Well that's show biz!
You can see from my last blog that Clayton "Mac" McMichen wasn't above having a little fun and making a little money. Same with Sunbrock. He staged a huge fiddle competition extravaganza in West Virgina with Clark Kessinger later that year (1937). Dubbed by True Magazine "the greatest cowboy conman," Sunbrock's ill-fated rodeo and swing concert at Municipal Stadium in 1939, with Benny Goodman and his Orchestra, was, no doubt, one of the most unusual jazz gigs in Cleveland history.
I asked Juanita McMichen Lynch if Sunbrock had ever scammed Mac. "Why heavens no," she replied. "Larry knew Mac would kill him. They were always straight with each other."
Larry continued promoting his circus and wild west thrill shows through the 1940s and 50s, offering his "rubes" a thousand dollars if they could stay on a Brahma bull named "Big Sid" for ten seconds.
In the 60s Sunbrock turned again to music promotion, sponsoring shows with the Dick Clark Unit, which featured leading artists like Bobby Vee. He even held a rock n'roll extravaganza with rock bands sandwiched around a 20 minute poetry recitation by Cassius "I Am the Greatest" Clay (Muhammed Ali). Clay traded "good-natured banter and insults" with the sold-out audience. Of course his all-time great promotion occured in 1965 (see first Sunbrock blog), when he promoted an all-star country music show in Birmingham, Alabama, faked a heart attack, fled with the proceeds in a hired ambulance, and never paid the artists, including country music legend Red Foley.
Was Natchee a real Apache Indian? Larry Sunbrock would never confess. You can read his newspaper article in the last blog. Perhaps I should shed some light on this mystery man.
Natchee the Indian was born Lester Vernon Storer around 1913 in Peebles, Ohio. He was an old-time musician whose tricks included loosening the bowstrings and playing with the bow on back side of the fiddle and the strings against the fiddle strings. The trick fiddler was popular in West Virginia and southern Ohio in the early 1930s before being hired by Sunbrock to play against the top fiddlers including McMichen, Curly Fox and Clark Kessinger.
In the mid-1930's Natchee and guitarist Lloyd "Cowboy" Copas traveled with promoter Larry Sunbrock, whose staged fiddle contests were fixed (most of the fiddlers were paid a flat fee by Sunbrock regardless whether they won or lost. Curly Fox was paid a fee of $250). There is some doubt that Natchee, who dressed as an indian, was even an Indian; he was rumored to be either Italian or Greek.
To add to the confusion, he worked on radio with "Indian Bill and Little Montana" (Bill and Evalina Stallard). He also worked around Dayton and Cincinnati with Emory Martin and with Jimmie Skinner. Aside from all rumors, people who saw Natchee remembered him for his showmanship. By the 1950s was found living in Chicago.
Juanita McMichen Lynch, Clayton's daughter knew him. When I asked her about Natchee she handed me a photo of him (see last blog) and related how Natchee turned up broke and dirty at Bert Layne's door. Dooley (Bert's wife, who was her mother's sister) let him in- he hadn't eaten or bathed in days. After he showered and ate they turned him loose, never to see or hear from him again.
It was a far cry from his hey-day in the 1930s when thousands and thousands of admiring fans cried his name...
All the good times are passed and gone,
All the good time are o'er.