An important part of Ed Bernet's
past was his small nightclub in Dallas, The Levee.
It was early 1961. Jack Ruby, who later gained world-wide and
historical notoriety by murdering presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, would not sign a contract Ed offered him for Ed's
dixieland group to play a year of weekends at Ruby's downtown Dallas Sovereign Club. He wanted to make an oral committment
but didn't want to sign a contract.
Ed decided he'd go back out to a small club, The Dallas Jazz, Ltd., at 5616
East Mockingbird Lane in Dallas, where his group had been playing for a number of months since Ed had returned to Dallas from
the Air Force and from pro football. He was able to take over the lease on that club. Because he was also in the construction
business, specializing in building new homes, and had built and sold several homes and had done some home remodeling in the
Park Cities area, he had a building crew that was able to remodel and redecorate the club. The doors were opened on March
16, 1961. The decor was more funky than fancy ("funky" was probably not a word at that time)...blue-grey walls and
ceiling, long, narrow tables with red tablecloths, black wooden slat chairs. The small stage on the West long wall was 8'x
12', just big enough for Ed's 7-pc dixieland band to squeeze on stage. Behind it he hung a large Confederate flag as the backdrop.
The name "Levee" was thought to be fitting as a place for dixieland music.
The Levee Dixieland Seven
at that time was made up of some of those he had played with during his years in SMU, where he was member of the Cell Block
Seven, a very popular dixieland show band that wore black and white striped outfits. The CB7 played SMU fraternity and sorority
parties, clubs, special events of all kinds, opened for Bob Hope when he did a concert in Dallas, played a two-week engagement
at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, finally made it to the Ed Sullivan Show on national TV (but missed getting on at the last
minute because the early part of the show ran too long). Tam Mott (trombone), Tommy Loy (trumpet), Ed's brother, Dick (piano)
and Ed (banjo) from that band were the nucleus of the Levee Dixieland Seven. Joining them were Roger Davidson (drums, who
came up with the idea to name the club "The Levee"), Benny Bennett (bass) and Peyton Park (clarinet). Those seven
musicians quickly began drawing standing-room-only crowds on Friday and Saturday nights.
It was dixieland on Fri
and Sat nights...but what could they do on Sun through Thu? The Red Garter, in San Francisco, was a well-known, successful
club that featured a banjo band and audience sing-a-long participation. Ed borrowed on that idea and formed a small pickup
band with a couple of other banjo players and Bob Christopher on the bass sax. He made song sheets, distributed copies on
the tables and started what came to be known as The Levee Banjo Band. The crowds began increasing gradually during the first
few weeks until one of the country's best banjo players, Smokey Montgomery, was invited to come and play with the band. He
liked the idea and became a regular. He had been leader of the Lightcrust Doughboys Western Swing band for many years and
knew a young guitar player/singer that had played with the Doughboys that did a combination of country and pop music...Ronnie
Dawson, from Waxahachie, Texas. As a teenager, Ronnie had been a star at the Big D Jamboree. Ronnie enjoyed his night playing
at the Levee, the people loved him, and he became a regular. Those four...Ed Bernet, Ronnie Dawson, Smokey Montgomery and
Bob Christopher...started as the Levee Banjo Band and later changed their name to The Levee Singers.
The Levee was wildly successful, almost from the very beginning...the Levee Dixieland Seven on Fri-Sat
nights, the Levee Singers on Sun-Thu nights. A little over one million people filled the place during it's 10-year run, night after night, often standing in line outside, waiting for the next set to be over in
order to fill the seats of those who were leaving.
The liquor laws in Texas changed in the late '60's, enabling restaurants to serve mixed drinks...more and
more restaurants were able to have "live" music. People who had formerly eaten dinner at a restaurant and
left when they were finished to come to the Levee were now able to enjoy many different kinds of music in many of the nice
restuarants. That, added to the fact that Ed became involved in several other businesses...and he wanted to be able
to be home at night more often with Susie and their 3 young kids...Blake, Brant and Jenny...led him to sell the club
to several of the men in his dixieland band. They later sold it to Ronnie Dawson, who had gone out on his own in the
space was ultimately taken over by a jewelry store...which was appropriate, because, during its' 10 year lifetime, The
Levee was a "Jewel" among night clubs.
Its' manager for most of that time, was Tom Kenchel. He was responsible for all the operations
of the club...working days and nights...including the hiring and management of the waiters and the men who "helped at
the front". They were all men of the highest caliber and character, many of whom were teachers and coaches during
the daytime...all of whom went on to great success in their individual "daytime" businesses. Many people
have commented, through the years, that they loved not only the music and entertainment at The Levee, but the fact that they
were treated so well by all those who worked there. Tom was responsible for that.
After The Levee closed, Tom remained as the manager of Ed's recording
studio, Sumet-Bernet Sound Studios, for more than 20 years. Tom's wife, Kay, was the company's secretary for most of
Levee was a wonderful part of the lives of the musicians and those who worked there...and the more than one million visitors
who had so much fun there during the 1960's.