Chicago, new home base | Johnny Matson, friend and promoter
CHICAGO, IL | After meeting Johnny Matson in Memphis, I was convinced that Chicago was the logical next step to advance my career. I stayed with Johnny's family in Griffith, Indiana until I was able to afford an apartment. Johnny had a daughter and son and his wife Mona was an incredible singer, they were wonderful to me and I'll forever appreciate the hospitality.
Johnny helped me get my first job at Cafe of Tomorrow, a Chicago supper club located at 75th & Halsted Street on the South Side of Chicago. I was booked there for two weeks. While there, I lived at the YMCA (terrible). After I finished this engagement I called Johnny and told him the YMCA was really bad - he suggested I come back to stay with his family until I can afford a better place to stay. He didn't have to ask me twice - I moved back in with Johnny's family right away.
Johnny was working big shows everywhere and I traveled with him a lot. I helped with the show bags and did most of the driving. This was great and I was getting introductions to a lot of agents around Chicago. Johnny took me to a professional photographer (Garbo of Chicago) to get some show business type pictures made. He knew I didn't have the money to pay for pictures and since I was driving for him, he helped me out by paying for the pictures. The pictures turned out great! I wore my new red sport coat that I had purchased at Lansky Bros. on Beale Street in Memphis (this is where Elvis got a lot of his clothes, his pictures are all over the store - along with other entertainers, including myself). The owners at Lansky's definitely knew how to make you feel special when you shopped with them, they always remembered your name and they would give you good deals on clothes.
I lived in and out of Chicago for several years, staying in hotel rooms that were $15-$20 a week, if you couldn't pay that then the hotels would usually negotiate. The rooms were small and noisy and there was knocking on the door through the night. I went to agents offices five days a week trying to get bookings, anywhere, anytime, anyplace - night clubs, one night club dates, and resorts. Show business was not easy. I had some part time regular jobs to pay expenses: delivering mail in the Palmolive building for the Chicago White Sox, etc. I sang in piano bars that had free food and got tips that really helped (my parents never knew how tight my finances were or they would try to send money that they could not afford to spare). After getting a job at "The Fair Store", a large dept store in the Loop on state street, i was able to upgrade to a small apartment at "The New Lawrence Hotel" which had a small kitchen and hideaway bed. I rode the subway to work for 25 cents and walked back to the apartment after work. On my lunch hour, since i was in the Loop area, i was able to visit agent's booking office to try and get club dates. I had my first and only Christmas alone in Chicago and it was miserable, I vowed to never spend Christmas far away, and I haven't!