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Billy Bob’s honky-tonk woman bids farewell

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Posted 4:18pm on Sunday, Jun. 30, 2013

Pam Minick is giving us a tour of her favorite spots in Billy Bob’s Texas, including the Wall of Fame, where some of the biggest names in country music have left their handprints (and occasionally footprints) at the World’s Largest Honky-Tonk. There’s Garth Brooks, Loretta Lynn, Willie and Waylon. Even a Beatle. “Ringo loves the Stockyards,” Minick says.

Then she takes us backstage, where singers and bands have scrawled autographs on large cards bearing their logos. Every name brings back a memory: the time Buck Owens came backstage, tossed a pair of pants at entertainment director Robert Gallagher and ordered, “Iron these!” The time Jerry Lee Lewis missed a flight and Billy Minick, the club’s manager and Pam’s husband, told Gallagher he hoped the house band knew Great Balls of Fire. The way actor Jim Belushi, one of the most unexpected names on either wall, did a perfect back flip and stuck the landing right in front of the microphone during a corporate event. He brought the house down.

But for all the star power that has passed through these honky-tonk halls in the last quarter-century, nobody has made a bigger mark and added more to the club’s signature neon glow than Pam Minick, a former rodeo queen and champion rider who has been the smiling face of Billy Bob’s.

Today — her 60th birthday — Minick will turn off the lights in her marketing director’s office and two-step off into the sunset. She plans to see the country while she and Billy, the club’s 74-year-old co-owner, are still healthy enough to do it. And she wants to spend more time on their spread in Argyle, enjoying life under a big Texas sky with their dogs (Stoney, Fannie and Deuce) and their horses (Lucky, Hot Dog, Magic, Moonie, Duke and Rocky).

“For the past 24 years, it’s hard to know where Billy Bob’s ends and our real life begins, because it has become one and the same,” Pam Minick says. “We’ve always said that owning Billy Bob’s is like owning a dairy. It’s 24/7. The cows need to be milked, and at Billy Bob’s, there’s always something that needs to be done.”

Minick has been the perfect choice for most of those jobs. She moves seamlessly among the rodeo set and the roadies, the media and the musical artists, the fans and the Fort Worth city leaders with whom she has promoted tourism and Cowtown’s authentic Western image.

When Billy asked her to become marketing director in 1989, the 100,000-square-foot club in the Stockyards was just picking itself up off the mat after closing temporarily in 1988.

“I don’t exactly know how to put this, but Pam’s the total package,” Billy Minick says. “Everybody she meets is a friend. … She was the go-to person at Billy Bob’s, which I kind of liked ’cause I didn’t want to mess with things.”

Over the next 24 years, Billy Bob’s would attract some of the biggest names in the business — from Reba to Miranda. It has been named country music club of the year 12 times and is one of the top attractions in Fort Worth and all of Texas.

“She made Billy Bob’s a part of Fort Worth,” says Mark “Hawkeye” Louis, who with Terry Dorsey has co-hosted the morning show on country station KSCS/96.3 FM for 25 years. “[Billy Bob’s] is like the Colonial or TCU or the zoo. It’s a huge part of Fort Worth, and a lot of that has to do with her.”

For Minick, “retirement” is a relative term. She will continue hosting and producing Gentle Giants, a show about draft horses that airs on RFD-TV, which recently relaunched on Charter Cable. She’ll continue to compete in team-roping rodeo events. And the Minicks remain partners in Billy Bob’s. Billy’s son and Pam’s stepson, Concho Minick, is the honky-tonk’s president.

And Pam isn’t likely to let things go entirely, especially with one of Billy Bob’s signature events, Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic, coming up.

“Billy said, ‘Can the picnic not happen without you?’ and I said, ‘Well, I’m sure it can,’” Minick says. “But so many of those people are coming that I’ve got contacts with, and I don’t want to just say, ‘Here’s your press pass. Have a good day.’ Because it’s still our business.

“I’ll miss those times we hit a home run and I was involved in that home run,” she adds. “The great thing is, the club will still hit home runs. And I can be the designated batter.”

A cowgirl comes to Cowtown

Pam Minick has been associated with Billy Bob’s Texas and Fort Worth for so long, it’s easy to forget she’s not from here.

She is a true cowgirl, however.

Growing up on 5 acres in the Las Vegas area, she got her first horse when she was 9 and was competing in junior rodeos not too long afterward.

“The week I turned 16, I hooked up my little El Camino and my two-horse trailer and headed off to rodeos,” she says. She earned a state championship in Nevada and began competing professionally in barrel racing and team roping.

Because she lived in Vegas, the entertainment atmosphere was also part of her life from early on.

