Jewel Brown

Duration: 49mins:48secs
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October 3, 1988
Interviewers: Louis J. Marchiafava and Charles Stephenson

LJM: This is a second interview with Miss Jewel Brown for the Texas Jazz Archive. I am Louis Marchiafava and interviewing with me is Mr. Charles Stephenson. The date is October 3, 1988.

CS: I read again our interview last week that we had with you, and I’d like to ask you some questions about some of the material that we covered. You were with your brother when you performed at Angelo’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Is that correct.

JB: What do you mean, I was with him? I had worked at Angelo’s Fisherman’s Wharf with my brother for a special occasion which was Earl Campbell’s birthday party. But, no, I’ve never worked there with him as him backing me as a group.

CS: Okay. That clarifies one point.

LJM: What year did you work with him there? Of what period?

JB: The one day that I did with him?

LJM: It was just one day?

JB: Yes. I’ve never worked an extensive engagement.

CS: What I was thinking about was when you were in your early teens and went out and sang with a band, and your brother was with that band.

JB: He was the one that started me out. And it was first with Elmo Nixon, managed and directed by Mr. Henry Hayes who blew saxophone. I believe, as a matter of fact, it was alto. Alto saxophone. Alto or soprano, I forget which one, now. But it was either alto or soprano saxophone.

CS: In that interview you mentioned Tex Brown. Who was Tex Brown.

JB: Tex Brown? No. You mean Tex Curtis who was my first husband.

CS: Okay. That’s what I wanted to know. That’s what we went over downstairs. And you played with Earl Grant on Figueroa Street in Los Angeles?

JB: Right.

CS: And you made a remark to the effect that there were a lot of things he didn’t do after going commercial. You were talking about his style?

JB: Oh, yes.

CS: What did you mean by that?

JB: Well, as I’m saying, the better part of him, I guess, couldn’t go commercial. And, of course, the things that were commercial were the things that made him the Earl Grant. As I said, he was such an accomplished musician. He did so much! It was quite a variety. He could do almost anything. The man was a master of the organ. As a matter of fact, he had a doctor’s degree.

CS: I did not know that. Where from, do you know?

JB: I believe it was somewhere in El Paso. That was his home. When he was killed in his Rolls Royce, he was headed back from visiting his father who is, or was, a reverend. And he had gone to visit him.

CS: Was Earl Grant a Texas?

JB: Yes, and from El Paso, Texas, I guess he had to have been.

CS: I did not know that.

JB: That’s where his father lived. Now, I couldn’t put any guarantee on that, but then I do know his father lived in El Paso, Texas. Now, whether he was from Texas or not, I am not certain of that.

CS: Who was Dakota Staten?

JB: She was one hell of a jazz singer. And after she left America, she lived in Europe for many years. As a matter of fact, as I understand it, she resides now in Brussels, Belgium.

CS: And she came from North Dakota. . .

JB: I don’t know where her home is. I have an album, that maybe it might tell you on the back. Because I still have all my collection. But I believe that was not her given name. That was a stage name. So, where she’s from actually, I don’t know.

CS: I know a woman whose stage name is Montana. And, of course, Italians understood “Montana.” And Lonnie Roshawn?

JB: Who was a deejay and M.C. for a talent show. Well, he was actually director and M.C.

CS: Now, where would this be?

JB: That was like in the old Masonic Temple in the Fourth Ward. He and Trummy Kane. Both. However, I think Trummy Kane was the originator of talent shows here in the city, and I believe Lonnie Roshawn sort of took on after. But now Lonnie Roshawn was the first black deejay in this city.

CS: And there’s a point in the transcript that was confusing to me, and I want to make sure of it. . . .Well, you’ve already straightened it out, who was Trummy Kane. And here I have the question, was his real name Charlie? They are confusing in that transcript, but I think I can get that straightened out.

JB: Charlie who?

CS: It may have been the name that just fell in there and got translated in a certain way. Where was the Manhattan Club in Galveston?

JB: I don’t know what street that’s on now because I don’t frequent Galveston at all.

CS; Do you know if it still exists?

JB: I haven’t the slightest idea. I was twelve years old then.

