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Legendary Sex Pistols punk rock show at Cain's Ballroom recalled
TULSA — Larry Shaeffer and Scott Munz already had taken a chance on the decaying Cain's Ballroom building.
The two restored the aging music venue from its dilapidated condition in the late 1970s.
Now they were about to take another chance with a new style of decadent music.
In 1978, Cain's Ballroom — originally known for western swing and country music dating to the 1930s — became one of only seven venues on the American tour of the British punk rock band the Sex Pistols.
The Cain's show was the short-lived band's sixth stop on the tour. They never returned as a band, but they left a legacy.
The Sex Pistols 34 years ago were the offensive, “politically outspoken bad boys of England,” Shaeffer said.
A headline in their press kit, cut out from the London Daily Mirror, called them, “The filth and the fury,” Now they were coming to the original home of western swing icon Bob Wills.
The song “God Save the Queen” had caused an uproar across the Atlantic Ocean.
“God Save the Queen/ She ain't no human being/ There is no future/ In England's dreaming.”
Also “Anarchy in the U.K.,” a song with a line Johnny Rotten sang, “I am an anti-Christ,” was loud, angry and plenty controversial, Shaeffer said. It was not the happy British invasion of the 1960s. But it was the act Shaeffer needed to save the building.
A group of fundamentalist Christian youths showed up in the snow and stood in front of Cain's with a banner that read, “Life is ‘Rotten' Without God's Only Begotten Jesus.”
‘It was very chaotic'
Vernon Gowdy III, 57, of Tuttle, was an aspiring rock 'n' roll photographer and college student working for the Oklahoma Daily in Norman at age 23. . It was his first big assignment for the newspaper.
His first pictures were of the banner. Onstage, he focused on Johnny Rotten.
“It was very chaotic. There were all these people from the press,” Gowdy said. People from Rolling Stone, Cream, Hit Parader and Billboard magazine were covering the show.
“When they finally came onstage Johnny Rotten comes out and the energy, it was like, when he would sing he would go like this,” Gowdy said, giving his impersonation with an air microphone.
“He would have this laser-eye stare that could almost cut through sheet metal,” Gowdy said.
Jeff Moore, historian at the Oklahoma History Center and project director for the proposed Oklahoma Pop Museum in Tulsa, said Cain's is the last operating venue the Sex Pistols played in America.
“I think what the Sex Pistols show did historically is that it redefined Cain's as a venue for rock 'n' roll,” Moore said. “It was this historic moment where the Sex Pistols in a weird sort of anti-establishment way swept the state, not quite like The Beatles, but in a new way and lead this punk revolution that had a long-lasting impact on music.”
There was no punk rock scene in Oklahoma, he said. But about 800 people managed to navigate wintry weather that night. Many were curiosity seekers, but others were dressed in the new punk rock style that had been seen in New York and London.
“I was glad to grab a date with them (Sex Pistols) because they were right up my alley,” Shaeffer said.
Budding punk scene
The show drew a lot of buzz. A number of undercover Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agents and Tulsa police officers were in the crowd, waiting for members of the band to expose themselves, Shaeffer said.
The Sex Pistols American tour was planned carefully to pick venues in conservative parts of the country to stir up publicity, Shaeffer recalled.
The band showed up at 9 a.m. Jan. 11, 1978, after playing the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas the night before. They left Dallas quickly that night and drove straight to Tulsa because singer Johnny Rotten reportedly smashed a photographer's camera, Shaeffer said.
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Feb 24In 1978 Larry Shaeffer and Scott Munz had restored Cain's...