Interview with John King

Denver, Colorado on July 08, 2017 | Interviewer: Rebecca Scofield

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Rebecca Scofield: So, I'm here with John King and it's July 8th, 2017, and we're in Denver, at the Rocky Mountain Regional Rodeo, so can you tell me when you were born?
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John King: Sure, March the 6th, 1941.
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RS: And where did you grow up?
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JK: On a farm in Iowa, southeast Iowa.
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RS: What did your parents do for a living?
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JK: Well, my father was a farmer, but he also ran an insurance agency, and my mother worked as a nurse receptionist in a doctor's office.
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RS: And did you have siblings?
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JK: Yes, three.
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RS: And what did an average day look like when you were growing up?
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JK: An average day? Starting at age 10, or age 9, I had to learn how to milk cows. And, so that would mean that I would have to get up at 5 o'clock, and so in between about 8 or 9 and age 18 when I left for college, almost every day of my life my father woke me up and I got dressed and went out and milked cows, and fed hogs, and chickens, whatever else it takes to make a farm run.
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RS: And did you like school?
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JK: Did I what?
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RS: Did you like school?
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JK: Yes, most of the time.
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RS: Did you like college?
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JK: I ended up, I hated school when they used their, they used their, aptitude tests and put me in the engineering school, and once I found out what an engineer did, and what that would entail, I wasn't interested and so I didn't like school at all. And I was of draft age and so I quit school and worked on the farm until I was about ready to be drafted and then I signed up, to work in the finance department, because I enjoy that. I've been treasurer of just about every organization cause I know the money. And so then when I got out of the service, I knew by that time I wanted to go into business and I got straight A's all the way through and I loved school I loved my professors; I loved bantering with them; I loved preparing challenging reports for them; I loved developing cash flow concepts; I loved all that part, so the answer is: No at first and yes second.
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RS: That's what we want to hear. Was being in the service hard at all?
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JK: No, for me, well, the first four months, being away from home, since our family farm was forty-four miles away from the university of Iowa, I literally, would save up my dirty clothes and then every three weeks go home and my mother would wash my clothes and I would go back and so, I really didn't learn how to live on my own until I went into the service, and the first 3 months they were a shock. But then after that I had money saved [Phone beeps]… Excuse me, I don't know what he was trying to say. Anyway, excuse me just a second...So, can you imagine. I have rebelled, I do not know how to turn on a computer, I own approximately, to my knowledge I own somewhere around fifty computers stretching from Puerto Vallarta to Chicago, but I do not know how to turn on a computer I had people do that, but when it came to an iPhone I had to learn. [Silence while he types a text message]. Excuse me just a minute you might turn it off. [Pause in recording]
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RS: So you said you were getting interested in owning a business?
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JK: I, even in the service, I was one of those go to people, and so whenever my company commander needed something, I was able to find it. All the way from army green paints to liquor and cigarettes, and I did everything but pen. So I really had an easy service because they trusted me and after a few months they just let me come and go and long as I delivered what I was expected, they didn't bother me and so I knew that that wouldn't last forever and Vietnam was coming up, and last couple months I was in the service, we had gone over three years, sending like six people on the military aid and advisor group called the MAG assignment, and we were sending six out of the division, last few months we were sending like three hundred a month. And that was still in 1964 and so Johnson, I mean Kennedy had been killed and Johnson was starting the real buildup, and, of course, at that particular point, there were people we sent over that we were closing out their records because they were dead, and so it encouraged me to get out of the army as soon as possible.
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RS: Seems smart. So once you got out and you started looking at businesses, did you know what type of businesses you wanted to do?
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JK: No, I just that I wanted...my father, my grandfather, they were all farmers. It was essentially the businessman. There were four of us children we all, none of us were able to work for somebody else, they always had to be in charge. My sister just died, she had a [inaudible] business that made her a millionaire. My younger brother is a millionaire several times over in a small town, just by buying, holding, fixing it for the state. My older brother had a small chain of convenience stores with gas stations and he sold them and retired and lives in Suprise, Arizona. And I have 5 nightclubs.
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RS: Did you ever think you would do nightclubs when you were young?
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JK: No.
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RS: Did you like nightclubs when you were young?
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JK: Actually, I would say, yeah, when I was in the service I was out at a nightclub probably four nights out of the week.
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RS: Did you like dancing?
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JK: Yeah.
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RS: What kind of dancing did you do?
