Rock-N-Roll Highway Museum will include old Bald Knob bar

By Angela Spencer Published August 31, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Barth Grayson talks about the bar — once located in the Wagon Wheel in Bald Knob — on which a young Elvis Presley danced while performing early in his career. His favorite drink at the time was 7UP. The bar is destined for the new Rock-N-Roll Highway Museum that will be housed in a renovated building in downtown Bald Knob.

BALD KNOB — Standing behind a bar decorated with old soda bottles, with a bust of Elvis Presley on a shelf above, Barth Grayson explained how The King used to visit Bald Knob before he made it big. The bar used to be in the Wagon Wheel, a local watering hole that closed years ago. The bar, which now sits in the back room of the Bald Knob Train Depot, will soon have a new home.

Grayson is spearheading efforts to establish the Rock-N-Roll Highway Museum on South Elm Street in Bald Knob, and the bar from the Wagon Wheel will be an anchor for the new museum. A 111-mile-long segment of U.S. 67 through Arkansas was named Rock ’n’ Roll Highway 67 because of the rockabilly music played along the route by artists who helped form rockabilly and rock ’n’ roll.

When Elvis Presley was 16 and 17 years old, Grayson said, he would travel with other groups to play music, sometimes leading him to Arkansas venues like the Wagon Wheel in Bald Knob. The young Presley did not drink alcohol, and he would bring his own lemons for lemon water. Before he performed, he would sit by the jukebox and eat the lemon rinds. When it was his time to play, he would dance across the bar on his toes, a dance he would become famous for later.

Grayson said he has talked with many people who were involved with or witnessed the musical developments during that time in Bald Knob, and he is excited to gather the Wagon Wheel bar and other rock ’n’ roll artifacts for the museum.

“I’m a history buff, and I grew up from 19 on going to all of these clubs in northeast Arkansas, not even realizing the history part of it. It was just fun,” Grayson said. “Bald Knob has always been recognized as the gateway to the Rock ’n’ Roll Highway.”

Currently, the space on South Elm Street is an empty bare-bones building backing up to the Bald Knob downtown courtyard, but work has already started inside to convert the space into a functional museum.

The downtown courtyard has a stage where musical acts will give concerts. Grayson said that in the new museum, he plans on hanging photos or posters of bands that perform on the stage, and he hopes the renewed focus on music will become a draw for talent and fans alike.

Grayson said several fundraising musical events are planned leading up to the completion of the museum, including a concert series with performances set for twice a month on the courtyard’s stage. On Saturday, the concert will be the Rockabilly Revival with Sonny Burgess and the Legendary Pacers, along with special guests Teddy Riedel, Ritchie Varnell and Austin Stewart.

“They’re the real deal,” Grayson said of Sonny Burgess and the Legendary Pacers. “They were there. They were part of making it happen. Even though Elvis came and kind of took the air out of them, they’ve come back and stayed a constant for all of these years.”

The concerts will occur at 5 p.m. every other Saturday, and they will be presented on a donation-requested basis. Kids 10 and younger will be admitted free, and those older than 10 are asked to bring a $5 donation that will go toward finishing the Bald Knob Rock-N-Roll Highway Museum.

Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or aspencer@arkansasonline.com.

Zoned Editions Staff Writer Angela Spencer can be reached at 501-244-4307 or aspencer@arkansasonline.com.

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