The HyperTexts

Nashville Sharks
Nashville Pool Hustlers
Tennessee's Best Pool Players

Who were the best pool sharks and billiards experts to play in Nashville and surrounding Middle Tennessee communities like Madison, Gallatin, Hendersonville, Columbia, Antioch, Murfreesboro and Clarksville? Everyone has heard of Minnesota Fats, who lived in Nashville from 1985 to 1996. Fats held court in the Hermitage Hotel for years, but by then he was more of an entertainer than a shark. Who were the Nashville professional and semi-professional pool players who played as well as Fats, or better? This page will attempt to answer that question.

by Mike Burch

The All-Time Best Tennessee Pool Players and Hall of Fame (residents only)

#10 - Bingo Harrison is one of those shadowy names of the past, but people "in the know" have told me that he was a better player than some of the bigger names on this list.

#9 - Jonathan Pinegar aka "Hennessee from Tennessee" is an up-and-coming professional player with a strong game and a promising future.

#8 - Andrew "the Gent" Gentry was the best player in the Nashville area for many years; he was especially accomplished at bank, one-pocket, straight pool, eight-ball and golf on a snooker table.

#7 - Bobby Logan was the most naturally talented Tennessee pool player that I have met personally; he had a drinking problem that derailed his pool career, but he was a wonderful player to behold when sober, or near-sober. I once saw him run a table with a stick with no tip, shades of Ronnie Allen!

#6 - Steve "Leapin'" Lillis won the Navy championship and four different state championships; he played on the pro tour for ten years and now tours the world doing trick shot exhibitions.

#5 - Rudolf  Wanderone aka "Minnesota Fats" was one of the greatest characters and "proposition gamblers" in the history of billiards.

#4 - John "Rags" Fitzpatrick is considered by some experts to be the best one-pocket player of all time; he once lived in Knoxville with Eddie Taylor.

#3 - Mike Massey aka "Tennessee Tarzan" is perhaps the greatest trick shot artist and pool entertainer of all time. But he could play "real" pool as well.

#2 - "Saint Louie" Louie Roberts, pool's Elvis Presley, was a two-time U.S. Open Nine Ball champion and fabulous shotmaker, almost unbeatable when in dead stroke. He was the house pro at Hot Pockets in Memphis.

#1 - Eddie Taylor aka the "Knoxville Bear" is generally considered to be the best bank shot artist of all time, the best one-handed player of all time, and one of the best at one-pocket as well. Taylor may also have been the best at roll-out nine ball, because he would roll out to banks that other players didn't want to shoot, but which he could make with his superior banking ability.

At least five players on the list above are pool immortals: Minnesota Fats, John Fitzpatrick, Mike Massey, Louie Roberts and Eddie Taylor.

Nashville area:
These are the best Nashville-area pool players that I ran into during my playing days, or heard about through other knowledgeable players: Bobby Logan, Eddie Kaline, Andrew "the Gent" Gentry, Rudolf "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone, Doug "Preacher" Almy, Ray Nelson, "Tennessee" Joe Bowman, Mark Wilson, Herbert Young, Roy "Bugs" Carter, Bobby Pickle, Bubba Hargrove, Bingo Harrison, Dean Huffstetler, Stella Huffstetler, Steve Smith, Philip Lee, Matt Klein, Tommy Martin, "Nubby" Archer, Ray Pickney, Jeff Street, "Little" John Watson, Buzzy Wright, Joe Wright (unrelated), Philip Livingston, Lewie Little

Columbia area: Sam Caperton, Johnny Counts, Tommy Counts 

Manchester area: Nick Hickerson, John Pinegar aka "Hennessee from Tennessee"

Chattanooga area: Mike "Tennessee Tarzan" Massey was born in Louden, Tennessee and lived in Chattanooga, where he owned a pool hall and once hosted the U. S. Open Nine Ball Championship. Massey is a famous trick shot artist, and a member of the BCA Hall of Fame. I seem to remember someone saying they saw Massey run nine racks of nine ball in a tournament, perhaps on a bar table. Wikipedia confirms the nine racks and says that Massey also ran thirteen racks in a nine-ball challenge match and had a high run of 224 in straight pool, so he was far more than just a trick shot artist. I believe Steve "Leapin'" Lillis also lives in the Chatanooga area and has toured the world with his Gospel Trick Shot show. I met Steve in a Nashville pool hall before one of the Music City Open tournaments, and he appeared to be a strong player (although I never saw him beat anyone for money). In his career, Lillis has won the Navy championship and the Colorado, Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia state titles.

