Scott Bowden Interview
Scott Bowden Interview
Here's a little interview I did with Scott back in 2007. I'm sorry to say we never got around to finishing it.
Scott Bowden Interview
Scott Bowden is a unique guy. He grew up in Memphis, watching the weekly wrestling show, just like I did. While in college, he actually became a referee and eventually
a manager in Memphis Wrestling. For the past few years, while living out in Los Angeles, Scott started a great column online. It's called Kentucky Fried Rasllin
and is always entertaining.
Mark: We both grew up pretty close to the same area, same high school, close in age, etc. I've mentioned in my book (as well as in interviews I've given), that my Grandparents were the ones that got me into watching Memphis Wrestling. How did your interest/obsession in wrestling start?
Bowden: My dad is to blame. The earliest memory I have of wrestling is in the mid-’70s, with my dad forcing us to abandon our Saturday morning cartoons to switch the station on our only TV set to Memphis wrestling. I wanted Foghorn Leghorn but had to settle for Lance Russell. My sister and I always protested—quite loudly—to no avail. My dad wasn’t a huge mark or anything, but at that time the show attracted so many casual fans. Slowly, my curiosity developed a little more each time my dad turned the channel to the Memphis wrestling show. I recall seeing five or six wrestlers trying to restrain the Mongolian Stomper, and he tossed them around like they were sacks of garbage. Next to the Incredible Hulk, I thought Stomper had to be the toughest man alive. Jerry Lawler was really coming into his own as a personality around that time. The earliest I can remember actually liking wrestling was the summer of 1977, during the first series of Lawler vs.Bill Dundee matches. That feud really captured my imagination. Every week, it was a different stipulation, along with the NWA Southern title hanging in the balance. Crazy stipulations like Lawler and Dundee putting up their hair, thousands of dollars, their Cadillacs…culminating with Dundee’s wife getting her head shaved. Most of those bouts drew around 10,000 fans, so the area was red hot in the summer of ’77. I was six years old. And I was hooked.
Years later, when I became a heel manager, I often referred to my rich daddy in Germantown. My dad was a lieutenant with the fire department at the time. The phone at the firehouse would be ringing off the hook every time I mentioned my rich daddy, with my dad’s friends and fellow firefighters ribbing him unmercifully. I can’t say for certain, but I believe my dad wishes he’d never turned that TV dial back in the ‘70s. Luckily, my dad has a great a sense of humor
Mark: So Dundee & his wife are now bald, Lawler "retires" and the Lawler/Dundee feud has ended, (Sept 1977), did you stick with wrestling?
Bowden: Actually, the Lawler retirement angle and the debut of “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant only piqued my interest more. Up until that point, I was sort of a Bill Dundee fan. I liked Tommy Rich. But I didn’t have a true hero, one I lived and died with. At that point, it wasn’t that I necessarily rooting for Dundee or Rich. I was tuning in to see Lawler get beat. Still, turning Lawler babyface was master stroke after such a long, successful heel run. The fans were dying to cheer for the King, and many fans already did, despite his arrogance and evil ways. Lawler was from Memphis. He might have been on asshole on TV, but hey, he was OUR asshole. I think that’s why many fans cheered Lawler wrestled Jack Brisco and Terry Funk for the NWA World title in the ‘70s, despite being a heel. When “Handsome” Jimmy busted that guitar over Lawler’s head and the King came looking for revenge, I finally had my hero. And choosing Valiant, the flamboyant bleached blonde from New York City, to be the catalyst for Lawler’s babyface turn was genius. Plus, you had the dynamic of Lawler and Dundee attempting to put their issues aside and form a tag team. I vividly recall the show setting up a Coward Waves the Flag bout between Lawler and Valiant. The only way you can lose the match is if your cornerman surrenders, waving the white flag if he thinks you’ve endured too much punishment. Lawler had Dundee in his corner, and “Cowboy” Frankie Lane was in Handsome’s. I remember Valiant warning Lane not to wave that white flag even if Lawler ripped his nose off. That’s quite a visual for a six-year-old. Of course, this Coward Waves the Flag bout ended like every such bout over the next 20 years, with Lane blinding Dundee with powder while the ref was knocked senseless and assuming his position in Lawler’s corner, crouching under the ring. The ref regains consciousness and sees the flag in Lawler’s corner waving despite the fact that the King has the advantage. The ref calls for the bell and awards the bout to Valiant. I remember watching the highlights with my dad and asking him, “Uh, oh…do you think Lawler’s going to be mad at Dundee and they’ll fight again?” I was really nervous about this potential turn of events.
