You are here: Home>KM Interviews...>Jerry Jarrett Part 1
Jerry's father-in-law and longtime promotional right hand man, Eddie Marlin, a legendary wrestler in the area in his own right, also assists with the construction business, one that has done quite well over the last few years. The business also includes another Jarrett son, Jason, as well as longtime wrestling star James J. Dillion.
2001 WCW was on the ropes from poor management and lack of concern from
ownership. Jarrett put together a group with plans to purchase the beleaguered
promotion. AOL/Time-Warner officials though opted to sell the company to Vincent
K. McMahon. The sale meant that what McMahon began publicly unfolding in late
1983 and into 1984 with a national expansion had finally come to fruition. There
was only one major wrestling company in the United States.
2002, Jerry Jarrett put together another company and announced the birth of NWA
TNA (Total Nonstop Action). This group struck a deal with the In-Demand
pay-per-view company to present weekly pay-per-view shows each Wednesday night
in a two-hour block for $9.95. This means an average of four pay-per-view shows
a month, at least eight hours worth, for $40.00, compared to one monthly three
hour WWE pay-per-view at approximately $30.00-$35.00. On June 19, the company
debuted this project. Since then such established stars as Jeff Jarrett, Ken
Shamrock, Scott Hall, Buff Bagwell, Jerry Lynn and Brian Christopher, among
others, have appeared on the NWA TNA shows. The fledgling promotion has also
allowed fans to see rising talent such as A.J. Styles, Christopher Daniels,
David Young, Chris Harris, James Storm, Low Ki, K-Krush and Takao Omori, among
others. Many of the young talent is being developed in what is being called the
X division, an effort by the promotion to get over the talents of those of a
lighter weight class, something the major companies have failed in doing the
past twenty years. To top all this off, the promotion has also used legends such
as Jackie Fargo, Bob Armstrong, Dory Funk, Jr., Harley Race, Ricky Steamboat and
others in various on-air segments.
NWA TNA began nearing its pay-per-view debut, Jerry Jarrett began appearing on
several web sites. In particular, Jarrett began appearing on the Wrestling
Classics message board. Jarrett answered questions about NWA TNA, as well as a
number of questions regarding the "old days". Visitors there have been
able to read Jarrett's side on a number of issues including his brief heel stint
in Alabama, how he came to work a scaffold match in the early 1970s, working
with a group of promoters in 1984 to combat the expansion efforts of Vince
McMahon's WWF, his near purchase of the AWA, his dealings with the Von Erich
family as well as stories and thoughts on such stars as Stan Frazier, Ken Wayne
and Eddie Gilbert and even some discussion of the controversial hiring of Vince
Russo by his new group. Jarrett has also stood in the fray and accepted praise
and criticism about how his new company is doing.
the way, I came into contact with Jarrett. He had indicated that he had visited
Kayfabe Memories, where as many of you know, is a site dedicated to the history
of wrestling's regional territories and where for the past two years I have
detailed much of the history of his promotion that operated in Tennessee from
1975-1989. I then asked Jarrett for an interview for Kayfabe Memories. Jarrett
responded by saying "I really enjoyed the memories you brought back to me.
I commend you for your detail. Those were some great times for me. I'd love to
talk to you about those times. My memory has never been good as to details, but
reading your recount brought memories back like it was only yesterday."
the course of the last few weeks I have been in contact with Mr. Jarrett and
what follows is a Kayfabe Memories exclusive, a two part retrospective of Jerry
Jarrett's wrestling career, his promotional career as well as his thoughts on
the current wrestling scene especially his promotion, NWA TNA. It is the
perspective of someone who has seen the business from many angles and his
thoughts and memories are captured here and represent one of professional
wrestling's most memorable and durable personalities.
part one of this two part interview, Jerry Jarrett discusses the early part of
his career, dealings with Roy Welch, Eddie Graham, Nick and George Gulas, as
well as sharing some memories of a young Jerry Lawler. Jarrett also comments on
some of the top stars he grew up watching and ended up working with early in his
career. The interview though begins with a few questions about Jarrett's new
project, NWA TNA.
Let's start in the present, describe
the focus of NWA TNA. What goals do you have for the group?
Jeff and I think the WWE is great entertainment. However, we both feel that
there are wrestling fans that the WWE does not serve. I personally enjoy
traditional wrestling and feel that there are many fans that do also. This is a
big world with many various tastes and opinions and we think the business is big
enough for two wrestling companies. Our concept is very different from WWE. We
feel that the next evolution in television is that broadcast products will go
directly to pay-per-view as we are doing. It's difficult when you are the first
at anything, so we knew the road would not be easy. The cost associated with
starting a wrestling program for broadcast television and then building a fan
base is very, very expensive. Each segment of your broadcast television show is
as expensive as a pay-per-view show. Therefore, the start-up cost alone are too
expensive unless you're a public company like AOL/Time-Warner. Our concept will
allow us to begin a company with a core group of fans and grow. We feel that
with the great wrestling talent that is available, we will develop a following
much faster than most think.
Sell today's wrestling fans on why they should watch NWA TNA.