Knoxville area: Eddie "The Knoxville Bear" Taylor is a BCA Hall of Fame member, and is generally considered to have been the best bank shot artist of all time. He was also one of the best one-pocket players of his era, along with John "Rags" Fitzpatrick, who once lived with him in Knoxville for six months. That must have been quite a combo!

Memphis area: "Saint Louie" Louie Roberts lived in Memphis and was the house pro at Highpockets. He also spent time in Nashville, where I remember seeing him at Scott Amusement Center and Oak Valley Lanes. Louie was the most entertaining pool player that I have met "in the flesh" and when he was "on" he was almost impossible to beat.

Other Tennessee pool players (uncertain of their areas): Billy Bailey, Nat Green, Billy McMahan, Billy Young, Nick Vita, Randy Vaughn, Robby Langford, "Country"

Nashville has also hosted some of the very best tournament players and road players: Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall, Keith "Earthquake" McCready, Allen "Young Hoppe" Hopkins, Johnny "the Scorpion" Archer, Truman Hogue, "Little" David Howard, Jeanette "The Black Widow" Lee, Mike "Captain Hook" Sigel, Earl "The Pearl" Strickland, Nick "The Kentucky Colonel" Varner, Florida Slim, the Bus Driver, and Edgar "Shake-and-Bake" White, among others.

Nashville's Music City Open has attracted some of the world's best pool players, including the players named above and Ray "Cool Cat" Martin, Larry "The Ice Man" Hubbart, Alex "The Lion" Pagulayan, Michael Coltrain, Mike Dechaine, Corey Duel, Gabe Owen, “Detroit” Ronnie Wiseman, Cliff Joyner, Eric Durbin, Larry Nevel  Shane McMinn, “Handsome” Danny Smith, Joey Gray, Chuck Raulston, Josh O’Neil, Nick Hickerson, Robert Frost, Bobby McGrath, Robb Saez, Justin Bergman, Shawn Putnam, Jonathan Pinegar, Richie Richeson, Tony Mougey, Brittney Bryant, Nicole Keeney, Grace Nakamura, Julie Kelly, and Liz Lovely.  

And let's not forget the celebrities: Johnny Cash played a pool hustling road player in The Baron and the Kid. Kenny Roger's most famous song is "The Gambler." Hank Williams Jr. and his rowdy friends undoubtedly like to play pool for money or beers. Jack White, John Prine, Webb Pierce and Mike Dirnt (of Green Day) have been seen playing snooker on the 12-foot table at the old Melrose Billiards pool hall. Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman have been spotted at Buffalo Billiards. Willie Nelson has been known to sneak into Nashville bars for a game of pool. (Nelson knew how to go incognito; I once briefly dated a girl who sold roses at Nashville dance clubs; she said that he would pretend to be a Willie Nelson impersonator, and give away Willie Nelson dolls, in order to mingle unmolested.)

Nashville's more memorable pool halls and bars include: JOB Billiards, Buffalo Billiards, Melrose Billiards, Arcade Billiards, Oak Valley Lanes, Springwater, Elliston Place, the Cockeyed Camel, Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, the Gold Rush, the Natchez Trace, Brown's Diner, H-Cues, various Gamelands in days of yore, and The Trolley (where it's hard to shoot a masse because the trolley-car roof is so low).

These are my memories of Nashville-area pool players. I played on Springwater teams with Doug Almy, Ginger Almy, Bobby Logan, Matt Klein, Tim Murphy, Allen Cartwright, Nick Montjoy, John Logan, Kevin Hounihan, Jay Anderson and Steve Farrar. Playing for money, I ran with Doug Almy, Jimmy Ingram, David Webb, David Brawner, Rex Crawford, Kevin Hounihan and John Logan. I played with or against Andrew Gentry, Ray Nelson, Herbert Young, Jeff Street, Joe Wright, Buzzy Wright, Bubba Hargrove, Raymond Hargrove, Steve Smith, Phil Lee, "Catfish," "Chicken Man," Mole (or Mo), Jew Baby, "World," Bobby Lawson, "Hollywood" and some of the other players named below. When I played for money, some of the other players called me "The Locksmith" because I rarely lost. But because I wasn't one of the best run-out players, that means I was a pretty good judge of my opponents' games. Here, for whatever it's worth, is is my admittedly subjective ranking of Nashville's ten best pool players:

I will rank players on a 1 to 10 scale, with a 1 being a beginner, a 2 being able to run a few balls inconsistently, a 3 being able to pot makeable balls somewhat consistently (i.e., an average pool player), a 4 being capable of making balls and playing shape more consistently, a 5 being likely to get out when the balls are sitting well, a 6 being able to get out from more difficult situations, a 7 being able to run multiple racks on a regular basis, an 8 being capable of competing in professional tournaments and/or going on the road and winning, a 9 being one of the favorites to win pro tournaments, and a 10 being a pool immortal who might never miss when in stroke. Minnesota Fats is a good example of my rating system: he's an 8 because he was able to go on the road and compete in pro tournaments, but he never won a major championship. Buddy Hall is a 10 and leads my rankings because he could run out consistently and won over 200 tournaments.

