Editor’s note: This story also somewhat doubled as a personal letter to High Country Press publisher, Ken Ketchie. Some wording such as, “As you well know,” for example, added a personal touch to the story. He said we could share it with our readers as this year’s Reunion approaches.
By Brian Fussell
I decided to put together this story of P.B.ʼs, for my sake as much as anything else. I conceived P.B.ʼs; it was brought into being via myself and Tom Grill; it operated successfully for some years, thanks to Allen Sharpe and Randy Kelly; and, it was brought down partly by the Town of Blowing Rock, but also by business decisions by Allen and us trying to expand the concept into Charlotte.
So, hereʼs more than you probably want to know about P.B.ʼs…
How P.B. Scottʼs Came To Be…
My older brother, Dick (nicknamed “P.B.”… my middle name is Scott ), was killed by a drunk driver the day after Christmas, 1971. We had been living in Atlanta, where he had a shoe store and I was waiting tables while going to law school.
My wife at the time was from Newland and I had visited the area many times. We divorced in the spring of ʼ73. Afterwards, she informed me that a restaurant in Linville was coming available. I convinced one of the cooks, Alfredo, from the Abbey Restaurant in Atlanta to come with me to Linville to bring a different sort of food to the area. I moved to Linville and opened Grandfatherʼs Restaurant. During the next year or so, I hired and trained many younger people for the restaurant, and established a good reputation, especially with visitors.
At that time, Bill Shepherd was operating the Hub Pub Club near Sugar Mountain, a rondesic building, which seated about 80 to 100 people. I ended up running a very basic food operation there. Bill booked in small groups and single performers. Jimmy Buffet was there numerous times. (Bill closed the place in the mountains, and tried to do something similar at Thruway Shopping Center in Winston. He had me come down one time to advise on food service there. The night I did that, Steve Martin was performing. There were 3 other people besides myself in the audience. Steve was bummed out, plus he had to get up at 5 or 6 to do some radio show. He was still funny. Sometime later on, Bill took a bunch of pills, got in a closet, and put a plastic bag over his head.
Many of the people who worked at Grandfatherʼs were driving to Blowing Rock, via Shullʼs Mill Road, seemingly every weekend to go drinking. Blowing Rock – thanks to its having an ABC store – was the only place within about 50 miles where you could have a beer. Eighteen was the legal age for drinking beer and wine. Holleyʼs and Antlers were their favorite spots, the only games in town, unless you were a member of a private club. At a private club (i.e., the Country Club) you supposedly kept your own alcohol, which they then poured back to you. Not many options for us common folk.
Some of the “kids” finally talked me into going with them to Blowing Rock. After I did, I couldnʼt believe they were risking their lives and licenses on a regular basis in order to go have a beer and getting so little, actually nothing, in return. No place in Blowing Rock did anything except provide beer and a place to drink it. That was it.
I had gone to The Great Southeast Music Hall when I lived in Atlanta, where you not only got to drink beer, but they provided you with some first class entertainment as well. Voila, the idea of a Music Hall in Blowing Rock, not just another bar, was born.
By chance, two guys I had hired and trained to be waiters at Grandfatherʼs, Tom Sims and Kevin Brogan, had a friend in Tennessee who had just built his own home, a 20 something foot diameter geodesic dome. His name was Tom Grill. When they took me to see the house, I knew this type of building would make a great music hall.
Now Tom Grill wasnʼt an architect, and didnʼt have a degree, but he knew and understood geodesic domes. They were his passion. I got Tom to draw plans for a group of three domes, a 58ʼ main one to serve as the music hall, a 27ʼ one to serve as the kitchen and offices, and the third one, about 38ʼ diameter, to be the restaurant – which was never built due to lack of money. All these were half spheres set on 8ʼ high perimeter walls so as to actually be 5/8 spheres.
I raised $45,000 and formed a Limited Partnership; the limited partners had 30 percent ownership, and the General Partner (myself, Tom and Kevin) had 70 percent. I had controlling interest in the General Partner. Tom and Kevin shared the rest.
When I went looking for land in Blowing Rock, the main concern was parking. Parking was, and is, the biggest problem for all businesses, but especially so in Blowing Rock. Two fellows, Truby Proctor (owner of The Pantry stores) and Larry Cone (one of the Cone Mills family) owned the land around the ABC store in Blowing Rock, and were in the process of developing it. I got a long term lease for the land where P.B.ʼs was to sit, and parking rights to 300+ spaces.
