strait, Garth Brooks, the Derailers, Dale Watson, Alvin Crow, Weldon Henson and the list keeps going for decades. Many artists, icons and celebrities from all over have entered the front doors including Dolly Parton, Clint Eastwood and Quentin Tarantino. Hundreds of old and modern photographs catalog the years within Broken Spoke’s Hall of Fame.

The Broken Spoke is owned and operated by James and Annetta White (his wife). The two met at a dance hall in 1961 when she caught his eye and have been married 51 years. Annetta and her husband have worked together for decades to keep the Spoke running successfully. Amongst her many contributions to the Broken Spoke, I discovered that Annetta is the one responsible for the George Strait photographs covering the women’s bathroom, giving the ladies room some cowboy vibes. 

A lot of people ask me where I met my wife. Well, I met her at a honky tonk. There was an old dance hall in Oak Hill called the Sportsman Inn and I looked out on the dance floor and saw a pretty blonde lady dancing with a red dress on. It was a fast dance and she caught my attention. She caught me eye and I thought I’d ask that girl to dance. That’s where it all started right there.” – James White

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Photo collage of Broken Spoke photographs featuring Willie Nelson, James White, Dolly Parton, Clint Eastwood, Garth Brooks and Annetta White.

Walking into the Broken Spoke is like stepping back in time. Once you enter this classic Texas dance hall and see all of the antique photos from decades past, an intense feeling of nostalgia rushes over and fills the air. It looks exactly as it did when the doors opened in 1964. There is so much eye candy to choose from: a horse saddle, photographs, flags, neon lights, posters, woodwork and of course the dance hall. A replica of Willie Nelson’s guitar Trigger can be found at the Broken Spoke, too. As a Texas girl that’s driven by the Broken Spoke since the 1990’s and enjoyed libations as an adult, I was really excited to finally learn more about this dance hall and the reputable James White.

In May 2018, James White consented to an interview with me. I met him at the Broken Spoke on a weekday around lunch. He and I sat at table B2, which I came to found out is the same table where Willie Nelson and his wife Annie would frequent when they were regular visitors at the Spoke. I went to Lake Travis High School with Willie Nelson’s nephew, Trevor, so it was even more thrilling to be sitting in country western history.

Wearing a UT button-up shirt, a red baseball cap, gold watch and horseshoe ring made of diamonds, James White took me back to the beginning and covered as much history about the Broken Spoke as we could in one hour. Unlike most interviews, White naturally guided the majority of the dialogue exchange. I was simply a listener to keep the story on course, interjecting with questions along the way if things got off track. Before the interview began, White asked me if he could start at the beginning and then jump around in time wherever I wanted to. By listening, I could tell he had told this Texas story many times and it never gets old to tell, or to hear. [He insisted that I record the interview and I posted the audio online in a two-part segment via YouTube.]

James White: A lot of people, you know, they ask me, why did you go into this kind of business? All the way down to my childhood, my parents would take me to different dance halls in this area, and that’s where I got the love of country music in my veins… When I was in the Army, I didn’t know what I was gonna do when I got out of the Army. So I thought it would be kind of neat to open up a place of my own, similar to the places when I was growing up in Austin. It just became like a quest of mine the day I left the Army. And when I came out under the big ole oak tree out front (on South Lamar), I just kind of visualized a place like no other and when I got it built: I named it the Broken Spoke. The reason I thought up that name, I wanted something original. I wanted something country, I wanted something western. Texas style. In my mind, I had a list of different names in my head. When I got to thinking about Broken Spoke I was thinking about wagon wheels and they were kind of rolling around in my brain. And then I remembered this old Jimmy Stewart movie called “Broken Arrow” and I said hell, I’ll just find me a couple wagon wheels, I’ll knock a spoke out and I put one on each side of the door coming in and I named it the Broken Spoke. And I never looked back.

