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subfield code a L34-000242 USFLDC DOI0 245 Joey Brooks oral history interviewh [electronic resource] /c interviewed by Cyrana Brooks Wyker.500 Full cataloging of this resource is underway and will replace this temporary record when complete.7 655 Oral history.localOnline audio.local710 University of South Florida.b Library.Special & Digital Collections.Oral History Program.1 773 t LGBT Oral History Project4 856 u http://digital.lib.usf.edu/?l34.24
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text Cyrana Wyker: This is Cyrana Wyker. I am here with Joey Brooks. Today is January 15th 2014. This interview is part of the Tampa GLBT Oral History project under my direction. Do I have your permission to record this interview?
Joey Brooks: Yes, you do.
CW: Okay, so, you grew up in Tampa. Is that correct?
JB: Yes, I did.
CW: What was it like growing up here?
JB: In Tampa? Well, back when I was growing up, the gay scene especially was not out as it is now. It was kind of, like, hidden. You didnt know that was a gay bar, this was a gay bar. It was like, you use the back entrance ways to bars and things like that. I grew up Southern Baptist, so it was veryyou didnt talk about it at all. I grew up in a big family. Of course, I am the seventh of seven kids.
So, they were all grown before me. The six of them are really close together, three girls. I always say this: There is three girls, three boys, then there is ten years difference. Then since they had three girls and three boys, they couldnt make up their mind on the last one, so its me. So, that was it, yeah.
CW: So, you said its sort of hidden. Did you just know where to go?
JB: No, actually, no. I didnt know where to go. You know, back in those days people met There was no internet. Before the internet thing, I guess, they had those phone lines that you could call people up on phone lines and do that, meet. Other times you met places out, you saw somebody you thought they were gay, you were hoping maybe theyre gay, maybe theyre not.
I happen to meet somebody like that, that had been to gay bars before. I had never been to a gay bar. They said, we were going to go out to a bar one time. I didnt even know it was a gay bar we were going to at first. So, were going out to a bar, and mind you, back in those days the drinking age was eighteen, not twenty-one like it is now. So, you know, you can get into a bar, youre eighteen, you can drink. Actually, I was seventeen.
We went to a gay bar. He goes, Were going to see a drag show. I had no idea what a drag show was. I didnt know anything about men dressing like women. Â I knew nothing. So, we went and saw this drag show at the El Goya. I had never knew whatand I saw these people come on stage, and I was, Wow, theyre really good. I said, They sound so wonderful.
He was like laughing at me, he goes, Well, you know, theyre not singing. I said, Theyre not singing. He goes, No, they are pantomiming. I said, Oh, wow. I said, Well, they really are very good. I said There was one that was heavyset. I said, Shes really good. He goes, Well, she is the MC and the show director of the show. He says, You know, theyre all guys too. I said, God. And then I was fascinated about it. I was like, wow.
He happened to know somebody that was He happened to know the actual person that was the leader, and I was brought back that night, and introduced to her. Her name was Brenda Dee. I was introduced to Brenda, and at that time Brenda was married. Brenda was a man, who was married to a woman, but at night they switched roles. Brenda, Bud is his real name, Bud became Brenda Dee, and at night Tommy becameactually it was Tommy Jackson.
They toured the country a lot. They were on several major big TV shows as the Odd Couple. Yeah, and actually they did a film I cant think of where it was here in Tampa, but they did a big film. It was on Thats Incredible. They were on Thats Incredible TV show, and it was filmed here. Actually, if you dont remember it, one of the bars in Tampa, it was a straight bar, not a gay bar, and thats who I first met, and thats who I became getting on the scene.
CW: So, did
JB: And mind you at that time, I was still Southern Baptist, church Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday, and I was a church organist. So, this was very down low, very down low, as they say nowadays, on the down low.
CW: Was this in the seventies?
JB: Late seventies.
CW: Late seventies, okay. So, you already kind of knew that you were gay, or
JB: You know, wasnt a big thing back I knew I liked guys, but it wasnt really It was very strange. You know, because you didnt a coalition or anything like for people to talk to, couldnt talk to anyone in my family about it. So it was very I kept it on the very down low.
JB: I had a girlfriend and all that too back in those days. (laughs)
CW: So, what was What else can you tell me your first night at El Goya?
JB: Just I was really amazed, and the thing about it was, we went in the back way to the place we parked in the back. It was very Back in those days in Ybor City, it was very seedy back in those days. There was only two things open: The Columbia restaurant way at one end, and the El Goya way at this end. You did not venture in between the two as you do now.
Actually, there was one other bar in the middle there. I forgot about that bar. It was a bar called JRs Rendezvous Lounge. Apparently, they did shows there too. I didnt go there very frequently, but I dont remember what happened, but for some reason it burnt down, that bar burnt down. So, it wasnt a big bar. So, basically it was only two places, the Columbia and El Goya, that was it.
Like I said, you And across the street there was the Ritz Theater, which is still there. And the Ritz Theater at that time was actually for a long time it was empty and then it became a porno house for actually It was a burlesque house. They showed X-rated movies, but in between the movies they had burlesque strippers over there, actually burlesque type strippers over there.
CW: Oh wow. Thats interesting.
JB: Yeah, we would alwayslater on after I had started doing shows in there. We would venturewe used to know the guy over there that was the manager over there. His name was Tex. And we would go over there to see The girls would come over to see our show, then we would go over to see their show, because, you know, they had these fabulous costumes that they would strip out of and things like that.
And when we would walk in there, we would be trying to be very careful and go slide down the sides so that people wouldnt see us, and you would always hear, Oh honey, when do you go on? (laughs) We were like, not here. You dont want to see us over here.
CW: So, um, was that I guess your first timewould you call El Goya a gay space at time? It was a gay club?
JB: It was. It was a gay club. Actually at that point, the El Goya, which I found out later, I didnt realize it, the El Goya was also owned at that time by the people who owned the Parliament House. They were sister clubs. But see before I had ever ventured into the El Goya, it was a big huge club and the Parliament House owned it. It was big shows and everything, but it had burnt down, so it was only half of the building there.
So the only part that was open there at that point was a place called Caf Cohiba. Now its on the end thats still there. That was there. It was an L-shape that went around to the back and they had a country and western bar. And that was it. It wasnt as big as it is now. All the other stuff, the walls were there, but there was no ceiling, no anything over there.
And the place where you actually come into where they now have the entrance way, that actually was not an entrance that was a drive-thru. You would drive into there. You could have your car valeted and everything there. It was a drive-thru. And it was a huge building on the side there, which came down several years ago. I dont know what it was originally, but it was a huge record store there for a long time.
CW: So, and you started as a magic act at El Goya?
JB: No, I started actually as a light person.
CW: Okay, okay.
JB: Doing spot light. And my friend that was there that first showed me, you know, took me, he actually was working at that point for one of the local radio stations here in Tampa. Â He was doing high school sports and things like that. He actually wanted to be a DJ, so he actually he got in and became the show DJ for the show. So, he was the show DJ, since I was his friend I became doing the spotlight. Thats how that started, thats before any drag started. I was behind the spotlight.
CW: So, you were you still going to church on Sunday?
JB: Oh god, yes.
CW: Oh wow, okay. So, how were you able to hide working, doing the spotlight and
JB: Well, at that point I think they just thought I was going out, you know. Saturday nights, Friday nights, Saturday nightswasnt doing anything on Sunday nights, because Sundays wasthe big nights in Ybor were Friday and Saturday night. So, those were the big nights and everybody goes out on Friday and Saturday nights.
CW: So, when did you start performing?
JB: I guess it was later on down. I was doing magic at the time. Actually a person who was in the show said, Well, why dont you do the magic here? And I was like, Oh, I can do that. She was like, Oh, okay, but if you do it, Im going to put you in makeup. I was like, I dont know about all that. She was like, Ill loan you some of my outfits and you can do it, Ill do your makeup and things like that. I said, Okay, all right.
So she was a redhead, made all her own clothes, she was the MC of the show. At that time she wore these huge red bouffant wigs. So, of course, thats what I was put into, a red bouffant wig, which was definitely not me nowadays. I did that and I entered and I did the magic act. When I did that, I won. It was like back in those days, I forget how much it was that you won, but it was a good amount of money for doing that.
I said, Wow, this isand they were like, What are you going to do next time? What are you going to do next time? I was like, I dont know if there is going to be a next time. Well, there was a next time. They didnt want you to do the same thing over again, so that is why I ventured out starting to learn a song and doing what they do. I became like Brendas little protg.
She took me under her, you know, show meshe would do my makeup. I never could do makeup, until finally one night, you know, she says, Okay, youre doing this tonight. She would have periodically in the shows with them helping, you know, do things. If they needed somebody, slam me up into the show, cause I did a lot of comedy back in those days, a lot of funny stuff, real outrageous stuff. So, she put me in the middle one night, and said, Okay, youre on your own.
CW: Oh no.
