If songwriters were telling the story of the Ernest Tubb Record Shop in the Fort Worth Stockyards, they might pen that love is what’s made the place go ’round for almost 21 years.
A love of good country music saved the place from closing four years ago when fan Jerry Kay Weeks bought it, and now another fan, Laura Croy, has stepped up to save it again.
The shop’s CDs, vinyl records and cassette tapes bear the names of honky-tonk heroes including Webb Pierce, Hank Thompson, Hank Williams, George Jones and Lefty Frizzell, along with newer material from the likes of George Strait, Alan Jackson, and Willie Nelson.
The music inside stays, but sadly the sign outside bearing the name of Ernest Tubb is going away.
Tubb, an Ellis County lad who followed his musical dreams first to Fort Worth in 1940 and then to Nashville two years later, became one of the biggest stars of midcentury country music. He starred in movies in the 1940s and established the original Ernest Tubb Record Shop in downtown Nashville 66 years ago. Its two locations in Nashville and one in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., are still active and presenting the iconic Midnite Jamboree jam session every Saturday night on radio.
On Saturday afternoon, the Fort Worth store, at 140 E. Exchange Ave., hosted a live music shindig. As guests arrived, Weeks reflected on her purchase of the shop four years ago.
“Nashville was going to close it, and I was the best customer, so I bought it to keep it open,” she said. “There’s nothing else like this.”
Once Nashville had washed its hands of the Fort Worth location, Weeks said, there were copyright restrictions, including the inability to have a separate website, that severely hindered the operation. Only the E.T. name remained.
Weeks, who bought the shop from original owner Jimmy Stinson, admits that the latest sale came “in the nick of time” before she would have had to close it forever.
Croy and her fiddle-playing friend Anthony Wilson plan to keep the vintage inventory intact, though the privately owned Tubb memorabilia will go back to its original owners. Wilson, who performs in area country bands and sat in with the crowd on Saturday, will manage the shop.
“I love music and I didn’t want to see it close down,” said Croy, who is a special-education teacher. “I want to see the tradition keep going and preserve it.”
But there’s more, and it has to do with the younger music fans who quietly browsed through bins of vinyl albums looking for treasures while older patrons sat in folding chairs up front to hear the music.
“Since vinyl is so popular again, I think this is a good time to get into it,” Croy said.
As they did Saturday, vintage country fans may still get to hear veteran crooners sing live at the shop. Frankie Miller of Blackland Farmer fame sat in with Bill Monday on guitar and Billy Keeble on vocals. Keeble did a turn on the late Ray Price’s Crazy Arms.
A handprinted sign on yellow legalpad paper read, “Free Records,” and several boxes of well-worn LPs — from mostly unknown country and gospel performers and, curiously, even a few selections from Clovis, N.M., high school bands dating back two or three decades — were lined up in the back for the taking.
The most expensive vinyl offering was an approximately 4-inch-thick boxed set of the complete works of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Price: $350.
On Saturday afternoon, one of the few details left to settle was what to call the place now, said Croy.
“I’ve got about a week to decide,” she said.
As the 100th anniversary of Tubb’s birthday approaches on Feb. 9, fewer and fewer people instantly connect with his name, though they’ll likely always dance to Waltz Across Texas and Walking the Floor Over You. The affable legend with his trademark “Thanks” painted on the back of his guitar died in 1984 at age 70.
For those who do remember, much of the tradition of the Ernest Tubb Record Shop is lost with the name change.
“I helped open the store, and we’ve had a good run,” said A.J. Lockett, a longtime employee who was a friend of Tubb’s. Her own birthday was celebrated Saturday at the party. She has worked only occasionally the past few years.
“I’m glad we sold it, but I’m very sad they’re doing away with the Ernest Tubb name,” she said with a tear in her eye. “But change has come.”