Rose Maddox sings with the Blue Water band during the final show at the Riverbank Clubhouse in May of 1984.
May 15, 1984
People from all over the valley flocked into its doors to hear the voices of country stars Ernest Tubbs, Kitty Wells, Johnnie Cash, Hank Snow, Hank Williams, Sr., Bill Monroe and Merle Haggard. Even local celebrities like Marvin Rainwater and Chester Smith came to the Riverbank Clubhouse-all during the facility's heyday between 1947 and 1957. A sign on the door said it all: "Keep out if you don't want to have fun!"
But, the old Riverbank Clubhouse on Sierra Street, between Second and Third is no more. However, nearly 1,500 people showed up May 5 to hear a final show, featuring former Modesto vocalist Rose Maddox.
The music extravaganza was not actually held inside the clubhouse; it's been condemned. The event was actually held outside ...in front of the building, next to two semi-trailers.
Riverbank Clubhouse Remembered
KTRB radio engineer Clyde Michaels said, "We did it in the street." The Modesto station broadcast the event live for one hour. The days' sponsor was the Children's Crisis Center of Stanislaus County. The seven-hour event also featured an autograph table, food booths, souvenir photos and a variety of music.
Old timer "Yosemite Sam" Cordray was also there and called it "pure country" and a homecoming. He remembers when the clubhouse was a theatre. The first movie he saw there, he recalls, was a Western movie with Ernest Tubbs and Charles Starret called "Riding West." He remembers dancing, too - "If you would have been here, you would have seen some real fun." Was it considered a rough place? "Sure, they got it in a rowdy era, but it wasn't as rowdy as the people let on now about it. It really was a family deal. Kids went, along with their folks. It wasn't that bad."
Mark Schultz was the last owner of the Riverbank Clubhouse. He kept the place open until 1961. Since then, the building has been used for office and storage space. But the walls of the old building, which was probably built circa 1917, are coming down; the roof leaks badly and the hardwood floor has rotted.
And, like "Laughing Sal" at the long-closed Playland-at-the-Beach in San Francisco...the voices of the great Western singers at the Riverbank Clubhouse have also faded into memory.
Over a thousand people attended the Riverbank Club House party May 5, 1984 (Courtesy of Clyde Michael)
L-R Unk, Tom Taylor lead guitarist of the band Blue Water, Glenn Stepp, Unk., Clyde Michael KTRB's Chief Engineer.
(Courtesy of Clyde Michael)
Brochure courtesy of Betty Bench of Modesto, CA.
Riverbank Clubhouse Facts:
The building originally housed a theater which was abandoned by movie-goers in the mid 1940's when the Del Rio Theater was built in Riverbank.
John McDonald, of Riverbank, took over the building when the theater closed and converted it to a dance hall which he called the Riverbank Clubhouse.
John McDonald had his own band made of up of area musicians and was responsible for booking headline entertainers from across the country.Entertainers like Ferlin Huskey and Johnny Cash and his partner Luther Perkins (billed as the Tennessee Two).
In the 40's and 50's entertainers like Cash and Huskey were considered stars, but not superstars, and played the a Clubhouse because they needed the work.
The clubhouse was located in the 200 block of Sierra between second and third street in Riverbank. The door on the east side of the was the entrance for entertainers.
Entertainers played and sang on a small stage no more than 15-20 feet wide and their dressing room wasn't much bigger than a closet.
The legal capacity of the building was 300 which was routinely exceeded during major performances which drew as many as 2,000 people in paid admissions with more people coming and going during the performances.
Ticket prices ranged from $2.25 - $3.00 for local talent to $18 to $20 for the stars.
The biggest star to appear at the Clubhouse was Hank Williams, Sr. Others included Ernest Tubb who drew a crowd of 2200 and Little Jimmy Dickens who attracted nearly 2500 fans.
Rose Maddox, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Carlyle, Merle Haggard , Chester Smith, Glenn Stepp, Smiley Burnett (Gene Autry's partner) and others also appeared.