It is without a doubt the best two hours of pay-per-view wrestling for $10.00
anywhere on earth. NWA TNA gives the fans eight hours of great wrestling for
under $40.00 per month. WWE and formerly WCW offered three hours of wrestling
for about $35.00. NWA TNA is a smart buy for the wrestling fans. Besides the
cost factor, NWA TNA feels that we have some of the greatest wrestlers in the
Sell longtime fans, many of whom are burned out on the WWE, on why they should
watch NWA TNA.
If you miss great wrestling matches, if you miss traditional wrestling matches,
you will find what you're missing each Wednesday at NWA TNA. Like our name says,
we are Total Nonstop Action.
Okay, let's go to
the past for awhile, please list any sort of details about your childhood
including your early memories of wrestling and how you came to be involved in
was born September 4, 1942 in Nashville, Tennessee. My father was in the Army
and my mother, my sister, and I lived with my grandparents. I was three years
old when my parents divorced. The only memory I have of my father was the day he
left. It is odd that I would remember only one event, but years later my
grandparents and my mother confirmed the details of my memory. We were a very
poor family, but at the time, we lived like everyone in the neighborhood, so I
did not really realize our financial state until I went to high school and came
into contact with kids from more affluent backgrounds. My mother worked in a
department store and had a part-time job selling tickets at the Hippodrome for
the wrestling matches in Nashville. My earliest memories are sitting in the box
office with my mother selling tickets. At about seven years of age, I began
selling the wrestling programs for the Gulas-Welch promotion. I was granted a
hardship license to drive when I was fourteen, because I was the only one in the
family who drove. This allowed me to accept a job promoting spot towns for the
wrestling company. In those days, the promoter rented a building, put out window
cards, put up the ring, sold the tickets, sold the popcorn and cokes, and
cleaned the building after the event. All of a sudden, I had more money than the
wealthy kids I went to school with. The wrestling was exciting and profitable. I
continued promoting the spot towns until I went to college. I was really only
away from the wrestling business about eight years, four years in college and
four years working for a company as a purchasing agent. Otherwise, I've been in
the business all my life.
Dills: I'm fascinated that your mother worked for so long in a business populated greatly by men, please detail how she wound up working in the business and how her role expanded over the years.
As stated my mother first had a part-time job selling tickets at the matches.
Gulas-Welch decided to set up a permanent place for the fans to buy tickets
during the week. This created a full time job and my mother accepted the job.
When I began promoting the spot shows, she would go with me and help at those
matches selling tickets. My mother became the bookkeeper for Gulas-Welch. When I
returned to the business after college and the four years as purchasing agent,
my mother was making a whopping $35.00 per week. My spot town business quickly
became a small wrestling territory and my mother became my partner. Make no
mistake, this was in no way just a generous handout from a grateful son. She was
a tough and savvy business lady and carried more than her share of the work and
Dills: What was the best advice your mom ever gave you relating to life and to wrestling?
Jarrett: To answer your question regarding the best advice my mother ever gave would really require a book and maybe two books. One thing I remember well and I have tried to do the same with my children. From my earliest memory I can recall her telling me that God had blessed me with a good brain and that all things were possible. She would advise that with hard work, determination, and the good brain God had blessed me with, there was nothing that could not be accomplished. She told me this so often and with such conviction, I began to believe her. Her advice concerning the wrestling business was very simple and I've tried to always remember it. One night we were in a small town and someone wanted my autograph. I was stacking the chairs after the match and wanted to get back home. I told the fan that I was 'nobody' and they should go get the wrestlers autograph. Well, I got a lecture on the spot. She sternly told me that that person was who I was working for and that person was due my respect, just as anybody else I ever worked for. There is perhaps more wisdom in that advice than anything anyone ever told me about promotion.
Dills: Earlier you mentioned a sister, did she work in the business at any time?
sister, Carolyn, never worked in the business. However, her first husband did
wrestle for a brief time.
Do you recall what year Roy Welch and Nick Gulas actually partnered?
going to the matches with my mom and sitting in her little ticket window about
1948, and they were together then. I don't know how long they were partners
During their partnership in the 1960s and into the 1970s, would it be fair to
say that Roy & Nick were as successful as most other U.S. promoters?
Yes. The Tennessee territory was never as big as the northeast with Vince, Sr.,
or the mid-west with Gagne, but it was always relatively successful.
would you describe Nick and Roy's relationship? Was it strictly business? Were
they friends away from the office?
It was strictly business. As a matter of fact, I don't think they liked each
other. I don't think Roy had a lot of respect for Nick because Nick was not a
wrestler. Roy started the business and hired Nick. Roy made Nick a partner
because with Roy as a star wrestler, he had to have a front man. Roy was an
introverted personality and Nick was very much the extrovert. Roy was quiet and
Nick was loud. There was never any doubt though that Roy was the boss.
What roles within the promotion did Roy and Nick play?
Roy made the decisions and Nick executed them. Nick was the heel promoter and
Roy the babyface with the wrestlers. It was funny to watch from behind the
scenes. A wrestler would be out in the lobby wanting a meeting about something.
