CAFE AND MUSIC HALL
by Bob Bowman
almost any Saturday night, hundreds of East Texans crowd into
an old Crockett
building known as the Camp Street Cafe and Store. And in doing so,
they're helping Guy and Pipp Gillette write a new chapter in the history
of the building -- a one-time pool hall, barber shop and juke joint.
The Gillette brothers' grandfather, Hoyt Porter, built the simple
high-roofed, tin-sided building in 1931, but he never occupied it,
instead leasing it to store owners in a part of town known as a black
The Gillette brothers, who have built a national reputation as cowboy
musicians and story tellers, rescued Grandpa Hoyt's building in 1998
and converted it into a home for visiting musicians.
The building already had reputation as a music
Hopkins and other blues musicians played here years ago. A
statue of Hopkins stands across the street from his old stomping
The Camp Street Cafe and Store is about as eclectic as you can get
in East Texas. Every Saturday
night, and some weekdays, performers step onto a small stage and do
what they like to do best. Audiences are likely to hear cowboy singers,
Irish musicians, and bluesmen.
The Gillettes play here, too. And even though they're reluctant to
impose their music on the hometown folks, they pack the house when
they walk onstage with their guitars, banjo, harmonica, an Irish drum
called the bodhran, and the bones -- an ancient instrument crafted
from the ribs of a cow.
Somehow, an instrument made from cow bones seems fitting for Guy and
When they're not playing at cowboy music and poetry festivals around
the country, they're up to their guitar straps in a real working cattle
ranch near Lovelady.
The ranch has been in the Gillette family since 1912 when their grandfather
Gillette started growing cattle and cotton on the spread. The Gillette
and Porter families merged when Doris Porter married Guy Gillette.
The couple wound up in New York, where Doris performed in Broadway
plays and Guy built a reputation as a free-lance photographer.
Their young sons, Guy and Pipp, often came home to East
Texas, riding the train from Grand Central Station to Lovelady,
where they rode horses with their grandfather, made campfire coffee,
and rounded up strays.
In New York, they grew up with music of all kinds -- everything from
Duke Ellington to Jimmie Rodgers -- and started singing and playing
together. By the 1970s, they were making a living with music.
But as they grew up, the old ranch they loved was leased out. Looking
over its rundown condition, the brothers decided to come home, restore
the ranch, and become full-time cowboys.
They also became singing cowboys, performing at events showcasing
the old west's culture. They recently won the Academy of Western Artists'
Will Rogers Cowboy Award and regularly get flattering reviews for
Today, their New York life is a part of the past. Guy has been back
to the Big Apple only three times in 17 years, Pipp only twice. The
ranch, meanwhile, has been restored, and it's home.
And there never seems to be a shortage of cow ribs to build a set
of bones to play on the stage of the Camp Street Cafe and Store.
Your Hotel Here & Save
24, 2003 column
Published with permission
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical
Association. Bob Bowman is a former president of the Association and
author of nearly 30 books about East Texas.