The Famous King of Clubs Roadhouse

Before the fire
In the early to late-1950’s, the King of Clubs in Swifton, Arkansas was the center of a rowdy club scene along Highway 67. Future household names like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Conway Twitty, and Jerry Lee Lewis were paid $10 to perform at the roadhouse for rowdy audiences of drunk red-neck patrons. The performers often spent more of their set fending off the drunks with chairs, their musical instruments and in several cases, a whip, than they did actually singing songs. The manager kept a tear gas pistol behind the bar and used it on a number of occasions to disperse people when things got out of hand.

In 1955, Elvis performed there with his opening act, Johnny Cash. Cash only performed 3 songs, but he was so good the manager paid him $20 instead of $10. Elvis, who was by then already a rising star, was paid $450 and drew such a large crowd that no more people could get inside the building and more stood around outside in the gravel parking lot. Whenever Jerry Lee Lewis performed, he had a guy stand next to the stage with a fire extinguisher to help control the crowd which he always incited into a frenzy with his possessed, revival-preacher-gone-wild performances. During his closing number, his cover of “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” he would jump around like a crazed madman pounding the piano keys with his elbows and feet. The bar always had to have new strings put in and the piano tuned after he performed.

After the fire
The little King of Clubs, located basically in the middle of nowhere, in its heyday, was one of the breeding-pens for rockabilly, a rough-and-ready mix of blues and country that provided great influence on later generations of musician’s like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.
Unfortunately, after more than 50 years of operation, the old building burned down with all of its irreplaceable memorabilia inside. During the night of December 13, 2010, dozens and dozens of one-of-a-kind photos lining the walls were lost forever. Elvis has left the building. So have most of his friends from that era and now, so has the old building.


Wild Swans in Arkansas

Magness Lake
In early January, 1991, in the skies somewhere north of Arkansas, three juvenile swans were caught in a snowstorm and became separated from their flock. Despite their 7-foot wingspans and powerful wing beats, they were blown far off the normal course of their migration path. That evening, nearing exhaustion, they heard the calls of geese who had settled for the night onto the sheltered waters of a small lake outside Heber Springs. The swans came down to rest and recuperate from their ordeal.

The next day, 4 birdwatchers happened to drive by the lake and when one of them called out in surprise at what he saw, the others didn't believe him. Wild swans had not been seen in Arkansas for at least 80 years so their doubts were justified. However, their sharp-eyed friend convinced them to stop and look for themselves. When they walked back and spotted the 3 swans, they were astonished. "Those aren't Trumpeter swans, are they?" As if on cue, one of the birds called out and there was no doubt. The loud, trumpet-like sound which gives them their name cannot be mistaken for anything else. For a few days anyway, the endangered Trumpeter Swan, the largest fowl in North America and the rarest of swans was back in Arkansas.

The owner of the lake and surrounding farmland, Perry Lindner, for a number of years had been feeding corn to the wintering waterfowl who came to Magness Lake. When he came out several days later, he saw the new visitors so he spread extra handfuls of corn along the shore near them. The hungry birds eagerly ate all he put out. They enjoyed their new home and the free corn so much that instead of staying just a few days, they didn't leave until February 24th.

Nobody expected the swans to return after that first visit. Evidently they liked Magness Lake so much though that not only did they return on Christmas Day, they brought several friends. They were then joined in January by a female and her mate who had been banded in Minnesota. This time the group stayed until the last day of February. The next year, the same group returned and this time the banded female and her mate brought 3 cygnets (juvenile swans) with them. Since then, the swans have taken a break on their way south and returned every year bringing mates, family members and friends. More than 150 swans now stop at Magness Lake and surrounding ponds for several winter months to rest and replenish with the deer corn people bring to feed them.

By a quirk of fate, where once there were no swans  in the whole state, there are now many and the people who make the effort can stand within a few feet of North America's largest, most beautiful waterfowl. It's an experience you will probably never forget.