Ramblin' Rhodes: Music legends are part of Nicholson Building history

The words on the small glass window of the red door in the 600 block of Broad Street are about the only reminders that this same building once was the home of some very popular Augusta nightclubs:


“Lounge Hours, Mon.-Sat., 3 p.m.-3 a.m., Entertainment starts at 6 p.m.”

It’s been vacant for years, and yet many Augustans hold precious memories of the good times and bad times they had in the building and of the world famous entertainers, many country and rock bands and nearly forgotten strippers who performed inside.

Letters and numbers at the center top of the building read, “Nicholson Building, 1935.”

The Chronicle in April of 1935 reported that the building at 619, 621, 625, 627 and 629 Broad St., previously had been occupied by the Connell Motor Company.

The new owner, W.B. Nicholson, told The Chronicle in 1935 that his firm planned to remodel the structure to make it one of the most modern and attractive sales and display buildings in the south.

By the 1950s, the building had become the Ship Ahoy restaurant. It began offering entertainment in its “Marine Room,” which later would become best known for its female strippers and meeting place for Augusta’s most powerful politicians.

In 1952, the Ship Ahoy was calling itself “Augusta’s restaurant of distinction” with regular lunches costing 65 cents and up and dinners at $1.40 and up.

The restaurant part of the building in the mid- and late 1960s evolved into the “Whisk-A-Go-Go Celebrity Room” and began showcasing such international acts as million-selling Georgia-born singer Billy Joe Royal, soul-rock singer Rufus Thomas and even sexy movie star Jayne Mansfield.

Mansfield recalled living in Augusta for a year in the early 1950s when her second lieutenant husband, Paul Mansfield, was stationed at Fort Gordon.

“I used to practice dancing outside the barracks in black leotards and the troops sometimes watched me while they were marching and got out of step,” she told The Chronicle in 1966.

The house band at the Whisk-A-Go-Go was The Celestials whose lead singer was Johnny Hensley. He would later become a well known promoter of shows in the Bell Auditorium, a successful real estate agent and the host of his Shag City beach music TV show.

In late 1972, the larger part of the Nicholson Building became the Country Carousel nightclub managed by Leon “Bruno” Ward and his wife, Mary.

And that became the first place Barbara Mandrell would perform in Augusta in December of 1972. The future country music superstar booked with her family band was advertised to be doing shows “for one week only.”

Usually that meant performing three times a night at the Country Carousel to maybe the size of audiences that could fit into a dressing room at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.

Mandrell would return to Augusta many times to headline shows both in Bell Auditorium and the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center (later James Brown Arena).

Other country stars who performed at the Country Carousel “for one week only” included Grand Ole Opry legends Dottie West, Little Jimmy Dickens, Nat Stuckey and Tex Ritter as well as famous country entertainers Ace Cannon and Jacky Ward.

Ward at that time was recording duets on Mercury Records with an unknown Oklahoma singer named Reba McEntire.

One night at the Country Carousel, Dottie West introduced me to a visitor and Augusta-area resident named Ginny Wright, who had been a star on the Louisiana Hayride show when Elvis Presley was making guest appearances on the popular radio program.

West told me that she and Wright were the only singers to have No. 1 duet hits with Jim Reeves before he was killed in a plane crash in 1964. West herself would die in a car crash in 1991 on the way to a Grand Ole Opry show.

By the late 1970s, the former Country Carousel had evolved into a Southern rock nightclub called the Whippin’ Post; named after a hit song by the Allman Brothers Band who recorded for Macon, Ga.,-based Capricorn Records.

Word has it that the Allman Brothers themselves slipped into the Whippin’ Post unannounced one night to surprise the Southern rock music fans.

One of the bands that played at the Whippin’ Post was a Florida group called Rukkus. The bass player, who had been born in Augusta’s St. Joseph Hospital (now Trinity), stood out from being so tall and having long blond hair.

That bass player, Terry Bollea, later would become world famous as wrestler Hulk Hogan.

Another Capricorn Records act that could be counted on always to pack the Whippin’ Post was the Eric Quincy Tate band, which in 1976 would record its live album Can’t Keep A Good Band Down at the Whippin’ Post.

There really wasn’t anybody named Eric Quincy Tate in the band. It was just a made-up name.

Also frequently performing at the Whippin’ Post was a great local rock band called Crossroads that featured popular local musician and later recording studio owner Robbie Ducey. Crossroads would perform shows through the South before breaking up and performing its last show at the Whippin’ Post on Labor Day weekend of 1977.

The last big nightclub attempt in the Nicholson Building in 1983 was another country music-theme offering called Sammy’s.

It was operated by long-time Augusta musician Sammy O’Banion, who would eventually move to Tennessee and then North Carolina where he would gain his biggest fame with his beach music band.

O’Banion even would be inducted into a beach music hall of fame. Too bad there isn’t a hall of fame for nightclubs with great memories or else the Country Carousel, Whippin’ Post, Sammy’s and Marine Room all might be eligible.