JB: Do your makeup. I was like, Oh no, Im in shock. I cant do it. But that was the start of the makeup, and then thats when I started doing the makeup, and after that she did not do it anymore. It was up to me to do it. She helped me with the hair, because I didnt know too much about hair. I knew I didnt like being a redhead and a bouffant hair.
Back in those days, it fit her personality. It fit her perfect, but it just didnt fit me. I went through several incarnations of names, too, trying to get the right name. And since my actual name was JosephI have sister her name is Frances Joe. They always called her Joe. So, when I was Joseph they couldnt call me Joe because they were calling her Joe. I was always Joey, always from day one. So, its always been Joey. It was very helpful. Joey can be a girl or a guy. It could be either one.
CW: So what was it like being a performer at El Goya?
JB: Well, back in those days I was so new, I learned a lot. I used to watch everybody else. Watch them and try to mimic things that they did. Mannerisms and tried tocause most of them had been in the business for a while. I was the newest, youngest thing there, that was there. I would alwaysthey had me working every show at that time.
If I wasnt doing that, I was watching behind the spotlight, which I think that really helped me, because I sat there and was behind the spotlight for so long, watching it all, it sunk in. And I think thats why I became such a really good MC because Brenda, she was such a wonderful MC, and I watched her in so many years, watching on the microphone. Her quick wit, I picked up a lot of that from her.
Hearing her do these things, and also special guests wed have come in that would work live. You sit and you listen and listen, and you pick up things. And you see them, then you try them in your own act. I still do it nowadays if I hear a line sometimes. Even on TV, if its funny, Ill try to slip it into the show to see if its funny.
Im just very lucky, because my spotlight guy I have now that works for me, hes like, Sometimes on stage you just amaze me. He said, These lines just come out of you like that. He goes, I dont understand how you come up with them that quick. I say, I dont either. Im just lucky they come out. I say, Im lucky they happen to be funny when they come out. I said, I think the liquor helps a little bit.
CW: So, in your book you tell a lot of stories about El Goya, is there a favorite story?
JB: A favorite one? Im trying to remember which ones I wrote in the book now. A favorite story, oh my goodness.
CW: It doesnt have to be from the book. Im just
JB: Im trying to think of a favorite one. The one that really sticks out in my mind, its a scary story, but I dont know if its in the book, about the ghost we supposedly saw one night.
CW: Yes, you mention that in your book, but I dont think you got into detail about it.
JB: This was when I was doing spotlight so this was way back. The other person that used to doI would do the fallow spot, but we had other lights in the theater there, too, so I couldnt run everything. We had somebody else do the follow spots and the other lights, and the strobe lights, at that time she was a little person her name was Dolly.
So, it was Dolly and me up in the light booth, and the second floor, it was nothing up there. It was just very big, and vast, and open. They had remodeled downstairs, but they had never remodeled upstairs. There was this big ole wooden floor, and there was a whole in the floor when you would walk down, the floor was there, and there was a ladder. You had to walk down to get to the spotlight booth.
So, were up there one night watching the show. The show is on, and the manager is actually sitting down at one of the tables down there and we hear, you know, somebody walking up there. So, we thought, oh somebody from downstairs is walking up stairs. She gets up and she looks, puts her head up there, she goes, I dont see anybody in there. So she tells the manager, she goes, Somebody is upstairs. And the manager is like, All the employees are down here.
And to actually get up there, you actually had to go through a secret passage way through the other side in the building to actually get up to where we were at. It was behind a wall, and this way, and then you do goyeah it was (makes noise). There was a whole side of the building that had never burned, thats where you got upstairs. And she goes, No, nobody there. We didnt hear anything else.
Then all of a sudden, were watching and watching, we hear something and we both swear we saw this, because she saw it too. All of a sudden it sounded like somebody was walking across the ceiling or the floor up there, and we saw a leg come into the booth. It was a man with a white, like a white suit on, but we just saw the leg, and then, she tells the manager againshes ready to jump out the booth, cause shes so scared.
The show is going on, so I cannot leave the spotlight, because I am doing a follow spot. Shes the one doing the lights over here, so she can get up and look. She was ready to jump out of the booth and go down there. The manager comes upstairs, runs up there, only way you can go up one way, comes up there one way. They had people all up there with spotlights, no one up there. Never.
And you always hear, the whole story you always hear about of the El Goya is: there is a man in a white suit that walks around there. And we were like, Okay, either they put that up to us, and never told us, or somethings wrong here. We never saw anything again that fell into that booth or anything like that. We were always leery about walking up there after that. We had to take a flashlight, because there was no lighting up there. It was all empty and vast.
CW: Maybe a ghost from the cigar days?
JB: Yeah, thats what I was like. Okay, thats enough for me. Now we have to get out of this booth, get on the front of the stage and forget about being up there anymore.
CW: So, the cast of El Goyaor at least it sounds like from the bookwas like a family?
JB: It was because welike I said, there was no internet and none of the stuff around like there is today. With the people that were out there you kind of hung out together. So, we would always hang out at somebody elses house. It wasnt always my house, because I was at my parents that time. But we would always hang out at their houses, and if they had parties, we would always go to their house.
The favorite place to go to wasa friend of mine who had started before I did, but was working in there, her name was Candy Kiss. It is so strange to tell the story about where she lives, but she lived in Sulfur Springs. She lived in a home that looked like a space ship. Its the exact copy of the space ship you see on top of 2000 Odyssey. Those actually were modular homes they built, that they were going to try to sell them to be on the beaches and up off, because of the way they stood.
So, they soldthey had several of those. Those are prototypes. I dont know how she got ahold of that one, her and her lover got ahold of that one. It was in Sulfur Springs, regular neighborhood, and all of a sudden you see this space ship, and its identical to the one thats ontheyre identical, but they originally were homes. It was like a one bedroom house, and a one-bedroom bathroom, and a small kitchen, and this humongous round couch around the rest of it.
And everyone would always meet up over there. And it actually did have a door that went (makes noise). They eventually, from all the times going up and down, up and down, up and down, it broke. They kept it down and built like an entranceway around it. So, it was an actual door outside before you get to the staircase. You walked up into this spacecraft. She used to be Marilyn Monroe. I said, Girl, I need my picture taken. I said, Marilyn is coming down out of the spacecraft. Thats very good.
CW: So, what was the gay culture like in Tampa at that time? Because this would have been what, early eighties?
JB: Yeah. You know, like I said, it wasnt out in the open. People knew back in those days that, that was the gay bar then, El Goya, especially it having been rebuilt. It was a gay bar. Everybody went there. It was the mecca of a gay bar. There was other bars around, but thats where everybody went. It was huge. It was the biggest place around. That time was very carefree. People didnt care about things.
The AIDS thing hadnt been this big scandal or thing like there, you know, it was the seventies and eighties. It was a lot of just fun times. And, you know, back in those days, at three oclock at night the bar would close. The people still wouldsince there was nothing else around in Ybor City on one side or the other, they would congregate outside of the building and you would see this mass of people in the street just sitting there talking. And theyd be talking afterwards, of course, trying to pick up tricks at the last minute, too.
Not like nowadays, at three oclock youve got those cops in Ybor City and they are forcing you out of the city right now. They didnt have that back in those days. People lingered out there. They would sit, and they would chat, and a lot of times after the bars everybody went either to the Bridge Club, which was a gay afterhours bar, off of Hillsborough Avenue, or a lot of times they just went out to breakfast.
There used to be a Dennys off of Kennedy they used to go to. After that there was theits called the River House, became that, and then there is Red Apple over there on Dale Mabry after that closed down, that they went to. Everybody who was anybody went to breakfast, too, and then they went to breakfast, usually after breakfast they went to Bridge Club too. The Bridge Club was open til like early in the morning, nine or ten oclock in the morning.
CW: Did you ever feel unsafe coming out of
JB: Out of that bar at night I was usually with somebody. And there was so many people there late at night, like I said in the streets coming out, in those days I didnt feelbecause I was at down on the other side or in the middle. I always got there early, because we had to get our makeup on, so I parked right up front always. I was always right up front. I came out the door, my car was almost right there.
I know people in Ybor City thats had trouble. Ive been very lucky all these years Ive never had any trouble at all. But I am always cognizant of my surroundings and whats around me. But, of course, I know people they say, Oh, we parked down here. Why did you park way down there? Why are you parking way down there?
Well, we dont want to be parked in front of a gay bar. Theres only two things in Ybor City. Oneyoure not the Columbia, youre in the middle here, theres nothing else. Those other buildings were almost all empty. That are all open now that are bars, they were all nothing.
CW: So, when did it start developing and becoming more of a commercial district?
JB: I would say late eighties. People started buying those things and fixing them up. A few places would pop in there and you would seebecause right next to I guess where a couple of bars are there used to be a fabric store that used to carry __(?) Fabric. The girls used to go over there to get fabric. Right beside it was a little Cuban caf. They would always go get their lil caf con leche before rehearsals and all.