Ironically enough, in 1995, Tommy Rich was in Doug Gilbert’s corner for a Coward Waves the Flag match with Brian Lawler. As Rich distracted the ref, I rushed down to ringside and threw powder in Brian’s corerman’s eyes and crouched under the ring and waved his flag as the ref turned around to give Gilbert the win. History often repeated itself in Memphis wrestling.
Mark: So, with his first feud (as a babyface) over, you're now fully behind the King. It's around April of 1978 and Jerry Jarrett does the same thing they did with Lawler, and turns Handsome Jimmy Valiant into a babyface. What do you remember about Valiant, as a heel and as a babyface?
Bowden: It’s a shame that more people aren’t familiar with “Handsome” Jimmy’s heel run and subsequent babyface turn in the ‘70s. He was an incredible personality. Most fans remember him as the goofy, loveable “Boogie Man” who appeared in Mid-Atlantic and later on TBS when Crockett expanded in the mid-‘80s. “Handsome” Jimmy in Memphis had a real edge. He was one of the first I can remember to use pop culture references in his interviews. I remember him bouncing off the walls in the WMC-TV 5 studio explaining to Lance that Burt Reynolds and Sally Field just dropped him off at the studio and that Burt must have “slipped something in my Coca-Cola, baby!” As a heel in the ‘70s, he was brash, arrogant and a good brawler. He was also in great shape and had a nice look—he looked like a star. Tailor-made for Memphis. You have to credit Jerry Jarrett for seeing something in him and handpicking Valiant to be his new superstar in Lawler’s absence. Think about this cast of characters in Memphis in the late ‘70s: Lawler, the hometown boy; Dundee, the scrappy Australian; Joe LeDuc, the huge lumberjack; Prof. Toru Tanaka, the evil Japanese wrestler; Archie Goldie, the Mongolian Stomper; Sonny King; the soft-spoken, almost philosophical black wrestler; and Valiant, the cocky boy from New York City Just a great mix of talent. But like Lawler, the fans really wanted to cheer for “Handsome,” though. When they turned him babyface, he got over even more. When they turned Valiant back to a heel and teamed him with Wayne Ferris, it was the same week Valiant’s music video for “Son of Gypsy” hit. I can’t say for sure, but I’ve often wondered if Lawler and Dundee were jealous of Valiant’s popularity at the time. Valiant’s heel turn was very impromptu with no buildup—he wanted to be cut in on the main event, teaming with the King and the Superstar vs. the Bounty Hunters and manager Jimmy Kent. When Lawler and Dundee refused, Valiant exploded, accusing them of being jealous. Looking back at it, those words almost came off like a shoot. Then Lawler fired back, calling Valiant “a fag” with a “queer earring.” Strong stuff for the time. Babyface or heel, Valiant was my dad’s favorite wrestler—Handsome always cracked him up. And my mother had a great encounter with Valiant at the Memphis Airport around ’79. She asked him for his autograph, explaining it was for her little boy. Valiant lowered his sunglasses, looked her in the eyes, and whispered, “Sure it is, momma. Sure it is.” God, I wish I’d been there to see that. The promotion could always count on Valiant to spice things up. I believe he turned babyface to heel and back again more than any wrestler in Memphis from 1977 to 1981. Whenever Lawler was out of town, they brought in Valiant. When Lawler needed a partner, they’d bring in Valiant. I don’t believe he could sustain a long babyface run on top and draw the consistent crowds that Lawler did, but nobody popped the houses in Memphis short-tem quite like Handsome Jimmy. When Ole Anderson and Crockett heard the houses he was drawing in Memphis, they turned him babyface, planting the seeds for Valiant’s rebirth as the Boogie Woogie Man, which got over strong in the Carolinas.
