The Ballad of Tommy’s Heads Up Saloon

It’s got all the makings of a sad country song, But in this sorrowful saga about a failed Dallas honky-tonk, the devil’s not in the bottle-he’s in the stock market.

Tommy’s Heads Up Saloon, on Canton Street, which opened last fall with one of the more expensive press parties ever given in this town, closed on December 20 with a thud. It was but a brief flash of old-timey country and western on the modern music scene that is Deep Ellum. Tommy’s tried to lure a clientele of two-steppers with live music five and six nights a week and national talent on the weekends. With that expensive ambition, it only took a couple of months before the club, operated by Near Ellum developer and oilman C Edgar Sherrill, was severely under-revenued and over-budget. Soon, Sherrill’s investors in Near Ellum Entertainment Company were as nervous as a bunch of long-tailed cats in a room full of rocking chairs. And then came Black Monday.

“What happened to Tommy’s?” says Richard Chase, concept man for the club. “October 19. That’s what happened.”

Chase distanced himself and his company, Food For Thought Inc., from the club in early November when he saw the end coming. In early December, Sherrill’s investors also jumped off of that limping horse. But Sherrill stresses his investors remain committed to his two-block Near Ellum development.

But the club’s namesake, western swing performer Tommy Allsup, and his wife Karen hung on to the bitter end, performing the last weekend the club was open.

“I was always the last person to know about any problems,” says the softspoken Allsup, a tall man with a gentle way. “I’ve been in this business tor over thirty years building a good reputation and now I’m defending my name.” Allsup says he’s feeling repercussions from Nashville about some paychecks that bounced (they’ve since been made good).

“Willie Nelson called me to see if he could come down here and sit in with our band to help get some people in the club,” Allsup says. “But it was too late.” On the Wednesday night before Tommy’s closed, only two couples showed up.

Location was a problem. “Try explaining to a bunch of folks from Euless how to set to Tommy’s,” says Chase. “It’s enough to make you stay home,” As D went to press, Sherrill said he planned to return to the role he knew best-landlord-and would lease the club to an operator who would depart from C&W bands. At the time, the musician and the businessman weren’t feeling too charitable toward each other. Allsup hadn’t been paid (along with other management) since the first of November. But Sherrill maintained that according to the contract, Allsup owed him money, because the club never made a cent.

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