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JK: Mostly western dancing, at the time there was a couple line type dancing but they were rare, but it was mostly that, and of course western dancing crosses over into the jitterbug rock-and-roll a little bit, whatever it took to get the girl I was dancing with to say yes the next time I asked her.
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RS: And did you know you were gay at the time?
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JK: Since you're younger, you have to understand how the world was at that time. The world, society told you that you would have sinful thoughts, but that if you were married to the right person and you were really in love then those thoughts would go away, and so, of course, I knew I had those thoughts. I was...I had an intimate relationship with somebody between age thirteen and age fifteen. And then I decided that if I didn't stop I would end up being a homo, so I literally abstained from any intimacy from two weeks before I got my driver's license, til I met my wife, my ex-wife. So all the way through the service, I went to bed with people but nothing happened, other than cuddling.
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RS: And how did you meet your ex-wife?
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JK: I went back home and she was two years younger than me in the same class that my highschool sweetheart was in, and she was the valedictorian and I knew of her. We were not in the same circles, probably because she was standoffish and kinda snooty, but when I came back she had dyed her hair red and put it into a bob and changed her appearance and become the officer in a sorority and come out quite a little bit, and she caught...and plus I learned a lot more about what...this is the advice that I gave my son and just gave the same advice to my thirteen year old grandson. If you marry somebody who's intelligent, don't be surprised if you have intelligent kids that challenge you a little bit, and if you marry a bimbo, don't be surprised if you end up raising a bimbo. But my three years in the service have me time to think about that, and I decided I didn't want to be raising bimbos.
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RS: And how long were you guys together?
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JK: Fourteen years. We were really together for ten years, and that's because before we got married we agreed upon the parameters. And after ten years we had accomplished all those, and we sat down to redo the next ten years and there was nothing in common. She had like seven things in which I was not interested in the slightest, and I had like seven things in which she didn't want to do at all. We never had an argument because we always went back, this is the agreement: "You know what the agrement is." "Yup, this is what we agreed to." But we could never redefine our relationship, and so she's the one, I refused to file for a divorce so she's the one who filed for divorce, but in hindsight I was maybe subtly encouraging her to.
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RS: What did you do for work during those years?
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JK: I used my education and was a loan officer for the small business administration and then, of course, because I believe in my product I bought a restaurant, and within two years I had four restaurants. I sold them out when my franchisor I felt was going backwards and not keeping up with the competition. And became a real estate broker, and then, during the real estate crash of 1979, 1980, that's when I got my divorce. So we split our estate in half, and I took the risky ones and they sort of went to pot. So with what resources I had left I scraped together and opened up a bar, and opened up a gay bar, and I had been out less than a year.
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RS: Wow, and when did you come out to your family?
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JK: It was in, it was about two months after I opened up Charlie's. Charlie and I were together for a total of nine months, he was much younger than me and a good dancer, good dancer. And after...but he, I found out that he was starting to do drugs, and he was not...our value systems were completely, even though he was from Missouri and I was from Iowa, our value systems were completely different. And so I was starting to squeeze him out and he gave me an ultimatum, and listed eight things that he would do if I broke up with him. And I lived under that for two weeks and decided, I'm not, I lived a false life for thirty-nine years I tried, I denied myself any kind of intimacy all the way til age twenty-four when I got married, and I was not going to, I was not gonna start over. So I called his bluff. Well he proceeded to do many of them. And one of them was calling my father and waking him up at 3 o'clock in the morning and not only telling him about my sexual, in those days we called it preference, not your orientation, and described some explicit sexual acts and how much he enjoyed it. And my father never got over it. He cut me out of the will, and put a provision that I could not stay in the family farm house, I couldn't sleep over night there. So I thought it was the end of the world, cause not only was all my stuff going, but Charlie was going and so on. I thought that was the end of the world but within a couple of days I realized I was walking around with a bounce in my step, it was like having a mill stone removed. And he did naughty things, I worked for the SBA, he ran through the SBA shouting I was a faggot, and describing, "I used to be his lover and that he knew how big my dick is," screaming at all those people down the hall I had worked with for six years. The director called me up, we were good friends the district director, he said I know you well, and I don't care who you sleep with, I don't care anything about that, but I really question your judgment on whether or not if this is the class of person you wanna be around, I thought that was funny, and I said, "I can agree with you totally."
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RS: And so Charlie's initially a country western bar from the beginning?