CS; The Whispering Pines in Acreage Homes. Where is that?

JB: I don’t know if it still exists, either. I couldn’t tell you. I just wouldn’t know.

CS: And the Wango Lounge?

JB: I believe that still exists right downtown, and I believe you can see it from the freeway. I believe you can see it from [Highway] 59 freeway, and I believe the name is still there.

CS; What about the Ebony Club?

JB: It’s still there. It’s now called The Club Supreme.

CS; And Joe Glazier, he fascinates me. He was Armstrong’s manager, right?

JB: Yes.

CS: And Louis Armstrong’s group was a group of six men?

JB: Drums, bass, piano, trombone, clarinet, trumpet. He was the trumpet man.

CS; And you were the vocalist?

JB: That’s right.

CS: Did that group remain together over a long period of time?

JB: It was always a fixed group until somebody passed on or couldn’t travel anymore due to any illness of some sort. And if you were late three times, you knew you were automatically suspended.

CS: He’s say, “Out and away?”

JB: That’s right! You don’t miss busses and trains and planes.

CS; I detected a note of pride when you were talking about the racial barrier at Jack Ruby’s. I think you are to be commended for that. I sort of lost the end of when you were singing when you were in Las Vegas.

JB: Yes, I retired out of Las Vegas. I was doing the Casbah Theater in the Sahara hotel. And we completed a show called Fillis de Sol.

CS: What made you decided to just quit?

JB: Well, my mom had been on her back and an invalid for three years then. So, I felt like I needed to come in and give a helping hand to my father. He was dealing with it all by himself. So, she lasted four more years after that.

CS: So, you sang with Armstrong from [within] the 60’s. Right?

JB: Yes. All of the 1960’s.

CS: Did you leave Armstrong’s band when Louis died?

JB: No. We were all on somewhat of a vacation to see if he was going to get any better. And, as a matter of fact, we were paid nine weeks in advance for him to rest and relax and all while being in the hospital. But then we were notified after that that he wasn’t going to be able to come back.

CS: I didn’t know anything about this.

JB: I told you about that. When he called if “very close veins”. He had an acute attack of varicose veins. And he called them “very close veins”. Just one day, we went there and he was all dressed waiting for us to all get there and went to get up and couldn’t move.

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CS: When you played Las Vegas as a single, did you have to furnish the arrangements for the band?

JB: No. It was already designed. The show was already designed. And, of course, I learned their material.

CS: You changed their material to fit your style?

JB: Right. More or less.

CS: You now operate a beauty shop. When did you start singing again? You’ve answered this one, but I’d like to hear it again.

JB: That was 1986. When Chuck Smith gave me a call. Because they were having something to do with the archives at Texas Southern. And, of course, a gentleman by the name of Early Hudnall whom I had been introduced by friends, John and Hazel Biggers, and he happened to tell Dr. Cunningham and Chuck who were working with this together about me, being there at home here in Houston. And he gave me a call and asked me would I participate. And Dr. Spearman as well. So, by their invitation, I went out to the Westin Oaks Hotel and performed. And from there, it started getting recognition that I was even back home again, which people didn’t know. As I said, I just came home to do what I had to do for my family and to survive, in working and so forth, to compensate an income. And it all started from there. From people hearing and even realizing I was even back home again. A lot of folks didn’t even know where I was. They thought I was in Europe somewhere living.

CS: Now, Cunningham, is that the critic who used to write for the Houston Post?

JB: No. He’s Dr. Cunningham over at Texas Southern.

CS: When you started singing again, was your first performance with Arnett?

JB: No. The first performance was with the Texas Southern Jazz Band.

CS: When did you first sing with Arnett, or at least with his group.

JB: At Club Aesops in the Lincoln Hotel, which is now something else. It was the Doubletree Hotel, and now it’s something else again.

CS: When you sing now, do you have your own group or do you use Arnett’s or . . . .

JB: Well, the thing that we’re doing now, I’ve had my brother to organize it for me. Because of Arnett and the group being over in Europe at the present. But normally, the things that I do and the things that both Arnett and I do together, we have an original group that we use.

CS: You use the same group?

JB: Right.