Tens I have seen play in Nashville: [10] Buddy Hall, Earl Strickland, Louie Roberts, Keith McCready, Allen Hopkins, Johnny Archer, Mike Sigel, Nick Varner, Mike Massey (trick shots and "finger pool")
Nines I have seen play in Nashville: [9] David Howard, Larry Hubbart, Alex Pagulayan, Corey Duel, Cliff Joyner, Michael Coltrain, Florida Slim, Truman Hogue (bank), Bus Driver (one pocket)

Nashville's Top Ten Pool Players (Permanent Residents Only)

(#1) Bobby Logan [8+, when sober]
(#2) Andrew Gentry [8+, bank, one-pocket, straight pool, eight-ball and golf]
(#3) Bingo Harrison [8+, speculative]
       James Vester Sr. [8+, speculative]
       Eddie Kaline [8+, based on what I was told by Little John Watson]
(#4) Minnesota Fats [8, one pocket "propositions," a big-time gambler and storyteller]
(#5) Mark Wilson [8]
       Jeff Street [8, nine-ball on a bar table with a big cue ball]
(#6) Joe Bowman [8-]
(#7) "Nubby" Archer [8-]
(#8) Sam Caperton [8-]
        Johnny Counts [8-]
(#9) Herbert Young [7+, one pocket]
        Roy "Bugs" Carter [7+, on a bar table]
(#10) Ray Nelson [7]
         Little John Watson [7]
         Dean Huffstetler [7]
         Bobby Pickle [7]

Honorable Mention: Joe Wright, Doug "Preacher" Almy, Matt Klein, Bubba Hargrove, Tommy Martin

(#1) Bobby Logan was one of the best natural pool players that I've seen in the flesh. He had a drinking problem, but he was a really nice guy, drunk or sober. Bobby played briefly for one of our Springwater pool teams, and he was one of Nashville's very few players with a handicap of seven (the highest). I can only think of four players with a seven handicap in all the years I played. And yet Bobby was in another league when he was sober, which was, admittedly, rarely. (When he played, he always had to play the first match, before the booze kicked in.) As an example of how good Bobby was, I remember watching him play in the Nashville city tournament on brand new bar tables at Snookers. The tables were blazingly fast, and everyone was having trouble playing shape ... except for Bobby. Somehow, Bobby just "felt" (please pardon the pun) how to adapt to the lightning-fast covers. He was able to play shape while everyone else's balls went skidding crazily around the table, never wanting to stop. Bobby played a six (a strong player) and beat him so badly that the guy accused Bobby of being a ringer, even though he carried the highest possible handicap and had lived in Nashville for decades! On another occasion, Bobby fell asleep during a game, under the spell of a few pitchers of beer. When we woke him up to take his shot, he grabbed a house cue and ran the table. As we congratulated him, we noticed that his cue had no tip. And yet Bobby had been able to play shape! Unfortunately, Bobby died in 2014. From what I was told by a friend, he committed suicide after learning that he had esophageal cancer. There are two things I will always remember about Bobby Logan: his amazing natural talent for pool, and what a genuinely nice, wonderfully sweet guy he was. And I concur with what Ginger Almy said on "Bobby was such a soft-spoken, all around good man. One comment at his visitation was that he was more Jesus like than any person he'd ever met. I agree with that wholeheartedly." So, I think, do the Angels. Here are some facts about his life: Robert Newton Logan passed away October 2, 2014 at the age of 67. He was born April 20, 1947 to Katherine Bartlett Cooke and James Newton Logan. He is survived by his sister, Diane L. Self, and brother, Carter Wells Logan, both of Arlington, TX. Bobby Logan graduated from West End High School in 1966. He joined the U.S. Navy on January 31, 1967 and served with honor until October 1, 1970, receiving the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with one Bronze Star, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, and Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for service in Korea. He was employed with V&K Masonry Contractors, Inc. for 30-plus years, where he loved operating the big forklift. His favorite pastime was playing pool with friends and, from a very young age, he was one of the best in Tennessee, having won against Minnesota Fats. He will be missed by his many friends.