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JK: All country, the first dance song I ever played was late in 1982 and it was "Gloria," and we played it at midnight. We played it at midnight, and it filled the dancefloor and, of course, I had several country people come to me and beat my bees. But I had some other come to me and say it's a fun change, but we were country. I actually, I would, Charlie's would have been a lot busier a lot sooner if I wouldn't have held onto country as long as I did, but I opened up from country, I felt like that community supported me and I wanted to do everything I could, but when it came to the choice of closing or changing, I changed.
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RS: Was the first one here in Denver?
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JK: Yes.
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RS: And what had brought you to Denver?
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JK: My ex-wife had wanted to live in New York and Washington D.C. or Boston, the furthest west she wanted to live was Chicago. I wanted to live in Albuquerque or Phoenix, and we struggled over that, this is one of the things we agreed to. So I went to Boston I went to New York, went to Chicago, went to Phoenix, went to Albuquerque, went to Denver, we went to Kansas City. And we agreed that we would live in Denver that would be, I would give up my feelings but she wouldn't give up.
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RS: Were you happy in Denver?
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JK: Denver has always been good to me, but I belong in Phoenix, because my blood gets thick and I get so lackadaisical in the wintertime that I don't really care, but in Phoenix my blood is thinner, I remember arriving in Phoenix on July the th 1984. And Wayne Jakino was in charge, left him in charge of Charlie's Denver, and arriving in Phoenix, and it was hot and Kenny and I were having a hard time finding a place and on the third day, I said to him, "I gave him the keys to the car," and I said, "I don't care where we live, I want you to be happy, here's the checkbook, here's the thing." And I said, "I'm gonna go climbing," and I went to south mountain and I got up on top of that mountain and I felt wonderful, absolutley wonderful and I got back and he was a little concerned because it turned out it was 114 degrees that day. So I'm the one-in-three people who can go to Phoenix, and it thins your blood and makes you feel more alive.
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RS: Before going to Phoenix did you think of the Southwest as a place?
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JK: Always, always. When I was in, because when I was stationed in Colorado Springs, although I went to TDY, I went on temporary duty to Washington D.C. to Carmel outside San Fransico, I went to Dayton, Ohio, I went to Indianapolis, I went to Washington D.C., and a three day stint in South Carolina, so I had a lot of things to break up those three years, but essentially I lived in Colorado. I didn't like to spend money, I liked to save money, and I discovered the mountains and they were beautiful, and it cost nothing to go hiking. Nothing. At first I used to sleep outside, later on I would carry a flimsy tent with me, but I would just go hiking, I usually made friends and I would usually hiked with somebody, but if nobody wanted to climb with me I would just go. I climbed Pike's Peak twice, I climbed Longs Peak one time, and I'll never do that again. I'll never climb Pikes Peak again either, I was twenty-two one time and I was twenty-three the next year at Pikes Peak, I don't think I could climb it now. But I climbed Devils Head, I never did climb up Mount Evans, Squaw Peak, I don't know I've been over several of the mountains there.
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RS: So you're living in Denver and you had a gay western bar, country bar, when did you hear about gay rodeo?
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JK: About three to four weeks after I opened up Charlie's, and that's part of the history I can send you, in fact I can read it if you want.
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RS: Or you can send it to me.
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JK: Alright, well it's on the Charlie's Denver facebook page, friend Charlie's Denver facbook we'll find a way. And that's because Brendon said, "I can crack this for you," and I said, "How?" and he said, "We can put it on facebook," and I said, "That will correct it?" And he says, "I'll call you back in half an hour and I'll tell you how many hits we have, probably as many hits as ever read Out Front." So he called me back in half an hour and said 586 people have already clicked on to it, and I said, "Oh."
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RS: That's amazing, so yeah, you heard about it and thought they were doing something cool?
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JK: My best friend was Wayne Jakino and we turned out to be, and we kept it as quiet as we possibly could, and we turned into bitter enemies. But now that he's been dead for seven years, or eight years, or nine years, whatever I can reflect back on what happened. When we started it's almost the same thing as happened with the marriage. When we started we had various things in common, and we had a relationship over twenty-five years, and for the first fifteen years, everything we touched turned to gold cause we were on the same page all the time. Then we made natural changes, he was unmarried and his number one love had attempted suicide and he had decided what he wanted to leave a legacy in the gay community, the problem was he only owned 10% of Charles and he was using 100% of my money to build this legacy. And I wanted to build an estate for my kids and grandkids, so we started pulling in different directions. And so when he would make, we would have a really good week in Denver, he would say, did you realize we made this much money that's obscene and he would do something to give the money away in terms of charitable work, or foundations, or raising the wages, or various...or hiring, putting people on the payroll that had AIDs when they really couldn't do anything, all that stuff to build up his name in the gay community. Whereas to me, I was a natural businessman and I wanted to change Charlie's in a way to make more money so I had more options to make the estate. So as it turns out, when we reflect, I kept it pretty hidden, but our close friends knew that those last few years we could hardly stand each other.
