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Hometown Blues Band Resurrects

         The Old Red Carriage &

              The Lost Weekend

by Billy Barner    ©2023

In 1968 I joined the band Hometown Blues Band. The band at that time consisted of Doug on keys and vocals, Curt on tenor and alto sax, flute and vocals, BJ on lead guitar and me on drums and vocals. We had bass players come and go. We played all around the local area for the year of 1968 at places like The Evergreen Ballroom, Lou’s Place, The Fort Lewis and McChord Officer’s Clubs, The Bremerton Naval Base NCO Club, The Jinx Tavern, The Flame, The Exit, The Hi Hat, etc. but bookings were too far between and we needed something more steady and frequent.


We didn’t want 1969 to be as slow booking-wise. We were looking for a place where we could be the house band.


The story begins:


It is a warm spring day in 1969 when Doug and I drive by an old club/tavern on Tacoma Avenue in Tacoma, Washington, located directly across the street from The Tacoma Public Library. Though we’ve never been in it, we both know the place has been there for like a hundred years. The club is called The Red Carriage. We decide to go in and check it out. (Remember, this is 1969 and Doug and I are long haired hippy musicians.)


As we enter, the place is empty of people, except for the bartender behind the bar and one disheveled, homeless looking male patron sitting at the bar having a glass of wine. The smell of the place is that of a musty mixture of a hundred years of tobacco smoke and stale beer with the faint hint of Pine Sol. This place is a very old night club. The bar, with an ornate antique bar-back, is located just inside the front entrance and runs along the full length of the wall to our left. There is a small 1950’s style tube TV mounted to the ceiling in the far corner of the bar.


Just beyond that is a hallway leading to the restrooms, a closet and a back office. [Sometime later we find that at the very end of this hall is a rear exit door that opened out to a rusty iron staircase with multiple landings winding down three stories to the alley below.] (I digress, but there is yet another story that involves this stairway).


To the right, as we enter the facility is another large room. It is a cabaret room. This is exactly what we are looking for.


We head into the cabaret room and as we do, the bar tender shouts out in a loud voice ” That part of the bar is closed!” We just keep walking into that room without turning around or responding in any way. Eventually I shout back asking the bartender “Do you ever have live music in here?” He replies “ There hasn’t been entertainment in this place for decades and I’m not the least bit interested in having live music!” I ask “Well, why not?” He says “Because for one, I don’t do enough business to pay for a band, and two, the stage is too small, it faces the bar and live music would be too loud for the bartender.” I reply, “You mean live music might prevent you from hearing that ONE customer of yours ordering another wine?” He chuckles. We continue on in to this room, further investigating.


There is a ton of potential here! It has a large oak hardwood dance floor (the dance floor is in surprisingly good condition) and at the very back of that dark room we see lots of tables and chairs just piled up on top of each other. There is a small stage built on the far side wall facing directly at the bar across the way. There is another front entry door in the wall facing Tacoma Avenue that is boarded up permanently shut and locked. All of this is just sitting in this dark empty space gathering dust and going to waste. “Are you guys musicians?” he asks. “Yeah” we reply. I continue saying, ”Ya know, with the right band here in this room you could really bolster your business!” He reply’s, ” Sorry, but my ONE customer here and I can’t afford ‘the right band!’


We chuckle as we walked back toward the bar where there is a pool table. We introduce ourselves. He is the owner and his name is Dave Smith.


We order a couple of beers and rack up the balls on the pool table. We are both rotten pool players, but we are just trying to break the ice by breaking the pool balls. One of us break the pool balls as the one lonely patron pays up and leaves.


Dave asks about what kind of band we have. We tell him about Hometown Blues Band.


It takes two beers each and close to an hour to finally put all the balls in the pockets of this one 25 cent game, but we get better acquainted with Dave in the process and that is our purpose. It turns out that this was the beginning of a friendship that will last for decades to come.


We pay for the beers thank Dave and go back outside. (Not to leave), but to talk about a strategy to win this guy over and have him hire Hometown Blues Band as the house band. After about 20 minutes or so of strategizing we have derived a proposal we hope he can’t refuse.


We go back inside with our “brilliant” scheme.


We state our reason for being here and tell him we have a proposition to offer him.


Dave Smith is a friendly fellow, but sort of an odd fellow, too. He seems very suspicious of us, but he invites us into his back office to talk.


Now in the office, Dave asks us to have a seat as he walks around his desk and sits down behind it.


As he is seating himself, he simultaneously reaches down and pulls open the side desk drawer, extracting a nickle plated .38 Special and sets it on the desk while asking us what our proposition is. We are a bit taken back by the gun, but it is understandable being he doesn’t know us from Adam and this is a seedy part of town.


So we lay out our proposition.


Our proposal is that we will come in and clean up that old cabaret. We will dust off and clean the tables and chairs and put them in back place again.

We will demolish the old stage and build a brand new larger stage (of our design) relocating it to the wall at the front of the room that faces the back of the cabaret room instead of facing the bar, if he will hire us to play there on Friday and Saturday nights as the house band and allow us to be able to rehearse there one day per week.


VICTORY!  Dave bites!


We all agree that Dave will supply all the building materials, we will supply the labor at no charge and he will hire Hometown Blues Band and pay the band $100 per week starting out until we build the crowd up enough for him to afford to pay us more.


Doug and I start the work and complete it the next day or two. A beautiful large stage with a built in drum riser and fully carpeted. The room is fully lit up and the cleaned up tables and chairs are positioned in place just off of the hardwood dance floor.


Dave becomes down right excited when he sees it!


We start playing that weekend.


I remember at the beginning of each Friday and Saturday night coming in and ordering a small glass of MD2020 Loganberry wine, a small aluminum foil nut dish with a minuscule number of Cashews in it and a beer sausage. This miniature meal costs me $4.00. At $8.00 per weekend, that leaves me about $17.00 for the rest of the week.


Each Saturday night after we finish playing, Dave has us come into his office to pay us. And each time he pulls that .38 Special pistol out from the drawer and sets it on the desk as he doles out our measly $100.00.


We hit Dave up for a raise many times, but he always refuses. So one day we just QUIT!


Side note: We repeatedly quit and came back for a small pay increases numerous times over the next 3 years. Each time we quit, Dave would call a few weeks later and ask us back) The attendance on Friday and Saturday nights grew over time and our pay did increase, but not at the same ratio as the growing customer attendance we were achieving.

I don’t think we never got paid more than $300.00 per weekend for our whole 4 sometimes 5 piece band.

Red Carriage building in 2022 has been remodeled photo by Julia Barker.jpg

Photo of the entrance to what used to be The Red Carriage in the 1960’s through the mid 1970’s. The Cabaret portion is of equal size to the right outside the frame of this photo. It has since been remodeled and turned into offices.

Photo taken by Julia Barker in 2022.

Me (Billy Barner) at rehearsal, playing my drums on the new stage we built at The Red Carriage in 1968. Photo taken by Sharon Gibson. (Later to become Sharon Barner in 1970).

billy   Pocket


Musician-Drummer-Singer-Drum Teacher-Writer-Author
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