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.