Two '50s Icons: Memories of Dugout Doug's and the Everlys, and an Idea to Preserve the Carousel Theatre

I heard from a few folks concerning the Everly Brothers eulogy and the not-forgotten Cumberland Avenue record store known as the Campus Record Shop, aka Dugout Doug's, where the Everlys first encountered Bo Diddley's rock 'n' roll. The store closed half a century ago, but several readers remember irrepressible proprietor Douglas Dunlap, who'd been living in Kentucky for some years before he died in 2012. He's buried at the veterans' cemetery on Lyons View Pike.

Don Everly once told Metro Pulse that they never played in Knoxville after they became famous, until they broke the fast with two shows at the Tennessee Theatre in the 1990s.

However, reader Donald Gardner recalls that they did do one memorable show in Maryville, just after their songs began hitting the charts. He saw the Everlys perform at a "Hillbilly Homecoming" on the football field at Maryville High when "Bye Bye Love" was a hit, as it was in the summer of '57. "I had never seen such precision-cut ducktails," Gardner says. Sons of a barber, the Everlys were connoisseurs of the art.

Gardner remembers Dugout Doug's fondly, in particular the below-the-counter contraband, like records by Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts and Redd Foxx's gamey "party records"—those who know Foxx mainly from the sitcom Sanford and Son may not know he was the outrageous stand-up comic of the '50s, the Richard Pryor of his day. Gardner also recalls that Dunlap sponsored a rock 'n' roll show on WKGN.

People send me stuff all the time. I never know quite what to do with most of it. I have a Fort Sanders minie ball; a 1939 Knoxville Transit token; a key to a room in the legendary old St. James Hotel, demolished 40 years ago; an Adlai Stevenson for President button; a bent bit of metal found at the site of James Agee's father's violent death; and lots and lots of commemorative coffee cups. I like it all, but it's taking up more space than my useful stuff.

What author Reed Massengill mailed me poses no dilemma. It's a Dougout [sic] Doug's Campus Record Shop can opener, its plastic handle in red and white, with a little leather lanyard. It's now hanging on my wall. I will use it.

...

The Whipping Man, an unusual play by Matthew Lopez about the post-Civil War South, is opening this weekend at the University of Tennessee's Carousel Theatre, just a couple blocks from the old location of Dugout Doug's.

The versatile old theater once stood on the corner of two streets long since vanished, but now looks like a storage shed for the much-larger Clarence Brown Theatre. It has been recommended for removal. Its cheap-looking plywood walls may not be much to look at, from the outside, but it's an icon. Built in the early 1950s as a community project in what was then a residential neighborhood, with just a little assistance from the neighboring university, it was Knoxville's first structure built expressly for dramatic performances—that is, actual plays. As I pointed out a couple of years ago, it may be America's oldest architecturally intact theater-in-the-round. If you know of an older one, let me know.

It's also a rare remnant of the pre-campus-expansion landscape. Except for a few older residential houses north of Andy Holt Avenue, it's the oldest building on UT campus west of Volunteer Boulevard.

The Carousel witnessed the early careers of several of Knoxville's best-known thespians—John Cullum, Carol Mayo Jenkins, Collin Wilcox. Even novelist David Madden performed in a play there.

If you say it's ugly to look at from the outside, I will not argue. But if we appraise it for its aesthetics, we need to acknowledge that its walls were not originally intended to be permanent. In temperate weather, they were removed, and it became a roof for players and audiences in an al fresco setting. For its first few decades, most of its events were open-air shows. I still think of the Carousel with its walls down as the theater in its natural state. It was the only time it looked like a carousel, which, of course, is how it got its name.

After complaints that the place wasn't well-enough insulated for each dramatic season's chillier months, it got a practical makeover, insulating it well with the side effect that the once-optional walls became permanent. That pragmatic solution rendered the theater a kind of fish-nor-foul oddity, a place not as graceful or sturdy or comfortable as a permanent modern building would be, but no longer as flexible as the adaptable building it once was.

The theater department seems determined to retire the Carousel, with a strong interest in moving its offerings to some more public part of town, World's Fair Park or elsewhere, and I understand why. The whole Clarence Brown complex offers three venues to see a variety of plays, but for people who don't live at Hess Hall, it's not something you notice on a daily basis. They'd like to be more a part of Knoxville's mainstream, especially with the recent excitement about downtown, with its proof of a premise long doubted: That, yes, lots of Knoxvillians do have time on their hands in the evenings, an interest in cultural diversions, and money to spend.

I like to watch plays at the Carousel as much as I did when I was 6. But given the prospect that they're going to stop using it for plays, I have a proposal. Just pull the walls down and haul them away, along with the HVAC system. Leave the roof and the seating area beneath it, and coat the support beams with weatherproof varnish. Call it a gazebo. It could be a study area, or an espresso café, or an outdoor exhibit area for art or architecture projects. Or, on game days—and here I'm trying to channel alumni—a rentable barbecue patio.

Maintenance would be minimal. And on certain perfect evenings in the spring and fall, maybe it could even host a play.


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