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RS: In those, 1980s when gay rodeo was sort of happening in Reno and starting to happen in other places.
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JK: Yes, I've got that in this, go ahead.
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RS: Did you feel like this is something that you should be involved in like personally, like out rodeing or was it more from a business perspective of this might draw customers to to Charlie's?
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JK: Well, when I was in the service I refused to make friends with fellow servicemen. I went out in Colorado Springs and made friends with the native people, and they were all cowboys, so that's when I started picking up my cowboy vernacular and I loved it. But there was a couple nights, one night in Woodland Park, Colorado, we had square danced, and we called ourselves "the gang," there was about 12 of us, men and girls, women, actually they were girls because they were young but, young women, and remember in Woodland Park we would dance and then we would all go out to the tailgate and we would mix orange juice and put vodka in it. And I was so thirsty, I remember being so thirsty and they were taking so much time, and finally I got my hands on a bottle of vodka and I thought well I'll just take a sip just to wet my whistle well it tasted like water and I was thirsty so I drank about half the bottle. And we went back in and my dance partner, I remember her name was Jannet I woke up the next morning I woke up in her bed and she said nothing happened you were passed out it was all we could do to get you here, and I said, "What happened?" and she said, "We were dancing and we started doing the dosey doe and you just sort of screwed yourself right into the ground. And so I had real good memories of rodeos. Well, obviously when you're pioneering with cowboys dancing together and so on, the oxymoron of a gay rodeo to me seemed to me like a natural extension and so I, was just breaking, this was August so I was just breaking up with Charlie, so all I could do was hold onto the reins of Charlie's.
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JK: So my best friend Wayne Jakino who didn't own any of Charlie's at the time loaned me money to open and I gave him the option to convert that to 10% when I got ready to pay him off if he wanted to, and two years later when I got ready to pay him off he took that. And they were just literally overwhelmed by the thousands of people mainly from San Francisco that were there, this was in 1981 and the feeling that everybody had something in common because it didn't make any difference...all the Guchi people all the people who sat around gay bars who sat around singing showtunes, it was all the people who grew up in rural Kansas, and Phillipsburg Kansas, and Sheridan, Wyoming, little towns in Iowa and Nebraska and so on, we almost all had the same value system, same vernacular, and so on, and so it was a very euphemistic aura and of course they brought that back. So I'm gonna answer that, I can't tell you exactly for certain which was the most important motivator, the fact that I already loved rodeo and the fact that I could bring, the possibility of gay rodeo was there, but I was always a businessman, so having a 501c3 arm that promoted rodeo which indirectly promoted Charlie's was part of it also. And the fact that of the people who were involved in gay rodeo, and maybe cause I lived longer than anyone else, and probably in hindsight probably made the most money off gay rodeo.
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RS: And what was the reaction of the gay community to gay rodeo?
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JK: Well, that's in my, that's the way I finished, I finished saying: Well, first of all, we went back to Reno because we were challenged by Texas, and there was about 300 people in Colorado in matching t-shirts, it was a wonderful success. Except our royalty didn't win. I acted like I was drunk and stood back there by, it was a semi trailer, and on the platform there was two judges from Las Vegas and Joan Rivers. And Joan Rivers had seen Tish Tanner perform at the Forum in Phoenix, Arizona, and she was funny and she was good, but Scotty Lockword or Miss Kitty from Colorado in terms if you were gonna judge a contest: applause, money, and money, personality, she had back up dancers that did "little bitty pissant country place," and she just simply won hands down. And Joan Rivers insisted and they argued and said "I don't know what you want to do. I've never hear of this so and so." She just went out and mouthed this Tish Tanners a real talent and finally the MCC guy said, "Well, if you feel that strongly then I'll change my vote." And so they made Tish Tanner Reno Miss Gay Rodeo. And of course I heard it, I acted I was some stupid idiot. There I was within ten feet of them with my hat down like I was asleep. And we were disappointed in that, and then we had thirty rodeo contests we had a guy named Tony Jordonelle who came in first in two events and he came in second in two events and he came in three in like three events, and then we had a guy from Dallas, Texas, who had entered in the rodeo two or three years before who came in first event and second in two events and third in no other events and he was awarded the All Around Cowboy and it was like, this.