Volunteers made the Spoke by hand. A lot of heavy drinkers pitched in to build the Broken Spoke and one drunk man even fell off the roof. White had to open the doors a little early after running out of money, hence the modest five cases of beer. People even told White the business wouldn’t last six months, but he proved them wrong. It was about 20 years of hard work before the Broken Spoke became famous. Mr. White said it was many years of 16 hour days tending bar, seven days a week. The Broken Spoke is his life’s work and there is a ton of heart and soul poured into this building. 

Music, dance and cold drinks are the focus of this honky tonk, but there is also a strong sense of community and love. The Spoke has been described as “the country western version of Cheers” and it’s become part of Texas history within the arts. Many local Austinites or younger generations don’t know the intricate history of the Broken Spoke. I certainly didn’t and I’ve been here off-and-on since the 1990’s. So, after White’s introduction as to what inspired him to build and create the Broken Spoke. I asked him to tell me more about table B2: Willie Nelson’s table. Willie is one of the most notorious artists to perform at the Broken Spoke and it all starts back in the 1960’s. 

willie nelson
A replica of Willie Nelson’s guitar “Trigger” and Table B2. Photography by Nicolette Mallow.

JW: I first booked Willie Nelson in 1967. I booked Willie Nelson and The Record Men for $800. He had short hair, he was clean shaven and wore either a turtle neck, a vest or a sports coat. But he’s still the Willie Nelson you see today. His people love to see the one picture of Willie hanging on the wall, and he’s got a copy in his office too: the photo of he and I on stage at Broken Spoke when I first booked him back in the 60’s. He and I have always been friends. Willie has friends all over the world but he always remembers the Broken Spoke. He always comes back every chance he gets… Anyway, when Willie had a tax problem in 1990 and owed $16.5 million: my wife and I were sitting around and we got mad because we heard the IRS took all his pictures and they took all of his awards off the wall and put them up for auction. I didn’t think it was right to take his pictures, gold records, platinum records—and so we thought we’d take a collection and give it to Willie because they’d taken everything he owned. So I got a gallon pickle jar and put it on the bar and put a sign on it “Where there’s a Willie there’s a way”. Willie heard about it and called me up from Hawaii and thanked me. Meanwhile we had a fundraiser for Willie and I sent the money over to Hawaii by way of his daughter, Lana Nelson. His family said Willie talked about the fundraiser all day long and was very excited about it. He called me again and said “thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’m gonna come home for Christmas, and I’m going to bring my band, I’m going to eat some chicken fried steak, drink a cold beer, and I wanna do a little picking (at the Broken Spoke) and I’ll bring some friends with me”. And that’s when a lot of local country artists who knew Willie wanted to get involved. Some nights you never forget. He never asked for money, I did it from the heart. And he thanked me from the heart and he came out and played all night. That was in 1990… So we raised some money and I gave him every letter I received from Associated Press, they ran the story all over the world. We started getting money from Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Birmingham jail and Indian reservations… I never got one bad letter about Willie. All of them were complimentary and even if the donation was $1, Willie autographed every check as a thank you.

After he told me about the fundraiser, James White proceeded to share a song he wrote with Gary P. Nunn called “Where there’s a Willie, there’s a way”. Their song can be heard sung a cappella by Mr. White in Part One of the interview around the 18:00 minute mark. It’s rather clever and has a Willie Nelson-esque melody to it.

Suddenly, as I intended to shift gears from Willie Nelson to Dolly Parton. Her music serendipitously came on the jukebox and you can Dolly’s voice in the background. A series of her songs played at that perfect moment like the classic “Old Flames Can’t Hold A Candle To You.” Echoing in the background, it was a most befitting and true country, western moment in Texas. Back in 1987, Dolly Parton came out to the Broken Spoke to film “Wild Texas Nights” and James White even got to utter a few lines in the filming. There is a charming photo of Dolly Parton on display at Broken Spoke that many people love to photograph.