Mark: You mentioned Joe Leduc in your last answer. He and Lawler had a huge feud in Memphis. I guess what almost everyone remembers most is the time he cut his arm with an ax on live Sat morning TV. What memories do you have of him (as well as his under appreciated manager, Sonny King)?
Bowden: I loved Joe LeDuc. Like the Stomper, he was larger than life to me. Just a great monster heel for Lawler. He was very agile for his size. Joe was a great worker for a big man. His promos were off the charts. If there was any doubt that he was insane, that was confirmed when he made the infamous "oath"--or as Joe called it "an oak"--on live TV, cutting his arm with the ax as a stunned Lance Russell buried his head. You really believed that when he looked at that scar for the rest of his life, he'd be thinking of Lawler. He was an incredible character. Joe is the type of monster that the WWE today wishes they could create, wishes they could script. Joe LeDuc is a perfect example of what's missing today. Can you imagine anyone scripting a promo for Joe? And to Lawler's credit, most of the time he beat Joe in the late '70s, he merely outsmarted him. Who would believe otherwise? Things like tapping him on the shoulder at the count of two, with Joe thinking he'd won. Then Lawler would catch him with a bodypress of the ropes for the pin. The tug-of-war with the fans trying to break LeDuc's grip to no avail. Joe blocking a bus or van with his legs as the tires spun out of control. Classic Memphis moments. And then in 1984 when he and Lawler formed the Odd Couple, Joe was tremendous as a confused babyface. I was so saddened when I heard he'd passed. A true Memphis legend.
Mark: At the end of 1978, with Lawler's feud with Leduc over, the next "big heel" to hit town was Austin Idol. What are your memories of him and his feud w/Lawler.
Mike McCord probably never would have headlined Memphis. But Austin Idol, the gimmick McCord developed to reinvent himself after recovering from the plane crash that killed Bobby Shane, was a natural to headline against Lawler in Memphis. The Universal Heartthrob was great on the stick, though he was nowhere near the level of say, Ric Flair, inside the ring. He was a marginal worker…somewhat limited. But Idol had an excellent grasp of psychology, and he and Lawler put together some great bouts. The promos were intense on both sides, and you got the feeling it was really personal between the two. Like Lawler, Idol had a way of capturing your attention in his promos and had you hanging on every word. He was flamboyant yet believable. ‘The women’s pet…the men’s regret, darling.’ His delivery was wonderful as were his facial expressions.
Some critics who aren’t very familiar with his career dismiss the Idol as a Superstar Graham knockoff, but he was much more than that. He stole from Superstar, but in some ways he better in his role than Graham. Less than two months after he debuted in Memphis in December 1978, I begged my Uncle Robert to take me to the matches to see Lawler and Jackie Fargo against Idol and Mil Mascaras in a stretcher match. I had seen Mascaras all over the Apter mags, so I knew he was a big star. Years later when I look back on it, I find it humorous that Lawler and Jarrett brought in Mascaras—one of the biggest babyface attractions in the world—as a heel that night. Not only that, but Mascaras did the stretcher job, selling like crazy for Lawler and Fargo. As they were carting Mascaras out, Fargo ran down the aisle and turned over the stretcher and continued to put the boots to Mascaras. I’m not sure I’d believe it if I hadn’t seen it myself. I was young, nearly 8 years old, and I don’t recall much of the undercard, but I remember that main event. Then Idol helped set the territory on fire again in the early ‘80s as a babyface. He was over like crazy in Memphis in either role. And of course, a lot of the boys have Austin Idol stories. Eddie Gilbert loved telling the story of how Idol won a battle royal in Georgia for $10,000 and the promoter presented him with a check for that amount at ringside in front of the fans. Idol cashed the check the next day and promptly left the territory. Knowing Eddie, he probably wished he’d been the one who’d done that.
