Diamond Ballroom’s memories will shine in new book – NewsOK.com

As a show poster from the 1960s for Ray Magby and the Country Neighbors boasted, the Diamond Ballroom, 8000 S Eastern Ave, has “5 acres of lighted parking,” and a friendly atmosphere where “couples and singles” are welcome. 

On a wall to the right of the stage are publicity photos of George Jones, Wynn Stewart, Bob Wills, Wanda Jackson, Hank Thompson, Ernest Tubb, Roy Clark, Buck Owens, George Jones, Faron Young, Del Reeves and Red Simpson, to name a few.

The country legends played the Diamond Ballroom in the 1960s. Thousands of dancers shuffled across the original hardwood floor after the doors opened in 1964.

“These are all pictures of people who have played here, but this is not everyone who played here,” said Jeff Brownen, a manager at the Diamond.

Brownen has heard countless stories, from the days when founder Ralph Russell was booking the big names of country music to the years in the late 1980s when punk, rock, alternative and heavy metal music was bouncing off the walls.

Oklahoma City photographer Vernon L. Gowdy III, 60, is working to save the stories and photos from the Diamond’s past.

Gowdy, who covered music for Jam Magazine in Oklahoma City in the 1980s, has embarked on a book project with the working title “The History of The Diamond Ballroom.”

Many Diamond Ballroom business records were well preserved by two “hoarders,” Gowdy said. Ralph Russell and his son, Ralph Russell Jr., who died this year, kept documents and photographs including original contracts and press kits from the big name acts, Gowdy said.

Ralph Russell was a music lover and attorney who opened the doors of The Diamond Ballroom on Nov. 21 1964.

Stage like TV shows

The stage was built to look like a house’s back porch, resembling country music variety shows’ sets including “Ranch Party,” “The Grand Ole Opry,” and “Hee Haw.”

The night before opening day, someone stole all the music equipment, which had to be replaced in a rush before showtime.

The house band was the headliner that night, Perry Jones and the Diamonaires, on a stage overlooking the 7,500-square-foot dance floor.

One of the first big name acts was Fats Domino, on Nov. 5, 1965.

An original Western Union telegram confirming his return dates for Nov. 4-5, 1966, was unearthed recently.

In 2014, Gowdy became captivated by the hundreds of photographs on the walls near the stage.

“Every time I would go there I would look at the pictures and all of the sudden I thought this place has a history of its own.” 

For the first two decades, the Diamond featured country and western acts with western swing on Friday and Saturday nights.

The dress code did not allow jeans or shorts in the early years.

Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson appeared in the 1960s in the days before they sported long hair. There was a weekly country music TV show on channel 14.

The furniture-selling local country act Jude-n-Judy, and the queen of rockabilly Wanda Jackson and the Party Timers played the Diamond often.

And George Jones, nicknamed “no-show Jones” usually did show up for his concerts at the Diamond, Brownen said.

“He pulled a no-show Jones at the Diamond once,” Brownen said.

In 1967, there was a Saturday night TV show featuring live music at the Diamond that aired on KLPR-TV in Oklahoma City.

The Diamond continues to host major music acts and other events. David Fitzgerald, 49, of DCF Enterprises, manages shows and events at the ballroom. He started booking acts in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the crowds and styles of music were beginning to change from traditional country to alternative.

Brownen recalls one band, a black metal group from Sweden called Watain, that came through claiming to worship Satan. The band members wanted to “make a sacrifice” during the show. The band hauled an animal carcass in a motor home.

It stunk and drew flies, and Brownen told the band they could not stab the carcass, cut it up or throw parts of it on the audience from the stage.

The band performed despite the no carcass order then left in the dark after the show. The driver took a wrong road out of the parking lot and straight into the field, Brownen said. It had been raining and the motor home got stuck in the mud on top of a septic tank. They had to call a wrecker to get out of town.

Gowdy took countless photos during live shows over the years. He has started taking pictures of all the photos on the walls for his book project, which he plans to self-publish.

“There are 250 shots stage right, some actual concert pictures,” Gowdy said, “Looking at them, it’s like you are going back in time.”

Gowdy said he hopes to have a hardback pictorial book with memoirs published by Christmas. He also plans a paperback with longer narratives and an online version of the project.

“Tulsa has Cain’s Ballroom and Oklahoma City has the Diamond,” Gowdy said. “The Diamond has the same significance.”