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JK: And we confronted Phil Ragsdale and he said I don't know what you're complaining about and he said, "It's basically your rodeo. You've basiclly taken it over, but you had fun everyone had fun and that's what you're trying to do." And so Colorado retired from there and they went to the basement of Charlie's and the rodeo committee, they argued, and compromised and essentially set up what the rule book is now, most of the rules have been refined and so on but the basis of the entire rodeo rulebook was worked out by CGRA on a committee of about twelve people, men and women, Johnny Van Ormen and Casey Jackson were right in the middle of it writing the rules and so, we went back in 1980..., we presented the rules to them. Well, first of all we decided to do our own rodeo, and we went by those rules, everybody understand and we had like forty contestants I think, and we made a thousand dollars, we didn't have as many people as we wanted out there but we made a thousand dollars and we promtly gave it to charity. With that we sort of got the attention and the start of acceptance by the rest of the gay community, which had just sort of marked us off of that but when we gave a thousand dollars to the community centers and that sort of opened up doors for us and after that, as I put in my thing, the rest is history because the doors were opening and we went on to form IGRA out of Colorado but you know almost the rest of the story.
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RS: What was the biggest differences in the feeling of the rodeo between Reno and once you started having more and more rodeos all around?
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JK: Well, when Reno rodeo was going on, we had one gay rodeo in the country so if you wanted to meet with all your friends, you could schedule that weekend and you went to Reno. So from '76 to '82 Reno had no competition. Starting in '83 you could go to Denver, or you could go to Denver but Denver had no other big metropolitan area around it, it's sort of an island into itself, where Reno had San Francisco and California to draw from. So Colorado's rodeo started off smaller, but Reno's rodeo, but between IRS and the Clark County supervisors they got the Reno closed, and 1984 was their last rodeo. And so Colorado, we tried to convince Texas cause we thought they'd have a bigger rodeo but Texas wanted Colorado to try it first. Well the Texans came up and supported the first rodeo majorly, in fact if they woundn't have, I'm not sure the balloon would have actually lifted. And so, so in that first, once they did that first rodeo in 19.... In june of '83 we held the second rodeo outside of Reno in June of 1984 and then the third gay rodeo held outside of rodeo was held in Simonton, Texas, which was about an hour outside of Houston. Simonton, Texas, there was 5,000 people showed up to it and the town was only 1,200 people so it just inundated the town, I mean it was fun but it was out of control. But the Texans then realized that they had something and so, California announced that they would do their first rodeo in March of 1985 and Arizona, by that time I had moved to Arizona and we had our first Rodeo in January of '86.
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RS: And did you move to Arizona to open another Charlie's?
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JK: Yes.
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RS: And did that go well?
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JK: There was a lot of drama, the neighborhood hated me, they hated...well, it was right in the middle of the AIDs crisis. 1984 right, right when everybody was scared to death, we had a hearing in order to get my liquor license and there was a blind man that lived in a neighborhood and he had to cross a street in which there were 57,000 cars that went up and down that street per day, alright its called 7th avenue. And he could navigate across that to get to the Safeway but he testified that he will no longer go to the Safeway and shop he has to have his daughter come because he's afraid he will accidently wander into Charlie's and get AIDS. And he was like 80 years old or so, it was hysteria, it was hysteria. So, I bought, I bought a corporate, I did the same thing that I did down in Denver, and that is, I bought a corporation that had a lease and had a liquor license already that was bankrupt, and then opened up under that and they couldn't do anything.
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RS: What other acts of homophobia has Charlie's suffered through?