If he hadn’t developed a supposed fear of flying after the crash, Idol probably could have caught on in a big way nationwide with the WWF when Vince McMahon expanded in the mid-‘80s. He wasn’t quite on Jimmy Valiant’s level as far as popping the houses in Memphis, but Idol was a steady draw in the territory for a few years, could make the difference at the box office when they’d bring him back after a hiatus.
And of course, in 1987, Idol and Lawler were at it again in easily the most memorable series of their feud, which culminated in the King getting his head shaved and then returning for revenge against Idol and Tommy Rich with a series of partners. I was there in the fourth row for the head-shaving match, and the heat on the heels was amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything else in the business quite like it. One of the greatest heel moves in history was after he and Rich racked Lawler against the ringpost. Idol then grabs the King’s head and slaps him with a vicious-looking shot. Just tremendous. More than 20 minutes went by after the bout ended and no one was leaving—the fans were waiting for Rich and Idol to leave the ring so they could get a piece of them. Fans were literally climbing the cage to get to them. Even with the police surrounding them on the way out, the heels were lucky to make it out alive. The heat on Idol and Rich was so strong they drew another 9,000 fans the following week after the hair match for a card without Lawler. As other promotions were dying off in 1987, Lawler and Idol were drawing some great houses in Memphis. It was probably the most entertaining feud in the country at the time.
Dave Meltzer once wrote the Rock years later discovered Idol’s old work in Memphis and couldn’t believe how good the Heartthrob was in his promos. One of Memphis wrestling’s greatest personalities.
Mark: In the months that followed the Lawler/Idol feud, the Blond Bombers (Farris + Latham) emerged as the top team in Memphis. They were one of the teams involved in the infamous Tupelo Concession Stand battle (against Lawler + Dundee.) This is probably one of the most talked about angles in the history of Memphis wrestling. Even though it's been talked to death, what about your thoughts (on Tupelo match, the bombers, etc)?
Bowden: At the time, it was probably the most shocking piece of wrestilng footage I’d seen. My uncle was one of the first in our family to have a VCR—a Betamax model, which fell eventually fell aside with the popularity of the VHS format—and he’d taped that show. I watched the concession-stand brawl constantly when I was a kid—I can still see nearly the entire damn thing unfold in my mind. For years, the Tupelo, Mississippi, concession-stand brawl epitomized to me what Memphis wrestling as all about: A rabid crowd packed into a small arena, with lots of near falls and referee Jerry Calhoun always just out of position when Dundee had one of the Bombers pinned. The heels win the match and the AWA Southern tag belts, though it looks like Dundee may have kicked out just in time. A brawl erupts—the babyfaces instigating the melee, attacking the new champions. And Lance is simply marvelous, urging the cameraman to follow the action as it descends downstairs to the concessions area. “C’mon, c’mon, we got a helluva fight going on down here.” It was bloody, brutal…a flurry of kicks and punches with blood flying in the air, along with mustard, ketchup, broomsticks and anything else that wasn’t nailed down. In the background, a female employee is screaming and turning away at the sight of the carnage. For years, Tupelo was known as the birthplace of Elvis Presley. But after that bout, in wrestling vernacular, you associated the words “Tupelo, Mississippi” with Lawler, Dundee and the Blonde Bombers. In fact, when introducing the footage of the second brawl in the arena—this time with Eddie Gilbert and Rick Morton vs. Mr. Onita and Masa Fuchi, Lance rhetorically asked, “Tupelo, Mississippi…need I say more?” The original was probably the measuring stick for future brawls in wrestling for the next two decades—not just Memphis; however, in some ways the Gilbert/Morton version was better…and bloodier I believe. I remember a crazed, bloodied Tojo acting like a maniac.
