How James White and the Broken Spoke Helped out Willie
If y'all aren't following Austin History Center on social media y'all should be. They're always posting great historical photographs from their vast collection. They have begun digitizing and archiving the work of Lisa Davis, a photographer in Austin from 1978-1995. Check out this awesome photo Lisa took of James White, owner of the famed Broken Spoke dancehall in Austin in 1990. As you can see he's holding a jar with a note that reads "Where there's a Willie There's A Way." Seeing this reminded me of one of the really great Texas stories.
It was 1991 and the IRS was attempting to take 16.7 million dollars from Willie for unpaid taxes. Willie lost nearly everything except his guitar, Trigger. James White decided to step in. James put up this pickle jar for donations at the Broken Spoke. "The IRS took all of Willie's property and his money," James recalled, "They even took his pictures of the walls and his gold records. We didn't think he should lose his family pictures or the gold records that he earned. I thought, 'Aw, hell, I'll just put a gallon pickle jar on the bar and write "Where There's a Willie There's a Way" and people could put their dollars in there and we'd give it to Willie to pay off his tax bill. Willie was one of the good 'ol boys and we thought they should cut him a little slack," James said, "all he ever wanted to do was entertain people and travel around the world doing it. They should have just left him alone. His accountants were the ones who got him in trouble."
So up went the pickle jar. The Austin American Statesman, Texas Monthly, and The Associated Press ran stories about Mr. White helping Willie. "I started getting phone calls from people all around the world --- people were sending me money to give it to Willie, and I gave him every nickel of it and every note that people wrote to brag about him. There were people who didn't have nothin' and they'd write a note: 'Well, Willie, we ain't got much, but you're welcome to have our old truck or stay here at the house."
Mr. White and the Spoke raised 10 thousand dollars. Willie was in Hawaii and didn't have the funds to leave the islands, so Lana Nelson, Willie's daughter, came and got it and brought it to Willie. Willie was so happy that he called up Mr. White and said he was going to stop by the Broken Spoke when he came back to Austin and that he was going to bring some friends. And that's how it came to be that, in December 1991, Willie showed up with Kris Kristofferson, Doug Sahm, Joe Ely, Alvin Crow and others and jammed out the Broken Spoke in a concert that lives on in local lore.
You can see Lisa Davis' remarkable collection of photographs here. She took fantastic photos of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Barbara Jordan and many, many others:
Beauty is only skin deep but Texas is to the bone.