When legendary Texas honky tonk crooner Dale Watson opened the World Famous Hernando’s Hideaway on Brooks Road in Memphis in October 2019, he promised music fans that they would soon be able to sit back and enjoy the music with a cold bottle of Lone Star beer.
Getting the brew turned out to be not so easy though.
It became a running joke on stage that Lone Star would be there in two weeks.
That two weeks turned into 15 months of red tape.
“It got caught up in beer politics,” Watson said. “I had to get the okay from this one (distributor) and that one, because you can’t just come in here and carry it. You have to go through the right channels, and the channels take a long time to talk back and forth.”
There were times he thought about just loading up an 18-wheeler (or in his case, his touring bus) full of the stuff and bootlegging in across state lines like they did in the 1977 Burt Reynolds movie “Smokey and the Bandit.” In the movie Reynolds hauls 400 cases of Coors beer from Texarkana to Atlanta. Coors wasn’t licensed to be sold east of the Mississippi River until the mid-1980s. Gerald Ford famously smuggled a case of Coors in his luggage from a vice-presidential skiing trip to Colorado.
“That’s how I had been doing my private stock,” Watson said. “I’d just go to Texas and bring it here. But of course, I couldn’t sell it.”
The wait is finally over. Watson found a distributorship in Knoxville which carries Lone Star and received his first shipment of 67 cases.
The official beer of Texas will make its debut this weekend at Hernando’s when Watson and the band returns to the stage after a two month lay-off because of COVID-19 occupancy restrictions, which forced him to close the place down again temporarily.
Lone Star beer has long been a big part of Watson’s career. The brand has been an official sponsor of his touring band — ironically called The Lone Stars — for about 20 years.
Lone Star beer has been a staple in roadside honky tonks and a favorite with Texas music fans.
Watson even came up with a Lone Star jingle in 2007 that he performs playfully in between songs. “Best beer in the world. Lone Star,” he sings while holding up a bottle and flashing a pearly white smile.
Watson, who doesn’t drink...normally, jokes, “It whitens your teeth, creates brain cells. And it even keeps Covid away. It’s miraculous.”
“I did it once on stage spontaneously and the band kind of joined in,” Watson said. “It’s just a fun way to include everybody in on the joke.”
Watson said customers are already excited about being able to order a Lone Star and play Chicken Sh** bingo, another Hernando’s Hideaway exclusive, where you bet on a numbers board and win money if the chicken defecates on your number.
Held every Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., the event features music by Watson along with free hot dogs.
Watson first saw the game at a bar he played at called the Blue Bayou in Bellflower, California.
“The way they did it was very illegal,” Watson said. “They would lock the doors and the house would take a cut and it would be like $50 for the first round and $100 for a square in the second round. It was a lot of money.”
Watson thought it was a fun idea and suggested it to the owners of the Little Longhorn Saloon in Austin, Texas, where he was already playing a regular show on Thursday nights.
“They wanted me to play another night on Sunday,” Watson said. “I didn’t want to just play another night out there. So I told them let’s do something different. Let’s play early so people can come out and still get home in time for bed so they can get up for work.”
That next Thursday he asked club owner Don Kalmbach and his wife Ginny if they were ready for chicken sh** bingo.
“I asked if they had a chicken and they looked at me and said, ‘I thought you were joking about that,’” Watson said. “I said, ‘no. You haven’t made a pen or anything?’ They said, ‘that’s a real thing, chicken sh** bingo?’ Yeah.”
So between Thursday and Sunday, Kalmbach got a chicken and a pen and made the numbers board to Watson’s specifications, even adding the University of Texas Longhorns colors.
Only this version of Chicken Sh** bingo wasn’t going to be like the high stakes affair at the last bar.
“I thought, let’s do it in a way where the house doesn’t make any money and the stakes are low where it’s not going to hurt anybody or they won’t get mad if they lose a couple of bucks,” Watson said.
Sundays featuring chicken sh** bingo and free hotdogs - which Watson borrowed from another bar he played at in Burbank, California - became an instant hit, and he’s been doing it ever since.
“They have had me do it overseas in Holland, England, France and Spain,” Watson said.
Watson admits he was surprised that it caught on.
“We thought it would be good for maybe a month,” Watson said. “But it ended up being a full house every Sunday.”
It also has become a fan favorite at Hernando’s.
“That’s our biggest day,” Watson said. “And I knew it would be. It’s my favorite thing. People come in the first time and they are kind of intimidated by it. Then they see people win money. People run up to get in line to buy numbers. And it’s so funny because after people see it the first time and see people winning money, they join in.”
Watson added his own signature twist to the game. Winners can keep the $145, or they can take a chance and “Make a Dale” by choosing to trade it for whatever amount he has in any of his four pants pockets.
“I have had as little as twenty-five cents. Or as much as a couple thousand dollars,” Watson said.
And even though the pandemic forced him to close the doors for a while, Watson installed cameras and streamed Chicken Sh** Bingo on Facebook Live. The streaming regularly drew over 200 viewers from all over the world.
Most of the winners donated the money to tip the band.
“It definitely helped me pay the bills and paychecks for the band and keep the place going,” Watson said.
Watson said he’s so happy that Chicken Sh** bingo is back and that Lone Star beer is here that he plans to get a horse and a six pack and ride down the middle of Elvis Presley Boulevard with a big sign saying ‘Lone Star is in Memphis!’
“Being from Texas, it’s just such a part of me that drinking any other beer would just be weird,” Watson said.