“It was nothing when I was 7 years old to see Frank Sinatra or Elvis or something like that,” she says. “At that time, when you lived in Las Vegas, that’s what your parents did. I’ve got pictures of me, sitting in those booths, seeing Wayne Newton when he was 17 years old. So being around artists [as an adult] wasn’t intimidating.”

In 1973, she was named Miss Rodeo America and made so many public and TV appearances — including on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson — that when the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association had a chance to broadcast a live rodeo in 1976 and asked her to do the interview segments, it came almost naturally.

“Ignorance is bliss, and it didn’t dawn on me that I couldn’t,” she says. “My first television real-rodeo broadcast was a live show on CBS in 1976. I look back on it and I go, ‘Wow. I was either brave or crazy.’”

That led to gigs covering rodeos for The Nashville Network. Minick, as a fellow rodeo competitor, had a knack for getting cowboys, many of whom aren’t exactly known for being loose-lipped, to open up and tell their stories.

In 1982, she came to Fort Worth to emcee the Women’s National Finals Rodeo. Steve Murrin, the “Mayor of the Stockyards” (and now a co-owner of Billy Bob’s), says it was easy to see that Minick belonged here from the beginning.

“The fact is, she came here as a cowgirl,” Murrin says. “She automatically fit into what was then just beginning, for the Stockyards, to become a major fixture in Fort Worth.”

Minick recalls walking along the bricks on Exchange Avenue the first time and thinking: “I was born to live here. It was crazy.”

On that same trip, she saw a certain cowboy walking out the back door of Billy Bob’s, and she knew this is where she wanted to stay.

“You know when you see those postcards where a girl sees a guy and hearts come out of her eyes?” she asks, laughing. “That’s kind of what it felt like. “ Who is that guy? Well, it was Billy.”

Billy says he had the same reaction. Or as he puts it, “Ditto.”

He invited her to Billy Bob’s for a show — the Beach Boys on a hot early ’80s tour.

“So the first time I stepped into Billy Bob’s, this place was packed,” Pam says. “I tell people all the time whether I fell in love with the Stockyards first or whether I fell in love with Billy — or if it was simultaneous.” Then she adds with a laugh, “Luckily, I’m still in love with both.”

Friends in high

(and low) places

The couple married in May 1983, but Pam didn’t immediately join the team at Billy Bob’s.

Billy Minick had managed the club from its 1981 opening until 1986, when he became concerned about the free-spending habits of the original owner and namesake Billy Bob Barnett. Minick resigned and for a couple of years, the Minicks ran a business selling accessories for pickups.

In early 1988, Billy Bob’s closed, but a group of investors led by Holt Hickman reopened it later that year. And Hickman would eventually talk Billy Minick into returning.

Things were slow at first.

“It’s like they say: ‘Bad news travels like wildfire. Good news travels slow,’” Pam Minick says. “The club had been closed for eight months, and getting the word out that it was reopened was a challenge.”

That’s when Billy Minick asked his wife to come aboard.

“I was still working in television,” she says. “Billy came to pick me up at the airport one day. I had just flown in from Salt Lake City. And he said, ‘I think that I need you to come in and do marketing. You know about television.’”

Pam Minick laughs heartily: “I knew about this side of the television,” she says, indicating the side that’s on camera. “I didn’t know anything about that side.”

But she knew that people in the media were looking for a story, and when working with the media or advertising account reps, she kept in mind a line from one of her favorite Billy Joe Shaver songs: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice.”

Her TV experience helped, too, especially when it came to working with country and rock stars.

“TNN was still on the scene,” she says. “They carried the rodeos, and country music was a part of their format, so it wasn’t like it was that foreign to me.”

In 1989, country music caught the public’s attention in a way it rarely has before or since, and the reason was simple: Garth Brooks.

“Eight months after I stepped into the marketing seat, a guy named Garth Brooks comes [to Billy Bob’s] and for $5, 500 people came and saw his show,” she says. “But the next time he came, he was sold out, and that was just four months later. And country music started an incredible rise. Garth Brooks started that rise, which ran to the mid-’90s.”

Minick counts Brooks among her favorite artists to work with, and she says he never forgot Billy Bob’s. Even when he was playing large arenas, he honored a contract to play at the honky-tonk. And when NBC did a Brooks special a couple of years later, he picked three venues for filming — including Billy Bob’s.

“He never got too big for his britches, and I appreciate that,” she says. “We went to see him in Vegas last year, and when he found out we were there, he invited us to come backstage and visit with him and Trisha [Yearwood].”

Minick’s other favorites include George Strait, who she says is “just George the cowboy” offstage; Fort Worth’s Pat Green, who was the first artist to record on the Live at Billy Bob’s label; and ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, whose All-Starr Band has played Billy Bob’s several times.