Roy would tell Nick what the answer would be. The wrestler would walk in and
Nick would begin laying down the law. Roy would just sit there and look
disgusted at Nick. The wrestler would leave hating Nick. Whenever a wrestler
asked Roy something at a match, Roy would tell them that he would have to talk
to his partner, Nick, about it. Then Nick would tell them 'No'.
The promotion ran a number of TV shows live in various cities. Can you add any
cities to this list: Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, Jackson, Tennessee,
Birmingham. Did Huntsville, Louisville, Jonesboro or Tupelo have their own TV in
the late 60s and early 70s? Any other cities I may have left out?
Huntsville had television early. I started television in Louisville in the early
70's. Jonesboro and Tupelo never had live television. During those days, I would
make Memphis TV on Saturday morning, jump in the car without changing from my
wrestling clothes and drive to either Huntsville or Chattanooga television, then
make the Chattanooga house show and then drive to Birmingham television. It was
crazy, but we were young and hungry.
With such a large territory was there any particular formula used by Nick &
Roy to keep things fresh?
Good storylines and a solid stable of stars and a good turn over of supporting
How did you come to the decision to become a wrestler, especially after your
success running spot shows as a teenager?
I met Tojo Yamamoto. I had been a fan of his and we became friends. We would
often ride together to the towns. I began as a referee and Tojo would tell me
that because I was a good athlete in other sports, he could train me to wrestle.
I began getting with Tojo for training sessions. When I decided that I really
wanted to wrestle, I began training with an old timer named Sailor Moran. After
that rather painful ordeal that lasted about six months, Sailor called the
office and advised Roy Welch that he felt I could sufficiently fend for myself
in the business. I then went back to Tojo who did his best to add a bit of
polish to my wrestling skills. Buddy Wayne took a chance and booked me in my
first match in Haiti, Missouri. I must have been passable, because he called the
office and requested me back.
As a wrestler, did you feel comfortable in the ring off the bat or did it take
you some time to adjust to what you were doing in ring?
I was scared to death. It took months before I could relax.
Did you ever referee any regularly outside of any special referee situations? If
so, anything memorable happen?
Yes, I began as a ref. The most memorable occasion was in Cleveland, Tennessee.
Jimmy Dykes [J.C. Dykes] was the promoter. A riot broke out in a match I was in.
One of the wrestlers was stabbed in the back during the riot. I was green and
very scared when all of a sudden the ring was full of about fifteen fans. My
first reaction was to find a safe haven. I then realized that even more people
were fighting at ringside. Some fan punched me just enough to knock some sense
into me and the fright out. I joined the fray. We finally cleared the ring of
the fans and then fought our way to the dressing room.
Obviously you employed some excellent referees over the years so from your
perspective as a promoter-company owner, how valuable is a good referee to a
promotion and what makes a good referee?
The ref is the third man in the ring. As a wrestler, you don't notice the good
ones. A bad one will kill the match. I was fortunate to have great refs working
for us. A good ref is one who does not bring any attention to himself and is
there when needed and not in the way when not needed. I always thought it was
the toughest job in the business and the least appreciated.
When you began as a ref and then as a wrestler, were you promoting any cards on
the side like you had before?
I took a break from promotion to attend college. After college, I went to work
at Murray Ohio Manufacturing Company as a purchasing agent. During that time, I
promoted a few spot towns for Gulas-Welch, but it was only a few. When I decided
it [Murray] was not for me, I asked Nick Gulas and Roy Welch if I could work in
their office doing anything, while I decided what kind of work I wanted to do.
They gave me a job helping around the office. Tojo said my job was gofer. Gofer
this and gofer that. (Laughs)
day, a referee got sick and no one else was available. They sent me to the town
as a last resort. The report back from the boys was that I did okay. This led to
me riding to Memphis with Roy Welch and his asking me what I thought would draw
next week. He liked my suggestions and that led to me becoming booker for the
Memphis end of the territory. At about the same time, I went back to booking the
spot towns. I was knocking on sponsors doors up in Kentucky one day and someone
asked why I did not run Louisville. That question made me begin to think in
bigger terms. I opened Louisville, then Lexington, and then Evansville. I was
the booker for Memphis. I bought Tupelo, Missisippi and Jonesboro, Arkansas from
local promoters. All of a sudden, I had my own little territory. After a while,
this became known as the western end of the Gulas-Welch wrestling company.
Do you recall your first major feud? How did it come about?
Yes, Tojo was a major heel and I was enhancement talent, in those days known as
a job man. Tojo suggested that if I could win a few matches, it would be reason
for Lance Russell to interview me and ask about my improvement. I told Lance
that my coach had insisted that I not tell anyone who was helping me. After a
few weeks I was in a match with, I think it was Don and Al Greene, but my memory
is foggy. Anyway, Tojo made the save and of course everyone then knew who my
coach was. My character was easy because I played myself. I think the contrast
between Tojo and I caught the interest of the fans because it was instant
success. Tojo was the type heel that people loved to hate anyway, so the
transition was easy for him. He really never changed his style, therefore it
made for easy matches. I'd always start and after I got in trouble, I'd tag Tojo.
