“We had plenty of big people play there,” the 77-year-old said. “It would seat 1,000.”
By “big people,” he meant Louis Armstrong and Conway Twitty, as well as Tommy Dorsey and Jimmy Dorsey.
“Johnny Cash played there when I had it, and Carl Perkins,” he said. “You’ve got to remember they were just getting started. They wanted to play there because it held so many people.”
Watson became tight friends with Sonny Burgess, and even introduced him to the future Mrs. Burgess.
Elvis Presley never played at the Silver Moon Club while Watson owned it, but Burgess reminded them that the pair caught Tupelo’s favorite son long before anyone thought of calling him the King of Rock ’n’ Roll.
“Sonny said he and I went to see Elvis at another club when he was just starting,” Watson said. “They were known as the Blue Moon Boys then.”
Watson’s club days came to a close in 1961, when he married his wife, Peggy, and the pair moved to Tupelo.
“After I got married, it was time to settle down,” he said.
He got involved with his in-laws’ business, which eventually became Gardner-Watson Inc. For the following decades, Watson focused on raising his family and building up the ice business.
But those old club days still had a hold of him.
Tupelo used to have a festival called Oleput, and one year Watson decided to build a Mardi Gras float for the event.
“I ran into Sonny someplace,” Watson said. “I asked if he wanted to come and play on the float. I had no idea they’d put the band back together for it.”
After the festival, he needed a place to put the float, so he bought an old Ford dealership building on Clark Street to store it and his RV.
He also slowly turned part of the building into a showplace. It won’t hold anywhere near 1,000 people, but 175 can fit comfortably in Watson’s new version of the Silver Moon Club.
“I’ve had 300 in there, but that was before we put the glass tops on the tables,” he said. “They weigh 200-something pounds. Hard to move.”
D.J. Fontana, Elvis’ original drummer, played there on New Year’s Eve. Guitarist Scotty Moore, another early Elvis band member, had his 80th birthday at the club.
Burgess has played on the stage, and there’s been a crowd of Elvis tribute artists, including Watson’s personal favorite, Cody Slaughter.
It’s a happening place, though maybe not quite as happening as the old Silver Moon in Arkansas.
“It’s really private. We just use it for family and friends, and people I don’t mind doing things for. We have fun,” said Watson, smiling. “If I had to charge people to come in here, they couldn’t afford it.”