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SWEETARTS AT THE NEW ORLEANS PLAYBOY CLUB
By Ernie Gammage



The photo says it all: The Sweetarts at the New Orleans Playboy Club. Yep, those are real Playboy Bunnies cuddling with Austin's own Sweetarts!

How did the Sweetarts find themselves surrounded by a bevy of buxom Bunny-eared babes? Well, a little history first in case you don't know the Playboy Club story. Sometime in the early 1960s, Hugh Hefner's Playboy Magazine went into the nightclub business, starting a string of "gentlemen's clubs" around the US. They were "member only" and were essentially bars with one added feature: the waitresses were Playboy Bunnies, dressed in the low-cut outfits you see above. For the times, this was very racy--cleavage galore--but still had a Victorian aspect: the Bunnies couldn't be touched, and they served drinks using a particular kind of movement called the Bunny dip (or something). It kept their breasts from falling out of their Bunny suits when they leaned over to serve drinks!

To gain entry into the club, one had to have a Playboy Club Key. They were actual keys with the Playboy logo on them. They probably are available for big bucks on EBay! Ernie had gotten one for his 21st birthday and but there were no Playboy Clubs in Texas at the time; the New Orleans trip proved to be the only time the key was ever used.

What were the Sweetarts doing in New Orleans? Gigging of course! They made two appearances in New Orleans, both times playing for the Kappa Sigma Fraternity at Tulane University. Mike and Ernie's roommate, Doug Forshagen, had been a Kappa Sig at Tulane and recommended the band. The first trip was in the spring of 1966. The 'Tarts stayed at the Royal Orleans Hotel and played a number of gigs for the frat. A couple of pictures in the History are from that trip. Look for the matching black and white checked coats and black dickeys.

One interesting sidelight was a brush with the big time. Also performing (and staying) at the Royal Orleans was Herb Alpert of Tijuana Brass frame. One night after performing, Alpert was out on the sidewalk awaiting a cab when the 'Tarts arrived and struck up a conversation. Herb had just started A&M Records and the boys thought this might be the door to a national recording contract. It wasn't! Herb had a few words of wisdom and beat it for Bourbon Street.

The Playboy Excursion took place on an off night. There was a dress code that caused some problems for the band, but they outfitted themselves as required. When pressed, none of the 'Tarts can remember any details of the evening. We think that says it all!

The second New Orleans trip was also memorable. The Kappa Sigs hired the Sweetarts to play a series of rush parties for wooing prospective new fraternity brothers. This time, however, the band stayed at the fraternity house, which was a 24-hour party place. They played once, the fraternity got banned from having any more parties (for some sort of Tulane University infraction) and so the band sat the rest of the week out, taking full advantage of the wide open nightlife of rip roaring New Orleans.

There was one exception, an "illegal" party held in the swamps. One of the frat brothers had some property out in the country and one afternoon, a "secret" party was held there. Today all the Sweetarts can remember is huge oaks hung with Spanish moss, an Antebellum mansion, and little else. Oh yeah, kegs of beer! Lots of kegs of beer!

Here's what the boys remember of the New Orleans trips in their own words..

From Pat Whitefield:
We went to New Orleans twice as the Sweetarts; once in the spring of 1966 where the Tulane Kappa Sigs put us up at the Royal Orleans for a week, hooked us up with Sarah Newcomb College girls and generally showed us a great time. And again in the fall of 1967 when I had bronchial pneumonia and y'all dragged me to N.O. with a temperature of 105, we stayed in the Kappa Sig house basement (where I had to stay in bed with only the Marquis de Sade as reading material, literally a sick puppy) and you guys left me convalescing while y'all did who knows what.

Remember the Greek bar we went to on the Mississippi River docks? Or going into Clarence "Frogman" Henry's club? Or eating raw oysters to the point of exploding? The Playboy Club visit was during our first trip in 1966. We were stylin' that first trip! The memories, the memories!!

From Dwight Dow:
Jana (Dwight's wife) did go on a New Orleans trip. We played one party at a hotel. I remember that Herb Albert was playing down the hall. Jana was there for that and the party out in the swamp. I used to have a picture of Mike sitting in my black GTO lighting up a cigarette with the cool trees in the background. I think that one of the pics on the website is from the hotel gig. We were dressed in matching coats and we all had major pits.I remember driving to the  place and that Ernie had his Playboy Club Key. Also remember going to a frat house, maybe at Tulane The more I think, the less I remember. I think that we were in New Orleans twice but I can't remember driving there twice.

From Tom Van Zandt:
Sorry -- too many brain cells ago. I have only the haziest memories of the New Orleans trips. I remember the long drives, staying at the Kappa Sig house in somebody's room -- the guy who told the story about an aquarium mounted on a motorcycle -- playing at the Royal Orleans, the Playboy Club (barely -- thanks Dwight for keeping the photo), walking around the quarter... nothing about a secret party in the swamp. Based on the haircuts, I'd have to say this was '65 or '66.

Like a lot of other things, the Playboy Clubs are long gone, but New Orleans is still a great party town. Think about it: if those Bunnies had been in their early 20's--and judging from the photo, they probably were--they'd all be in their 50's now!

Wonder if they remember the Sweetarts or know they've been immortalized on the Internet?!