Who were your favorite wrestlers to watch before you became a wrestler?
Tex Riley, Mario Milano, The Green Shadow [Pat Malone], The Welch Brothers:
Herb, Roy and Lester, The Fargos: Jackie and Don.
I'll list some stars who worked the territory in the 1950s and 60s who otherwise
might get little mention nowadays, please share any memories or thoughts you
wish. Let's start with Tex Riley.
My favorite of them all. Tex had a dog that was so well trained, he could sit
his bag down in a hotel lobby and not return until the next day and the bag
would still be there. Tex always took the time to have a nice word for a
Dills: Rowdy Red Roberts.
The first wrestler to talk out of school while I was in the car. Red also
introduced me to the seedier side of the business. (Laughs)
Dills: The Welch family, Herb, Jack, Lester & Roy.
Roy, was the promoter in the family. At one time Roy promoted wrestling from
Memphis to Florida. I was so fortunate that he took me under his wing and passed
on to me his forty years of wisdom about this business. There are few people
during a lifetime that really change the course of a life. Roy Welch was such a
person in my life. Jack was the least talented as a wrestler. Herb was a great
wrestler, but may be best known for the ribs he pulled. Lester was a very good
wrestler and also did well as a promoter.
Dills: Buddy Fuller.
Buddy was about as old school as they come. He was my partner for many years. I
was not around Buddy when he was a wrestler, because he seldom worked for his
father, Roy. He so much did not want to be known as Roy's son, that he changed
his name. Buddy's life story is one of sadness because at one time he was very
wealthy and at the end of his life he had very little. Buddy made some great
business decisions and became wealthy both in the business and in land. He made
some bad decisions both in the business and in real estate that cost him
Dills: Irish Mike Clancy.
A great wrestler and very popular with the fans.
Dills: Corsica Joe & Corsica Jean.
A great tag team. I had a match with Corsica Joe in Memphis when I was just
getting started. I had seen Jackie Fargo kick people in the butt, so I thought
it looked good and therefore kicked Corsica Joe in the butt when the opportunity
came. Joe thought it was disrespectful and proceeded to show his displeasure.
Needless to say, I never kicked Joe in the butt again. I consider Joe a dear
friend to this day.
Dills: Pat Malone.
Pat was like a member of my family until he died. A great wrestler and one of
the real tough guys of his day. It was always a real treat to sit and listen to
Pat's war stories.
Dills: The Fields family.
I never really knew them in spite of them being part of the Welch clan.
Dills: Sputnik Monroe.
A great wrestler and one of the true characters. Sputnik worked for me in
Memphis and also in Atlanta while I was there. 'The Diamond Ring and Cadillac
Man' was one of the best interview men ever in our business.
knows Sputnik stories, but I have to share a couple. The first one happened
before I started in Memphis. Buddy Fuller was promoting Memphis and Sputnik was
one of his stars. Well, Sputnik was known to drink one too many on occasion.
Sputnik got tanked and went to the fair in Memphis. Sputnik got to running his
mouth at one of the cowboys and got in a fight. Sputnik came out on the short
end of the stick. This was bad for the business so Buddy went to the newspaper
and got a story written about Sputnik issuing a challenge to the cowboy. The
newspaper found the cowboy and told him about the challenge. The cowboy told the
reporter that he thought something was up because he had handled Sputnik so
easy. He said 'Now I know what the deal is. This guy is so tough that he let me
kick his ass, so they could get me in the ring and beat my brains out. No
thanks!!' (Laughs), Buddy saved his star.
second story was that Sputnik was in a dressing room with a bunch of wrestlers.
I was having trouble with Randy Savage running against me in Kentucky. I could
not figure out what Randy was doing. He would spend his entire television time
knocking Lawler and Dundee rather that promoting his matches. One night in
Memphis I was talking to the boys about how Savage was promoting. I said, 'Would
someone please tell me what they are doing? I don't know how stupid people
think.' Sputnik jumped to his feet and said, 'Well, hell, I can tell you how
they think.' We all broke up and had many laughs reliving the story. Sputnik
realized what he had just said and after telling us to 'go f * * * ourselves'
left the dressing room. I never did learn how stupid people thought.
Dills: Billy Wicks.
Billy was a huge star in Memphis and was the favored opponent to Sputnik during
the Buddy Fuller days in Memphis.
Dills: Danny Dusek.
Danny was the right hand man for Nick Gulas. Danny was a big star at one time
but it was before my day.
Dills: Treach Phillips.
Treach was also part of the Fuller crew and was a big draw in Memphis during
Dills: Alex Perez.
Alex and Tojo were partners when I broke into the business. He was not a huge
star, but did draw some money with Tojo.
Dills: Rip Tyler.
was a big star in Memphis in the era right before I broke into the business.