All that is all gone, but that used to be fun, because we would always get there early, go over there, and get the caf con leche, and then we had to drink that before rehearsals. Mind you rehearsals are at one oclock, but everyone had to work the night before, so they are getting up and coming in.
CW: So, you got there at 1:00, and you did rehearsals in the afternoon, and then had to perform.
JB: Then we had to come back and work at night. Rehearsals usually were like, Wednesdays, Thursdays, or Fridays. So, Wednesdays it might be that you dont come back out to do anything, sometimes Thursdays, too. Fridays usually were a Friday rehearsal, because youre rehearsing the productions and things before the shows on Friday night and Saturday night. They did the big productions there all the time.
CW: So, then would you pick your own song, your own music?
JB: We would pick our own music but we wouldnt pick the productions. Whoever was the show director in charge at the time or the choreographer, they kind of coordinated back and forth between the show director and the choreographer for what productions they were doing. And they would rehearse those. Usually what they did is start rehearsing them one week, so at least theyd get three days, and then three days the next week and ___(?) So, they had good time for rehearsal.
And once you build up a repertoire, you can switch them all around. But they used to put in big, huge elaborate productions there later on. I mean, huge elaborate productions, costuming andback at the time, there was so many people going there, after I was show director, too, we didnt have a budget. I could just say, I need this for production. Go buy it. Go buy it. Didnt need to say anything.
CW: Who ownedokay, you saidwas this when the Parliament House
JB: No, the Parliament House sold it pretty much not too long after I started going there. They sold it to a Frank Caven, who owned bars in Texas. So, he came in and hes the one that actually did all the renovation and everything in there. He is the one responsible for putting it all back together.
Originally his concept of it, all these different bars and they called it the El Goya mall, because there was all these different bars in there. Like, you know, you would gowhen you first walked in you had this enormouseverybody always talks about it, because there hasnt been one like it in Tampa. First bar that you walk into now, I guess, Czar has it as a vodka bar.
CW: Siberia or something?
JB: Right, but it actually used to look like you walked into a cave, with the lag tights, a pond in there. It looked like an actual cave in there. It was called the cave bar. Everybody loved the cave bar. What was so good about all the bars though, no matter where you were at the show was on video. You could see the show. You couldnt hear it but you could see what was going on in the other room.
CW: Thats cool.
JB: That was that room. Then they had the show room. They had the huge disco. They got rid of the country and western bar when they redid it and they put in aon the end there was a small It became several things. At first they tried to do like a little restaurant, then it became where the boy strippers used to be in that room. Changed back and forth in that room.
CW: So, when did it becomewas it Tracks first or Pleasure dome?
JB: It was Tracks first. Pleasure dome was the nineties.
JB: The one thing we never understood still to this day. Im not a business person. If I am going to buy a bar, and that bar has got business, or that bar at the time it was sold had business like six nights a week, and, of course, on the weekends there were lines to get into the building If I want to buy a bar and theyve already got great business, and its a gay bar, and I run a bar somewhere in the city, why would I want to turn a bar, come in and know its been a gay bar since the seventies, turn it to a straight bar? Cause you going to lose all that business. But yet, they kept the drag show on Saturday nights. Very, very strange. Youre going to open a straight bar, but you keep a drag show on Saturday nights. His business plummeted.
CW: So, was this after Frank Caven sold it?
JB: Yeah, after Frank Caven sold it. It was bought by theits been through some smaller owners, too, but the bigger one that came in later on was the people who own it right now, Capitanos. Capitanos own so much land here in Tampa and so much businesses, Radiant Oil, which I am sure you see them everywhere. They own that too.
CW: So, why did Frank Caven sell?
JB: I think because he wasnt here all the time, because he had those bars in Texas. He justhis health was getting real bad too. We always wondered, too, when they rebuilt it they had all these ramps everywhere. Ramps were everywhere in there, and this is before you have the wheelchair laws and stuff like that. This is before that. He had lost his foot and everything. He had all those bars built, because he knew that was happening, so he would be able to get around his bars, clubs. Yeah.
JB: Cause they were everywhere. Ramps were everywhere. I mean, places you would think that are off-limits to the public, but still so he could get around. He probably got a really good deal too. Like I said, its been through several different owners there, smaller owners in between there, you know. A Greek guy owned it at one time. I dont know how long that lasted. Then a guy that was a doctor bought it for his son, because his son wanted to do drag. And it was horrible. I would always catch him up in the dressing room playing around in my clothes.
CW: Oh really.
JB: Yes, and he was not pretty. He was not pretty.
CW: The doctor actually bought it just so
JB: For his son, yes.
CW: to perform there.
JB: Yes, to be in charge of everything.
CW: Oh no.
JB: They loss their asses on that bar, because it went downhill when they had it, really, really bad. I think that is when the Capitanos finally came, and bought it, and took it over. Then it took off.
CW: So, when it became a straight bar where did you go to perform?
JB: Â We still performed in the showroom. I mean, weI worked on Saturday nights there, and eventually they were like Well, I guess they realized they had made a big mistake and they saidbecause Tuesdays used to be the big night there. I said, Well give me Tuesdays. Let me take over Tuesdays. I will be the promoter on Tuesdays. And I said, You get all the liquor sales but I get the door cover. That was a bad mistake for them, because we dont do enough alcohol on Tuesday nights, and they got none of that.
Actually I was able to pay everybody out of the front door, all the people that worked there, and me and all the girls too. And the girls actually got, if it was a really good night on the front door, I even gave the girls extra money on Tuesday nights. So, they were very, very happy then.
But yeah, Tuesdays were the big night. And then they tried to do shows again on Friday and Saturday nights there, too, but as Pleasure dome it did okay, but it never did the business that Tracks did, never did the business that Tracks did. So, he wound up eventually selling it too.
CW: Were there otherwhen did other big gay night clubs start to open up? BecauseChambers?
JB: Chambers was down, way down. It closed. Before that the only big, big bar was the one there on Kennedy Boulevard. It was the Old Plantation. It was a small bar. It was very popular. They built a huge bar on the side of it to make it bigger. But before they built it It was so stupid. They never got a wet zoning for it. So, you could only have liquor on the once side of the bar.
If you went to the other side people said you couldnt take your liquor in there. So that didnt last a whole long time. That was the big bar. Another bar that was big at the time wasnt a huge bar but it was a name bar, which was Renes Lounge. It was on Kennedy Boulevard and it had shows. It was very famous for the shows there. All the performers there were top notch.
They became major title holders throughout the state and the United States too. So that was a very popular bar and it was a unique bar, because you had the main bar when you walked in, then next door you had a show bar, then you go outside, it was all enclosed, and there was a big huge pool bar out there. They actually had a cement pool out there. But you never wanted to go in that water.
CW: Why not?
JB: No, because they used to say that on Sundays all the hustlers would go there and that would be there bath. They would take their Sunday bath in that pool. Yeah, so we didnt go in that water. There was also another bar on Kennedy Boulevard called the KiKiKi, which that was the hustler bar.
CW: Hustler being young male
JB: Male prostitute.
CW: Okay, okay.
JB: Actually believe it or not that was one of the longest running bars in Florida. It just now closed up last month.
CW: I am familiar withI drive past it.
JB: It just now closed. Yeah, last month it closed up. It had been there forever. Apparently it had beenthat was KiKiKi three, so there was two others. I never knew number one, but the second one that was actually when I was coming out it was on Tampa Street, because I had been taken there. And it was a lot bigger then too.
It had a big bar, kind of country like bar, and on Sunday they actually had a little dance room too. But then they moved over to this place, much smaller and for the longest time they didnt have a liquor license. They just had beer and wine. Yeah, for the longest time it was just beer and wine. Im like, I dont want to go there its just beer and wine.
Give me liquor. Thats another thing, for the longest time I didnt even drink when I first starting doing drag. Nothing, I didnt like the taste of alcohol. I didnt like whiskey, I didnt like rum, I didnt like vodka. Of course, nowadays all the vodkas and rums are all flavored. Much better nowadays. Back in those days they didnt have any flavored vodkas and flavored rums and stuff like that.
CW: Were these bars ever raided? Was that still happening in the eighties?
JB: Like for being gay bars? No.
JB: Several bars got raided for having drugs.
JB: And drugs were and really all that happened. No bars were ever raided for being a gay bar and saying, Oh you cant be in here because youre gay orNo. That never happened there. I think almost every bar around, drugs were still prevalent back in those days. Nowadays you cantits not like it was then.
It was out in the front, Oh yeah, there it is Go see that person there, they got drugs. Nowadays, when someone comes up to me, Do you know where I can get? I was like, Are you crazy? Im like, why are you even doing, you know? Im like, no, not around here especially not at our bar now. Maybe some of the bigger bars, maybe, but small but you dont hear about it a lot.
I dont think the drug problem is big like it used to be in the bars, in at least the gay bars, because if it is, its really on the down low, because I dont hear anything about it. You dont see Queens running off to the bathroom going (makes gesture), cause when you would see it, you would likethey would come out of the bathroom and go, they said You have VCR. Hey, whats VCR? Visible Cocaine Residue. You know, underneath your nose. Theyd say, Oh VCR, you knew exactly what that meant, okay.