(#2) Andrew "the Gent" Gentry had a beautiful slip-stroke. He would pull the stick completely out of his bridge hand, then somehow slide it back through, after completing an amazingly fluid backswing. His strongest game was bank, but he was damn good at everything else. He had the ability to shoot a long shot, barely "feather" the object ball with the cue ball, and bring the cue ball back down the table for a safety. That requires a good eye and a great stroke. I saw Gentry play some of the best road players: Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall, "Little" David Howard, Florida Slim, et al. When he couldn't beat them at nine ball, he would try to talk them into his best game, bank. I don't remember Gentry beating the best players, so I'd say he was slightly overmatched. But he was competitive with the best of the best, as long as the game wasn't nine ball. Gentry was damn good at bank, golf, one pocket, straight pool, and eight ball. He could beat everyone but the better road players and pros at nine ball. And his stroke was truly magical, a wonder to behold!

(#3) I never saw Bingo Harrison play, but other knowledgeable Nashville-area players told me that he was better than Fats, when Fats was in his prime. Bingo may have been Nashville's best player ever, in his heyday. I remember talking to his son, Steve Harrison, and he spoke of his father with obvious pride, confirming some of the stories I'd heard elsewhere. But it's been hard for me to find any hard evidence about Bingo Harrison, so all I can say is that he could be number one, if more evidence develops.

(#3) In the late 1920's, Nashville's James R. Vester Sr. opened a small public billiard room called Vester's Billiards in the basement of his house on the corner of Woodland and Eleventh, which he operated until around 1938. In 1943, while serving in the U.S. army, Vester earned a match against the immortal Willie Hoppe at Fort Knox by winning 39 consecutive matches against other servicemen. (Hoppe, who garnered 51 world titles in billiards, won their match.) After managing the Inglewood Billiard Hall on Gallatin Road, Vester took over as manager of the Melrose Billiard Lounge on Franklin Road, which is still in business today. Vester made a point of running a clean establishment and held a daily series of free lessons for female players. He also brought in pro players for exhibitions which drew large crowds. Vester was an accomplished player himself. He won city-wide titles in 1940, 1947 and 1948. He earned two national titles and twice advanced to the World Championships, which were held at the Navy Pier in Chicago. In 1949 he was eliminated by the great Andrew Ponzi, a three-time world champion and future member of the BCA Hall of Fame. (If Vester had won, he would have faced the even greater Willie Mosconi aka "Mr. Pool.") Vester also played exhibition matches at Melrose Billiards against Erwin Rudolph, women's world champion Ruth McGinnis, and the immortal Ralph Greenleaf (who ran 231 balls!). According to an article written by Louis Vodopya, who worked as a rack boy at Nashville's Arcade Billiards, there was also a straight pool exhibition between Mosconi and Vester, who was considered to be Nashville's best pool player at the time. Here is how Vodopya describes the event: "The place was packed. I racked. They played 150 ball straight pool. It was close for a while and then Mosconi ran 86 balls and out on Vester. He won by 150 to about 70. He made shots no one in the Nashville area had ever seen before. After the match he set up a bunch of trick shots and made them all. He set up one particular 6 balls in 6 different pockets shot and had me shoot it. I made all 6. Thrill of a lifetime, at the time. I can still set up that shot and make it." Needless to say, anyone capable of scoring 70 points against Mosconi had to be an accomplished player. But my rating of Vester is, at best, a semi-educated guess.

(#3) I never, to my knowledge, saw Eddie Kaline play pool, but I have heard his name come up in talk about the best Nashville pool players. According to Little John Watson, Eddie Kaline was one of the best pool players in the Nashville area.

(#4) Minnesota Fats moved to Nashville in 1985, and lived here until his death at age 82 in 1996. He had his own table at the Hermitage Hotel for years, but I think it was mostly for publicity's sake. I never heard of Fats playing a game for serious money in Nashville in his later years ... but by then, he didn't need to, financially. While some would-be experts say that Fats couldn't play at all, that is obviously untrue because there is video evidence of him playing U. J. Puckett and other top pros, and pulling off some remarkable shots. Fats obviously knew how to play one pocket, the hustler's game of choice in his era. He may not have been as good as Willie Mosconi at straight pool, or Luther Lassiter at nine ball, but he certainly could have beaten most players straight up, and even the best pros at one pocket with a spot. Fats probably deserves two ratings: an 8 for playing ability, and a perfect 10 for making the most money and becoming the most famous hustler of all time.

(#5) Mark Wilson was a pro who lived in Nashville for a spell, and ran some local Gameland tournaments. He definitely could play, as attested by the fact that he was the captain of a U.S. Mosconi Cup team. He also wrote a book, Play Great Pool, and has worked as a professional instructor.