The area was a major tag team area in the 60s and early 70s please share any
thoughts and memories you have on these teams, let's start with Don & Al
I was a big fan of the Greenes as a child. One day I walked into the lobby of
the Noel hotel which was where the wrestling office was. Al Greene was sitting
in the coffee shop. He looked terrible. I introduced myself and sat down at his
booth. Being a big fan I asked about how bad he looked. Al laid his heart out
and told me what a screw-up his life had been. He said he was broke, his car was
broken down and he did not have the money to fix it. He was waiting for Nick or
Roy to come to the office to try to get a job. I advised him that he should not
go to the office looking like he had been drunk for the last two weeks. I
explained that I was booking the Memphis end and that if he would promise to
quit drinking, I'd book him on my end. I asked about Don and he said Don was
selling washers and dryers for his dad. I told him to see if he could get Don to
come back to work. They both came to work and were a big part of the original
success of our business.
side note to this story, after the territory popped, Al came to me and said he
was terrible with money and knew this was his last run. He asked for my help. We
laid out a plan and after he had saved enough for a down payment, we found a
farm for him to buy. He called one day and said a developer had asked to buy his
land and what should he do. We looked at the deal and he sold it and bought
another. When Al's run ended, he retired a millionaire. That's a long journey
from the day I met him in the coffee shop. Al Greene is a good man and one who
you can count on him keeping his word. Al never took another drink from that
Kurt & Karl Von Brauner.
I never really knew them. I worked a few matches against them. They were very
good wrestlers and drew a lot of money.
Bobby Hart & Lorenzo Parente.
This is another team that I worked against but never got to know. Lorenzo is a
great cook and I've eaten at his restaurant. They drew money and were a good
The Bounty Hunters.
This was of the first teams I booked when I started in Memphis. Along with the
Greenes, they helped me pop the Memphis end. Jimmy Kent was their manager. We
drew a lot of money with the Bounty Hunters.
The Masked Interns.
A great team and really good guys. I was good friends with Tom Andrews. When
their run ended, it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do to tell
them it was time for them to move on.
Len Rossi & Bearcat Brown.
Len and I were at odds most of the time. He was Nick's man and there was always
jealously between him and Tojo and Fargo. I loved Bearcat Brown. They were a
great team and drew a lot of money. Bearcat broke the color barrier in
Birmingham, Alabama by being the first black wrestler to wrestle white men.
Dills: The Kangaroos: Al Costello & Don Kent.
A great team. Al Costello may have been the most intelligent wrestler I've
known. He was for sure the most well read.
Big Bad John & Pepe Lopez.
These boys had their problems. I drew huge houses against John but he had his
demons and died a tragic death. Pepe was a good guy and a loving guy. That was
one of his problems, he loved too many women at the same time. Pepe died in the
car crash with Sam Bass.
Tojo Yamamoto & Jerry Jarrett.
When Tojo died, a part of me died.
Phil Hickerson & Al Greene.
A very good team who always drew money. Phil did a great job replacing Don
[Greene] and that's not an easy thing to do. Hickerson and Condrey were an even
better team because of their contrast in styles.
Phil Hickerson & Dennis Condrey.
A great team that was magic from the first day they teamed.
Ken Lucas & Dennis Hall.
I inherited this team when I began in Memphis. They resented Roy making me the
booker and quit the first week along with Les Thatcher. As time passed, I
realized that I might have resented a green kid taking over too. I also realized
that fate was working for me. Them walking out forced me to instantly change
directions and come up with another direction. Joe and Bill Sky were down on the
cards. I asked Tojo Yamamoto and Johnny Long to step up. Tojo hardwayed one of
the Sky boys and we were off and running in spite of losing our entire main
event from the week before. [Note: In some territories, Joe Sky
also wrestled as Joe Turner, while Bill Sky worked as Bill Bowman.]
Jerry Lawler & Jim White.
If one team is to be credited with the success of Memphis wrestling, it would be
this team. I often referred to them as Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon. Jim White
was the straight man for Jerry Lawler. The heat was always intense, helped in
great part by the great manager, Sam Bass. One night in a riot, Jim White came
to the dressing room with his nose under his left eye. It was the worse broken
nose I've ever seen. Jim White fell in love with a black girl and during those
days, interracial marriages were the wrong kind of heat. Jerry Lawler chose to
wrestle as a single and became the 'King'.
Terry Garvin & Duke Myers.
I only remember them as a team for a brief time.
Terry & Ronnie Garvin.
One of the greatest teams to ever wrestle. We decided to bring Terry out of the
closet and that's when they really got over and drew so much money. I brought
the Garvins to Atlanta with me and they were responsible for the first sellout
crowds in Atlanta. I considered Terry to be one of my best friends.
Any combo of the Fargos.
Without a doubt, the best box-office tag team the territory ever had in their
era. Of course the Fabulous Ones drew more money, but it was a different time.
Jackie Fargo & Jerry Jarrett.
Pretty good at the box-office but nothing compared to the magic of Tojo and
Jarrett. We would change between me and Tojo to me and Jackie, just for a change
of pace, but the fans knew the relationship between me and Tojo and the real
life situation of him being my coach and trainer. We had some classic six man
You worked some in Knoxville early in your career, please share any thoughts and
memories about the Knoxville promotion when it was operated by John Cazana. It's
my understanding that Nick & Roy supplied some talent to Cazana for a fee.