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JK: First of all homophobia is as insidious now as sexism would be. And so the fact is you'll never know, you'll never know. But, there are very, there are various things, sometimes I'm not certain whether it's not homophobia or just simply fear of AIDs cause what happened in the 80s and the early 90s was...I think that somebody was straight and they had AIDS they would probably have been treated the same way if they were gay and they had AIDS so it's hard to really know. We raised 5,000 dollors, Miss Kitty our representative to go to Reno gay rodeo, we raised 5,000 dollors so we had a check made out from us to the Muscular Distrophy Association, and so we went, we went down to their anual fundraiser to present it to them. And they refused to accept it. MDA refused to accept in 1984 a check from the Colorado Gay Rodeo Association. So, and the same thing happened...we thought, I said it wouldn't work but, you know, we lived by voting system you know, and if fourteen vote yes and twelve vote no, the answer is yes. So somebody voted to, made the motion to donate a thousand dollars to the Arizona Humane Society and they sent the check back. And so that, so that's, and of course there was the first Jerry Springer show in which they, he was supposed to have been...we were encouraged to go ahead and use Springer because he was supposedly friendly, gay friendly and I think he was and is, however he's a bit, he wanted rating so he got the straight people in there and they argued back and forth and it was a disaster. [Phone beeps] Somebody else that wants to talk to me again, I'll talk to them in a second. So that was another classic case in rodeo. As far as Charlie's is concerned, somebody went through the neighborhood and collected 680 some signatures, urging the council, the councilmen to vote against. But I'm a politician, at least I used to be. And I went to Pheonix and I new nobody on that council, and when the vote came it was still five to four. I lost, but the fact that I got four votes was an eye-opener to the council, so I closed down and I reopened up about a month later at another location and I didn't get any...there wasn't a single council person that voted aginst me the second time. So.
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RS: When did you open your other locations?
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JK: Well, I tried to open up a California; I love California; I wanted to be in business in California. But through a fluke of five different attempts, some of them were very embarrassing. I mean I had a contract for 50% down for a bar in Silver Lake and, it was, and they were gonna carry the other 50% and they sent me to a credit reporter. Well, they ordered a credit report and on the credit report it showed I owed...there was a judgment against me for $75,000, and I said to them, "It's a mistake," and the real estate agent, even my own real estate agent was extremely arrogant and said, "You told me this. You told me that you had clean credit. You told me this you told me that. I can't waste my time." I said, "It's a mistake, it's a mistake." I could have screamed and yelled at them but I didn't. I said, "It's a mistake." So I went back and I got it erased off and I said, "How did you do this?" And of course it belonged to some other King and not to me and they issued me a letter which was nice it took me three weeks to do. And back out to California and the real estate man wouldn't even talk to me and the owners of the bar sold it to someone else. I was at the closing table with a bar in San Diego and the silent partner I didn't know anything about walked into the closing and said I just sold my townhouse for $60,000, so I have enough money and were gonna remodel and keep it open.
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JK: And so there was a nice San Diego, I said in the council, in the aldermens, in San Diego, right where Kickers opened up cause I liked the location and I wanted it, and I made my presentation about Denever and Pheonix and he says, "That sounds good but your gonna have to find another location because I garuntee you that not even God could get a dance permit in that location." So I took him for his word and, of course, west coast production company partner opened up the...now they did have to set there for eighteen months without dancing, they had a bar without dancing. So I still love Califonia, meanwhile an aldermen came in from Chicago and said, "I love this. We need this, if you just come to Chicago belive me I know how to grease the wheels." So I went to Chicago and I tested it and talked to so and so and he greased the wheels I had a late-night-hour permit, I had everything there wasn't a thing that he promised that he didn't deliver so I have a bar in Chicago.
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RS: It's your
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JK: I don't know maybe it was meant to be I don't know.
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RS: And you were the... only founding member that's still around, is that correct, of IGRA?
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JK: Well in...during the grand opening on November 9th, 1984, there were four people that met in the kitchen of Charlie's, Al Bell from California who would be the trustee, Terry Clark from Texas would be a trustee, myself from Arizona who would be a trustee, and Wayne Jakino who would serve initially as a trustee even though he would become president. We're the ones that set up the Janurary convention the pre-convention what do you call, it's the, it wasn't a true convention because it was the convention that set up the rules for the convention, alright. So I consider those four the founders. Now there are people, I had a lover named Kenny Koonitz, who followed along with me, but he wasn't in the kitchen, but he was at the convention and Kenny Koonitz is still around so could be that he's a founding. Al Bell's lover, Al Bell's dead and Al Bell's lover dead. Wayne Jakino's dead. Terry Clark and Walter they both died, so the only possible one that could claim that they're a founder was my lover at the time but he didn'... so probably most people would agree I'm the only remaining founder.
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RS: And did you have leadership positions like president or treasurer through the years?