Once the land was secured,I submitted plans to the town and got approved. They did require that we sprinkle the building, a first for Blowing Rock but, all in all, the permitting process went OK. I believe the local building inspectorʼs name was Foster. Anyway, we did everything we were supposed to and things were going along OK.
Once the main floor was put down, the skeleton of the dome was erected using scaffolding sitting on that floor. Once we got all the struts in place, which formed the triangles of the dome, we used rappelling gear (from Footsloggers) to hang on the outside and do the sheathing, 1 x 6 pine, to tie everything together. Somewhere in there Tom Grill discovered that the dome was about an inch and a half out of round. He attached a cable to his Toyota pickup and was using that to try to get the framework into round. One of the struts snapped and most of the top of the dome collapsed, while people were hanging on its outside. Amazingly, no one was seriously injured, just a few cuts and bruises.
The collapse resulted in our having to do many things trying to get back on track. First, we had to disassemble the framework and pull out what seemed like thousands of nails. Most of the struts were reusable and Tom went to work re-assembling the dome. Secondly, we opened “Little P.B.ʼs” in the lower parking lot so as to have some semblance of cash flow while we rebuilt.
Getting Little P.B.ʼs up and running was another story. I found some church pews over in “Stumptown,” near Linville, which we cut in half to make the booth seating. Found a humongous table with about a dozen leaves to put in the center of the space. Doc Watson did a photo shoot there at the table for an album cover. Some of the guys put some pitchers of beer in front of Doc, and he was wondering why everyone was trying hard not to laugh. Doc was not a drinker. We rescued an old oak “ ice box “ from the Mayview Hotel they demolished in Blowing Rock. This thing was about 8ʼ wide and 6 or 7ʼ tall, with maybe 6 or 8 separate doors for the different compartments. We set up the kitchen to serve Chicago style deep dish pizza by the slice and homemade pretzels… both of which did a great job of absorbing all that alcohol. Joe Scarborough was one of the pretzel bakers. He later became our resident sound man for many years.
We went to N.C. State and found a fellow in the engineering department, Dr. Yannick (?), who had designed a dome, a “round house” for railroad engines, in Chicago I believe, something like 300ʼ in diameter. Anyway, Dr. Yannick reviewed our plans, altered the hub design – the point where different struts were joined – and increased the size of a few foundation piers. The rest of Grillʼs design stayed the same.
We operated Little P.B.ʼs through the winter and spring and got back to work on the dome as soon as weather permitted. We shot for a fall opening date to coincide with the new school year.
While P.B.ʼs was in the little bar, Allen Sharpe started coming in. In talking with him, I bemoaned the fact that Tom and Kevin seemed more focused on drinking beer and “buying” beers for their friends, than on working. He suggested an agreement with them that would include a so-called “poker clause,” meaning that if any one wanted the other out, you could make an offer to buy them but, you would have to accept that same amount , pro-rata, for what you owned. That is, if you offered to buy them out, they could turn around and buy you out at the same rate per share you had offered them. Allen said he had somebody who would buy Tom and Kevinʼs share and be a silent partner. In return for “brokering” the deal, Allen received a small percentage ownership. That was Allenʼs means of acquiring an interest in P.B.ʼs, when we were well on our way to opening the dome.
As you have heard, the ABC process was a joke. That fellowʼs name was Stuart Cooke and, just like Mr. Foster, the building inspector, he found himself in the middle. Iʼm sure he was getting lots of pressure from the local powers that be but, he still could only require us to do what the State deemed necessary to get our permit. He did manage to not deliver our permit (at that time, permits had to be hand delivered by the appropriate agent) in time for our opening with Doc Watson. We got some willing individuals to buy kegs (with some “found” money) and bring them to P.B.ʼs to have a private party for 3 or 4 hundred of their closest friends. You were right, opening night we gave away beer.
At this time, Allen was sharing an office with Ric Mattar on E. King Street in Boone. He said they wanted to lease out the bottom of the building and suggested it would be a good place for a restaurant. I had finished my lease on the place in Linville when the DOT put right of way markers about 3ʼ from the restaurantʼs front door in preparation for a road widening project. I decided to take over the downstairs of the law office and convert it into a restaurant, Marvinʼs Garden. Somehow, I thought I could split my time between Boone and Blowing Rock and, it was obvious by then that the restaurant at P.B.ʼs wasnʼt going to happen. There just wasnʼt enough money to build it.