I worked a few matches for John Cazana in Knoxville. You are correct in that
John would pay Gulas-Welch a booking fee for supplying talent on the cards. We
would wrestle at Chilhowee Park and then John would always take me to Regas
Resturant for a great meal after the matches. I met Ron and Don Wright and
Whitey Caldwell during this time. This is also where I found Jim White and Sam
Bass. I brought both of them to Memphis where they had great runs. Ron and Don
and Whitey worked a few shots in Memphis also. I don't really recall what or how
it happened but Ron Fuller ended up running Knoxville and the area and I worked
a few shots for him also.
Do you recall the first time you met Jerry Lawler?
Jackie Fargo had a radio show in Memphis. Lawler was a gofer at the station and
he drew some wrestling pictures. Jackie saw the pictures and brought Lawler to
the television station with the pictures. We let Lance Russell interview Lawler
and show his art work. Lawler began working independent matches around Memphis
and Fargo later asked me to use Lawler as enhancement talent on television.
Lawler was decent except he had a nervous habit of smiling when he was nervous.
Well, he was nervous in every match, which meant he smiled the entire match.
When we got him to relax we had a good wrestler who became a great star.
After meeting Lawler, did you see him as a headline wrestler down the road? Did
Nick or Roy?
Nick and Roy thought I'd lost my mind when I put Lawler and Jim White together
and Sam Bass as their manager. I had met Sam while I worked in Knoxville and was
impressed with his mic skills. I had them in a tag team battle royal and caught
hell the next day when I told Nick and Roy that they had won. The Greenes, the
Interns, and the Von Brauners were all in the royal. Nick and Roy thought all of
these teams were better box-office. Lawler and White proved me right very soon.
In 1971 or so, Bill Golden operated a territory around Montgomery, Alabama, did
you work for Bill or have any memories of this promotion? Didn't you send Lawler
here for a time?
I never worked the Montgomery area for Bill. It was not for any other reason
than that I was so busy with my own area. And yes, I did send Lawler there for
awhile. Lawler was young and made some mistakes in judgment that often happens
with young wrestlers. One Tuesday he called and just said he did not feel like
driving from Memphis to Johnson City. My response was that I'd see him in
Johnson City and talk about it. He said, 'You won't talk to me in Johnson City
unless you call me because I'm not going.' So I said, 'You're fired then' and
hung up the phone. I really expected him to be there that night, but true to his
word, he didn't come. He showed up in the next town and I told him that I had
replaced him on the cards and I was as good with my word as he was and he was
really fired. Of course he was sincerely sorry for his actions and it would
never happen again. Golden had asked for my help with talent the week before so
I told him I'd send him Lawler. Lawler would call every month and ask when he
had finished his purgatory. I finally brought Lawler back to Memphis.
In 1972, Phil Golden operated a promotion in Kentucky that ran opposite Nick
& Roy. Any memories on this promotion and were they considered serious
opposition by Nick, Roy and you?
It must not have been serious because I don't remember it. It was about 1972
that I opened Louisville and Lexington and Evansville.
Since you mentioned Ron Fuller buying Knoxville [late 1974] did you, Roy and
Nick consider buying it? With Fuller buying it was there any sort of plan to
consolidate or share the talent considering Ron was Roy's grandson?
I had all I could handle and I don't recall Nick or Roy having interest in
expanding their area. Roy was not very close with Robert or Ron so I would guess
that sharing talent was not discussed.
The area received some coverage in the newsstand magazines but by the 1970s the
Apter magazines such as Inside Wrestling
and The Wrestler were gaining in
popularity but they rarely gave the area much coverage but they did give Lawler
some coverage at the time, did the promotion approach the magazine for coverage
or did they pursue Lawler?
Nick and Roy were not believers in seeking national coverage and therefore would
not cooperate with the magazines. Lawler made his own contacts.
I want to know if you have any thoughts about the hair match series between Al
Greene and Jackie Fargo from around 1972. The crowd was really in shock when
Jackie lost and took the haircut and that kind of surprise seems to be absent
from much of what is done today.
There is a story about Fargo losing his hair. We found that the fans enjoyed
'hair at stake' matches because the result of these matches had long-term
effects for the loser of the match. It became a standing joke that Fargo would
never be in a 'hair match'. The wrestlers began to bet that there was no way and
no amount of money that I could get Fargo in a 'hair match'. Finally, the
situation arose and I asked Fargo to have the match. Fargo said, 'Jarrett, come
talk to me after you have lost your hair and I'll talk to you.' I made sure that
everyone in the territory knew what Jackie had said. I finally had my own 'hair
match' and lost. Later, when another situation came up I asked Jackie about
putting his hair up and reminded him that I had met his requirements. Jackie
kept his word and ended up losing his hair.
Dills: You have mentioned on several occasions how important Eddie Graham was to you. Can you describe how you came to know Eddie and how deep that influence runs even to this day.