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JK: I've been a trustee for eleven of those years, the trustee from Arizonia for ten years and a trustee from Illinois for one years. And chairmen, the initial chairman for the initial board of trustees and served as chairman for two years. And in the period of those two years, we, I learned that good people with good intentions can make some really silly decisions [laughs]. And so it was sort of a relief when we reorganized that part of IGRA, because initially the trustees did't trust anybody with anything, so we got in the middle of any dispute between contests, any disputes between judges, between all that stuff. And in the third convention we switched over to a rodeo protest committee with one trustee being in charge and changed it around to a more logical position and that was about the time that I moved out from being chairmen of the trustees. And, so I was the auditor, and I was acting treasurer for two times when Eddie Klein ended, I took care of the books until we got Jeffrey Coon in and then when he screwed up I took care of the books for another six months until we got David Hill, but I was never official treasure but I was acting treasurer.
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RS: Have you ever compete in the rodeo?
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JK: I've never competed in any of the official rodeos.
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RS: Is there-
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JK: They started out when I was forty, and the last thing I needed to run Charlie's Denver and Phoenix was to have broken bones. So, no, I had to live vicariously that were riding. Now I had a horse, Ken and I had two horses, we had a pair of Colorado, we had two horses. I remember one of them, her name was Lady something and we renamed her to First Lady and down...it was interesting cause down in Arizona, I had a horse for about a year and his name was Butch [laughs] but he was half thoroughbred, and Lee Cattleson wanted him and I couldn't, and I had a horse but I was paying somebody to ride the horse because I was too busy going back and forth between Denver and trying to hold things down. Becauase when Wayne took over he made some really silly decisions so I had to come back and take over Charlie's, actually twice. But one main time I had to come up for five months to take over Charlie's but, and so, so I haven't owned a horse since 1988.
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RS: But you still come to them to watch?
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JK: Oh yes. Although I am still considered a rebel. And I'm also considered a... Almost everybody has an opinion about me cause I've been around for a long time. Some people suspect that I'm really in gay rodeo for profit motive, others think I'm in gay rodeo because, I'm more interested in gay rodeo because I've been trying to spearhead balancing out rodeo which has been a constant tug. There were two things, in gay rodeo, since we started in Colorado: we got Texas interested and we got California interested, so here was Wayne in Colorado and I was Arizona. Well Texas would thow a fundraiser and they could raise $40,000 just like that, California would have a fundraiser and raise $25,000, and we would do a fundraiser and it was wonderful if we could raise $2,400. So I convinced Texas and California to rule IGRA on what I would call the senatorial basis, in other words it didn't make any difference how many people were in your state or how big your organization was or how much money, each organization had the same. That was a fatal mistake in my opinion, now other people think that is great. People from smaller associations who get five votes and get their opinions and so on. But rodeo producing states have had to live with that rule. It was our intention, to set up the thirteen events, and set up a convention to adjust to the market every year.
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JK: But for some reason, we set up the thirteen events, and they're like, and to those people who come to convention they're like the ten commandments carved in stone and they can't be changed. And so in my opinion, gay rodeo, many of the people's thought proceses is stuck in the latter part of the twentieth century and our market has moved on and gay rodeo hasn't. And so, but because it would, because in order to adjust to the new market you have to discard some of the things you really love, we don't have the political will to do that. And so because of that, I'm really happy that Denver and Phoenix--Well, first of all, there is a core in Denver that's gonna keep Denver strong for the next ten years. And as long as I'm alive, Phoenix will be strong. There is a core in Texas that will keep Texas strong. California has been pretty iffy but it seems like they can all agree on Palm Springs. Palm Springs is a small rodeo but anyway it works. The other rodeos are hanging on by a thread. Albuquerque is never really profitable, Ohamaha is wayside, Wichita wayside, Oklahoma City is struggling, Detroit's out, Chicago hasn't had one in years, Minnesota tried one and lost their ass again, Calgary disbanded and I could go on, Florida used to have one, Washington D.C. used to have one, Atlanta had one, and so on. The problem with gay rodeo now is essentially we have not been providing enough incentive for what we consider classic rodeo events. And we're providing, instead we're providing incentives for what's the name for the people with the horses, people think that I hate horse people, I don't hate horse people it's just that I want to pay money to those events that are dying out that are considered classic, so because of that people think that I hate horse people. I love horse people, but we have hundreds of them, how many do we have riding steers? Six? Five? How many people riding bulls? Two? One? I mean if we were a horse show we oughta be the International Gay Horse Association. If we're a rodeo we should do something to encourage people to do rodeo events.
