December 9, 2009 Edition

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Rock 'N' Roll Highway 67 sign unveiled

Gretchen Hunt

The first Rock 'N' Roll Highway 67 sign was unveiled on Wednesday following a short press conference held at Bob King's in Swifton.

In addition to State Rep. J.R. Rogers, who authored the legislation to rename the stretch of highway, several other proponents of preserving the area's music history were in attendance, including Prosecuting Attorney Henry Boyce and Sonny Burgess of Newport, Walnut Ridge Mayor Michelle Rogers and Linda Collins-Smith and Bill Masiongale of Pocahontas.

Also in attendance were Dan Flowers, director of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, and Joe David Rice, director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, as well as Emanuel Banks, assistant chief engineer for operations for the highway department and AHTD Commissioner Cliff Hoofman.

Prior to the unveiling, Sun Recording artist Sonny Burgess, who is part of the initial movement to have the highway renamed, shared stories of playing at the club in the 1950s.

He recounted stories about his own experiences, as well as others who frequented Bob King's and other clubs in the area, such as Elvis Presley, Conway Twitty and Johnny Cash.

"There's a lot of nostalgia," State Rep. Rogers said as they stood in the club.

Rogers said he felt like unveiling the sign at Bob King's first was appropriate as it is the only club along the highway that is still in operation.

"I wanted to do this here because of the significance of this establishment," he said. "If not for this and others like this there wouldn't be a sign."

He said many of the buildings, such as the Silver Moon in Newport, are gone now.

Burgess said he believes if the highway is developed as planned, it could be a draw for people from around the world. He said a recent benefit for Billy Lee Riley drew people to Newport from as far away as Sweden.

In addition to touring, Riley's band also served as the backup band for many Sun recording artists.

Flowers said signs will be erected at several locations in Jackson, Lawrence, Randolph and Clay counties. While the sign unveiled on Dec. 2 is adjacent to Bob King's, Flowers said most of the signs will simply be on the highway as travelers are exiting a town to let them know they are on the Rock 'N' Roll Highway.

"It's very significant," Flowers said of the history of Highway 67. "We're proud to be a part of it."

Rogers said many things are planned regarding promotion of the Rock 'N' Roll Highway and some things are already in place.

He said the area is fortunate to already have one of the most successful festivals, Depot Days, held each year in Newport. He also credited Linda Collins-Smith and other organizers of this year's Rock 'N' Roll Highway 67 Festival in Pocahontas.

Collins-Smith said she was excited that the festival included a car cruise from Newport to Pocahontas, along the stretch of highway they hope many more will travel.

Rogers said he is also completing renovations on his building on Highway 67 in downtown Walnut Ridge and plans to reopen his All Star Music store there.

"I plan to utilize the music store to help promote Rock 'N' Roll Highway 67," he said. "I think it's a very good thing for Northeast Arkansas and especially this area." In addition to the music store, Rogers said he plans to have both Rock 'N' Roll and Walnut Ridge memorabilia on display.

A tourism committee in Lawrence County is working on plans to promote the highway, including putting up markers along the stretch.

Boyce said a museum has been opened in downtown Newport at the Economic Development Office with vintage photos and other memorabilia from the Silver Moon and Porky's Roof Top.

Rogers said this is just one way to celebrate the grass roots of rock and roll in Northeast Arkansas and the Mid-South area.

"With all of us working together on this and working hard to promote it, I believe it will be a big plus," he said.

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