CW: So did you ever come out to your family?
JB: You know, I never actually came out. They knew. Because I became so popular and soon TV, I mean, I was on TV. I mean, Hello! Doing these things. They knew, but my parents, mother and father, didnt talk about it. My brother and sisters did. And I will say, some of my sisters have been to see the show, my brothers too, but it wasnt really talked about.
This year though, we used to always go to my sisters house for Christmas Eve. We went there this year, and my brothers and sisters have all moved away, except for I only have one sister that lives in Tampa now. Theyve all moved to cold states. Now they all want to move back. But went over there, and thats all they could think about, What are you doing now? Hows the shows doing?
Very common, now its justand my sister actually, when I was in Vegas, she had actually went to a show that I was in in Vegas, seen the show and didnt even know it was me, until after. She goes, Oh, I was just in Vegas. When were you there? I was there. She says, We went and saw this wonderful show andda-da-da And I said, Was there a Dolly Parton impersonator in it? She says, Yeah. I said, Well that was me. (laughs)
CW: Did you live in Vegas or did you travel
JB: Yeah, I lived in Vegas for a while. I lived in Hollywood, California for a while. I lived in Toledo, Ohio for a short period of time. Cause I actually was living in Toledo, because I was going from one show to I was going from that show to a show in San Francisco called Finnocchios, which Finnocchios was a world renowned, it had been around since the thirties. That place had so much history. It was known as the worlds longest running female impersonation review.
When I went there, I was so in shock. Walking in that place was like going backwards in history, because you need to remember, superstars, mega Hollywood stars used to go to see the shows there. I mean, like Betty Davis, Tullulah Bankhead. The owner would tell me stories about these stars that would come in there, some of the drunken times that they had there. But it was an old cabaret.
Its one of the ones where you walk in, you dont see the bar, the bar is behind walls. They come out with waiters. Its all a full cabaret, its a real cabaret. You sit down at tables and chairs then there is stairs, a live band with you. It was a live band. So, actually whenof all the girls in the show when I first started there, they all sang live. I was like, Thank god I dont sing live in the song.
But even though I didnt sing live in the show I was there doing my impersonation. I was doingI was contracted to do Dolly for the show. I did Dolly. At the time I did Charo. Third show was up in the air and I did different things for the third show. But the band would play along with us and it brought more authenticity to the performance.
Later on eventually, I did do live things in the show, like singing some live things, which I have it on video and I keep it out for when people say, Oh, you didnt do that. I say, Heres the video, look. But yeah, Finnocchios wasI learned a lot there too, and I learned a lot from a guy named Joel Herzog. He was a makeup artist. He taught me a lot of makeup.
He worked for Bob Mackey doing all this Bob Mackey beadwork that Bob did for all his clothes. He was an amazing makeup artist and an amazing person to make costumes and things. So, I learned a lot. You learn a lot especially when you are around doing the same thing at night after night after night. You try to perfect your character, perfect what youre doing, and do all that.
CW: So whataround what year was this that you were in San Francisco?
JB: In the nineties, early nineties.
CW: Okay. What was it like to live there?
JB: Oh my god, it was like culture shock to me from being here in Tampa where you dont walk around holding hands or kissing anybody. I walked into San Francisco for the first time when I got there and you get into the gay district I was like, culture shock, because people are walking around hand and hand, boys and girls, walking around hand and hand, kissing in public.
You know, you go down streets that are nothing but gay bars, streets full of gay bars. Gay houses, if you live in that area, all gay people. Gay businesses, the businesses are all totally gay. That was very different from coming from little Tampa, Florida to going to San Francisco and seeing all that. It was like major culture shock, but it was great.
San Francisco was wonderful. It was a beautiful city, just so expensive to live there, very, very expensive. Same thing with Hollywood, very expensive to live there, really expensive. Hollywood wasI had already gotten the culture shock already from San Francisco, so Hollywood was nothing when I got to Hollywood.
I was like, Okay, then. West Hollywood is the big gay district there, which is fun district. Thats where everybodyall the stars want to go party in West Hollywood. I always want to go to West Hollywood, thats the fun part. But yeah, San Francisco was total culture shock to me, but I learned so much living there.
CW: You mentioned in the bookI thought it was interesting that the bar had a rule that you couldnt come in costume. You had to change into your costume when you were here.
JB: They didnt like to hire like, transsexual in a show, because they figure their show is a female impersonation review and their thing with the female impersonator, youre a boy. You do not have any bodywork done from the neck down. You cannot have breasts. Of course, you could have a sex change, but you definitely could not have breasts. You had to come in as a boy and leave as a boy.
Like at Finnocchios, the lady who ran the place, her name was Mrs. Finnocchio. She would only come in on Saturday nights, so we knew her schedule. But the only thing about Mrs. Finnocchio, she was this little teeny-tiny woman, but she after her husband passed away she ran the club. Her grandson basically ran it for her, but she came in Saturday nights sit at that front door taking that money. And she would come in she would wear a different Chanel outfit every Saturday night.
Id never see her wear the same dress, same outfit. Shed always have Chanel, always have Chanel on. But we knew her schedule, so we would know that afterwed just have to wait til after she left, wed stay in the dressing rooms, that we could stay in makeup and go out and party afterwards. You just had to wait til she leaves. If she was there, everything had to come off. You come in as a boy and leave as a boy.
CW: Oh gosh. I was curious what that rule was about.
JB: A lot of shows were strict back in those days. La Cage was that same way too. I worked at La Cage here in Miami and they wanted you to come in as a boy and leave as a boy. And the one in Miami got a little lax there at the end, cause they moved from place to place, and they were noticing that some of the performers, best look-a-likes were you know, they had had hormones and had breasts, so they hired a few.
But usually like at Vegas and the big shows in Vegas, if you had breasts, they dont want you in the show. I remember they made the first exception they made for La Cage was a person named Kelly Michaels. She was such a look-a-like for Madonna. Side by side they looked identical. Kelly had breasts though. They werent real big breasts, but they were breasts.
They made an exception for her, because she lookedthey were so amazing, because she was a great dancer, and she could move, and she looked just like Madonna. And Kelly had been on many major talk shows too. So, they were like, oh, shes got to work for us. Kelly was working up there. But usually in those shows, even right now, I think of the one in Vegas right now, its not really for the ones that have breasts.
Thats not the thing out there. When the straight people come to see the shows out there, they dont want to see a man with tits. They want to see a man in drag that looks like somebody and they can see that they are an illusion. When I did Dolly, of course I had the big tits. I wore a breast plate. It was all rubber. You couldnt tell far, but when you got up close, you go, oh, okay thats not real.
They didnt want anything with anybody with big tits. They wouldnt hire them in the show. Thats like Ru Paul Drag Race now. If you notice everything on there, theyre all boys. Now some of them after they left the show have gone on to get tits and things like that, but Ru Paul doesnt want any transies in the show. And theyve tried to get on that show. She wont have that.
CW: So, what was it like to work in Las Vegas?
JB: Well, Vegas, San Francisco, Hollywood, its all about the same. You know. Its you go in and you do your characters, and its not like the same thing, its not like in a gay bar where you can pick what you want to do. When youre in a structured show like Finnocchios its the same show night after night, because its a different crowd. Same thing about La Cage, same show night after night, different crowd.
And even if you go back and seelike if you go see Divas in Frank Morenos show up there, Franks the MC of the show up there, if you go see it one night and come back three weeks later, youre going to see the same show, and youre going to hear the same monologue, monologue dont change.
It stays the same. The gay bar I am working at, like the gay bar here, my monologue is different every night, every show. Its different. Like, now at Bradleys, two shows a night there. Each show is different, so I dont have to stand on some set monologue. You had to do that when you were in those kinds of shows.
CW: I see. So Ive heard, this is the rumor
JB: Its not true.
CW: (laughs) Ive heard people say that Tampas drag culture rivals other major gay cities.
JB: It does. I dont know why. All the people are like, I want to move to Tampa. Im like, why? Because it used to be there used to be a lot of drag here, a lot of shows. All the bars had shows. But nowadays, right now in Tampa, theres not a lot of bars outside of Ybor City and there is no gay bar, an actual gay bar that has a show except for us.
I mean, the Honey Pot, they dont really have a show-show. Its a little bit of drag once in a while. Its not known for having shows. Were at Bradleys, they have a show bar there. Its known for having shows. The only place that has shows other than that would be Hamburger Marys, but its not a gay bar.
Its a restaurant, and if you go in there on a Friday and Saturday night, you only going to see maybe, I dont know, ten, fifteen percent thats gay in there. Its all straight. Mostly all women that go see the show. They are out there for girls nights out, somebodys getting married, birthday party. Thats why they have the show so early, because their shows are at 8:00 or 8:10 and theyre done.
CW: Right. Wow.
