The Austin Chronicle

They Killed the President

Dallas soul man Bobby Patterson once counted Jack Ruby a patron

By Kevin Curtin, November 22, 2013, Music

On a sunny Friday afternoon in late November 1963, young soul singer Bobby Patterson hit a roadblock on his way to class at Arlington College.

"Everything was blocked off," remembers Patterson from the backstage of Austin's Continental Club at a gig 50 years later. "I was getting on the freeway and there were cops everywhere so I had to make a detour. I got on Jefferson and there were even more cop cars."

He turned on the radio and heard the news: President Kennedy had been shot in downtown Dallas. "'Now how am I supposed to get to school, man?'" he asked himself.

Patterson, now 69, has enjoyed an epic career in the music industry, cutting clever R&B favorites like "TCB or TYA," "How Do You Spell Love?" and "Quiet! Do Not Disturb" before moving into studio production, record promotion, and ultimately radio, serving a long stint as a jive-talkin' jock on Soul 73 KKDA in Dallas.

In 1963, Patterson was enjoying his first regular gig at a nightclub called the Vegas Club, owned by Jack Ruby, who killed alleged JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

"It was seven nights a week," remembers the singer. "I played with a guy named Joe Johnson and his band. We did Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly – all that rock & roll – while the audience did the push, which was pretty much the same dance as the jitterbug."

And Ruby? "Jack? He was all right, man. Mafia guy, you know. Didn't take no shit."

Those days, Ruby was spending most of his time at his other club, the Carousel, leaving his sister Eva Grant to manage Vegas, but he took notice of Patterson and offered to be his manager. "He was a cool dude to me," says Patterson. "Told me he was gonna get me a record deal and that Frank Sinatra was a friend of his."

The day after sniper fire rained down on the presidential motorcade, Patterson remembers stopping by Ruby's Oak Cliff apartment to pick up payment for playing at the Vegas Club.

"You know what I remember about that morning? All those newspapers, man. He had The Washington Post and The New York Times, all of the stories about the assassination, scattered all over the couch, all over the floor, and all in the kitchen," recalls Patterson. "Jack said, 'How much I owe ya?' And I said, '$300.' All he kept sayin' was, 'They killed the president! They killed the president, man! Can you believe it? That son of a bitch is gonna pay!'

"He was really pissed!"

Patterson's account of visiting Ruby the Saturday after JFK's assassination doesn't jibe with the eight-page transcript of his Warren Commission interview from March 1964. He was called in because Ruby's ledger showed a payment to "Robert Patterson and Friends." At the time, he indicated to investigators that his last meeting with Ruby had been in early November.

Today, Patterson maintains he was with Ruby on Saturday, Nov. 23, and admits he was fearful of the agents questioning him in the Warren Commission interviews. He kept his answers short and didn't run his mouth on account of Ruby's mob affiliations.

"Yeah, I was scared," he nods. "It was 1964 and I was a young black man. They had a file on me that looked like a phone book, and two agents plus a stenographer that wrote down everything I said and did."

Patterson says the interview mainly dealt with his and Ruby's business relationship and what associates he'd met.

"They drilled me, man – asking me the same questions over and over seeing if I'd give the same answer."

Regardless of the date of their last meeting, the next time Patterson saw Ruby was on television firing a .38-caliber Colt Cobra revolver into Oswald's stomach as he was escorted from the Dallas Police Station. Pat­ter­son figures his patron got close in because Dallas policemen frequented his clubs.

"I was shocked because he didn't have to do that himself," says Patterson, throwing his arms up in disbelief. "He could've had someone do it for him, but I'd guess he wanted to do it so everyone would know how bold he was. He probably thought it would make him a hero."

Bobby Patterson shakes his head and lowers his gaze, going back in time before snapping back to the present and smiling.

"I'm just glad I got my $300 beforehand."

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