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Back in the day, Captain Joe kept the place hoppin’
SoVaNow.com / November 20, 2013Music pioneers come in all guises — whether they’re wearing powered wigs or mop tops, playing a piano, guitar or a more exotic instrument (think sitar). But for every breakthrough on the musical scene, first there was a sponsor, a patron, an individual who made it all possible.
Like Joe Jordan.
Jordan, who passed away this month at the age of 79 at the Hundley Annex in South Hill, was the impresario, if you will, of a small but burgeoning local music scene in the early 1980s. He and his wife, Rosa Lee, and business partners Carolyn and Joe Hash operated Captain Joe’s Steak House, where bands all over Southside Virginia and northern North Carolina headed for the weekend to find audiences eager for country, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll tunes.
Located at the site of the current Cracker Barrel restaurant, just off Highway 58, Captain Joe’s boasted one of the largest dance floors in Southside Virginia. When it opened on June 1, 1984, the Jordans and Hashes thought they were simply bringing a steak and seafood restaurant to South Hill. On weekends, a local DJ provided entertainment and dancing.
Jordan soon realized the DJ did not bring enough “traffic” to the restaurant, explained his son, Bill Jordan. He switched to hiring local bands, starting with Country Gentlemen. They showed up Wednesdays for country music night: “It went over okay,” Jordan remembers.
“You have to remember, back then, at least in this area, bands didn’t play at bars. This was something new and different,” says Jordan, a Park View High School math teacher.
The idea caught on and soon people were asking for more. Jordan said his father next hired Tony T and the Midnight Movers, a local band fronted by Tony Thompson. “They packed the place,” Jordan recalls, drawing a large following from the North Carolina border towns where the band regularly performed.
Thompson, who today is a sales representative with Hardee Ford in South Hill, credits Jordan with bringing the live music scene to South Hill. “While people may have come for the food, they stayed for the music. It was something new and unique.”
Thompson said Jordan’s joyous personality had more than a little to do with the success of Captain Joe’s. “He wanted to make sure that people who came had a good time. Some nights the place was packed so tight you could hardly walk through the crowds.”
He was not afraid to try new ideas to spice up the evening. Thompson recalls participating in a “Dirty Dancing” evening “when that movie was popular,” and the contests and give-a-ways Joe Jordan ran “to keep the regulars coming back.”
Jordan, a postal employee in addition to being a restaurant owner, also liked to share in the fun with his bands and audience. Bill Jordan said his father had to sing at least one song with each band that played at Captain Joe’s. Thompson recalled Jordan’s favorite duet with him whenever Tony T and the Midnight Movers showed up: “Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On.”
The Midnight Movers would play the notes of the Jerry Lee Lewis classic as Thompson and Jordan sang the lyrics. Bill Jordan says more often than not, his father would make up the words as he went along. “That was just part of the fun,” he says.
Tony T and the Midnight Movers was one of two regular bands that played at Captain Joe’s during its 15 years in business. The other was a band out of Gasburg called Borderline. Even today, Bill Jordan is impressed by the musicality of all the bands that performed at Captain Joe’s, especially the regulars. “Tony T’s band could play anything and was fun,” he says, but it is Borderline that still holds a place in his heart: “I still have dreams that the band will get together and play one more time and I don’t have to work.” Bill was the weekend bartender for his dad at Captain Joe’s.
Probably the most noted group to grace the stage at Captain Joe’s was a North Carolina cover band called Sidewinder. In 1983, Sidewinder was a semi-finalist on the old television talent show, Star Search, a precursor to modern-day hits America’s Got Talent and American Idol. The band lost to the eventual champion, Sawyer Brown.
Captain Joe’s drew a loyal following of people looking for a nice dinner, some live music and dancing on a Saturday night. One was Betty Panther Dean, now 73. She remembers her nights spent dancing at Captain’s Joe as “the best time of my life.” She, her husband and about eight to ten other couples ventured out to Captain Joe’s every Friday and Saturday night. “We danced a lot,” Dean says, especially to the music played by her favorite band, Tony T and the Midnight Movers.
Dean says the crowd was mixed, young and old, yet it was “a place where I could walk in there by myself and not have to worry.”
There was seldom any real trouble with the patrons at Captain Joe’s, because of the regulars who, according to Thompson, “looked on [the bar] as their place.” Those who acted up were quickly asked to leave, often by the patrons. But, Thompson said it was not unusual for Joe Jordan to help one or two rowdy customers find the exit.
Time marched on and one day in 1999, the Virginia Department of Transportation came knocking on the door of Captain Joe’s. Jordan said they needed the restaurant’s parking lot for the newly installed Highway 58 Bypass. Joe and wife Rosa Lee — who actually ran the business while Joe served as the host of his unending party — decided to close down Captain Joe’s.
Bill says his mom and dad probably could have kept the restaurant open and installed a new parking lot on the remaining property, but they felt the time had come to move on. Sadly, the closing of Captain Joe’s also ushered in the end of the live music scene in South Hill.
Dean said she refused to watch the demolition of the place: “It was just too sad.” Even though she has moved on — Dean now attends dances at the VFW Post in Henderson, N.C. — she still longs for the days of music, dancing and camaraderie that was once the trademark of Captain Joe’s.
On Nov. 4, Joe Jordan passed away. For Thompson, Dean and many others, his death brought about a rush of bittersweet memories of a kind and fun-loving man who once ran the most popular entertainment venue in South Hill.
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