CS: It’s a fine group. There’s one thing that I have been thinking about for some time. During these interviews, we seem to be talking about each individual. And there’s not much material in the way of interplay with other musicians. The Armstrong group and you traveled as a single unit, but you were not isolated from other musicians and singers, were you?

JB: Isolated from them? How do you mean?

CS: I know you worked as a single group, but, in other words, when you were off if you wanted to . . .

JB: Oh, wherever I wanted to go, whatever I wanted to do, that was my priority.

CS: I was thinking about like getting with other musicians and singers and . . .

JB: Oh, you might stop at a club and sit in with a group. I sat in with Ramsey Louis. He played behind me. But as far as working, no. I was hired to be Louis Armstrong’s, and I was quite well compensated.

CS: I’m thinking more of the personal relationship that you had with other musicians besides . . .

JB: I never had the opportunity to work with anybody else. We worked all the time! We never had hardly any time off. When you were off, you wanted to rest.

CS: Is there anyone that you wished that you could have performed with that you haven’t done so yet?

JB: Well, to me drummer is the backbone to a group. And I had longed to have worked with the Count Basie Band with Sonny Payne playing those drums. I’ve never done that. I’m sure you’ve heard of Sonny Payne.

CS: Yes, I have. Who were some of the singers that you knew that you had a vocal relationship with?

JB: I have always idolized both Ella and Sarah. And Lanie Kazan has always inspired me with her range and so forth.

CS: She does have a wide range. And, of course, Ella, you would think that she’s going to go out through the ceiling.

JB: Oh, yes.

CS; With some of those high sounds. And she can still make them.

JB: Oh, yes. That’s right. She’s taking care of herself. That’s proof of it.

CS: That’s the secret. I’m going to name some names and ask you for some comments, any comment that you’d care to make. Were you ever around Stan Kenton, for example?

JB: No. We did once together a jazz festival at Randall’s Island.

CS: Where is that?

JB: In New York.

CS: Is that up the river from the city?

JB: Yes. But I never even got a chance to meet him. But we did that together. But like they were coming off, we were going on, that sort of thing.

CS: What about Joe Williams?

JB: Oh, yes.

CS: Did you ever sing with him?

JB: No. I’ve never sang with him, but we’ve been on shows together – festivals, jazz festivals. And, of course, by him living in Las Vegas, he used to come and watch our show all the time when I was working . . . Los Blues was the name of the band that I did the show called Fillis de Sol I was telling you about. He used to come in, he and Redd Foxx – a bunch of them used to stop and catch our show.

CS: He always looked so nice and relaxed.

JB: And always that way. You’d never really see him upset. That’s his character.

CS: He seems like a pure gentleman.

JB: Oh, he is. Definitely. That’s his character.

CS: What about Dizzy Gillespie?

JB: Oh, Lord! That’s my buddy. When I first met him in New York, he had on a wedding band that was like hair thin. And I said to him, “Now what is that on your finger? Is that truly a wedding band? He said, “Yes.” I said, “That’s about the thinnest I’ve ever seen in my life.” He said, “Oh, but Baby, it’s plenty potent!” So, we started to hit it off from there, through the years.

CS: What about Miles Davis?

JB: I never have met Miles Davis. I’ve never met him.

CS: Lena Horne?

JB: Oh, yes.

CS: Have you ever worked with her?

JB: No, I’ve never worked with her.

CS: And Jimmy Lunceford?

JB: No.

CS: What about Oscar Peterson?

JB: No, I’ve never worked with Oscar.

CS: That sounds like it would be fun.

JB: Oh, yes.

CS: He’s a tremendous musician.

JB: You know, an artist is really no more than what supports them. And it’s the kind of support that you get that really inspires you. And when you’ve got good support, it makes you do things you didn’t even realize you had inside.

CS: Would that be, like, if you imagine you were performing with him behind you, is that what you’re saying.

JB: Oh, yes.

CS: What about Jimmy Giuffre?

JB: I’ve never heard of him

CS: And what about Coleman Hawkins?

JB: Never got a chance to work with him. All these people were really like . . . . Not really before my time, but they sort of almost ceased to be when I kind of got there.

