In the 1960s and 70’s, the historic Longhorn Ballroom was the place to be in Dallas. Hippies, rednecks and Dallas socialites alike flocked to the Longhorn to see legendary musicians, from Merle Haggard to B.B. King. Not a lot of Texas venues can claim to have hosted Patsy Cline, the Sex Pistols and 2 Live Crew. But for the Longhorn Ballroom, hosting nationally-known acts was just another night. For years, the venue thrived. But after a couple changes in management, the Longhorn Ballroom was all but abandoned by the mid-90s.
Were it not for an enduring love of Texas music history, the Longhorn might have been knocked down and paved over for the latest high-end hotel or apartment complex. But Dallas entrepreneur Jay LaFrance and his daughter Amber saw potential in the old haunt. And with the enthusiastic support of the community and a lot of elbow grease, the duo set out to return the legendary venue to its former glory.
Merle Haggard and The Sex Pistols
The Longhorn Ballroom started out as Bob Wills’ Ranch House in 1950, when Dallas millionaire O.L. Nelms purchased the club and named Texas Swing hero Bob Wills as its host. But bad business dealings led to foreclosure and forced Wills to sell the rights to his famous “San Antonio Rose” to pay off the debt.
Shortly after, Jack Ruby — yep, the same Jack Ruby who shot Lee Harvey Oswald — became the new manager of the venue. But Ruby’s reign was short-lived. Local musician Dewey Groom, who had played the club with his band the Texas Longhorns, took over in 1958.
Groom renamed the venue the Longhorn Ballroom and built it into a destination for country fans. Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty and Ray Price were just some of the country legends booked at the Ballroom.
Then in 1978, Groom’s son Doug booked British punk band the Sex Pistols without knowing who they were. The show, one of only seven shows the band placed in the U.S., was a culture clash of epic proportions and humorously resulted in Merle Haggard sharing a marquee with the Sex Pistols. Below, you can see Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious and the rest of the band perform the infamous show.
In 1986, Groom sold the Longhorn to club owner and entrepreneur Ira Zack, who continued to book a variety of blues and alternative rock acts, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Johnny Winter. A decade later, the club changed hands again when Raul and Rosalinda Ramirez bought the venue with plans to turn parts of it into a Mexican-style Mercado. In 2001, Raul Ramirez put the Longhorn up for sale. For over 15 years, the Longhorn Ballroom sat mostly empty, used only occasionally for special events.
A new beginning
Amber LaFrance, a publicist and co-owner of the Longhorn Ballroom, says she was shocked by the wealth of music history that resided within the walls of the Longhorn Ballroom.
“I couldn’t believe that so much Dallas music history was hidden right under our noses,” Amber LaFrance tells Wide Open Country. Restoring the Longhorn to its glory so that generations to come can enjoy it means a lot to us. We look forward to fostering new and upcoming talent on its stage.”
Jay LaFrance says maintaining the Longhorn’s legacy as a premiere Texas music venue was important to him as a music fan and a Dallas resident.
“I had heard stories of music legends that had played there, but when I saw it in person I felt like I was being transported back in time,” Jay LaFrance said in a press release. “We’re thrilled to bring back a piece of Dallas’ legacy and save it from being bulldozed to make room for new apartments. We just couldn’t let this landmark be lost.”
The father and daughter began by restoring the famous Longhorn Ballroom sign, which was designated a historical landmark in 1984. The LaFrances also teamed up with famed Texas artist Stylle Read. Read painted his signature murals for the property and helped restore it in proper western honky-tonk fashion.
Check out photos of the restored Longhorn Ballroom:
True to its name, the Longhorn provides a spacious ballroom for special events.
Stylle Read’s murals pay tribute to Longhorn Ballroom predecessors–and Texas legends–Bob Wills Dewey Groom and the Texas Longhorns.
For more information on the Longhorn Ballroom or to book the venue for a future event, click here.