From one show to the phenomenon that has become Branson, Missouri, “The live music show capital of the world,” the Baldknobbers Jamboree is heralded as the show “that started it all. This installment of Branson Tourism Center’s Up Close and Personal is with Bob Mabe, one of the original cofounders and performers of the Baldknobbers, who shares a firsthand glimpse of how it all started over 51 years ago.
“Branson – Up Close and Personal,” is a service of the Branson Tourism Center and is intended to provide readers with an up close and personal look at a Branson star or personality. The format will be “Question and Answer” and the interviewing will be done for the Branson Tourism Center (BTC) by Gary J. Groman, a 25 year resident of the Branson area, local columnist and free lance writer.
BTC: When did the “Baldknobbers” first start playing together as the “Baldknobbers?”
Bob Mabe: I started the Baldknobbers in 1959 and we played a few places. One of the first shows we did was a pie supper at the Old Boston School House. One of our bigger events was the press conference when they announced they were going to build “Silver Dollar City” in 1959. [Mabe also pointed out that they performed on the opening day of Silver Dollar City in 1960 and on some weekends during their opening year.]
BTC: Where did the Baldknobbers first appear in historic downtown Branson?
Bob Mabe: It was for Plumb Nellie Days in 1960 and I’ve got a trophy that we won first place. [Plumb Nellie Days is still celebrated each year in Historic Downtown Branson.]
BTC: When was the first “Baldknobbers Jamboree Show” held?
Bob Mabe: It was later in 1960 after we had appeared in the Plumb Nellie Days Festival.
BTC: Where was it held?
Bob Mabe: In the “Old Community Building” in downtown Branson. [It contained the City Hall and other rooms and was located in what is now the parking lot at the southeastern corner of Business Highway 65 (Veterans Boulevard) and Pacific near where the Public Restrooms are now located. There is no historical marker indicating the site.]
BTC: Did you perform a show every night?
Bob Mabe: No. We played in the Shepherd of the Hills play four nights a week then we’d go down there [the Old Community Building] on Friday nights and set up a stage and do a show. In the “Shepherd of the Hills” we were the band for the square dance segment of the play, I also played the Sheriff and my brother Lyle played “Uncle Ike.”
BTC: Who came up with the name the “Baldknobbers?”
Bob Mabe: It was me and was chosen from the book. [The book is the novel “The Shepherd of the Hills” written by Harold Bell Wright and published it 1907. The “Baldknobbers” was a vigilante group that played a prominent part in the story.] I wished afterwards that I had said the “Mabe Brothers” instead because of the four of us brothers.
BTC: What was the “ballpark” average size of your audiences in the beginning?
Bob Mabe: The size ranged all the way from 15 to 60 and probably averaged 30 with our biggest audience probably around 80. We’d have our wives go out and stand on the corner with signs advertising the show.
BTC: Did you have big expectations?
Bob Mabe: When we first started things were tough. I remember telling the boys, “Boys if we stick with it one of these days we’ll be making $200.00 a week.”
BTC: Who were the members of the cast of first “Baldknobbers Jamboree Show?”
Bob Mabe: I played the guitar, banjo, fiddle and mandolin and emceed the show; Lyle [Mabe]- played the “Washtub” and performed comedy as “George Aggernite;” Jim [Mabe] played the “washboard” and performed comedy as “Droopy Drawers;” Bill [Mabe] played to dobro; Earl “Chick” Allen a.k.a. “Chick-a-boo” played the jawbone of a mule, which a local preacher nicknamed the “Jackassaphone” and Delbert Howard played the fiddle.
BTC: Who came up with the characters of “Droopy Drawers” and “George Aggernite?”
Bob Mabe: We did. The name “Droppy Drawers” just developed along with suit Jim used in the show. The name of “George Aggernite” was a funny thing. When we were kids dad drove a school bus and as we passed this house one day Lyle asked, “Was their name “George Aggernite?” Dad replied that it was George Balkin, but Lyle remembered the name “George Aggernite” and that’s how “George Aggernite” became part of the “Baldknobbers Jamboree Show.”
BTC: How did you get from the “Old Community Building” in historic downtown Branson to the new theatre on the strip?
Bob Mabe: We performed at the “Old Community Building” for all of 1960. In 1961 we moved to the Sammy Lane Pavilion Building down on the Lake Taneycomo Lakefront and stayed there for three years. Then we moved to the Old Skating Rink also on the lakefront for another four years. In 1969 we moved to the new building out on Highway 76 where the show has been ever since.
BTC: Legend has it that if you could not get a minimum number of people to attend the show on a given night that you did not hold a show. Is that correct and what was the minimum number?
Bob Mabe: The first year we held a show each night one was scheduled. When we moved to the Lakefront, except for a few exceptions, we tried to have 20. After we moved to the Skating Rink that was never a factor because we drew good crowds.
And, as the Baldknobbers Jamboree finishes its 51st year, that hasn’t changed. They continue to entertain Branson audiences with their unique variety of music and humor.