JB: But its nice to work in anlike with Finnocchios and La Cage and all those shows, you do the early shows, you are done and out, and you can go out and party and do what you want to do afterwards. A lot of girls though, some of them go to work at nightclubs afterwards, actual bars. I know like this one girl on Saturday nights at Marys, she goes and works at a Latin club after Saturday nights over there, a later night review.
I was doing that for a while I was working at Marys doing Hamburger Marys as MC and show director there. I was doing two shows at 8:30 and 10:30, and then my first show at Bradleys was 11:30. That was too much. Four shows a night and have to run from one to the other right afterwards. Its like Id run off stage from my shows.
As soon as my second show as over I was running down the street to go down to Bradleys to be able to make it there for the 11:30 show. It was too much. So, I stopped doing the four shows a night. Just doing the two now at Bradleys on Saturdays, two on Friday and one on Thursday, which is enough, because I have a day job too.
CW: Oh gosh.
JB: Yeah, Monday through Friday.
CW: Thats a busy schedule.
JB: I get up every day at six thirty in the morning. Yup, six thirty in the morning.
CW: Is it like an office job?
CW: Oh, okay. Thats a difference.
JB: Yeah, most people they have no idea.
JB: (makes noise). There is only a few there that do. Just a few. And its because they recognize me. Are you I got this one guy that was sitting in front of me, he had just got out of training class. I had been there a year, he sits down, he saysa big huge black guy, and I thought, oh god, I dont know him. He sits down there, after about the second day up there, he looks back at me and goes, I just want to let you know I know who you are. I go, You do? He goes, Yes, Im family. (laughs) Oh, okay, great.
CW: Thats funny.
JB: Cause if they dont tell me, I, you knowhe was so quiet and everything I had no idea.
CW: Wow. So how iswell I mean, then Ybor has really changed from it being nothing.
JB: It was from nothing. It went from being lonely deserted streets with hooligans on the back corners ready to knock you out, kill you even, or rob you, take your jewelry. I heard stories about people taking their jewelry, taking their wallets, breaking into their cars. It is a mini Bourbon Street now. Have you ever been to Bourbon Street?
JB: Ybor City is like awell, with Bourbon Street you have the main street Bourbon Street. You have those off side streets too, kind of like we have the one street here, but its like a mini cleaned up version of Bourbon Street actually. Bourbon Street is very dirty, its a smaller, narrower, but it remains me of that. A nicer cleaner version, much cleaner.
CW: When did it
JB: In the nineties.
CW: Okay. And then the GaYbor thing is relatively
JB: Thats relatively new.
CW: Right, okay.
JB: Thats after Mark and Carrie, who own the MC Film Fest, after they, kind of like, left the Flamingo Resort, when they closed down their store there and they moved their store over to Ybor City. That was the start of the GaYbor district then. There had already been some gay bars in that area. They moved right into that little area it became Ybor-GaYbor. They kind of like pushed the name GaYbor and went forth with that.
CW: Right. You said, in the book you mention a nonI guess when Honey Pot opened and G-bar openeda noncompetition clause that prevented performers from
JB: They didnt want us to work at any other clubs but their clubs. Now when we worked for like, Tracks, you work for them five nights a week, so really you cant. You dont have time, youre working every nights of the week. They didnt mind you working anywhere else as long as it wasnt right in this area.
But there are some clubs in Tampa that wanted you to workif you worked anywhere else, you could work for them one night a week, just one, they didnt want you to work anywhere else. Im like, well this is what you do for a living how can you do that? Thats ridiculous.
I told them, screw em. Bye. I said, I can find work anywhere. I dont have to work for your club. Im going to work here one night a week and you tell me I cant work around the corner on my other nights? I would never do it on a night or schedule it on a night Im working for them, but on my off nights there is no reason I cant. Im an independent contractor.
CW: Right, right. Okay, thats what I was thinking. Like, thats typically
JB: If someone came in town and they were like, well this is how we do it in this city. Im like, well, you know what, that was that city. This is Tampa. Tampas not that that way. Eventually, theyve come around toother clubs have come around to, okay, Â you canbecause they couldnt get any quality entertainers. Cause like, why?
Were not going to work for you. We cant work anywhere else. We will go work for them, because we can other places and bars. Like where Im at now, you know, we only have like, I book mostly its me with different girls, a few girls that work there regularly.
They can go work anywhere else they want to. We dont care. Thats your nights off. Let them do what they want to do. Why not give them that? That is how they make their money. If they work for me one night and they go work for Hamburger Marys the next night, its okay. Our owner doesnt care about that.
CW: It has to be really expensive, so I would imagine you would need
JB: Its very expensive. Some gowns are thousands of dollars. And you see them at the Oscars paying all that money, same thing with us. Rhinestones and sequins are not cheap, neither are wigs. When you figure you got to go on every night, youve got to pay for your shoes, plus your tights you wear, your gowns. You dont just wear this one outfit all night long.
CW: You change.
JB: You change your hair too. Nails, the makeup, all that costs. I mean, it actually costs money to put the makeup on. Its very expensive. I mean, the foundation I use alone thatsand I buy the cheaper stuff, its twenty bucks a tube. Thats just for foundation alone, when youve got to buy everything else, eyelashes and jewelry. Oh, jewelry is very expensive.
The rhinestones, the big earrings, very expensive. So, it costs a lot to make a man look like a woman. Its not a cheap thing to do. I mean, I have a lot of things made for me, which are custom done, so those are even more expensive. Theres a queen out in Vegas that I use a lot. Her name is Coco Vega. She makes incredible gowns, incredible gowns. Those gowns are five, six thousand dollars and up.
CW: Wow, thats incredible.
JB: You can get gowns for twenty thousand. It depends on what you want done and what it is going to look like.
JB: Those things are, yeah. Thats why you seethey have things on Facebook called Drag Swap and Drag Closet, they wear them or something might have them made for pageants and gowns or competitions, they sell them or they want to trade.
CW: Right, wow. Thats neat that the internet allows that to happen.
JB: Yeah, I didnt realize it until a couple of years ago. I was like, Drag Swap, what is Drag Swap? I look on the page, and its like people selling things, and other people making earrings or making gowns. They want to sell them; they put them on there and post them, and sell them, which is good for us. I was like, we have stuff now that we dont use. I put stuff on there and sell it before.
CW: When did Bradleys open?
JB: Weve been openthis is only our third year.
CW: Okay. And there are shows numerous nights of the week, isnt it?
JB: Well, we do shows Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
CW: Okay, I dont know why I thought there were more.
JB: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. And thats the only nights they have that room open. The show room is only open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I think on Sunday night theyre trying to do something called Bear Night. They keep that room open, but its only open to midnight. Other than that there is no show on Sunday nights, just the dance room. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, they dont open that room. They got that whole other side there to use.
CW: Do you think the gay culture has really changed in the past
JB: Oh yes.
CW: Do you need to get that?
JB: I made four new costumes this week. I cant sew so.
JB: Well, you would never know that if you go look in that garage, the garage is the closet. The garage is the closet and then I have a shed out back. Thats another closet. Oh yeah. But, you know, my weight has fluctuated throughout the years. I went from being very thin to being big. So, I have two wardrobes, a thin wardrobe and a big wardrobe.
CW: Yeah, if they cost five thousand dollars you cant get rid of them, have to keep them.
JB: I still have my original Dolly Parton outfit that was custom made for me to work in the shows as Dolly. I look at the waist and its like this tiny. Im going, Oh my god Ill never get into that again.
CW: So, why did you pick Dolly? Was there a reason?
JB: Cause when I first started out people were saying, Oh why dont you do Dolly? You favor her. You know, you favor her. And back in those days I was a lot smaller than I am today. I met her four times.
CW: Oh really?
JB: Yeah. She likes you if you look like her. Now if you do a joking, over-big tittied, big hipshe dont like that. But if you look like her and, you know, like she loves drag queens. If you listen to her albums, at one point she goes some of them look more like me than me. She goesI forgot. She was talking, joking on one of her concerts, she was saying, This is for all the drag queens out there. She changed the name from Jolene, Jolene, she goes drag queen, drag queen, drag queen.
CW: How funny.
JB: And she was very, very nice. She goes, You look a lot like me, just a lot taller. Cause shes so short. But on stage when youre doing illusions there are certain things you can put on stage to get the perspective that makes you look shorter than you are. You know, they cantunless youre right up on them they dont really know.
CW: Okay, you mentioned somethingsorrythat I thought was really interesting. You mention in the book that Ill quote you, Understanding the changing environment requires both the performer and the bar to understand the pulse of the culture present, not in the nation but in their neighborhood. And then you go on to say that what sells in different cities might not really work for Tampa and so forth. I was wondering why you think that is?
JB: Well, when you go to different cities the culture is different in different areas. Thats like what I do here a lot of times, too, you never know what kind of crowd youre going to get. I try to go out before the shows and mingle with the people and see what kind of crowd were going to have. And figure out what kind of numbers I want to do to be able to know this kind of crowd.
