During the 1950s and 1960s Shady’s Playhouse was a neighborhood blues club in the Third Ward of Houston that produced some of the best blues musicians in Texas. Shady’s Playhouse was originally in a large house with no interior walls located on Simmons Street between Sampson and Nettleton streets. During the late 1940s another club called Jeff’s Playhouse occupied the house. In the early 1950s Vernon Jackson, whose nickname was “Shady,” took over the club, and it became Shady’s Playhouse.
What made Shady’s special was the collection of shotgun houses called the “motel,” which served as living quarters for many of the musicians who performed there. With many of the musicians living together, they excelled and learned from each other. Experienced players, such as guitarist James “Widemouth” Brown, composer and producer Henry Hayes, and songwriter Joe Medwick, served as mentors to the young musicians. Within this atmosphere, legendary bluesmen such as Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, Joe Hughes, Teddy Reynolds, and Johnny Watson honed their skills and stood out in the Houston music scene. Even with the talented musicians at Shady’s Playhouse, many people looked down upon Shady’s as too casual and relaxed. Furthermore, some people considered the music at Shady’s as unschooled and raw compared to the big-band, multi-instrumental music played at the upscale El Dorado Ballroom.
In 1958 Shady’s Playhouse moved from Simmons Street to a two-story concrete block building at 3117 Ennis Street, at the northeast corner of Ennis and Elgin streets. The building, which originally served as the Swan Hotel, was taken over by Shady, and the club was on the second floor. Open seven days a week, the establishment, with its tables adorned with signature red and white polka-dotted table cloths, had a capacity of approximately 200 to 250 people and presented both local talent and also some touring acts. Although some of the musicians and patrons did not like the new location as much as the original Shady’s Playhouse, the club was successful. From 1958 to 1963 the house band was the Dukes of Rhythm, which included renowned blues guitarists Joe Hughes and Johnny Copeland. Surrounded by soul-food restaurants, a boarding house, and the neighborhood pharmacy, Shady’s Playhouse was the main music venue in one of the Third Ward’s commercial areas.
Shady’s Playhouse closed in 1969, and few traces of the club are found today. In 2008 the original location on Simmons Street was a vacant lot, and the second location was nearly empty, with only a beauty salon on the first floor. Yet, the legacy of the venue continued in the music of the musicians who learned and played there.