(#5) Jeff Street was hustling pool in his early teens and could draw the hell out the big ball on a bar box. I believe he was on the road, hustling oil money in Oklahoma, when he was sixteen or perhaps a bit older. I saw him many years later at a city tournament in Nashville, and if I remember correctly he had a seven handicap, which would make him one of Nashville's elite players. Jeff was also damn good at pinball and video games. He and I were the first people I know to "turn over" Space Invaders in the Nashville area, at the Scott Amusement Center just off Dickinson Road in North Nashville. No one knew what would happen at the time, if the invaders were all defeated. To our surprise, the game started over from the beginning, meaning that a really good player could play for hours on a single quarter. I turned the game over first, and Jeff soon duplicated my feat. Jeff was the better pool player, but I may have been a hair better at video games!

(#6) Joe Bowman won the Tennessee and Pennsylvania state championships, and placed fifth in the first Music City Open, beating Earl "The Pearl" Strickland, "Little" David Howard and Buddy "The Rifleman" Hall in the process. The man could obviously play at a high level.

(#7) "Nubby" Archer was a strong player. My friend and running buddy Doug Almy told me that he once matched an out-of-town friend with Nubby, and his friend asked for an easier game the next time. My recollection of Nubby is a bit hazy, but there is no doubt that he was a player to be reckoned with.

(#8) Sam Caperton didn't gamble much, but he looked like a strong player the few times I saw him play. The highlight of his career was beating Steve Mizerak, which he mentioned more than one, with obvious and understandable pride. I believe he lived in Columbia and came to Nashville to socialize with other pool players, more-so than to gamble.

(#8) Johnny Counts also lived in Columbia and played a strong game. His brother Tommy Counts also played well. According to the program for the 1981 U.S. Open nine-ball tournament, Johnny and Tommy Counts were qualifier winners that year. According to a program for the 1983 Music City Open, one of the Counts brothers beat "Machine Gun" Lou Butera before losing to Mike "Captain Hook" Sigel.

(#9) Herbert Young ran a downtown Nashville pool hall, the Arcade Billiards, and once played Willie Mosconi in an exhibition (or, more accurately, Herbert sat while Mosconi ran rack after rack). By the time I met Herbert, he was no longer in his prime. But he was a prime storyteller, second only to Fats among the players I have met personally. The younger Herbert Young may well belong higher on this list.

(#10) Ray Nelson was a nice guy who talked more than he played, and didn't gamble much, but he was a strong player. He would bet with anyone in the Nashville area who would give him the break and ball in hand playing nine ball, with him giving them every ball on the table in return. So he obviously believed in his ability to run out, once he got in line.

(#10) I didn't see Roy "Bugs" Carter play much myself, but by reputation he was a strong player.

(#10) I don't remember seeing Bobby Pickle play, but he placed in a number of professional-level tournaments, so he must have been a strong player. Here is what he said in his own words: "I've won many, many tournaments, mainly out of the losers' bracket," (recounted by Pickle with a deep laugh), "but I won the 2002 BCA Amateur Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada. There were 1,795 players in it, and I went undefeated. I’ve won the Tennessee State Championship three times in the past, I’ve won the Florida State Championship in the past, I’ve won the Southeast Regional Division in eight-ball, I’ve won eighth place in the world in eight-ball in 1986."

(#10) Dean Huffstetler was one of Nashville's few players with a 7 handicap in the Busch League and Music City League.

(#10) "Little" John Watson was short, hence his nickname. I remember him handing out cards that said he was a pool instructor, and I believe he had his own studio. He won the 1978 Tennessee State Championship and played in the 1982 and 1983 Music City Nine-Ball Opens. I didn't see him play much, so I can't accurately rate his game, but based on his accomplishments he must have been a pretty strong player. And I believe he spotted Doug Almy, which would make him at least a 6+ or a 7 according to my ranking system. Unfortunately, Little John passed away in 2018.

Other Nashville-area Players

I have heard rumors that "Hippy" Jimmy Reid [10] moved to Nashville. If this is true, and he lived here long enough to be considered a resident, he would rank right at the top. Here is what a top pro, Billy Incardona, said about Reid: "Jimmy Reid had a higher top speed than anyone that I have ever played or have seen play. The only problem was that his mixture had to be right, and we all should know by now that mixtures are sometimes hard to get right. Bottom line, when he was right he had the highest top speed that I have ever seen period. He can flat out play, and he really knows the game and the cue ball."