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JK: So I'm putting my money where my mouth is and as David Lawson, the All Around cowboy from California put it, he said, "I'm a part of these people. That despite the prize money, I'm an FHP, one of those fabulous horse people." And, of course, I knew that was a slap against me because I am doing added money for roughstock. But I can't...since there's not the political will to try to adjust, these young people, these millennial young people they come to a gay rodeo and they'll sit for five hours watching these horse events, and they said that's nice but next year are they gonna pay to come in? Right, but if we had bull riders and steer riders they would come back because it's a sporting event where somebody wins and somebody loses.
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RS: And why do you think that a lot of people mention the membership itself is getting older, what needs to happen to draw not just young people to come watch but to participate?
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JK: We have to change the ten commandments. To skew them toward the people who would enter, alright. And we really have to skew it for the following reason, in 1981 gay rodeo was first getting formed we had 3.6 million farms, family-owned farms and rancheses in the united states, in 2015 according to Successful Farming, the magazine, we have 595,000 alright. Of those, half of them are owned by people who are fifty years old or older, so they're not having kids. So we have maybe a quarter of a million family farms, from Vermont to San Diego alright. So if one out of ten, and I think it's more out of twelve, or one out of fifteen, but if one out of ten is gay, we don't really have a chance. So that means we have to provide enough incentive for those dreamers that have grown up in the city, for those dreamers to go ahead and take a chance and learn. And if we don't do that, we're not gonna have a rodeo. But as I was introduced, I'm also by those people I'm called a visionary, the way you survive is project out how are things gonna be ten years from now and then make your adjustments now. You don't have a curve in the road like this and come up on it eighty miles and hour, and say, "Oh, jeez," and come flying off, you come up to the curve and slow up and make adjustments, you make adjustments for the new direction.
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RS: And do you think, what do you, hope for the future of the association?
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JK: I hope that, I hope that we're able to reach out to the one community in which there are young cowboys still coming out, which is the Hispanic heritage and we're able to adjust our events enough that they feel like they're included. What CGRA is doing is absolutely wonderful, but the problem is that nobody on the gay rodeo circuit is thinking about adjusting any of their rules in order to really incorporate them. They're only thinking in terms of: "You're welcome, by the way here are the rules," and stamp the rules on you. And so, we've always, I mean even back in the very early days we've always had 20 to 25% of our contestants that were Hispanic but that were almost all second generation or third generation, we didn't have people that spoke English as their second language
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RS: And as a country western nightclub owner are you still pulling people, in young people, in to both country western and specifically gay bar, do you still have the same-
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JK: No
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RS: enthusiasm?
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JK: I have enthusiasm but it's because I changed the music over to dance music cause I have to be relevant to the twenty-one to thrity year olds cause if I'm not those are the ones that are out looking, well maybe twenty-one to thirty-five, they're the ones that are out looking. They are the ones that are going out five nights a week cause they're the ones that are producing hormones fast, alright and they can't help it, I mean that's the way mother nature made us. And so if you go to the graduating class in Colorado high school graduating class in Arizona, I don't care even if it's a real rich town if you go to that class it's gonna be 80% Hispanic, that means that if you want to be relavent you have to get 10% of the 80% and not 10% of the 20%, alright. People say that I'm a Mexican lover and I have a house in Mexico and so on. And, yes, I am but I don't love Mexicans more than I love Americans. I love them equally. After all, it's just that if you're in business and you don't undersatnd how your markets changing, a bunch of people drying on the vine just ask the VFW or the Elks Club, have you ever heard of the Odd Fellows, well do you ever hear of the anymore? Kiwanis is almost dissapeared. I mean how many people under age thirty-five will go to a Kiwanis Lunch in, I mean, I went to one of those and I was board even back, even fifty years ago you know? Put a tie on and go to Kiwanis and they were the best, they were better than Elks, and I don't know what all there is. They didn't adjust, they had their rules, they lived with their rules, they died with their rules, so.
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RS: Well, I know you're a busy guy so I'll let you go but is there anything else you want to say about your storied history with the International Gay Rodeo Association?
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JK: In retrospect, I have made, through gay rodeo, probably one-hundred excellent friends, half of which are dead now, maybe more than half of which are dead now. I've had friendship and love and acceptance through gay rodeo that I could never have imagined when I came out. And I consider myself extremely lucky to have been a part of it, and no matter what my motives were, which I'm not really clear at age 76, when you're 46 you know everything, by the time you're 76 you're not as sure as you used to be, but whatever my motives were, I think I'm extremely lucky to have been a part of it, I will not do a John Beck and get tears in my eyes.
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RS: Thank You