As you know, Allen worked his ass off at P.B.ʼs. One time, early on, we had a sewer problem and had to dig about a 6ʼ hole in the parking lot to get to the source of the problem. Allen and myself were the only ones who got into that hole, knee deep in shit, to get the thing fixed. Somebody standing up on the edge of the hole remarked “You guys must be the owners.” That incident made me believe that Allen, like myself, was totally committed to P.B.ʼs. I was wrong.
Sometime during that time, Allen went to the Federal Prison in Atlanta for mail fraud. While Allen was undergoing his “unfortunate incarceration,” the ABC definition of restaurant changed. I put us on track to becoming a “ private club,” but we were not able to acquire that permit while simultaneously fighting to maintain our one for a restaurant. Even though we set ourselves up to operate as a private club, we never received the actual permit which said thatʼs what we were. We could not give up our restaurant permit and be certain of acquiring a private club one, so we held onto the restaurant permit.
There came a time after 4 or 5 years in Blowing Rock when it was obvious the town was going to prevail and shut us down. David Greene (of Farmerʼs Hardware) was a newly graduated architect, and a P.B.ʼs regular. Earlier, Allen had gotten him to design the addition on the front where we put the main bar, the office and some additional restrooms. We then worked with him on the design for a larger version of P.B.ʼs – the prints Ric Mattar had at the 2011 reunion.
Enter Charlie Hicks. Charlie Hicks had a company, “American Medical Financial,” which basically brokered leases for restaurant and medical equipment. Ryanʼs Steakhouse was one of its clients. It traded “over the counter,” for pennies per share. Allen convinced me that going in with AMF would be the means by which we could expand P.B.ʼs to other cities. Charlie had a friend who published a penny stock newsletter. With the newsletter stoking the fire about AMFʼs involvement with P.B. Scottʼs, AMF stock went to about $20. Everyoneʼs stock was supposedly restricted, but somehow other people ended up with a whole bunch of shares, and which they sold at various times and prices as the stock price went up.
The bottom line is… P.B.ʼs was my idea. Without me. it never would have happened, but the same can be said of Tom Grill, if I had not found him, it would not have been built, at least not as a dome. To a degree, the same is true of Allen, without him, we probably would have closed before we did. The best thing he did was hire Randy Kelly to book the bands. Unfortunately, for Allen it was all about the money and never about the music. Once he got in cahoots with Charlie Hicks, P.B.ʼs was doomed. Charlie convinced Allen, who then convinced me, that the place to do a second P.B.ʼs was Charlotte, not Myrtle Beach or Columbia, S.C., or Jacksonville or Tampa, Fla. All places I went to on scouting missions, which turned out to be a convenient way to keep me busy while others worked the deal to their own advantage. Marty Armfield and I also wrote about a hundred page operations manual for Charlotte which was to serve as the guideline for all future P.B.ʼs. That took a bunch of time.
Regardless, P.B.ʼs was a unique place, which could have been much more. I envisioned a small string of clubs across the Southeast, 4 – 5 hours apart. We found out pretty early on that you could buy an act for a week for much less, per night, than their price for one night. When we went into Charlotte, instead of Myrtle Beach or Columbia, we made a big mistake. If the focus hadnʼt moved away from its original intent – which was to provide a place for live music to flourish- even that might have worked. I thought about keeping P.B.ʼs open without selling beer, but I didnʼt. We only averaged selling something like 2.3 beers for each person who came through the door. As you know, there was ten times as much beer consumed in our parking lot as there was inside.
Anecdotes about P.B.ʼs:
At one of the many Town Council meetings devoted solely it seemed to the “problem of P.B. Scottʼs” a recent police call (having to do with P.B.ʼs violation of the newly adopted noise ordinance) documented that the officer was dispatched to the scene BEFORE the complaint call was received. According to the police departmentʼs own log, an officer was dispatched at something like 12:01 and the complaint call was recorded as coming in at 12:04. Somebody didnʼt synchronize their watches.And we even bought the town a DB meter.
One night at closing time, shortly after we opened, we had a bartender, who hadnʼt worked that night, but had been drinking, try to run his four wheel drive- repeatedly – up the bank at the rear of the property. This was with the woman living on Ransom Street directly behind us standing at the top of the bank screaming at the guy driving the 4 wheel. We did put up a fence at the top of the bank, along with some trees, to serve as a buffer. That lady never did quit hating us though.
