This article is not the life story of John Hobbs, because it is much too soon to be writing that story. It is just some observations that I have made, and it is only one little corner of his world, but a very important part for many of us. I hope I do John A. justice with my thoughts in this article.
John A. Hobbs was born on February 11, 1928 right here in Nashville, TN. That makes him 82 years young, and I DO MEAN YOUNG. He is the youngest 82 year old person I have ever known, and I only hope and pray that I can be as healthy and vibrant as he is, IF I am lucky enough to make it to 82. This article will never be written in its entirety because there is not enough room in the magazine, and there are way too many stories to be told, but I am going to try and give you a short version of this man we call John A. who in my thinking, has never been given his just dues for the many things that he has done for so many during his lifetime, especially in the music industry, the City of Nashville, and surrounding suburbs. He has a stretch of BrileyParkway named in his honor, by then Mayor Bill Purcell. He is one of Nashville’s most successful businessmen, and has built his business empire with honesty, integrity, and most of all hard work. It is what I call a “family affair.” They keep their businesses rolling through whatever adversities come up, even the recent devastating flood here in Nashville. Ronnie, Joe, and John C. and their staff have built a solid reputation over the past 60 years, and from what I can see, the family continues to make sure it continues to grow. John A. has taught his children and grandchildren well. It is always business as usual with John A. and his staff, but you trust me when I tell you that he takes care of his people.
He joined the Merchant Marines at the age of 15. His final ship during his tour of duty was Brigadier General Alfred J. Lyons. It had a crew of 500 Merchant Marines, and still a few of these mates of John A’s have a reunion here in Nashville, but most are not able to travel any longer. This ship had to maintain some of the first medical evacuation helicopters ever used. It was the first vessel, along with a hospital ship to enter Tokyo Bay, just days before the arrival of the 3rd Fleet at the surrender of the Japanese Empire.
When John A. returned home he got a job in construction as a carpenter where he became a foreman with just over a year of experience. In the next 10 years John learned his trade of being in construction where he learned early on how to manage his money and when he started his family. In 1957 he risked everything he had and started the John A. Hobbs Construction Company and as they say, “The rest is now history.” John A. no longer has a construction company. With all of his successful other ventures he got out of construction.
In the mid-70’s John, along with some partners, began to take on new businesses. They opened Fiddler’s Inn South at Briley Parkway and I-40, then his next huge step was to build the Fiddler’s Inn on Music Valley Dr. But John’s biggest venture was being part of the corporation that built the World Famous Nashville Palace, and several museums in the same area. Next he and his partners built the Ramada Inn (Radission Inn now) at McGavock Pike and Music Valley Dr. To say that he is a successful businessman is an understatement, but his success came from dedication and hard work, which he still lives by. He works hard and he plays hard.
John A. has been involved in so many charitable projects too numerous to mention, and there are probably so many other charitable things that he has done that only he knows. His heart is as large as his life. Oh by the way, John A. is a devout Catholic and has always been involved in many religious fundraisers through the many years.
I have known John A. for over 35 years, ever since I moved to Nashville in 1969. Most of my life as an entertainer I spent touring on the road up through 1994. I worked at the Nashville Palace for John back in my early days when Steve Hill was the house band at the Palace. On Monday nights Steve would be off, so John would use different bands to fill in, and I was lucky enough to be one of those bands. I guess he liked us, but he did impress on me one night to never touch the PA control board!!!!! That is a story in itself. And another thing I did not get to do all that much is to sit in the Nashville Palace special area where John A. and his friend’s would sit to “discuss business.” But there was never a night that I went into the Nashville Palace that John A. did not invite me to come and have a drink with him and his buddies, and there were nights I did just that. I never realized then, that when the John A’s Little Palace was built, that I was going to be lucky enough to be around him and his great group of people. I know that my knowing Joe West the umpire surely had a lot to do with it, because I believe that Joe told John A. that I was a great sports enthusiast just like John A.
As everyone knows, John lost his beloved Libby 2009 to cancer, and it was hurtful for so many of us that are friends of John’s. He loved her as much as any man I have ever known, and we all know how he still misses her presence alongside him. John A. stays busy almost 16-18 hours a day, and is never at a loss of friends who join him every night that he sits in the corner of John A’s Little Palace. That’s right “Little Palace.” John was the original owner of The Nashville Palace until he sold it in 2003. He was not content not having a place to be with his friends, and his heart and soul were still in the restaurant and entertainment business, so he had a plot of land that he saved to build his new Palace and he named it John A’s Little Palace. The Little Palace was built exactly to his specifications, for what many consider, the best food in Nashville, great entertainment, great guests and great people, no smoking, no problems, and there in the back corner, is The Most Important Corner of Nashville, The Music Industry, and Politicians, but most of all that is where John A. Hobbs holds court almost every night.