I would have to write a book to fully explain the influence Eddie Graham had on
my promotion, career and on my life in general. Eddie was perhaps the best of
the wrestling promoters of his time. He believed in the attention to detail that
allows fans to suspend disbelief. Eddie was an unselfish person who would spend
many hours on the telephone or in person teaching and explaining promotion
details. Eddie was an honorable person who would stand up for principal. Eddie
spoke for me at the NWA meeting when I had my business fight with Nick Gulas.
This was one of those situations that are life altering. My life might have
taken a completely different route. For a while, I was partners with Eddie in
the Florida promotion. We never had a contract and exchanged some pretty big
money for those times. Eddie spoke to me the evening before he died. We were
very close to the end. I miss him still.
One of the most interesting and connected characters involved in the business,
but one that isn't widely known to the casual fan, is Jim Barnett. Obviously, he
impacted your life by providing you the opportunity to book Atlanta, what are
your thoughts on Jim looking back at how he has impacted the business in the
States the past twenty-five plus years?
Jim was and is a personal friend. He is the person I credit with allowing my
ability to become public knowledge. For some reason, our success in Memphis was
not known nationally. However the success in Atlanta got national attention. Jim
was a real power broker for many years in the business. His support was very
valuable to me over the years. We had Jim included in our legends segment for
our first pay-per-view. Jim called and said Vince McMahon had offered him a full
time job consulting and would I feel bad towards him for accepting. I told Jim I
was happy for him.
You worked for a time with the Atlanta office during the 1972-74 promotional
war, what did Nick and Roy think of you working there and also working for them?
They were all for me going to Atlanta in the beginning. Then Memphis began
falling fast. Finally they offered to give me ten percent of their company if I
would return. I came back and bought another fifteen percent, then later an
additional twenty-five percent to become half owner. That was my ownership
position when Nick and I had our problems.
A few questions regarding George Gulas, I know George worked some as a referee
and announcer before wrestling but whose idea was it for George to wrestle,
George's or Nick's? I have long heard George wanted to wrestle and Nick couldn't
say no to him. What kind of reaction did George becoming a wrestler cause from
the other wrestlers?
The George-Nick story was truly a sad one. It's a simple case of a father who
loved his son dearly, but was unable to dish out 'tough love'. The results being
that George grew up a very spoiled kid. George decided he wanted to wrestle and
at first Nick was reluctant. However, after George finally talked his father
into letting him wrestle, Nick became his supporter and a fan. Nick turned a
deaf ear to the wrestlers and fans criticism. It was really sad for those of us
here. Nick went so far as to bring Harley Race in to work matches with George.
George would work in Nick's towns and the gates falling did not seem to get
Nick's attention. When I would talk to Nick about judging George's ability by
the box office, Nick would give five other reasons the house was bad. Finally
Nick decided that George had been in the towns on his end for too long and that
George would do great on the Memphis end. For months, Nick's end of the business
was a loss, which was supported by the profits from the Memphis end. This
directly affected my money because I was an owner and the losses were deducted
before profits were dispersed. This single problem led to Nick and I splitting
up and Nick going out of business.
George was kept mostly on the eastern end and in tag matches but at some point
Nick apparently wanted George used on the western end, what plans did Nick have
for George, did Nick plan to push George as a singles star or want him in a
program against Lawler?
We never got that far in the planning because I advised Nick that George had
killed half the territory and I would not allow him to kill the Memphis end.
When the split came it led to the ruin of Nick's company a few years later. If
George had gone into another occupation, in other words, if he had never gone
into wrestling, what do you think would have happened to the territory? Would
you and Nick remained partners or would there have been a split later due to
Nick was difficult at times to do business with. However, I feel that Nick and I
would have remained partners, had George not been an issue. Nick favored
wrestlers at times such as Len Rossi, but overall, Nick was a realist and would
know when wrestlers were drawing and when they were not. With George, it seemed
that Nick could not bring himself to see that his son was not a great wrestler.
This situation was not really George's fault. Nick never really allowed George
to be trained or for that matter to be a regular guy.
that you might really understand the situation, I'll explain one of the few
trips that George and I made together. When George was just starting in the
business, he took a trip with Tojo, Eddie Marlin and I. On the way to the town,
we stopped at a market and bought some sandwiches, chips, cold drinks, etc. I
went outside the market and George was on a pay-phone outside the market. When I
motioned to George that we needed to go, he quickly hung up the phone. Walking
back to the car, George tells me, 'I called my dad and told him what a good time
we were having. I told him we had stopped at a market and were going to have a
picnic.' On the trip, he would call Nick at every stop for fuel. He called him
from the arena after his match. I could guess that George called Nick six times
on that one trip to report in.
as early as I can remember, Nick would keep a stack of money on George's dresser
for his use. George really did not understand that for the rest of us, the
wrestling was our business and we did it to get a payday. The situation was so
unfair to George. As if the humiliation of Nick going out of business was not
enough for George and the Gulas family, there were even more public
embarrassments yet to come.
You speak of further embarrassments for the Gulas family.
