"Wild place, wild time," he would tell the visitors. "When 3.2 cereal malt beverage was available to 18-year-olds, the Red Dog Inn had the largest open-tap Budweiser account in the whole United States, because they sold only one brand of beer and only by the pitcher." Carefully retrieved posters for regionally famous bands such as the Fabulous Flippers (the era's biggest band), the Blue Things, and Spider & the Crabs would cover the walls.
Snippets of mid-'60s radio would fill the air, and Lee would say, "Kids out in western Kansas, who listened to KOMA out of Oklahoma City all night, would hear commercials for the Roarin' Red Dogs, the Flippers. Some of these bands would draw more people for a show at a National Guard Armory in Colby, Kansas, than lived in the entire county."
The first display would tout inductee Big Joe Turner, the Kansas City native who almost single-handedly created rock music with songs like "Shake, Rattle and Roll." Lee's voice would draw you forward: "By the '60s, most of the bands out of Kansas were horn bands basically white versions of James Brown and Bobby 'Blue' Bland's acts, bringing black music to white kids on the plains."
There'd be a display for 2005 inductees Rodney and the Blazers, with their blazers, their silver hair dye, their onstage sunglasses and their mementos of a stretch as Jerry Lee Lewis' band back when he was blacklisted for his "cousin trouble" prominently displayed. Push a button, and you'd get their big hit, "Teenage Cinderella."
The next wall might feature the Roarin' Red Dogs, the Inn's house band. Lee would reminisce: "They didn't always have the horns play. Sometimes the horn section would just lay back and let the psychedelic part take over." Their best B-side: "We're Gonna Hate Ourselves in the Morning."
Next would be McPherson natives King Midas and the Muflers (yep, that's how they spelled it), the longest-running rock band in Kansas, together 41 years now. Off to one side, there might be smaller exhibits for nominees such as Chanute's own soul septet, the Common Few: "Basically, they were Fabulous Flipper wannabes," Lee would say. "Seriously, they'll admit it."
In our more complicated world, this is all still a dream. Lee's apartment, where the fledgling hall's collection of thousands of rare photos and recordings was temporarily stored, was one of several destroyed in the October 7 apartment-complex fire that also killed three Lawrence residents. "I was able to pull a few things out of the rubble, but it was over two months after the fire before they'd even let me go near it. Fire, water to put out the fire, rain, snow, sun basically, 90 percent was a total loss."
Still, Kansans have a way of working through fires. This week's show, featuring some of these bands along with the Moonlight Serenade Orchestra (who'll cover Turner's music) and Kansas City's Neon Blue, is a grand-scale benefit both to help Lee get back on his feet and to make the hall a physical reality.