There is a special grouping of John’s friends that gather each week at some time or the other in that special corner of John A’s, and that is where great stories are told, some whoppers from all of us, and more laughter comes out of that section of the restaurant than any other place I have EVER BEEN. It kind of reminds me of the Rat Pack in the old days out in Las Vegas-maybe a little more age, but just as crazy, and probably more. The walls are covered with priceless pictures of those that have become friends of John A., from local and national politicians, the biggest and most important people in country music and other genres’, and also to the tourist and fans who come to Nashville and have been told their visit to Nashville will not be complete unless they visit John A’s in the greatest corner of the world. Also, on the wall, and probably the most enjoyable part of the wall is John A’s sporting memorabilia which he is so proud of. His friendship with former LA Dodger Mgr. Tommy LaSorda and other sporting great’s, goes back many, many years. If you want to sit in the special corner with John A., you better know your sports or it is going to be a long evening for you. All TV sets are set with sporting events going constantly. Just some of the great names in entertainment who have spent time at John A’s to have dinner or just to enjoy the atmosphere of John A’s, are Charlie Pride, Garth Books, Dick Clark, his longtime friend Sam Lovullo (Creator/Producer of Hee Haw), Troy Aikman, Al Gore, and the list is endless. Just drop in at John A’s some night and check out the pictures on the wall and that will give you a small idea of John A. Hobbs. Before I forget, you will also see sports memorabilia from one of John’s greatest friends, and one of mine also, MLB Umpire Joe West. Joe gave John a signed home plate from one of the World Series that he was a part of the umpire crew. There is so much to see when you walk through the doors of John A’s Little Palace.
There is a grouping of John A. buddies, who have been his friend for many years. Eddie Bryan, Jimmy Grubbs, Eddie Paschall, Paul Hatfield, Trucker (Wayne Beck), his friends of many, many years, Tom and Christine Powell, Carolyn McClain, Libby Griggs, Nancy Quinn, Ann Fowler Smith, his sons, and his step-daughter Kim. Incidentally John A. has 12 grand children, 11 great grand children.. And you will find MLB Umpire Joe West there as many times as he can get to town, and after a few beers, you can be assured he will be up on the bandstand singing his favorite Merle Haggard songs. You never know who will walk through the door from the Grand Ole Opry, or maybe some big artist who just completed a concert at the Bridgestone Arena downtown, and wants to have dinner, and to see and meet John A. The catfish and lasagna are awesome!!!!! John A’s is a special place for special people, and those special people are the ones that enter into this building to enjoy themselves. But to be able to sit in the most important corner of John A’s world is not a given by any means.
John founded a group that he named the Ladies of the Black Widows, and they meet on the second Friday of every month for dinner. John named this group of ladies the Black Widows because they have lost a husband (or two or three, etc.) Their theme song is “I’ll Be Glad When Your Dead, You Rascal You.”
How I was lucky enough to sit in that corner is another story, but I will tell you this, I have been privileged and honored to be accepted by John A. and his friends, and not one day goes by that I can understand why I was allowed to be a part of their group, and when I say that sitting in the most important corner of Nashville is an honor, you probably would not understand, unless you get the opportunity to be with these people on a regular basis. They have brought me in like one of their own, and they have become my friends. It is a special society of people that sit with John A is his own special corner of the world. If you find me in that corner on any given night, you can bet I will be in the middle of their discussions and most of the time they are really riding me, but I would not have it any other way. There is more business transacted by good old fashioned conversation on how to do something, how to help someone, how to change things for the better and to meet the challenges of everyday life, and then there is the guys just shooting the breeze about everything in general.