Nat Green [7] owned the Golden Cue Billiard Center and Pub in Clarksville, Tennessee, and played in pro tournaments including the 1983 Music City Open, where he beat David Matlock and Joe Bowman, and the 1981 U.S. Open in Chattanooga, where he almost beat Louie Roberts, the eventual winner. I watched that match, and Roberts received a real "break" (pardon the pun) when he was allowed to break two times in a row despite the alternating break format. If I remember correctly, Louie won their match by running the table with that additional break, then stormed through the losers' bracket to beat Buddy Hall and Larry Munson.

Steve Lillis [7] won the Tennessee State Championship one year. I remember him showing up at a Nashville pool hall before the Music City Open, and playing a few practice games. He seemed like a good player, although not one of the top pros. I believe he had religious reservations about his career in pool, and resolved them by creating a "pool ministry" of sorts. He was known as Leapin' Steve Lillis and the Pastor of Pool.

Doug Almy [6+]: Other players called Doug Almy "Preacher" because he was clean-cut, mild-mannered and didn't look or act like a pool shark. But he was more than competitive. I played with him on Springwater teams that won over $7,000 and the Nashville city championship in a single tournament. That year our "B" team finished third in the city, and the only team that beat it in the tournament was our "A" team. Doug and I won quite a bit of money together, and we didn't lose often because we knew how to match up. And we knew when it was better to just watch and enjoy the fireworks, than to play with fire and get burned.

Joe Wright [6+] made lots of money in the music business, then retired to play pool and poker machines. Some of my earliest gambling was against him. Joe had to gamble, so I would wait for him to give me a crazy spot. Ability- and knowledge-wise, Joe may have been a 7, but he was not the best at matching up because he wanted to gamble so badly. Joe probably lost tens of thousands of dollars every year, between pool and the poker machines. Hopefully, it was just a drop in the bucket compared to what he made in the music business. He started off playing guitar with Marty Robbins, then later managed Leroy Van Dyke, Red Sovine, Bill Carlisle, Dick Flood and Sheb Wooley. Here's an excerpt from his obituary: "Joe M. Wright, 79, of Goodlettsville passed away Tuesday, January 3, 2017 with family at his side. Mr. Wright was born August 15, 1937 in Rosine, Kentucky. His family moved to Goodlettsville in 1952, where he finished high school. Shortly after high school he started work in the country music business as original lead guitar player for Marty Robbins' Teardrops at age 18. He stayed in the music business as a songwriter and talent manager until the early 1970s. He later became President of Gray Stone Productions in Nashville. Mr. Wright was an avid pool player and won many tournaments." Apparently, Joe Wright auditioned for Robbins on a WSM "Friday Night Frolic" in December 1955, and was playing on a Purina network TV show the following Monday! The group would drive cross-country in Robbins' 1955 Chrysler Imperial, sometimes sleeping in the car. In Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins, there is a chapter where Joe complains that the rear seat hump made it hard for him to sleep. The book also reveals that after Robbins fired Joe for upstaging him with female fans by doing backbends and splits, Joe became the second-highest paid musician in Nashville, working on TV shows and with Opry regulars.

Mike Burch [6*]: I put an asterisk beside the 6 because that was my final ranking in the Music City pool league, but my strength as a player was matching up and winning, and I wasn't the greatest offensive player (although I did have my moments). But I hated to lose, so rather than taking chances and trying to run out, I would play safeties, frustrate my opponents, try to get the edge, then look for an opportunity to win. And that strategy helped me accumulate innings and keep my handicap down. I had a very high winning percentage, and rarely lost money, which is why some players called me "The Locksmith." (They did not mean it as a compliment!) And I won my fair share of tournaments against players who were more talented. So I give myself higher marks for "creative winning" than for raw ability. (I was also handicapped by terrible eyesight and super-thick glasses.) When I started out as a 4, I was unbeaten unless I threw a game to keep my handicap down. When I was a 5, I very seldom lost. So I think a 6 seems right, with the caveat that some of the other players with similar rankings ran out more often than I did. My high run in straight pool was 76 balls, on an eight-foot table. My high run in eight-ball was four tables, in nine-ball four tables, in six-ball five tables (all on bar tables). Nothing to brag about, but not bad for a part-time player with poor eyesight.

Matt Klein [6] and I played on Springwater teams together, and against each other in weekly tournaments held at the bar. Matt was a terrific shotmaker, and knew a lot about the game. If he had a weakness, it was that he would "go for the glory" a bit recklessly at times. But some of the shots he pulled off were spectacular. Matt worked for Gibson, where he fashioned the fuzzy white guitars made famous in Z. Z. Topp music videos, so he was also very creative.