CS: Quincy Jones?

JB: Quincy Jones and my first husband were dear friends. As a matter of fact, I knew Quincy when he first got married many years ago in New York. He lived in the basement, and he and my husband used to work together.

CS: Did you know Ornette Coleman?

JB: I never knew him, not to really know him.

CS: How about Ray Charles?

JB: Oh, yes. He was such an idol for both my brother and I that we made it possible to know him. When he would come to town, we’d go backstage and all.

CS: Did you ever work with him?

JB: Never had a chance to work with Ray. We worked on the same shows together. And, as a matter of fact, we met up in the Olympia Theater in Paris. It was Ray Charles’ Band, Count Basie Band and our Band. We all met together in Paris. And we had a blast! And many of the guys were from Texas so it was like a Texas reunion for us back then. With the late Donald Wilkerson. We were like raised together, Don and I. in a sense, musically.

CS: Armstrong was a product of Chicago, am I correct. Is that where he got his real start?

JB: Yes, you would say.

CS: But he left his horn to the city of New Orleans.

JB: Yes. Well, that’s his home.

CS: Is that his home?

JB: New Orleans is his home, yes. That’s where he was born.

CS: That’s the reason why they have the Louis Armstrong Park?

JB: Of course.

CS: The reason why I asked is because I thought he came out of Chicago.

JB: Oh, no. Not Louis.

CS: And when we met before, you said something about Associated Music Company or Associated Booking Company. Which do you . . . .

JB: Associated Booking Corporation. They called it ABC.

CS: What happened to that corporation when Louis Armstrong died?

JB: It still exists.

CS: Did he have any children?

JB: No.

CS: Where do the funds go?

JB: Well, they had gone to his wife, Lucille. And now that she’s had a massive heart attack and passed on, I couldn’t tell you. I wouldn’t know. I imagine to her family, her existing family.

CS: I’ve heard tales to the effect that Armstrong had several wives. In other words, he was divorced several times. And that when the lady wanted a divorce, or when the divorce was pending, he, as I understand it, said, “Take it all.”

JB: That’s exactly right.

CS: That confirms the story that I have heard.

JB: That’s the way he did it.

LJM: Steve Williams asked me to do this for him. He’s been trying to get a resume out of you for a long time. And I told him the next time I got you trapped with a tape recorder, I would have you do a resume verbally. Is that agreeable?

JB: Okay.

LJM: Let’s say that we’re writing one up now and obviously we have the basic information. What we need to start with is your career in terms of years and what you would consider important, what you would want to advertise for yourself. What do you consider so important in your life? Obviously, with Louis Armstrong. You first worked for him. But you worked before that. So, are there any items that you would want to emphasize in your resume?

JB: I’m just me. There’s these things that I’ve given you that I’ve done in my past, and that’s it. That’s all there is to my life. I’m just me. I wouldn’t know how to answer that, really, other than what I’ve already told you.

LJM: Do you want us to go through what you’ve already said and pick out the items . . .

JB: That’s about it. That’s the real part of my life. I don’t know anything that . . . . I’m not a fake!

LJM: I don’t mean that. I mean, of all the things that we’ve talked about, are there any items that you would want to emphasize?

JB: No. Whatever anybody who know what they’re doing feels to be important to pick out what I’ve told. That’s it! That’s all I have.

LJM: That answers that. You’re out of luck, Steve. He’s going to have to read the manuscript and pull what he wants out of it.

JB: That’s it. That’s all I can tell you. My life is an open book. I have nothing to hide in it.

LJM: It’s not that. You’ve done so many things. The point it that he wanted to be sure that he was emphasizing things that you thought were important, besides the obvious.

JB: Well, he’s the one doing it, so let him pick out what he feels is important that he can sell because I’m jaded to myself.

LJM: Well, maybe he wants the jaded part.

JB: I don’t know. He and Lizette are going to have to read if that’s what he’s off into because whatever he feels is important enough for the people . . . .