Because one night you might look out there and you might walk around, even at Bradleys you might have a bunch of girls out there celebrating. I want to find out: are those straight girls? Or are those lesbians out there? If theyre all a bunch of lesbians, the whole sides full, Im going to do my lesbian songs. Im going to do those.
CW: What are your lesbian songs? (laughs)
JB: Ive got plenty of them. Ive got plenty of them. The favorite one of all is this song that I do, its called The Pussy Cat Song. And actually its about a cat. But its just very innuendo. It goes like, My pussy cat will sit on my front steps, ____, my pussy got wet, wet pussy. And each one is different like that.
CW: I see.
JB: So, thats one of my favorite ones. That number was handed down from my drag mother to me. She handed me a couple numbers. Another of my famous numbers I do, its called You Had Boobs. And believe it or not I do it topless. I make tassels go in opposite directions and flex my tits up and down.
But I dont have tits, thats just an illusion of pushing everything up and everything out, and then you contour with makeup. And on stage you look up and you go, Oh my god, they look huge, but I dont really have any at all. Yeah. So, that was handed to me from my drag mother too. It was a big number that she used to do. Those two songs. Some of my trademark songs that I still do that a lot of people dont do.
CW: What do you think about drag culture nationwide? Do you think it changed?
JB: Its changed too, oh, a lot. You see more now of the club-kiddish look. Theyre in drag, but theyre not really a woman-drag. Its kind ofsome things you see on Ru Pauls Drag Race, even some of them. Like Angina, whatever her look.
CW: And Raja. Raja was like that.
JB: Yeah, its very different. Back earlier that never would have sold on stage. You had to go out there, and you had to look like a woman, and be feminine. Now its a little bit different, and its changed, you know. What used to be just that, now they opened it up to a lot more of the androgyny looks and theres more drag kings out there now. Back earlier youfar and few between you would ever hear of a woman doing it, very, very few times.
Even in the lesbian bars, it was drag shows. A big bar in Ybor, a big bar that used to be here in Tampa, which was huge lesbianwe used to call it BJs. Everyone was like, why is a lesbian bar called BJs? I always asked that too when I firstI didnt know. So, why is that called BJs? The owners name was Barbara Jean.
CW: Oh, that makes sense.
JB: Yeah, after you find out you understand. But, um, huge shows there, really big shows there. They always had really big drag shows. No drag king shows then. You never saw that. Now its more prevalent nowadays. That never was around before. Its more of these younger kids doing it now. And theyre coming out with blue hair, pink hair, green hair. You never used to see that before. It was always blonde, brunette, red head. You didnt see all the different color hair.
The outrageousness that they are doing nowadays, the paint, the eyes jacked back all the way back to here, and back in those days you painted and you looked like a woman and be a woman.
JB: It was always that. Nowadays its totally changed like that. You still have your queens out there, the glamour queens, that go out there and thats what they do. You dont see them like that. Thats not their style. Its the newer kids that are like that.
JB: If you want to be in the scene and do that, you know, you got to be entering pageants and all, youre going to have to look like a woman and go that way. Because I know a lot of kids that start off as club kids, they crossed over to drag. They go, Oh, Ill never do drag, Ill never put tits on, and all that. Yeah, they did. And now they are doing drag, full drag.
JB: So theyve crossed over that marker. But yeah, its totally different nowadays.
They had no stage presence. They had no It was like, we were ready to get up and leave. And there were a couple of girls there, the glamour girls in the show, and they were entertaining. They came out. They were seasoned, they had been in the business for a while, and they were entertaining, but the other onesyou see them, but they dont last a long time.
You see, because theyre young, and they see the queens up on stage and they want to be them, but they want to do it kind of outrageously and thats just their way of expressing their self. And they do that. They express themselves that way for a while and
JB: They either cross and become queens, or they dont do it anymore.
CW: Do you ever see older people from the El Goya days? Do you see them at Bradleys?
JB: Bradleys isyou know, were twenty-one and over there. So, the only day when were younger is on Thursdays, but twenty-one and over, so we get a lot of people that come in there, they dont like going to the Gbar and Honey Pot where there is eighteen and the kind of music they play. They dont like that. So, a lot of them come over toI see a lot of them over at Bradleys, lots of them that come in there.
But then again, a lot of times weve held some reunion shows over at Bradleys and people have come out that I havent seen in years and years. I ask them, Oh my god, where you been? Well, Im still living here in Tampa. They just dont go out.
CW: Oh no.
JB: They dont go out anymore. Theyre either married and staying at home with their other half, or they just dont go out. So many people theyll come out once in a blue moon. Oh, I stay home. Ive got a roommate that used to be a roommate of mine, he used to come out every single night with me, and he was always at the bars and da-da-da-daand hes not that old. And I told him, What do you do?
Oh, I just sit at home. I dont go out anywhere. Im like, Are you with anybody? No. I just dont want to go out. I go, Okay. What are you meeting anybody online or something? Is that what you are doing? You know. He says, No I just really stay at home and just enjoy the home life and dont go out to clubs anymore. So, a lot of people are like that, but then some Ive seen that come out at Bradleys, theyre there every single week.
Theyve been coming out forever. And believe it or not, even the crowd that used to be there at the El Goya and at Tracks and all that, when it became Czar a lot of them still when there. Because Czar was still a little alternative, and even though they moved now across the street to the Ritz, they still get that same crowd over there too. I havent been in there yet to see the renovations they did but
CW: Its nice.
JB: I saw Sandy, who runs that place, last week and she said, You got to come over and see it. I said, I am, I am. I just havent hadusually when I get to Bradleys and I start my makeup, the night starts, and thats it. I dont have a chance to run across the street between shows. But I heard its real nice up there. Its a shame about the old building, about Tracks and all. Its the same owner, but apparently he is going to turn it into offices.
CW: Right, yeah.
There are enough offices in Ybor as it is. They were going to turn, we had heard, half of over in Centro Ybor, the movie theater They were supposed to make the movie theater smaller, cause no one really goes there a lot, and they were going to turn that into office buildings.
JB: Ybor has a bad problem with parking too, so.
CW: Yeah, yeah.
JB: Very bad problem with parking, so I wouldnt think, oh, put offices in.
CW: I wonder why he decided to turn it into office building.
JB: I heard I dont know if its a fact, but I heard it had something to do with some kind of grant they were getting to restore it and to do something like that with it. He owns both buildings. He owns the Ritz Theater also too.
CW: Right. I see.
JB: So, it was nothing for him to go (makes gesture).
JB: So, they went from that to moving over there. Yeah.
CW: Are you still friends with the show cast that you used to work with?
JB: Oh yeah, theyre still around. I have them work at Bradleys a lot. Now some of the ones from the El Goya, theyre not around anymore or theyve retired. Weve held a couple of retirement shows at Bradleys. Like, one of the performers used to work at El Goya was Gilda Golden, she had a retirement show there. Packed, you couldnt move in that place. Tiffany Middlesex, when she retired, we had her benefitnot benefitbut her retirement show there. Packed the house down.
We actually had a Renees reunion show there. I had an El Goya Reunion show there. Packed. Thats when you see those people that havent been out for years, and you ask them, and theyre like, Oh, I stay home, I dont come out very often. I had mywhen my book came out, we had a big book signing that night, and a lot of it I was just sitting there all night long just signing books, just signing books.
A lot people I had never seen before, I hadnt seen in forever, they came in to pick up their copies of the books. Because we just gave it to them there, or they could pick it up, or we could send it to them. So yeah, so, see them out every now and then, not a whole lot.
CW: Is there anything else that you would like to add? Any fun stories or
JB: Well, there is a lot of stories. I dont remember the ones in the book. I havent read the book in so long now. But, you know, I just thinkI feel very blessed that I was a part of all this since I was, you know, when I first came out. I was seventeen years old. I became a show director in a major establishment. If I hadnt started there and was doing dragI mean, Ive traveled around the world.
Ive worked in Rio de Janeiro. Ive worked in England. Ive worked in Amsterdam. If I had never had done that, started that, I never would have been able to travel those places that Ive gone and do that. So, I am thankful that drag has given me that opportunity. Now drag for me, its a job. Im notI dont want to be a female. I dont want to be a woman.
I have no inclination to be. I like being a performer. I like the rush that I get performing on stage. The rush that I get performing on stage, that to me whyany performer would sayto me when I go on stage, Im acting as the person I become when the spotlight hits me or when I have to walk by the bar. Because a lot of times Ive met people, talk to them during the show, I can be out of drag out in the show, they dont even know who I am.
You know, like okay, we were just talking a while ago, then they hear the voice and they go, Oh Joey, okay. Im like, Yeah, its me. But yeah, Ive been able to do everything, and I am just glad that I was a part of Ybor City, and the culture and the history. I was there when it was changing, and all the things that its done, and its been through some majorits totally so different than it was when I first started from day one to empty little streets in Ybor City on Seventh Avenue, and it was so scary you wouldnt walk, walk across the street is about all you want to do, to now.
