NEWPORT, AR (KAIT) – Music fans and historians are wellaware 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 theirown 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 atrip to Newport. Jackson County's Rock 'n' Roll Highway 67 Museum opens there forthe first time to the public this Saturday during the Depot Days festival.
Prosecuting Attorney Henry Boyce, who serves as chairman ofDepot 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 instrumentsthat are on display in this museum anywhere else," Boyce said.
Boyce says the idea for the museum came about five years agoafter the state officially renamed the section of Highway 67 from JacksonCounty to the Missouri border as Rock 'n' Roll Highway 67. At the time he got awarning from local musical legend, Sonny Burgess, whose band Sonny Burgess andthe Pacers was signed to Memphis-based recording label Sun Records.
"[Burgess said] if an effort wasn't made in the next 10years to preserve the history, then it would be lost forever," Boyce said.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Jackson County became a well-knownstop for rock music pioneers, like Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Jerry LeeLewis. The museum now features a rare photo of Elvis that a Newport womansnapped during a show in 1955 in Swifton.
"Jackson County hosted dozens of early rock 'n' rollpioneers," Boyce said, "primarily because there was a string of nightclubs androadhouses 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 impactthat that had was it allowed the nightclub owners themselves to actually offermore money to bring in musicians from Memphis and surrounding bigger cities,such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison [and] Johnny Cash. JacksonCounty was well-known as a circuit stop-off for bands traveling between Dallasand St. Louis on their national tours."
Boyce has used a map as an exhibit that shows all the formerhaunts where acts like Conway Twitty would perform as well as rare postersadvertising the shows.
"I have some musical instruments, including an original setof drums that Sonny Burgess and the Pacers used," Boyce explained. "I have acouple of vintage microphones that they used. I have lots of vintage recordsboth on the Sun label as well as other labels that musicians that played thisarea recorded on."
The museum has never officially opened to the public, thoughBoyce says the collection has already been seen by hundreds of people. Sometourists from Sweden have even visited Newport after seeing an obscure mention aboutthe museum online.
Boyce says this shows that learning about the origins ofrock 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'ssomething to be proud of, and I think our local citizens are not as aware ofsome of that history as they should be and I'm trying to educate them."
People can check out all the exhibits, which featureenlightening captions from people like Sonny Burgess, this Saturday from noonto 4 p.m. at the Newport Business Resource Center, located at the corner ofHazel and Second Streets.
That location is just a block away from the main stage atDepot Days. To view the lineup of performers and learn more information aboutthe festival, click here.