Harold's Club

Harold's Club in Peoria Illinois had a big painting of Harold hanging over the bar. The bar tender whose name I can't recall used to send flowery love letters to his girl friend in Chicago which he dictated to the in house Black vocalist who said that because he was not getting paid did not have the bus fare to leave the club and Peoria even if he'd wanted to.

The bar tender was always talking about a character called the Rabbit as in "Dey got da Wabbit in da Twick bag". I was never certain what that meant, but maybe it had something to do with what happened to the care taker, Bill Procter, who when he fell asleep on a bar stool was given a hotfoot by the bar tender and a white man who when Bill awoke with a shriek retorted I ain't afraid of you Bill Procter.

Behind the bar was a trap door to somewhere that the bar tender or anyone behind the bar might disappear. I still can only imagine what might have been behind that door that was used like a theatrical entrance and exit.

Although the club might have appeared to be catering to a Black clientel, many under age white people frequented it to be served a low alcohol near beer.

And it was not just the day time shenanigans of the characters who worked at Harold's, and that trap door behind the bar, and the "hotfoot" that evoke images impossible to forget, but also the circumstances of our band's arrival, the surprise of the Screaming C's impromptu voluntary performance, his self financed drive from Aurora, and his inviting himself to stay the night in the band's office-like residence above the club which he abruptly abandoned when something bit him in the night. And there was Stoney a soft spoken, but gregarious bassist from South Carolina . And I can't but recall the image of Kelly Jay over six feet tall riding a go cart and laughing all the way round the track as he struggled to keep his legs on board during a recreational stint away from the club.

I just read that Richard Pryor had worked at Harold's Club around 1963. I performed there in 1962 or early, 1963. I recall that the in house vocalist's, MC's first name was Dick ( Gregory?)I know that we used to introduce the house singer, MC. as "Dick", but now I realize that I may have carelessly filled in his surname with the name of the once popular Dick Gregory. Now that I'm aware that Richard Pryor, perhaps "Dick" Pryor was a native of Peoria and that he worked Harold's Club the year that I was there I wonder if my uncertainty about Dick's surname might allow the the placing of Pryor in my vacant surname memory blank? ) He was a soft spoken singer with a mellow Brook Benton quality, a sentence quoted from this page in the Henrys' book about Richard Pryor,Furious Cool .

Some years later I asked someone who claimed to be familiar with Peoria, and Harold's Club, how the club'd been doing when he saw it last. He said that it had been replaced by a parking lot. Maybe it was true, or maybe he was just echoing the sentiments of the pop lyric "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot".

Today I came upon a Stanford University project photo of Harold's Club taken within a couple of years of the time I performed there on that same stage with its acoustic piano, on drums like the white lacquer set I played in precisely that same spot on stage. To the right, just before reaching the stage and the piano from which Kelly Jay used to play and sing is the corner of the bar where I used to enjoy daily performances by the pork-pie hatted bartender, Bill Proctor the caretaker, and another man who showed gunshot wounds to prove he wasn't afraid of Bill Proctor; and unforgettable dialogue between Dick and the bartender. But an image that I don't think I recall is the real full length representation of Harold himself whom I knew only by the larger than life idealized portrait of him that hung over the bar as though watching over that mysterious trap door and the daily antics at the bar.

The Brown Derby Toronto, Ontario Canada

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