Bouncing around in time, James White talked to me about the booking process, musicians, family and the architecture of the Broken Spoke. It’s an older building that has a lot of character and endearing oddities. However, White mentions that perhaps if he built it today there would’ve been some changes, like installing larger bathrooms. Nevertheless, there is something beautiful about keeping history locked in a time capsule. Especially in a city like Austin where it’s losing a lot of its originality with the modern times. Broken Spoke has withstood all the changes in Austin and still stands strong with many more memories of live music and dancing to come. 

Over the years, there is one character that all regulars know about and that would be Rowdy. He never leaves the Broken Spoke and has never performed on stage. He doesn’t speak either but Rowdy sits at one of the tables with his sunglasses, bandana, blue jeans and he’s quite the ladies man. Sometimes people like to dance with him, too. Wait, did I mention Rowdy is a dummy?

JW: Rowdy’s skull has a crack now because people keep dropping him on something, or some drunk wants to dance with him or move him around. His knuckles are broken off right here. One time I used to write a newsletter. I talk about Rowdy like he’s a real person, like a living thing. People ask me where I got him and I tell ’em I picked Rowdy up hitchhiking out on 620. So I gave him a ride to the Broken Spoke and now he don’t want to leave and is here at the bar 24/7. When I pulled up to stoplights back then people would look at him, and I’d never do nothing I’d just stare straight ahead, but I knew they was looking at him. Rowdy is a funny guy. When they stole my dad’s silver saddle—the only thing funny in the whole thing (was Rowdy). After it took 14 days to get the saddle back. The first cop on the scene crawled in the same window as the burglars did and he came in and he said, “I almost shot Rowdy!” And I said “I wish you would have because he’d look cool with some powder burns”. But yeah Rowdy just sat there and didn’t say nothing and let them steal the saddle. So anyway when Rowdy broke his knuckles off, we were going to glue them back on. I’m writing about it in this newsletter (for the Broken Spoke) like he’s a person. And I wrote “hell, Rowdy broke off a few of his fingers and they fell onto the floor and the waitress swept it up and thought it was a dill pickle and threw it in the dumpster. When I heard about it I had to send the waitress out to retrieve his fingers out of the dumpster so we could glue them back on”. Soon after this waitress’ sister in a different city said “What kind of place are you working where people are breaking fingers off and gluing them on?” She thought it was a real story. 

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Rowdy reading the newspaper at Broken Spoke. Photography by Nicolette Mallow.

At the end of our interview, I asked James White if out of all the press coverage and all the years of memories, did anything stand out most? It was a tough question to answer and he drifted in time a bit, but eventually it all came back full circle to Texas Highways.

JW: It’s a heart thing you feel good about. At the end of the day, I take more pictures now than I ever took in my life before now. Hell, no one wanted my picture in 1964 but now everyone does and I’ll make up for lost time. There were fun times in the 1960’s and everything was new. I just had so much fun here at the Spoke. But I think the one (press) thing we did with Texas Highways stood out the most. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving. Now we’re on every roadside park in Texas at the rest stops. I mean you come in and there’s a picture of the Broken Spoke and the Cadillac outside. And then on the left there at the state Capitol, it’s right there you know. You got music, you got Texas and then you got the Broken Spoke. It’s a very good compliment to us. Since then we’ve been voted the Best Country Dance Hall in the nation, home of the best chicken fried steak in town, a lot of metropolitan awards. We’ve won a lot of awards. I’m in the Texas Hall of Fame and the Smithsonian. I’m in the Country Music Hall of Fame… I never expected it. All I really wanted was a honky tonk dance hall. So I got what I wanted, but then I got a lot more. Which is fine, it’s fun, a hell a lot more fun to have people brag about you than bitch about you. It’s always more fun to get compliments.

To hear more about Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, the beer drinkers that built the Broken Spoke for free and much more, please check out the interviews in full on YouTubehttps://www.brokenspokeaustintx.net

Note: This article was published in Rank & Revue in June 2018.