I can walk in drag down Ybor City down Seventh Avenue. Of course, youre going to get looks and everything, but not like, you know, at least youre safe now when youre walking home. Because I used to work at Marys and Bradleys I would walk from one to the other, not that much of a distance there, but still. The streets are packed on Saturday nights out there.
Yep, and the parades and things like that, watching them how theyve gotten bigger from, you know, the seventies to what they are today. And the one thing I really miss too, theyve really screwed up the Guavaween thing.
CW: I know. There wasnt a
JB: There was no parade last year. But you can have a parade for St. Patricks Day, but you cant have one for Guavaween, which is one of the biggest busiest days of the year. You have one for New Years Eve. Guavaween that is one of the biggest. I dont understand. It used to be so big and then they let it getwhat happened is they let that company take over and put a fence around Ybor City. Thats what all screwed it up.
Because you had a fence around Ybor City, then you had to payfirst of all, you had to pay to get into Ybor City, to get into the fence. But you had to pay an outrageous fee to park. So, you done paid to park, paid to get into Ybor City, now youre going to have to pay to get into clubs too. At first it did okay, and people were like, were not paying all that money. Were not coming out that night. They put a fence around, thats what did it in.
How theywhat they should do is go back to the way it __. They should do the parade with like it used to, have the bands and everything as it used to be around there, and have it all open, dont charge anybody. I mean, I remember one year when they had it, it was called the Mama Guava Stumble.
We were on the front page of the Tampa Tribune with Mama Guava, me and my whole cast out there, and because we used to be in the parade with floats and everything every year. Thats another thing; you could be in parades and floats nowadays. They would throw bricks at you back in those days and things. You would be scared to be on a float out there. Oh god, no.
CW: When did you start being able to be in
JB: In the nineties.
CW: In the nineties, okay.
JB: Back in the seventies, oh no, you didnt want to get in a float out there. They would throw things at you. You were afraid youd get shot. You never knew who was out there.
CW: Thats true.
JB: You never know what theyre thinking. Maybe just someone just doesnt like gay people at all, period. You know. See somebody out there, oh thats a man dressed in drag. (makes sound) You never know. Thats why Ive changed a lot. I am more cautious nowadays.
JB: More cautious cause some crazy people out there. Yeah, usually nowI used to, I would always go home in drag. You would always see me driving. I would paint here at the house. I would go there in drag. Now, at Bradleys, I go in there as a boy, put my make-up on there, and I take it off before I leave. I dont want to drive in drag.
JB: Especially with the police, the way they are nowadays too, I dont want to be stopped in drag. I have some stories about police officers too, thatd stop me when I was in drag when I used to do that, a little racy to say.
CW: (laughs) Really?
JB: Oh yeah. I used to live on Davis Island and I got stopped by this one cop. I had just had a flat tire too. I got stopped right before going under the bridge. He goes, Maam, can you get out of the car? Maam. Maam. Can I have your drivers license, maam? Sir? (Laughs) And he starts looking. Hes like I was like, Yes, I actually live right over the hump here, because he saw me standing outside my car.
Because the car had a flat tire, and that area at that time a lot of prostitution was going on in that area. But it was boys, not girls. You know. And heI guess he might have thought that I wasI said, Oh, this is my car. I said, Im going to call a cab. I am going to be right there. He said, Well, if youd like, Ill give you a ride home. He said, You only live over the hump. He says, I get off of my shift in fifteen minutes. Well, that was it.
Yeah, he used to come over and see me quite frequently. I remember my neighbor at one point called the cops, said thatbecause we were downstairs and he lived upstairs, saying that we were loud. The cop that happened to come out that time was him.
CW: Oh wow.
JB: And he was like, I was like, you know the guy He goes, Oh, Ive been over here when that guy upstairs was lifting his weights. He went over there and told that guy, Dont you ever call us on something like this again or youre going to jail. We never heard anything else from that guy.
JB: So, its nice to know somebody.
CW: So, it was relatively positive.
JB: Oh yeah.
CW: Although maybe scary when you were pulled over.
JB: Oh yeah. Well, I was already stopped so, but Ive been pulled over before too. A lot of times when youre stopped, once you hand them your license, and they see that youre a guy, a lot of times they dont even deal with you. They dont want to arrest you, because they dont know where to put you in there.
JB: Especially, if youre in drag, youre not living as a woman, they dont know what to do with you. So, a lot of times, theyll say, Okay you were doing this, or you got a tail light out, you know, take care of this and da-da-da-da, because they just dont want to have to deal with it.
There was one raid; I remember it happened at Tracks. They got raided for drugs. Now our dressing room is way up behind the stage. If you didnt know where it was at, you wouldnt know where it was at. I remember when they did the raid. We were sitting up there getting ready for a show and we heard what was going on. So, I said, Lock the doors. Because there is a stairway down this way and one up there. I said, Lock the doors; well wait until they come get us.
Were sitting there. We saw the lights. We could see the little cracks of the lights all up on the bar and we could hear them. I said, Girls, thats a raid out there. They are raiding the bar. Just sit here. I am like, If you got anything on you, you better get rid of it now. People are like, no, no, were fine. Well just wait up here. So, we sat there waiting for an hour. Nothing. An hour and a half go by.
I said, This is ridiculous. I said, Theyve raided the whole bar and they have not come up to us to see whats going on up here or just to check the area to make sure its secure. So, I go down the steps, and I open the door, and Im like, Hello, hello, hello. An officer come around the corner, Where did you come from? Dressing room. He goes, Theres people up there? I said, Yeah, there is a whole show up here. We have shows here. And I said, Â And we are about to go on.
Calls his superior, they come over there, and they all walk upstairs. They look at us and some of the girlsthey are transies, they live halfand they said, Anybody got anything on them up here? I was like, Of course not, no. Okay, let them go out the back door. They want to touch anyone or frisk us. They didnt want to do anything to us. They were like, go out the back door.
Because one of the exits were right around the corner so they just followed us out the back door. They were there to raid the bar for drugs. They werent concerned with the queens. But that was so funny we sat there for so long. I was like, for somebody securing the area, they sure didnt secure it very much. Because they looked behind the curtain and there was likeyou look behind the curtain and theres a little area there, and they didnt realize the staircase goes up.
In the back it was just a small little doorway that leads up to another staircase that goes up to the I guess they were locked. I guess they figured, oh, well just leave them. Yeah. Sit up there had to wait that long to do all that. And, of course, like I said, they didnt want to touch us, didnt want to frisk us, nothing, just go out the back door. We were okay with that.
CW: Right, yeah.
JB: We were fine with that. Well see you later. Bye, thank you. Of course, the bar was opened up the next night. But everybody had their little stories. What happened to the queens? Cause no one knew. They were waiting for us to come out, sitting out there waiting. We were sitting there waiting. Cause we had friends. They didnt know what happened. What happened to the girls? What happened to the girls?
CW: We made it out.
JB: We made it out fine. We made it out fine. That was one the big raids. I think it got raided twice. But that was back in the days when they had, like I said, that was drugs at all the bars. Back in those days they were going to different bars. They were hitting all the bars, hitting all the bars.
It was word around the streets, Oh yeah, a bar is going to be hit on Seventh Avenue. Because drugs were so prevalent back in those days.
CW: Right, right. Wow.
JB: Not like it is today. You dont really find it out there. I guess the news drugs and everything on the market people are doing. Like I heard about that one, what is that one? Its in a song. Its a girls name.
JB: Molly! When I heard the song about molly, I had no idea it was about drugs. I was like, what is that song? Who is molly? Who is molly? I had no idea until somebody told me. Oh boy, that tells you how out of the loop I am about drugs. I didnt know anything about that.
CW: Yes (laughs).
JB: I had no idea about that. Now I know. Now when they say molly I know what theyre saying. Do you know where molly is at? No, I dont. She is not here. I dont know where she is at.
CW: Well, thank you so much for letting me interview you.
JB: Oh yeah, no problem.
CW: I really appreciate it.
JB: Anything else? Any other question you want ask, or anything about the book that youve got marked over there?
CW: Oh yeah, I have a lot. Yeah, these are my own notes.
JB: Do you want to ask anything about the book?
CW: Little points that I thought were interesting. There was another
JB: They want me to do an audio book.
CW: Really? And it will read from this?
JB: Yeah. And do it like aactually also Ive been contacted by a guy that does short film. He wants to make this into a short film. He was in a bar last week, he was looking for some extras for some other things. He says what he wants to do is dohe wants me to play me like now, but he wants to find someone to play me when I was seventeen years old when I first started out as the book does. He is going to find someone to play me in the middle and then I can play myself at the end.
CW: Right, that would be awesome.
JB: I said, Good luck with that.
CW: That would really be awesome.
CW: Yeah, I really enjoyed the book. It was soso much information about
JB: Its a lot of history of Ybor in there. I must say thats what was a very good thing about the history about Ybor in there. And we tried to incorporate what was going on in the times, like the music that was playing at the time, talk about the different songs that were on. Â The very first song that I did was Yvonne Ellimans If I cant have you in drag, that was the very first song I ever did, If I cant have you.