The first month we were open, our water bill showed we had used something like 6 Million gallons. Turns out, the plumbers – guys who filled in after the main plumber, Mr. Andrews, got busy dying of cancer- hadnʼt bothered to connect one of the cold water lines to anything. Surprisingly, the Town let us off the hook for the total amount, (probably because they forgot to run a pressure test as part of the final inspection) but we still ended up with something like a $1500 water bill.
At one Town Council meeting, a member of the council announced that he “didnʼt have anything against Allen (who was in attendance) personally,” but he “hated his business,” meaning P.B.ʼs.
When Jerry Jeff Walker played there, we had the sound board up on a small 3rd level, with very steep steps, almost like a ladder. Jerry Jeff came up there to talk to the sound man after the show, turned to leave, and basically fell down those steps. He was pretty loose at the time, and suffered no real injuries.
When Rita Coolidge played at P.B.ʼs, we had to get an RV to serve as her dressing room, separate from the one for the band. We got an older (about our age now) woman to let Rita use her RV, which the woman willingly drove to P.B.ʼs and parked by the rear entrance. When Ritaʼs show was over, the woman drove Rita back to the Green Park, where she failed to realize the height of the RV vs. the canopy in front of the hotel, which she hit with the roof of the RV while moving at a pretty good clip.Rita had a wonderful voice, but she never sounded like she was letting go and giving you all she was capable of.
The original sound system was a pod of JBL speakers suspended from the top center of the dome. Designed by somebody more or less local… Johnson City, Tenn., maybe. Anyway, that never worked out and we ended up with Bose. Allen got them to come down and put in the system for less than it would have cost. In return, they were always mentioned in our advertising. The geeks they sent from Framingham (?) had the time of their lives doing that field installation, and drinking just a little beer.
I had Lanny Glick design the logo we used for T-shirts and other advertising. I also got him to do the first few calendars, which started out as a single 8 1/2 by 11 sheet, printed by Minorʼs Printing in Boone. Eventually we got up to about 10,000 calendars per month.
Muddy Waters had in his rider a bottle of champagne. I went to the Wine and Cheese House there in Blowing Rock, where the owner Jim (?) helped me pick out the premier California “ champagne “ at the time, Schramsberg (?). This non-French champagne greatly offended Mr. Waters, and I believe this was why he gave such an uninspired performance that night.
Other performers side notes:
David Allen Coe was so intent on proving he was a really bad-ass, he forgot he was actually supposed to do a show, not just show up.
Hanks Williams Jr., was already a legend in his own mind and put forth minimal effort.
Wynton Marsalis was a true virtuoso, but seemed to not appreciate being booked into a place where the “microphone smelled like a beer.”
Stevie Ray Vaughan needed one shot glass (just one) of a specific whiskey before he could sing. (Actually, he played in Charlotte.)
Ricky Skaggs (and the Buck Mountain, or White Mountain Boys (?)) were so talented. He and the band played for $200 or so per night.
Papa John Creach and his wife/manager were exceedingly gracious.
Harry Chapin had the most stage presence of anyone we ever had. He took control of “Sucking Stone,” his nickname for Blowing Rock.
Tammi Wynette had one of the best voices ever, more than you would think possible based on “D I V O R C E.” Her husband was her sound man and a true wizard.
Juice Newton did an amazingly strong show.
Bonnie Raitt was our first national act and almost cost me my car. We had to send off a $1500 deposit to get her and we didnʼt have the cash to do that. I used the title to my ʼ72 Volkswagen to get a short term loan. She did a great show. Problem was, nobody really knew who she was and we lost our ass at the door. Fortunately, we were able to pay the note in the next few weeks.We actually used my car as collateral a couple more times for other deposits.
George Thorogood drank milk.
I went looking on line for some of the people who used to play at P.B.ʼs. Steve Morse from the Dixie Dregs is now with Deep Purple. Jimmy Thackery from the Nighthawks is still going. As is Catfish Hodge, who opened for Bonnie Raitt. Ditto for Leon Russell and lots of others.
It seems there are lots of people with memories of and stories about P.B.ʼs. Looking back it was a unique place, more than we realized at the time. It was a great time and place to enjoy what we offered. I donʼt know if that would be possible today. The only misgiving I have about the whole thing is my decision to involve Allen.
And thatʼs all I have to say about that. Iʼm sure everyone has many more P.B.ʼs stories.