Bracken Mayo, The Murfreesboro Pulse, November 4, 2015, photos by Scott Walker of WGNS Radio
An abandoned structure sits off of Asbury Road, near Old Nashville Highway in the outskirts of Murfreesboro.
Surrounded by tall weeds, fallen hedgeapples and a small mountain of glass bottles out back, cinder blocks stand strong and tall, but otherwise the interior of the building is demolished and the tar roof caved in.
Probably very few have even noticed the place; even fewer give it much attention or credit. But decades ago, this place was rocking, according to one local musician.
This is the Eldorado Club, closed since the 1970s. For saxophonist Raymond Summerour, though, the venue remains a strong memory.
Summerour recalls the 1960s and ’70s, a period when the club would be packed with music fans every weekend.
His band, the Dukes, was often the source of the swinging sounds at the Eldorado.
The secluded club wasn’t exactly well-advertised from the road; Summerour says you kind of had to know someone who knew someone to find out about it, but for soul and rock music in Murfreesboro in the 1960s, it was the place to be.
Murfreesboro resident Alf McClain owned and operated the club until his death in 1974.
He also served as manager for Summerour’s group, the Dukes, which took its name from the song “Duke of Earl,” the popular early-1960s hit by Gene Chandler.
“We were pretty popular around Middle Tennessee,” Summerour said.
The Dukes would venture to clubs in Nashville, Lebanon, Tullahoma, Winchester and sometimes down to Alabama, but the Eldorado served as a home base for the group.
Summerour recalls one night in particular that still sticks with him after all these years.
In 1964, as the band was playing to “a pretty packed house,” a guy walks in with a white Stratocaster slung across his back.
Summerour said it wasn’t unusual for other musicians to come in during the Dukes’ performances and ask to sit in with the band. It was an open jam of sorts, a community.
And while the band liked to tease its members and suggest mock-threateningly that they may be replaced after other talented musicians would sit in with the Dukes, “we never turned anybody down who came in,” according to Summerour.
So, this fellow asked to play with the group, and he “took that Stratocaster and went to work!” Summerour exclaimed.
This gentleman was none other than Jimi Hendrix, one of the most legendary guitarists in all of rockdom.
This was a couple of years after Hendrix’s brief stint in the Army at Ft. Campbell, but well before the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock, a period when he was traveling to various juke joints in the area trying to make it and crafting his style.
“Horace (the Dukes’ guitarist) was good too, now,” Summerour said, “but he wasn’t Jimi Hendrix.”
But Jimi moved on, and Horace did not lose his gig with the Dukes. Come to find out, Hendrix came to the Eldorado to try and book a gig for himself, but was asking for more money than McClain was willing to provide.
Hendrix was not the only rock star who came through the Eldorado; Ike and Tina Turner performed there, as did Jerry Butler, “The Iceman.”
The property where the club is located is still owned by the Minnow family, who leased the building to McClain back in its heyday.
This was during a time of strict segregation in the South, Summerour, now in his 70s, reminds us.
Some white individuals would go into the predominantly black establishments, Summerour said, “but we couldn’t go in theirs.”
Today, entering the small lobby in the front of the nightclub building, a faded painting shows a guy and a girl, decked out in afros and the fashions of their day, standing by a classic Cadillac coupe that shares its name with the establishment.
The interior is in ruins, but Summerour animatedly points out where the stage was, where the bar was and where the dance floor was, as a flood of memories come back to him: the impact his time at the Eldorado had on him, and other music fans and players in that classic era of American music and culture, was clearly significant.