Ghosts of The Rockwood Club: The Emcees



In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, The Emcees were mainstays in the Northwest Arkansas music scene. They made regular appearances at Fayetteville’s Rockwood Club and followed the footsteps of Ronnie Hawkins by going to Canada to play before enthusiastic crowds. On a historic note, at least for Arkansas, they performed at a New Year’s Eve party in Dallas, Texas, sponsored by the University of Arkansas Alumni Association in late 1964 thatGhosts of the Rockwood Club also served as a pre-Cotton Bowl celebration. (One journalist described the event to be divided by those who did the fox trot and others who danced the Watusi. More partying would ensue the next day as the Arkansas Razorbacks clenched the national championship by defeating the Nebraska Cornhuskers.)

No doubt, people dug The Emcees or, The MC’s, as they were sometimes billed early in their career. Led by Tommy McClelland, a trumpet player and singer, he first performed in The Dixieland Rebels in the 1950s. The group evolved into the McClelland Combo with his brothers, Leon and Mel, in the lineup — hence, the name MC’s, or Emcees, as they would become known.

At this point, not enough can be said about Leon McAuliffe’s promotion of rock ‘n’ roll in Northwest Arkansas and, arguably, being a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer in his own right as evidenced by some of his rockabilly-swing compositions. A steel guitarist for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, McAuliffe and his manager G. Don Thompson, who co-owned with McAuliffe radio station KAMO in Rogers, announced through Billboard magazine in June 1959 that they were resurrecting their music label, Cimarron Records, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by signing The Emcees as Cimarron expanded its repertoire to include both country and western and pop.

A 1961 ad for The Emcees at the Rockwood Club. Note the announcement at the bottom of the ad about Ronnie Hawkins.

A 1961 ad for The Emcees at the Rockwood Club. Note the announcement at the bottom of the ad about Ronnie Hawkins.

The first release of the restructured Cimarron Records was The Emcees’ tune, “IFIC,” named for “American Bandstand” host Dick Clark’s IFIC Club. A sponsor for the show was Beech Nut chewing gum, which had a slogan of being “flavor-IFIC.” The song title indicates The Emcees, McAuliffe and Thompson may have saw a strong potential with getting the single played on the show. (This was not an uncommon ploy. Arkansas native and former Fayetteville resident Charlie Rich, before he turned to country music, wrote and recorded a rock ‘n’ roll song around that time called “Philadelphia Baby” with hopes that “American Bandstand,” which was based in Philly, would give it some attention.)

At least one other Emcees’ single, “Wine, Wine, Wine,” appeared on the Cimarron label (shown above). Several lineups took place throughout the 1960s as well, as detailed in this article about Fayetteville’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Pioneers by Bill Wright, who later became a band member.

While The Emcees may not have received any attention from Dick Clark, one can only assume that they, and other Cimarron recording artists, received considerable airplay on KAMO.

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10 Responses to Ghosts of The Rockwood Club: The Emcees

  1. There was an Emcee’s reunion at the Library Club sometime in the early 1990s, I believe at one of the Blue Mondays jams that The Ozark Blues Society (known otherwise as Orlis and Rick Stiers) put on. It sounds like it was something like the 60s line up, with John D. Levan playing guitar, and Tommy Mclelleand singing, and I think a fellow named Mack Allen wolfe playing drums.

  2. Yep, there was—-Jerry Yount on guitar, John D. Levan on bass, Dwayne English on drums, Tommy McLelland singing, and I was on the piano—Daryl Price. It was a blast to get that old group back together again after so many years. Amazingly enough, all those guys are still living, though we are all pushing 75 and some of us have already made it–(Tommy). I’ve really enjoyed this thread about the old Rockwood and the early days in Fayetteville. It was a kicking good time around here and there was good music just about anywhere you went—and it was appreciated. The folks today don’t have a clue what they missed. DP

  3. Bill says:

    Daryl – I was jumping around online looking for Cates Brothers play dates…then typed in Tommy McCleland’s name – and was pleased to come across this site. It’s neat to have indirectly found you and notes about you guys (you, Tommy and Dwayne) ! – You may remember me as a guy from the Chicago area who moved to Fayetteville in the early 70’s and bar tending first for Dick Pool at the Library and then at the Gaslight Club where you guys were the house band. You may remember too that Tommy and I were roommates for a short time during his Elaine (who I dated first) chasing days. I returned to NW Arkansas last year and am presently looking for a house to buy in or near Eureka Springs.
    I pray life’s not messed with y’all too much ! – lol

    Bill Johnson

  4. THIS MAY BE A NOTE OF INTEREST. THERE ARE PROBABLY 30 OR SO INDIVIDUALS WHO HAVE PLAYED IN THE EMCEE’S BAND FORMAT OVER THE YEARS. TOMMY HAS BEEN THERE THROUGH ALL OF THIS.

  5. Bill (once known as Willie) Johnson says:

    dang silver moments and typing fingers !!! —- that should be Bill (once known as Willie) Johnson – lol — [[ and a p.s.: If the once Connie English is still in Tulsa, tell her I say Hello ! ]]

  6. Wes Connor says:

    Oh, the memories!

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