LJM: Okay. He’s heard it now, or will. What I’m going to do now . . . I wanted to pick up in a more systematic way your career and life from the time you left Louis Armstrong to the time you came back to Houston. So, it shouldn’t take too long because we already have covered some of it, but I have some other questions I wanted to ask you. What I’d like to do, and there will be a break in this interview between what Charles has asked and what I’m going to be asking you. The material we went over here was for clarification purposes, which means it really shouldn’t be a part of the whole interview. So, what we’re going to begin talking about now will be added on to what you already said in text form. What year was it that you went to Vegas to begin working? What was your first engagement there?

JB: Now, with Louis Armstrong: 1961. But on my own, it was 1969, 1970 and 1971.

LJM: How were you introduced to Vegas in 1969? Did you have contacts there already?

JB: Through Associated Booking Corporation. After being home for more than a year to help my mom and my father out and adjust and all. When funds ran out, I called the office and told them I needed to work. So, Mr. Glazier called Dallas office and the Vegas office. And Art – I forget his last name now – but he was over the Las Vegas office. So, when I first started to work, I worked first . . . I got a band in Oklahoma and in Dallas through Tony Pappa out of the Dallas Office. But then after I’d worked there, then Art got the thing for me in Las Vegas. So, I never got a chance to do anything further than those two offices because I worked extensively for both of them. They kept me pretty busy, just the two offices.

LJM: You initiated the contact with them to begin working again?

JB: I called Mr. Glazier and told him I needed to go back to work. And he called the Dallas Office and the Las Vegas Office, and they got work for me.

LJM: At that point, did Joe Glazier drop out of the scene after he made the contact for you?

JB: It wasn’t long after that he died.

LJM: Did he intend to be your agent?

JB: Yes, his intentions were to actually push all the buttons for me as a single act. But as I said, he died.

LJM: What was your first engagement in Vegas? Do you remember where it was? On your own.

JB: That was at The Sahara and the Casbah Theater where I’d gone for two weeks, and they held me a year.

LJM: Did you appear alone or accompanied by a group?

JB: Well, I was the lead or star singer for the show.

LJM: Do you remember the group?

JB: Las Blues was the group, and the show was called Fillis de Sol.

LJM: Was there competition between The Sahara and other clubs after you were successful during the first few months? Did the other clubs vie for your . . . .

JB: If they were, I didn’t know anything about it because, you see, Alan, who was the producer of the show, he would have heard any contacts about anything like that, I guess. We didn’t. We did midnight shows and, of course, nobody really knew how to contact any of the entertainers personally, I guess, but, of course, a gentleman from Roxbury Productions in London. People come up to you and want to see if they can do anything with you; if you’ll do anything for them, or whatever have you. But I was contracted. When you’re contracted, you just more or less do what you’ve go to do where you are.

LJM: Were you satisfied with the arrangements?

JB: Yes, I was. It was good pay, and I kind of liked . . . . After traveling with Louis all those years out of a suitcase and hard to see the bottom of it, it was quite delightful to be in one place, to live like a human at home. I had my own apartment with everything in it, to cook, and so forth. And that was quite a change and quite delightful to be able to be in one place and live like you’re at home while you are entertaining. I believe after any entertainer has traveled around the world at least four times like I have and you’re able work in one spot, it’s a treat.

LJM: What was your second engagement in Vegas following the one at The Sahara?

JB: Well, I left, and they called me right back.

LJM: Same club?

JB: Yes, and I worked another year.

LJM: You say you “left.” You came back to Houston?

JB: Yes. The show ended, and I forget the name of the other show. “Skin” I believe it was called.

LJM: And you worked on that show for how long?

JB: Another year.

LJM: So, that was the last show, then?

JB: Yes. Now, I did one more thing: Kay Starr. I had called her one night, and I was telling her that I was going to be leaving Las Vegas. And she invited me to her home. We had become friends when we worked together at The Riviera in Las Vegas when I was with Louis Armstrong. So, she had a friend who had jut re-opened the club called “P.J’s” out in California. And he had me come to work for him before I retired and came on back home. I had worked extensively in Las Vegas, but then I went and worked a month in Los Angeles before coming on back home.

LJM: In Las Vegas, as you mentioned already, it was quite a difference from touring with Louis Armstrong’s Band. And I would imagine that the audiences were somewhat different than those you encountered in your travels.

