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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bailey Wilkinson and the OSO Club

Posted by on Tue, Jun 1, 2010 at 11:17 AM

Bailey Wilkinson
  • Bailey Wilkerson
If you can bear it, look carefully at the drug-addled, LSD-selling hippie in this photo.

Not exactly the kind of person you want your kids hanging around, is it? Not with his tangled, shoulder-length hair, menacing tattoos, and weirdo Carnaby Street fashions! And Lord only knows the eardrum-bursting psychedelic music he played on that guitar, cranked up to "11". Why, he makes Marilyn Manson look like a choir boy!

Wait a minute. Something's not right here. This is Bailey Wilkinson, one of the nicest fellows you could hope to meet, a clean-cut fellow with short hair and — good grief, I think he's even wearing white socks with his penny loafers!

But in the mid-1960s, when he opened his oddly named OSO club for teenagers on North Highland, just a few blocks from Treadwell High School, you would have thought that Satan himself had moved into the community. The OSO was the first of the so-called "coffeehouses" that opened around Memphis, and neighbors (meaning = adults) were NOT happy. They fretted about the music, the musicians, the food, even the decor of the OSO and other clubs that followed: The Bitter Lemon, the Pastime, the Roaring 60s. They were especially concerned because so many of these places were — horrors! — painted black inside. Good children, it seems, didn't hang out in places with black walls.

Even ones, like the OSO, that clearly posted NO DRINKING signs on the front doors.

But this was Memphis in the 1960s — or trying to catch up to the 1960s — and the OSO and the other little clubs around town provided a new kind of place for teens to hang out, and managed to attract an astonishing number of talented performers: The Box-Tops, The Groupe, The Tribesmen, The Hombres, Even the all-girl band, The Goodees.

Then, before you could play "Purple Haze" on air guitar, the whole "beatnik/hippie/club scene" kind of faded away here. All these old places have been demolished or converted into other businesses.

And Wilkinson himself? I was told he died in a car wreck, sometime in the 1970s, long after the OSO closes. Does anybody know for sure?

PHOTO COURTESY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS LIBRARIES

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