Does this refer to George getting into trouble with the law and financial
difficulties the family would have? I know you have said your mother paid for
Nick's funeral, which is a great gesture yet this had to be embarrassing for the
Gulas family considering how well off at one time they were. It has been said
that George placed Nick in a state run nursing facility and sold Nick's false
teeth near the end of Nick's life.
I don't think it would be appropriate for me to discuss the situation here. The
newspaper and television coverage of the unfortunate incident was very
embarrassing to the family and all of us associated with the wrestling business.
I've heard the false teeth story but I do not know if it was fact or rumor.
to the financial situation, I have no first hand knowledge other than my mother
telling me that she paid for Nick's funeral arrangements. I did not inquire as
to the extent or the details. I was not being hard-hearted because the whole
situation was sad for me personally. I had some fond memories of my relationship
with Nick and some memories that were painful.
Most people associate the main announcers in the territory as Lance Russell and
Dave Brown, before the split though several others were announcers. What do you
recall about Harry Thornton, who I believe owned a piece of Chattanooga and
Cleveland, and Sterling Brewer of Birmingham and any others who worked as
announcers, outside of Lance & Dave, you may recall? I know Len Rossi did
some announcing after his accident and Mike Duncan did some too, Grady Reeves
also comes to mind.
Harry Thornton was a television personality for years in Chattanooga and had a
big following. He did own a percentage of the promotion there. Harry was a good
wrestling announcer. Sterling Brewer was also very good in Birmingham as was
Grady Reeves in Huntsville. I don't remember Rossi or Mike Duncan as announcers.
Lance and Dave were my announcers in Memphis and I think they rank with Gordon
Solie in ability. I also thought Michael St. John did a good job as an
You also related a great story about Bobby Shane, how he expected to become
booker in Atlanta but Jim Barnett chose you, Shane was professional about it and
you helped him land the booking job in Australia. Shane was known as 'King' and
of course, Lawler became 'King'. Lawler
and Shane worked some in Atlanta when you booked there. Lawler has said he got
his first crown from Shane. Did Lawler get an idea to become 'King' from
watching Shane? Also, If Shane hadn't died in 1975 how big of a star would he
have become, he really seemed to have so many qualities that would have been
exciting to watch.
I'm not sure if anyone can predict who would have become what. Your friendship
with the person would color your opinion too much. I thought Bobby Shane was a
great wrestler and also had a great mind for this business. If I had to guess, I
would think he would have become a great booker-writer or promoter which would
have limited his stardom as a wrestler. Lawler did not take the 'King' idea from
Bobby Shane. Lawler was from Memphis, home of the music 'King', Elvis Presley.
Jerry began by telling the fans that Elvis was the 'King' of music and he was
the 'King' of wrestling. Later Jerry would make Memphis fans mad when he would
brag that he was the true 'King of Memphis'.
The summer of 1976 was a sad time in the area when Sam Bass, Pepe Lopez and
Frank Hester died in a car accident west of Nashville. What do you recall about
I got a late phone call from the state highway patrol that some wrestlers were
killed on I-40. They did not know who and [asked] could I drive down. Well, I
called Fargo and Tojo and told them. We lived close enough that me and my wife
picked both of them up and drove as fast as we could. We were all in tears when
we approached the traffic that was backed up for miles. The police escorted us
around the traffic on the shoulder of the interstate. The car and truck were
still blazing. During the drive to the site, we had all concluded that it was
Jerry Lawler and whoever was with him. It was impossible to determine the kind
of car that was burning. We asked how they knew it was wrestlers and the police
told us that wrestling gear was down the road from the impact. About that time
Jerry Lawler was spotted walking toward the crash scene. We all cried for joy
and then suddenly became somber wondering who was in the car. Lawler told us it
had to be Sam Bass. We were not sure who else was in the car.
that night we talked to Phil Hickerson, who told us that it was Pepe and Frank.
Phil said Sam drove like a crazy man from Memphis to Jackson, Tennessee. Phil
said Sam was drinking and driving at speeds over one hundred miles per hour.
Phil said he kissed the ground when he got out in Jackson and said to himself
that Sam would not get home alive. Lawler said he wanted to call Sam's wife. We
then called Pepe and Frank's folks. No one has any idea what was on Sam's mind
that night or what could have caused him to drive so wild. It was always Sam who
stayed on Lawler for driving too fast. Lawler had a terrible reputation for fast
driving and this caused the speculation on the drive down that it was Lawler in
next day, I returned to the site and spoke to the police about how this tragic
crash occurred. It seems that a drunk driver had run into a concrete guard-rail
and was blocking one lane and part of the other lane. At the same time Sam had
passed a truck at a high rate of speed. Because of passing the truck, Sam was on
the stalled car and the truck then ran over both Sam and the other car. Both
cars exploded in flames as the truck ran over the top of them. The impact drug
Sam's car to the median. Frank and Pepe both were found in the back seat and Sam
was driving. This was a very sad day for all who knew and cared for these men.
Thanks to Edsel Harrison for the Jerry Jarrett photos with Tojo Yamamoto and Jackie Fargo.
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