JB: Yes, and I was actually doing a different type of thing. With Louis, we worked to the beat of the Dixieland jazz flavor. And, of course, in Las Vegas on this show, everything was done more or less with a rock and blues flavor. Not hard rock, and not exactly what you might say rock and roll. It wasn’t to that effect. But much more of a bluesy flavor.

LJM: Did you like doing that?

JB: Yes. I was raised singing all kinds of stuff. You just went whichever way the gig directed itself.

LJM: Pragmatic. So essentially , then, it was more of a nightclub show rather than concert performances. It was a nightclub show.

JB: Yes.

LJM: As opposed to concert?

JB: Yes, very definitely.

LJM: Did this necessitate a good deal of reworking the music to suit this environment? Your work, I’m speaking of.

JB: Well, as I said, the show had already been programmed and I just . . . . It was more or less me fitting in. So, I just re-geared, put yourself in gear and dance to the flavor. Like you dance to the music. That’s more or less what it was all about. And then my being, I guess you might say, versatile . . . what ever it took to enhance what I was there for.

LJM: Without an agent to represent you . . . . I realize you were working on contract, but without an agent to represent you, did you feel at all apprehensive without legal advice on contracts? Did you feel that you had any recourse?

JB: Well, when you have apprehension, or recourse, as you call it, this is when you have what you might say, the slicksters approach in you. But, thank God for my awareness – very young that I was taught from my family, especially so my father. I was always able to weed that sort of character out, and that is what I do believe saved me from those sort of recourses.

CS: So, you never really had any problems . . .

JB: No, I was always able to week that kind of thing out and stay away from it, regardless of what it cost. Because it might look like the star is shining but then down the road, you’ve got muddy waters. I can’t miss something I’ve never had, so you just let the shining star alone so you don’t have to tread muddy waters. You can just see it coming sometimes.

LJM: I asked this question because we tend to lost track of time, and we’re talking here almost twenty years ago, essentially. And a lot has happened for working women in that twenty years. You started in when this whole revolution essentially was just getting gear up, during the 1960’s and the 1970’s.

End of Side 1.

Side 2:

JB: There’s two sides to everything. You can please some of the people some of the time. You can please most of the people most of the time, but you can’t please all the people all of the time. So, there’s a thing wherein there’s some people that might know you and there’s some people who don’t really have to know you, that are proud that you are able to function and be independent. And then you have some who know you and don’t know you who are envious of the fact that you’re independent. And being paid to travel the world. What they think is enjoyment, but they only see the glorifying parts on stage. They don’t know the malfunctions backstage. And they don’t know the pain and the hurt and the loneliness backstage. So, it’s just like I, spiritually, think sometime when Jesus said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” So, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they’re thinking.” They don’t know what to think; they really don’t know. So, you don’t condone a man for not really know, you just sort of walk away from his ignorance, and that’s about the size of that.

LJM: I was rather impressed with what you had done. Being in Vegas on your own without even an agent after having broken away from a very stable working relationship . . . . to break away and launch a career on your own. That’s quite an undertaking.

JB: And I would have continued to do so, honestly. Nobody can really handle you like you can handle yourself, once you’ve got an education on what it’s all about. It might not always be good. As a matter of fact, it is best to have someone representing you. It seems to be looked upon a little better than you handling yourself, for some reason or another. But I thank God I had the knowledge and the wisdom to do so in my era and under my partaking of the entertainment field.

LJM: I think that fully explores as much as we can discuss in the short time of your career in Las Vegas.

JB: It wasn’t very long, but it was a good one. It was okay. It paid the bills.

LJM: Do ever think of going back?

JB: Well, whatever. . . whatever! There’s no real particular delights. I love working Las Vegas. It not the Las Vegas that it once used to be, but it’s still good. It’s still fun. It still Las Vegas. I like working Hawaii and places like that. Of course, anybody does. It’s so beautiful. But then when it comes to entertaining, I close my eyes and wherever I am, that’s where I am. I do the best I can wherever.

LJM: Thank you very much. I appreciate you coming in today and talking with us.

END OF SESSION 2