Hazen, Arkansas, a splendid town in the Arkansas Delta, is not the kind of place one might associated with raucous entertainment. Legend says otherwise. The city straddles U.S. Highway 70—“Old 70, The Highway of Dreams”— between Memphis and Little Rock. Until the opening of Interstate 40 in the 1960s, it carried every dream and dreamer who headed west out of Tennessee to seek fortune and fame or simply to entertain folks.
So it is understandable that this “wet” county in the midst of the Bible Belt might form settings for some fun of the wilder variety. Two represent the stuff legends are made of, as they say.
Actually, both were located just east of town, so the city can claim either the bad luck or good fortune of proximity, depending on who is hearing the story. I know very little about the first club. My father-in-law once pointed out the site, now part of the rolling lawn of a country estate. The club’s name, oddly, was “Bunker Hill.” I suspect the reason that its past is shrouded in such mystery is that legend doesn’t suggest it was the kind of place that most folks would admit to patronizing.
It remains a vague image then, known simply as the place where “so and so” was arrested or “Uncle Somebody” got into a fight—the kind of place your parents warned you about.
The second place still stands. It is a rambling concrete structure located where Arkansas Highway 11 splits from Old 70 and heads toward Stuttgart. Hence the imaginative name of “The 11-70 Club.”
Who knows who all might have performed there? Its location on The Highway of Dreams would lend itself to what music promoters call “drive-bys” or bands headed to a larger city that will stop for a gig or two at smaller venues along the way.
Buck McCarthur, a well-known entertainer who splits time between Little Rock, AR and Austin, TX claims to have started his music career there at age 14.
Members of a Jonesboro group of the 1960s, “Tuesday Blues” recalls some wild nights performing there.
Some performers claim the club was the inspiration for the rowdy redneck bar in the famous scene from the movie “The Blues Brothers,” providing the legend of the screen wire that protected performers from flying beer bottles.
Stories swapped around the “Gazette Table” at the old International Bazaar Restaurant in Little Rock mentioned a legendary reporter and his experience at the club. Seems he received a tip that the Arkansas State Police planned a raid on the club. On the appointed day, he arrived there in order to be ready for a spicy news scoop.
Of course, a reporter has to blend in with the crowd, so he ordered a beer. When the raid didn’t materialize on time, he ordered another, or so the story goes. When the police finally arrived hours after the tipster had promised, the reporter was rounded up with the other rowdies and hauled off to jail.
Legend has it that he filed his story from there.
So, when my wandering pal, Sonny Rhodes (a legendary reporter but not the aforementioned one) and I set off to explore the Delta, we began our trip, after a fine breakfast at Advata’s Restaurant in Carlisle, with a stop at what’s left of the 11-70 club. We paid our respects on behalf of its old crowd. (My very best friend in the whole world was an occasional patron, she will admit when in a loquacious mood). Me, I’d just like to go back and sit outside some midnight and see if maybe I couldn’t hear some of the old music drifting through those venerable walls. Heck, I might even hear “That’s All Right Mama” or “Folsom Prison Blues.” Who knows?
Anyone who may have memories or knowledge of either of these places, please forward. I think they should form entries in the “Encyclopedia of Arkansas.”
"One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain." - Bob Marley