Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cornbread Red, Fats & Johnston City

I love this picture. Billy Burge, better known as "Cornbread Red," was a famed road player, an expert one-pocket player, and a colorful wild man. He was a fixture of "The Rack," a famed pool hall in Detroit, and also a backroom denizen of the Johnston City tournaments. Burge placed second in the Johnston City one-pocket division, back in 1966. He died in 2004.

I got to thinking about Cornbread Red after stumbling across this goofy snapshot on the Internet. It's one of a whole bunch of great pool photos that veteran pro Mary Kenniston recently uploaded to her Facebook page. (Thanks Mary!)  Burge epitomized the Johnston City generation of pool players that included Boston Shorty, Handsome Danny and the Tuscaloosa Squirrel. He was the subject of a biography, written with Bob Henning, and he also turns up in the autobiography of Minnesota Fats, The Bank Shot.

On page 135 of that last book, in the chapter titled "Exposed By Hollywood," Fats describes encountering Cornbread Red and others in Johnston City. The players were all razzing Fats about being a has-been player. Red became the victim of one of Fats' famous put-downs.

"I really think you're all washed up," Danny said.
"I think so too," Mr. Tuscaloosa Squirrelly chimed in.
"And so do I," said Mr. Cornbread Red. "I think Danny and the Squirrel are right, Fatty. You're finished."
"Is that so?" I said to Mr. Cornbread Red. "Well I'll tell you what I'll do. When I get through with Mr. Handsome Danny, which will be very shortly, it will be your turn to come to the table with the cash, Mr. Cornbread Red. And when I get through busting you down to your last dime and paying your bus fare back to Detroit, you'll be known as No-Bread Red."
That was enough to silence The Breadman but it wasn't enough to convince Mr. Handsome Danny, on account that Handsome kept right on trying to out talk me.
Biographer Tom Fox, who co-authored the Bank Shot, apparently witnessed the exchange. I really enjoy that book. It's hilarious. I was able to facilitate its republishing a few years back after it had fallen off into obscurity. The new version was put out by Lyons Press, which also published Hustler Days and The Hustler & The Champ.

Bob Henning's book also is excellent. It's called "Cornbread Red: Pool's Greatest Money Player." You can find it on Amazon or you can order it directly from Henning, at Bebob Publishing.  And finally, if you want to read more about Cornbread Red, check out Onepocket.org. Cornbread Red was inducted into the organization's One Pocket Hall of Fame back in 2004.

-- R.A. Dyer

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog. I was researching old pool players and saw a lot that I'd met when travelling with player Howard Barrett. I met Cornbread Red in Vegas but I don't remember the year. I'm thinking 1972 or around there. He won and lost a lot of money, if I remember correcty! His buddy took half and went back to the Carolinas and bought a pool room. Red lost his half.
I remember Pucket from Texas. He travelled with a shinny, gawky young red-headed player (Bird?) and they were hustling around Florida at the time.
Anyway, thanks for jogging my memory.
Pat T.

Jim White said...

Pat T. Oh my gawd.....is that you PAT? This is the KID they Knew as Tallahassee Jim, Kid Dynamite, and later Florida truckdriver. I was just learning to play when you were coming into Pastime and "The Brew". If this sounds familiar then it is wonderful to find you. Howard and I "chummed around" quite a bit after you left. Jimmy White

Anonymous said...

I miss you both. This is George Spell.

Anonymous said...

my name is jason seguin i am Howard Barrett's son. if theres any one out there that have any pics of him i would love see some my email address is pseguin1@yahoo.com