Shortly after the footage of the first brawl aired, I begged my uncle to take me to a rematch at the Mid-South Coliseum, which ended when Lawler and Dundee were disqualified for the King’s patented measure of revenge—a fireball. Lawler had to be one of the dirtiest babyfaces ever, but that suited the territory. Wayne Ferris wasn’t great in the ring, but he and Larry were a great heel tandem, made even better with Sgt. Danny Davis in their corner. Wayne hadn’t been a heel long, but he definitely had an innate nasty charisma. Maybe it runs in the family.
I was thrilled years later to refer to the Tupelo concession stand brawl in an interview to make a point of the beating Tommy Rich and Doug Gilbert had in store for Lawler and Brian Christopher. I knew many longtime fans would know exactly what I was talking about and the carnage that lie ahead Monday night.
Mark: As fall 1979 arrives, Lawler's heel turn is set in motion. His manager is Jimmy Hart. Your thoughts? (Hart, CWA World Title, Superstar Graham, etc).
Bowden: Although I had just started watching wrestling around the time of the first Lawler vs. Dundee feud, this is one that excited me. I recall the seeds for this heel turn being planted when Lawler slowly began growing his famed crown-shaped goatee, which he had shaved during his babyface run at some point. Dundee had secured an AWA World title shot with Bockwinkel—one of the rare times the champion didn’t face Lawler. Dundee had given Bock all he could handle in what turned out to be a damn good bout with solid mat wrestling. Adding further insult to Lawler, he was paired in a tag-bout in the second match on the card, teaming with Randy Tyler to lose to the Freebirds. In an interview with Lawler and Dundee, Lance was glowing about the Superstar’s effort and mentioned that promoter Jerry Jarrett was petitioning the AWA to get Dundee a return bout. Lance asked for Lawler’s opinion on the bout, and Jerry sort of stumbled over his words, like “Um…yeah. It…was…great. He…I guess…he deserves another shot.” That same day, Lawler was supposed to wrestle in the expiration-of-time bout teaming with Dundee and Terry “the Hulk” Boulder. They couldn’t find Lawler—he had left the building. Eventually, Lawler voiced his frustration and used a chain to defeat Dundee with the help of Jimmy Hart to win the AWA Southern title and the shot at Bockwinkel. I remember siding with Lawler, even though he was the heel. I remained his fan, much to the chagrin of my sister and most of my friends. I sort of remember starting to act cocky like Lawler around this time, using some of his smart-ass lines, which didn’t exactly thrill my teachers.
I was in the audience for that World title bout with Bockwinkel, and it was a classic one-hour Broadway (draw). Bockwinkel challeneged Lawler to an overtime period, and the King pinned the champion with an inside cradle. This was one of my first exposures to the art of the screw-job finish—didn’t occur to me at the time that the title wouldn’t change hands in the overtime. This was also my first exposure to referee Tommy Marlin, who was frequently brought in to referee the World title matches to make them seem like a bigger affair, I suppose. Tommy counted so….slowwwly. It was agony to watch those slow counts when Lawler had the bout won. The best memory I have of that bout: Lawler pulled down the strap to make his comeback, but Bockwinkel blocked his punches and knocked the King on his ass. I had never seen that happen before! I guess the strap-down comeback didn’t work unless you had the fans behind you. A couple of months later, my dad called me from the firehouse to tell me that Lawler had just won the World title—he’d seen highlights on the Channel 5 news with Jack Eaton? I excitedly blurted out, “He beat Bockwinkel?!” It was a letdown when I realized it was Superstar Graham and the CWA World title he was talking about. Don’t get me wrong—I was thrilled when Superstar arrived because I had seen him all over the Apter mags. But according to the Apter mags, the only real World champs were in the WWF, AWA and NWA. The CWA title didn’t count in my book. I think Jarrett had aspirations of booking Lawler as World champion in some of the other territories but the King’s broken leg in January 1980 curbed those plans.
A lot of people forget that Hart didn’t speak much at all during their run together—it was all Lawler on the mic. But Hart really came into his own after Lawler broke his leg.
To be continued!