“[Ringo] loves the Stockyards,” Minick says. “The first thing he does is he goes right to the back door and he watches the bull riding. He loves to watch the bull riding. … I always have to pinch myself and go, ‘He’s one of the Beatles.’”

Funny how time

slips away

For the first 12 years she was marketing director at Billy Bob’s, Pam Minick — who was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 2000 — would work at the club from Monday through Thursday, then fly to some distant city on Friday for rodeo events. She hosted the Professional Bull Riders Tour for TNN, and she continued to compete.

“At the time, I was still trying to qualify for the Women’s National Finals Rodeo, which I did for 16 consecutive years,” she says. “Billy would pick me up at the airport with my horse, and we’d go off to a roping event. Then we’d go home Sunday night and Monday morning be back at work. But truly, none of that felt like a job, and when it doesn’t feel like a job, it’s not hard to juggle it. Because this doesn’t feel like a job.”

But the job has changed dramatically over the years, she says, and the work is harder than when she started, largely because of the intense interest in Billy Bob’s beyond Fort Worth and the club’s social media presence. (Billy Bob’s has more than 123,000 “likes” on Facebook and more than 20,000 Twitter followers.)

Every Friday, the marketing team plans the club’s Facebook strategy. And there’s so much more to Billy Bob’s than music — live bull riding, a stationary bull for posed photos, dancing lessons, a gift shop, a cafe run by former Saint-Emilion chef Mark Hitri — that makes the club the World’s Largest Honky-Tonk. Emphasis on World.

“When you walk through the club right now, you’ll see that there are people here,” Minick says during a Friday lunchtime interview in the cafe. “Yet there are people in town who don’t know that we have a restaurant. But if you’re from Sweden, you know we have a restaurant.”

When Billy Bob’s first reopened, it was shuttered during during the day. But people would knock on the business office door, say they were from out of state and in town for only a couple of hours, and ask to just come in and look around.

Since Minick began the marketing job, the club has opened at 11 a.m. every day, and for $2 to $4 (depending on the time and day of the week), curiosity seekers can look around, take pictures under the mirror-ball saddle or sip a cold brew while drinking in the atmosphere. The 100,000-square-foot honky-tonk also has several private rooms for corporate and wedding events.

Minick says that the Friday- and Saturday-night concerts are the club’s core business but that everything else is important. Getting the word out that Billy Bob’s is more than just a music venue has been one of her biggest challenges as marketing director.

“Our bull riding is important, our gift store is important, and the restaurant is important,” she says.

“The challenge is, How do you do it and be able to do it cost-effectively? So much emphasis is put on social media, Facebook and Twitter.

“[It’s] good for networking but not always good for sales. When we do a Facebook post, we’re liable to have some in Germany comment on it. Well, they’re not coming to see the show.”

Always on her mind

As of yet, no replacement for Minick has been named. Concho Minick has been interviewing candidates. In the meantime, the club will get help from an agency that will have several people working on public relations, ad buying and social media — all things that were under Pam Minick’s control.

“I think it’s pretty uncommon that one person does all of that, which I’ve always done,” she says. Within the past year, she’s hired an assistant, Katherine Kolstad, and a graphic designer, Amy McGehee, who also does the club’s Facebook posts.

“But for 22 and three-quarters years, I was the only person in that department.”

Considering the replacement question, she adds with a laugh, “It might take a team.”

She says that she’ll miss interacting with the performers and their representatives, remembering the times when artists such as Brooks and Strait (who says he was given his first hit song, Marina Del Rey, when he was performing at Billy Bob’s) reached milestones at the club, and other artists whose careers have grown since they first performed at Billy Bob’s.

But it’s odd to talk about what she’ll miss, because Billy Bob’s will still play a part in her life. Starting right after her retirement date.

“Monday, I’ll still be deep in Willie’s picnic stuff,” she says. “But I probably won’t be here at 9 a.m., so I’ll probably miss the traffic on I-35 and come in a little later. The following Monday? That’s a whole other schedule. But because of Willie’s picnic, I’m able to wean myself gradually, kind of like an addict.”

Certain artists — not just big stars but others such as Aaron Watson, who is playing July 20 and whom she calls one of the nice guys in country music, and Kevin Fowler, who is there July 26 and who she says should be a bigger star — will always bring her back to the club.

“We’re still owners, so it won’t be like I’ll be packing up and leaving,” she says. “There will always be a little footprint — a little boot print of mine — all the time at Billy Bob’s.”

Robert Philpot, 817-390-7872 Twitter: @rphilpot

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