Tommy Martin [6] was a good player whose main claim to pool fame was founding and running the Music City pool league. Teams I played on won close to $10,000 dollars over the years, so I tip my cap to him.

Stella Huffstetler [5] was Dean Huffstetler's wife, and probably the best female pool player in Nashville for a number of years. 

I think Philip Lee [6] and Steve Smith [6] may have ran together, but I didn't see them often and didn't know them well, or their games. One of my first "scores" as a pool rookie was against Steve Smith. He gave me a huge spot ... the same spot Joe Wright had been giving me. I'm sure Smith figured that if Joe could give me the spot, so could he. But he may have underestimated Joe's ability to make bad games. The most important thing when playing pool for money is not how you shoot, but how you match up. I beat Smith five times in a row for my first $100 score. 

Allen Cartwright [5-6] played on our Springwater teams for awhile, and while he could be a bit (ahem) "volatile," he was a good shotmaker and quite a character. He had a custom-made Meucci cue that set him back over a thousand dollars, back when that was a lot of money. His family auto parts stores, so Cartwright also owned some seriously bad souped-up muscle cars. I remember in particular a black 454 Trans-Am with a nitrous oxide system.

I played on several Springwater pool teams with Tim Murphy [5], and he was a good shot and a strong competitor.

Nick Montjoy [5] played on our Springwater teams, until he moved out of the area. He was a good shot and always interesting to be around.

Bud Aubrey [4+] also played on our Springwater teams. He was a good player and a better friend, who will be sorely missed.

I vaguely remember a guy named Kenny Thompson [6] who used to back Louie Roberts when he was in Nashville. I think Louie may have stayed with Thompson, although I'm not sure. Talk about an Odd Couple ... Louie looked like Elvis Presley, while Thompson looked like a character out of Cheech & Chong.

Johnny Coble [5+] was a Nashville truck driver who played a pretty good game of pool.

Jerry Roberts [5] shot a pretty good game, and was an outrageously good classical guitarist. He was also a colorful character and a good storyteller.  

Louis Vodopya [?] describes himself as a pool hustler, among other things, but I've never seen him play, nor have I heard about him from anyone else. In one of his articles Louis said that his father was one of the best pool players in Nashville, and in the nation, but that he gave up pool hustling when he got married.

Gerald Robertino [?] was described by Vodopya as "one of the best pool hustlers who ever opened a guitar case and pulled out a two piece cue."

"Country" [?] was a legend on his own table, which I believe was in Gallatin, but I never saw him play, so I really can't say much about him. I don't even know his real name.

Lewie Parrish Little [1905-1987] taught three-cushion billiards at Vanderbilt University and was an excellent player in his own right, from what I've been told. He held a variety of reporting and editing jobs at the Nashville Banner and Tennessean newspapers, and was a business manager of the Mobile, Alabama professional baseball team. According to Little's obituary, "He frequently recalled with pride his covering of the second world championship fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney in 1927." Little left Nashville, moved to Toledo, worked for the Blade, then rose to the position of chief copy desk editor with the Toledo Times. It was after retiring as a newspaper man in 1972 that Little and his wife Doris returned to Nashville. A September 18, 1973 article in the Tennessean said of Little, who apparently first took up three-cushion billiards during a newspaper strike, "In a matter of a few days, he was a billiards fanatic. He began to study the game as if it were a life and death matter." Little was a friend of Nick Morris, who operated 20th Century Billiards at 21st Avenue South and Capers Avenue. Nick and his father Louie Morris had previously operated the Palace on 4th Avenue, just a few blocks from the Tennessean's offices. So Little and the Morrises went "back aways" and perhaps the Palace is the place where Little first became a billiards fanatic (although that is not certain from the article). In any case, Nick Morris had promised his friend that when he retired and returned to Nashville, he would install a full-size billiards table. But it seems there was not a table to be found in the entire city of Nashville. Then, in a very interesting synchronicity, Little visited Jess Neely, an All-American football player and captain of the undefeated 1922 Vanderbilt football team. Neely had been the object of Little's first article as a sportswriter. During their reunion, Neely mentioned that there was a three-cushion billiards table, albeit in a state of disrepair, on the Vanderbilt campus. Neely directed Little to Dr. James Sandlin, the associate dean for student life. Dean Sandlin came up with the idea of Little using the table to teach billiards. And that is how Little ended up teaching billiards at Vanderbilt (apparently the table was restored and moved to the Vanderbilt recreation room). By the way, Nick Morris did eventually keep his vow, installing a pocketless billiards table at 20th Century Billiards. According to a November 1, 1976 article in the Tennessean, Little created and captained a Vanderbilt billiards team, which had its first match against the University of Kentucky at Lexington. Ten players slugged it out for twelve hours in a round-robin tournament, with Kentucky winning 18-7. "Doug Weltner won three of five matches to star for Vandy." The article also mentions that "Little started the billiard program at Sarratt Student Center in September, 1974."