CW: Yeah, I liked it because this is the only source really of
JB: There is nothing else out there about the gayyou would think someone would write a book about community and clubs and bars and everything. Thats why we wanted to do this, because I said, like he was saying, You played a big part in it so this it will incorporate Ybor City into your book.
CW: Right, right.
JB: Because there was a lot of research that had to go on too, in that book to see like the different owners that we had through because I cant think of them off the top of my head. We had to go through public archives and find out. And its actually in there. You see how thin I was in some of those pictures too. Oh, the spaceshipremember the spaceship I told you, its in there. Did you see that?
CW: It is. Is it in the beginning?
JB: Its no
CW: I did start flipping from the middle though.
JB: There it is. Remember I told you she looked like Marilyn Monroe, thats her.
CW: Thats so funny that they would make
JB: They were modular homes, and they had to be airlifted in with one of those big crane helicopters that do that.
CW: Thats funny.
JB: But yeah, same thing as 2000 Odyssey thats on top of the building. Of course, they gutted it, so I dont know what it looks like now. Im sure its not like a house.
CW: Right. No, probably not.
JB: But yeah, thats Candy, yeah. She is the one that lived in the space ship.
CW: And is thisthis was published by ais this a gay
CW: Cause I noticed the other books.
JB: He doesnt even live here. Oh, the one I told you about that taught me a lot. This is at Finnocchios in San Francisco, actually this is one of the dressing rooms at Finnocchios in San Francisco. Like, this is a character that I used to do, you know, thats me doing Tammy Faye Baker. I couldnt do that now because most people would say, Who is Tammy Faye Baker? You know.
CW: Right, right.
JB: But she used to be a hit when I used to do that at the straight places. I mean, I did the whole crying bit like she did and everything, so.
CW: Oh, Flirt. I remember Flirt.
JB: Flirt, yup. They had a show there. It was a big huge show.
CW: Oh my gosh.
JB: Darlene ran that one and Cherokee Club. That was over atthat was at Honey Pot. And thats Tea Cup there with me.
CW: So cool.
JB: And El Goya.
CW: I wonder if theyre still in that building.
JB: Theyre still there.
CW: Oh really, they are going to leave them with the office.
JB: Well, they have to. They are a historical landmark, that building is.
CW: Oh so they cant take
JB: The only thing thatthey have to stay there. They can cover them over. From what I was told they can cover them over. They can hide them, but they cant remove them. Theyve got to stay there. There is onlyI think there is only five there or so.
Yup, thats the only thing that wasI used to have a chair from that place that I saved, but I have no idea whatever happened to that. I do have one of the last mirror balls that hung up in there when it was Pleasure Dome though. It used to hang above the stage. I told the owners, I asked, Can I have that mirror ball? He said, Yeah, go ahead and take it.
CW: Thats awesome that you go to keep it.
JB: And I actually still havethat is a turntable from Tracks, Pleasure Dome.
CW: Oh really?
JB: Thats a turntable from there. When they used to use records. That came in there. Yup.
CW: I didnt even thinkwow.
JB: Thats from there, yeah. I have a few things still fromI dont remember what else, how much that I have from there. That was the major thing, that and that mirror ball. I mean, think of all the drag songs that played on that. Can you imagine we also had to bring in records to play every night when we did shows? So you would see queens back in those days, they had those little, you know like the bags you see at Publix, a little bag you can take your groceries, a thinner version of that.
Everybody would have all their albums in it, because you have to have your albums in that. Thats another thing that has changed really big. When I first started there was albums, and all things on reel-to-reel. All the clubs had a reel-to-reel player that was it. Then it switched over to cassette. Then everything was on cassette players. It was all cassettes and then still records.
Nowadays you dont see a turntable much at all at the clubs anymore. Its all on the compact disc, and they are doing it that way now. Another thing that made a major change. Nowadays you can make your own mixes on your computer. I do that. Before you could neverif you did anything you had to do, mix it on a cassette tape, stop, pause, and unless you had a DJ with turntables that you could actually mix.
CW: Right, oh wow.
JB: Yeah, I remember a lot of girls they were the queen of the pause button. They would do the mixes and they would pause (makes noise) and copy. Yes.
CW: That is a lot of preparation.
JB: Yeah. Nowadays you can do the mix on the computer and cut, paste, da-da, youre done. So much easier. You can blend it all in perfect, never could do that before. That is why there is so many mixes nowadays with all those queens out there, because they can do it on the computer and its really good. Other than when you have cassette players and whatever. All the bars had cassette players and reel-to-reel. Of course, you could never find anything to play those on anymore. If you go to a music studio, probably theyd do that.
CW: Right. Or have them transfer it.
JB: I have several things, that when my drag mother passed away, her other half gave me. I inherited her wardrobe and her jewelry, and a bunch of her old tapes, but they are all on reel-to-reel. So back in those days I was able to get it put it on a cassette, so it was on a cassette. And then eventually later on I converted it from cassette to a CD. In order to save it.
CW: Your drag mother was Brenda Dee.
JB: Brenda Dee.
CW: And how long had she been doing drag?
JB: Oh my God. She had been doing drag ever since I had known her. I mean, she had been doing dragand she was a preachers son. Yeah, preachers boy.
CW: In Tampa? Did she ever talk about
JB: No, she didnt. Their family didnt mention it. They didnt talk about her family really at all because in those days you didnt want to talk about it. All kept hush, hush. Â You just knewher close friends knew that she came from that background because she knew my background that I came from.
CW: Right, and did she grow up here in Tampa?
JB: No, she didnt grow up here in Tampa. I dont remember where she grew up at. I just remember from heractually it was so strange. She started off here, well not started off. She started off someplace else in Florida, but she winded up at Parliament House, and Parliament House owned this place. They brought her down here to be show director and so she was show director down there for a long time.
And then she left and went somewhere else, and then she actually worked for La Cage actually in L.A. She was doing comedy out there. She was doing these two routines; one of them actually was the boob song. Thats where I got it from. She was doing that and something else, and she got home one night from work and her other half and her were playing cards, and she had a massive heart attack.
CW: Oh my gosh.
JB: And we neverafter she moved there to be at La Cage and work the big times, we never saw her again. Thats when Tommy came back and I inherited all of herit was really sad when he came back. On the plane he had her ashes and her makeup case. He hands me the makeup case.
He was like, You will carry on in Brendas footsteps. He says, Shell be very proud of you. I am sure she would be now becauseI went to heights where she never even got to go to. She was on the way up there. She was working for La Cage out in L.A., hello. They were very happy about that, moved out there. I dont think she was out there that long, maybe six months. You never know.
CW: Right. Was she a lot older than you?
JB: Oh yeah.
JB: Oh yeah, oh yeah, she was older. I am trying to think what the age difference was. Maybe twenty years. Twenty years difference, yeah. But thatshe was so creative. She could sew, she did hair, she did flower arrangements. She did remodelingnot remodeling, but the house decorating. She could make your drapes for you; she could do anything like that. She was creative, very, very creative about that. Like I said, I cant even sew. I can hot glue. I cant sew.
Thats why I will come up with some of my ideas for some of my costumes and I can tell them how I want it, or what to make, but I cant sit there and actually make it. One of them that was living here, Josslyn Summer, she lived with me for a long time. She never could sew either, and one day were out at Walmart she goes, I want to learn to sew so bad. And I was like, Ill buy a sewing machine if you learn how to sew.
Then we went and bought a sewing machine, she went out and had a friend teach her, and shes been sewing ever since, and makes amazing costumes. She makes some of my costumes still too for me. Actually she used to live her until about four months ago. She got married and moved off with herwhich I am very happy for her that she has her husband now.
She was always very sad, and very depressed and lonely. Now shes happy. Theyve been together about a year now. She wanted to wait til she moved out because she goes, I know when somebody moves out youre going to let someone move in. They wont move out of that house. Usually my roommates stay here forever. Ive got one up here that has been here for ten years and actually this one moved in after she moved out.
Thats my ex. Were still best friends. As long as hes got a job and paying rent, its okay with me. And besides we still have our dogs together. Hes got one there and I take the other two outside, and their big dogs. I dont know why, I used to always have small dogs, small dogs. Weve got big dogs. I love these dogs to death. They are like my children. And the one sleeps in bed with me every night. She weighs ninety pounds. She is like a person.
CW: What kind of dogs?
JB: Well one looks just like lassie. And the other one is a boxer, pit, and something else.
CW: That is a big dog, yeah.
JB: Thats a big one. Thats Sasha. Shes the biggest one of them all. But they are both very smart. I am amazed too about how smart the collie is. You can talk to her and its like she understands what you are saying. Im like, wow. But yeah, theyre my babies. Those are my babies.
CW: Well thanks so much.
JB: Well if you have any other questions too, feel free if you want to ask me over the phone and I canOh I forgot to say this or da-da. You can always call me and I can always tell you.
CW: Thank you.
JB: No problem at all.
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