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The Story of Ole Willie's

Names sometimes have convoluted histories.

by Larry Slay
January 24, 2006

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The Story of Ole Willie's
In my last story, "The Night They Closed Ole Willie's Down," I tried to tell the reader how the closing down of a landmark restaurant in a small southern town, namely Brewton, Alabama, had affected me and many other people. At the time I wrote the story I had no idea how Ole Willie's obtained its name. As national commentator Paul Harvey say's, "now for the rest of the story."

The sun was beginning to set in another small town much like Brewton, Virginia City, Nevada. A drifter by the name of Buddy Liles slowly made his way down the main street toward the local watering hole in Virginia City. The drifter had in his mind the thought of a cold beer and possibly a game of pool. Buddy had no idea what lay before him when he saw the Bucket of Blood Saloon sign staring back at him.

In the old west days, saloons, much like the Bucket of Blood Saloon in Virginia City, attracted many a colorful character. There was one saloon in Deadwood South Dakota, which became famous for Nuttall & Mann's Saloon No. 10. In that saloon, Wild Bill Hickok was shot from behind while playing cards. Many years later, the following event, which took place in the Bucket of Blood, would launch a landmark restaurant in Brewton Alabama - Ole Willies.

Buddy entered the Bucket of Blood Saloon and made his way to the only pool table in the place. He found out there was a game in play and he would have to wait his turn. A cowboy holding a pool cue looked Buddy up and down. Cowboy's in this part of the country do things the cowboy way. In Wild Bill Hickok's day, the code of the west was very simple, especially while riding on a stagecoach. If you dip or chew - don't spit into the wind, don't snore loudly while sleeping, or use your fellow passenger's shoulder for a pillow. Above all, don't drink liquor on the stagecoach - but if you do, please pass the bottle around. It would be selfish and un-neighborly not to do so.

The cowboy with the pool cue explained to Buddy that he would have to wait his turn, in expletive cowboy terms that is! If you want to shoot pool here, put your name on that chalkboard on the wall by the door he said, as he pointed one cue-chalked blue finger toward the poolroom chalkboard.

Buddy sheepishly made his way toward the green chalk board which was hanging just below the Coors beer sign. He picked up what was left of a much-used piece of chalk, and boldly scrawled his name at the top of the list of waiting pool players. Then from the bar room came the familiar refrain of a song he had heard back in his school days in Brewton, "oom, papa, oom, papa, oom, papa maa maaww, my hearts on fire for Elvira."

The songs lyrics stopped Buddy in his tracks. While waiting for his name to be called for the next pool game he made his way to the bar where this familiar sound was coming from. It just so happened that there were four men seated on four bar stools in front of the bar. It was the Oak Ridge Boys and the one sitting on the middle bar stool was William Lee Golden, a famous singer from Buddy's hometown of Brewton Alabama. The Oak Ridge Boys were doing a photo op for their up-coming album, The Ya'll Come Back Saloon. Being hometown boys, Buddy and William Lee struck up a conversation. As the two men talked about their hometown, Buddy's eyes panned the bar. The bar had an old west look, rustic in nature. The walls were made of rough-cut timber and so were the liquor shelves behind where the Oak Ridge Boys were seated. Just the atmosphere of the place made an impression on Buddy. That impression would work its way out of Buddy when he finally came home to Brewton. He would open a bar, one day in Brewton, which would mimic the Bucket of Blood Saloon; however, before that future played out, he had an encounter with a red-haired stranger.

As Buddy and William Lee Golden were busy exchanging memories of their life in Brewton, Buddy kept one ear open for his call to the pool table. He also kept one eye on the chalkboard where he had written his name. Then, the doors to the Bucket of Blood were thrown open and in walked the red headed stranger, it was none other than the famous country music singer, Willie Nelson. Willie made his way to the chalkboard, picked up the eraser and with one swift stroke erased Buddy's name from the board. To Buddy this was an insult, first come, first serve he thought. He made his way to where Willie stood wiping the chalk dust from the eraser on his pant leg. "Mister Nelson I know you are a famous person but I had put my name on that chalkboard first," Buddy politely said. Willie, with those blue eyes crying in the rain eyes, looked Buddy in the face and said, "As of now this is Ole Willie's Place!"

Some years later, after returning home to Brewton, Buddy opened up a restaurant. The décor and atmosphere of his restaurant would reflect the events ingrained in his memory of the time he walked into the Bucket of Blood Saloon in Virginia City Nevada just to have a beer and shoot a game of pool. One of those memories manifested its self in the name of his restaurant, Ole Willie's Place. Now Buddy could walk into his saloon and proudly proclaim, "As of now this is Ole Willie's Place!" Now, you know the rest of the story.

An aside: I did quite a bit of research before I wrote this story. From what I have been told by the people who appear in it - it is all facts. I did add some color in the wording. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it.

Comments (5)

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RW Galea from Gulf Shores, AL writes:
February 23, 2006
RE: How Ole Willie's Place Got Its Name. I am a little confused about the timing of the story. Unless Buddy heard the Oak Ridge Boys sing Elvira at the all-night gospel sings back in the late 60's and early 70's, he certainly didn't remember the song from his school days. It is true that Elvira was written in the 60's, but the Oak Ridge Boys only sang gospel until the mid-70's. The album The Ya'll Come Back Saloon came out in 1977. The Oak Ridge Boys had a hit with Elvira in 1981. So how could he be watching them prepare for a photo shoot for the upcoming Saloon album and listening to them sing their hit Elvira that wasn't to become a hit until 4 years later? Also, I worked at Ole Willies Place in 1978, for Buddy, and I'm pretty sure that the name was already in place at that time. Three years before the Saloon album came out. The time line just doesn't match up. Thanks!

Phala Partin Hay from Bedford, TX writes:
February 24, 2006
Dear RWG, regarding your response to How Ole Willie’s Place Got Its Name, what Larry did with the story was to fictionalize a true event. He did research on the story with Buddy Liles, William Lee Golden, and Lana Nelson (and while she had never heard of her father’s bit in the bar, she ok’d the story). Larry took a bit of ‘poetic license’ in the telling. Very astute observation on your part!!

BBB from BREWTON writes:
September 8, 2006
I too worked at Willie's some years back and if I remember correctly the orginal name of the resturant was Willie's Place,( a nick name for Buddy Lilies) then the Cross Roads? and then when the Najors reopen it they named it Ole Willie's Place. Your time line and facts are way off.

darlene from United States writes:
April 2, 2009
HEY, they have re-opened Willy's JUST thought I would share the happy news

larry slay from united states writes:
April 4, 2009
Thanks Darlene for the info. but I already knew about it. I am in the process of contacting the new owners to see if they might want to use my story, after all it is a nostalgic place for me and many other sojouners who have passed through it's doors.


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