Mike Burch (continued): This is a brief chronology of my pool career: I never shot pool until I went to Tennessee Technological University in 1976. I taught myself the game between classes, at the on-campus pool hall, on ten-foot Brunswick Gold Crowns with very tight pockets. Soon I started skipping classes to play pool; fortunately school was easy for me and I didn't have to study much even though I had tough courses in computer science, physics, chemistry and advanced math. I was blessed because I could just read the books and figure things out. In any case, within a short period of time, I was the best player at TTU and won the school's straight pool tournament. My strength at the time was cutting and pocketing balls, as I didn't have anyone to teach me about english and shape. I had qualified for the regional straight pool tournament, but partied too hard the night before and missed the bus (and also lost the girl I adored by being too drunk to respond when she came on to me, ouch!). I also won a local Cookeville eight-ball tournament, and a Space Invaders tournament. After I moved back to Nashville, I started hanging out at Scott Amusement Center, learning from more accomplished players like Doug Almy, Joe Wright, Ray Nelson, Andrew Gentry, Herbert Young and Jeff Street. I had my first big cash score against a guy named Bobby Lawson, winning something like $700, which I used to buy a Josh West cue. I also won money games against Joe Wright and Steve Smith, although they were giving me huge spots. Doug Almy and I started running together, hustling money games, many of them small beans but with larger takes here and there. We had the advantage that we didn't look like pool players, being clean-cut with short hair and glasses. We had a few close calls ... for instance, the time we were beating two drug dealers who were "carrying," and the bartender advised us to "lose," which we did. Doug and I eventually joined Springwater's pool team, and were core players who always got put up when anything important was on the line. Our 1984 Busch league team was a national qualifier. Our best Music City Pool League teams finished 1st and 3rd, winning around $7,000 altogether. Doug and I both won our matches in the final; I think Tim Murphy was the other winner. The only team that beat our third-place team in the tournament that year was our first-place team, and our third-place team knocked off the league's highest-rated team in the process. If I remember correctly, I won every match for both teams and was really in a "zone" until the finals, when nerves took over a bit. But still I won, and the team won, which is what really counts. After we won the whole shebang, the B team folded and the A team started to drift apart. Doug and I eventually retired from shooting competitive pool. But we won a lot more than we lost, had a lot of fun, and met many interesting characters along the way. So it was a good ride while it lasted. We weren't the most naturally talented players, but I suspect that we had the highest winning averages. One of my personal claims to fame is that I shut down all the "action" at a bar called the Natchez Trace. When I started going there, guys were playing for $10 and $20 per game. And there was a pool tournament every week, with the winner taking all. I won the tournament so many times that they stopped having it, and pretty soon no one was playing for more than a dollar per game. But I had padded my wallet rather nicely! Another memory that makes me smile is the last time I played in the Nashville City Tournament. I was put up against another 6 who was bragging loudly about being undefeated for the entire season, and how easily he was beating people. If I remember correctly, I drilled him 6-0. In the final game I ran the table but didn't have a clear shot at the eight ball, which was out toward the middle of the table and hidden by multiple balls. I almost never attempt masse shots, but he had really pissed me off, so I called the eight ball in the far left corner, jacked up my cue, and made one of the best (and least likely) shots of my career. I doubt that I could make the shot more than once in a blue moon, but it was a magical moment. Another unlikely shot that I remember fondly came when I had run the table and the eight ball was blocked by two balls almost but not quite sitting in the far right corner pocket, with the eight ball a few inches away. The eight ball had to be called and go in "clean," so I called the eight ball in the opposite left corner, and used english to spin the cue ball behind the two balls blocking the pocket, kicking the eight ball the length of the table into the only open pocket. I felt like my favorite player, Louie Roberts, must have felt when he pulled off things that seemed impossible, or highly implausible. As I said earlier, I did have my moments. But there were always players much better than me, so I tip my cap to them, especially Louie Roberts, Buddy Hall, Earl Strickland, Keith McCready, Mike Siegel, Johnny Archer and Efren Reyes.

Mark Twain, Was Minnesota Fats Overrated?, A Brief History of Billiards, Pool/Billiards Record High Runs, The Sexiest Sharks, Johnston City Sharks, Nashville Sharks, Dick Hunzicker, "Saint Louie" Louie Roberts, Earl "The Pearl" Strickland, Who was the best nine-ball player?

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