Take a walk through rock 'n' roll history at Depot Days - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Take a walk through rock 'n' roll history at Depot Days

NEWPORT, AR (KAIT) – Music fans and historians are well aware of the place that Northeast Arkansas has in the history of rock ‘n' roll, but many people have no clue this music actually took root decades ago in their own backyards.

A new attraction, however, may soon bring more awareness to the residents of Jackson County and its visitors alike.

A walk through rock ‘n' roll history will now only take a trip to Newport. Jackson County's Rock ‘n' Roll Highway 67 Museum opens there for the first time to the public this Saturday during the Depot Days festival.

Prosecuting Attorney Henry Boyce, who serves as chairman of Depot Days, has spent a lot of his spare time as unofficial curator of the rock ‘n' roll museum.

"You won't see the photos, posters and musical instruments that are on display in this museum anywhere else," Boyce said.

Boyce says the idea for the museum came about five years ago after the state officially renamed the section of Highway 67 from Jackson County to the Missouri border as Rock ‘n' Roll Highway 67. At the time he got a warning from local musical legend, Sonny Burgess, whose band Sonny Burgess and the Pacers was signed to Memphis-based recording label Sun Records.

"[Burgess said] if an effort wasn't made in the next 10 years to preserve the history, then it would be lost forever," Boyce said.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Jackson County became a well-known stop for rock music pioneers, like Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. The museum now features a rare photo of Elvis that a Newport woman snapped during a show in 1955 in Swifton.

"Jackson County hosted dozens of early rock ‘n' roll pioneers," Boyce said, "primarily because there was a string of nightclubs and roadhouses up and down the highway, a couple of dozen at least.

"Some of those clubs," he added, "offered illegal gambling, which attracted a lot of patrons from surrounding areas. The primary impact that that had was it allowed the nightclub owners themselves to actually offer more money to bring in musicians from Memphis and surrounding bigger cities, such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison [and] Johnny Cash. Jackson County was well-known as a circuit stop-off for bands traveling between Dallas and St. Louis on their national tours."

Boyce has used a map as an exhibit that shows all the former haunts where acts like Conway Twitty would perform as well as rare posters advertising the shows.

"I have some musical instruments, including an original set of drums that Sonny Burgess and the Pacers used," Boyce explained. "I have a couple of vintage microphones that they used. I have lots of vintage records both on the Sun label as well as other labels that musicians that played this area recorded on."

The museum has never officially opened to the public, though Boyce says the collection has already been seen by hundreds of people. Some tourists from Sweden have even visited Newport after seeing an obscure mention about the museum online.

Boyce says this shows that learning about the origins of rock music interests people of all ages, all over the world.

"We don't even have a map showing where [the museum] is yet, and people are already finding it from foreign countries," he said. "That's something to be proud of, and I think our local citizens are not as aware of some of that history as they should be and I'm trying to educate them."

People can check out all the exhibits, which feature enlightening captions from people like Sonny Burgess, this Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. at the Newport Business Resource Center, located at the corner of Hazel and Second Streets.

That location is just a block away from the main stage at Depot Days. To view the lineup of performers and learn more information about the festival, click here.

Copyright 2013 KAIT. All rights reserved.

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