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Nightclub Veteran Opens A Lower Greenville Bar That Pays Tribute To Troubled Woman

Musicians gathered recently at Vagabond, which will soon open to the public.

A West Texas prostitute from the 1930s has inspired an album, a play and now a Dallas bar on Lower Greenville. It's the latest reincarnation by long-time bar owner John Kenyon and it will soon open to the public.

If anyone's looking for the Mexican restaurant J Pepe's, look again, because it's now Vagabond, a space for music, craft beers and artists. 

Kenyon recently stood on a ladder, fixing some lights.

"Can you pull the chairs and tables away from the pictures?” he said. “I'm OK, por favor."

Kenyon, a Lubbock native, has been trying to open a bar called Vagabond for the last decade -- one attempt, at the old Arcadia Theater, literally went down in flames in 2006. Another effort went bad when the economy tanked.

Kenyon is known for a string of nightclubs -- Fast and Cool, Red Jacket, Nick's Uptown. Those venues attracted James Brown, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Prince, Lucinda Williams, and local singers and songwriters from everywhere.

"I don't copy my concepts, I do one at a time, I do original ones, I try to make them special,” Kenyon says. “I wouldn't do this, until I was inspired to how it could be really unique." 

An homage to Chippy

Vagabond, he says, is an homage to Chippy, a hooker who worked the Texas oil fields during the Depression.  

"Chippy kept a minute, detailed diary of everything in her life, from what she ate, to who her johns were, and yadee yadee ya,” he said. “Maybe the Vagabond will put Chippy back on the map."

To celebrate Chippy and the opening of Vagabond, Kenyon invited his Lubbock buddies, musicians and artists Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, and Terry Allen. All three contributed to the album called Chippy. Recently, at Vagabond, they played a song about Chippy called “Cold Black Hammer.” 

Inspiring as her story may be, legend has it that she may have also been a serial killer. Images of Chippy, painted by local artists, adorn the Vagabond.

Ely says Chippy was a real person, with a powerful story. 

"There's something to, not just her, but that whole story, of people losing everything they had, and then migrating to the boom towns, and all of sudden striking it rich,” Ely said. “And it's kinda the story of the state of Texas."

"Recreating a slice of Texas history"

It's also the story of Kenyon, Ely says. 

"So in a way, he’s kind of recreating a slice of Texas history that has damn near gone away."

Allen says Kenyon isn’t a musician, but his businesses and projects are his art. 

"That's part of what he does, you know, that's his music in a sense, putting all that stuff together,” Allen says.

Butch Hancock agrees. 

"[Club owners] want to create something that wasn't there before, just like a lot of folks out there,” Hancock says. “They go out and stare at the stars and the sky, that's amazing enough as it is, but you feel like, all that space, you've gotta do something, you know."

Kenyon plans to open Vagabond in two weeks. 

For those who remember the swimming pool in the back, Kenyon says he kept it, along with the name J Pepe's on the pool floor. 

Doualy Xaykaothao is a newscaster and reporter for NPR, based in Culver City. She returned to NPR for this role in 2018, and is responsible for writing, producing, and delivering national newscasts. She also reports on breaking news stories for NPR.