On the last Saturday of every month for the past three years, John A has established a tradition of having an open and free breakfast, for his friends, the politicians, those that are in office and those who might be running for office, and anyone who walks through the doors. If you have never attended, then you have no doubt missed the best breakfast meet and greet you have ever been to. John A. takes over the festivities with microphone in hand as he introduces those politician’s friends and wears them out-dealing with tax issues, road construction, new laws, old laws, and any kind of politics that is ongoing in local, State, and even Federal government. And you can always depend on John to have an idea or two of his thinking of things should be done. Governor’s, Mayor’s, Congressmen, Senators, Alderman, Judges, Gaylord’s CEO, Opry Stars, music stars, and booking agents like me, are all invited to partake of one helluva breakfast, AND IT IS FREE. You need to be there by 8:30AM. Remember, it is the last Saturday of every month and I promise you that you will not be hungry when you leave, you will laugh, and you will learn about City, State, and Federal government, and John A. will be the man with the gavel. It has become a tradition for the past 3 years, and I hope it never ends. John A. is the MASTER OF INSTIGATION. If you come to the breakfast and expect to hide somewhere in the building, that will never happen, because John A. Hobbs is the perfect host, and those that walk through the doors are 99% his friends, or soon to be friends, or just spectators that found out there is a free breakfast, not knowing what they are about to hear and see. It is part of my monthly calendar. I could tell stories of how he had a Judge who dealt with divorces, and John A. wanted me and my lady friend Julie to know that the Judge was there on this particular Saturday Breakfast, and he could marry us right then and there and if it didn’t work out, the Judge could also grant a divorce. The place must have laughed for an hour about how John A. got me and Julie up in front of everyone and put us both to the test.
I don’t think Randy Travis, Alan Jackson, Ricky Van Shelton, Lorrie Morgan, and others, would be where they are today if it were not for John Hobbs. The Nashville Palace was a place where some of the stars of today were given the opportunity to perform in front of the many fans that filled the Palace nightly. I remember on one Monday night I was playing with my band and I could see back in the kitchen, there was a guy washing dishes and working hard. About an hour into the evening Libby Hatcher (She was manager of the Nashville Palace at the time) came up to the bandstand and asked if I would let Randy sing, and I said “I guess that is alright.” I invited him up to sing and when he was finished with his two songs, I told the guys in the band, ‘this guy is a good country singer, but he has no stage presence and he will have a hard time being successful in this business.” Little did I know what was going to soon happen, but John Hobbs gave Randy his first start. The list is endless of the people that John has helped not just in the music business, but throughout his life. There have been young singers down on their luck or sleeping in their cars, that John A. helped with a hotel room and food, or just friends who are in need. There are so many people who John A. Hobbs has helped, and if it were not for his advice and generosity, they would not have been able to pursue their music dream. Some we know, and some we do not know, and he is the only one who knows them all, but he is still helping from his special corner of his world.
Let me not forget the great music people that play music at John A’s. Dan Schafer on Mond, Tues. & Wed. night. Dan’s credits in country music as a guitarist are as good as anyone I know. Just the fact that he worked for Shania Twain is enough or me, but there was also George Jones, Barbara Mandrell, and Lorrie Morgan. Dan will play your requests, old songs, new songs, his original songs, everything from the 50’s to the present. A one man show, and one of the best in Nashville.
And I assure you that Thursday through Sunday night you will hear one of the best four piece bands in Music City-John A’s Band. Jerry Skeen-Keyboard/Vocals, Shar Stephens-Base/Vocals, Randy Smith-Guitar/Vocals, & Mike Romeo-Drums/Vocals. They are the music makers on Thurs, Fri. Sat. & Sun. You will hear Ray Price, Kitty Wells, Jamey Johnson, New York-New York, Neil Diamond, but when the night is completed, you will have heard some of the greatest harmony in music, and they are super musicians, and most of all great people. On any given night, John allows the new artists the opportunity to get up and showcase their talents. Sunday nights are Open Mike for anyone who wants to get up and play or sing with the band, but you never know who will join them on stage on any night.
So if you live in Nashville and never have taken the time to go out to John A’s, make it a point to drop in and enjoy some great food, great music, and great people, and take a minute and walk back into John A’s Corner of the World and meet one of the great people in Nashville and Country Music. It is on Music Valley Drive right behind the Radission Hotel. You will never be a stranger when you walk out the doors. Recently John had a luncheon for his friend, former LA Dodger manager, Tommy LaSorda, and I was honored to be invited, and seated at the tables were some influential people, one being Jeff Fisher, coach of the Tennessee Titan’s. When Jeff walked through the door and sat down, I could tell he was not sure of what to do, but before he left he told John, “I did not know this place was here, but I promise you, this is not my last time here-I love it, and thanks for inviting me.”
This is too short of the real story, but to write it properly, it cannot be done at this time, because John A. is still running the ball, making decisions, building new relationship, helping others, guiding the future of his world where he you can laugh, talk, listen to great country music, meet new friends, see old friends, and the stars of country music.
A special thank you to John A’s sister JoAnn for her special help with information that she supplied to me so I could complete this article on John A. Hobbs and His Corner of the World.
Story by Marty Martel