We will never forget the Cosmic Sweetheart and her cadre of foxy followers.
They took the San Antonio, Texas nightclub scene by storm in the rowdy and rip-snorting 1970s and 1980s.
The first time I laid eyes on Carol Cannon she was tending bar at Al Hoxie’s Horse Feathers Saloon on Wurzbach Road in San Antonio, Texas.
The power of first impressions can never be underestimated. Big Carol was a visual extravaganza who gave new meaning to an epic of cosmic dimensions.
Standing 6-foot-2-inches in her bare feet, San Antonio’s Cosmic Sweetheart sported the blond beauty of a screen actress and showmanship befitting a carnival queen. She moved with fluid bare-midriff grace, jingling and jangling and rattling in a cacophony of ankle bells and hoop earrings big enough for a trained seal to jump through.
In high school, she said, she was 5-foot-ll-inches tall and very curvy.
“The other kids called me Boom Boom Cannon,” Carol laughed.
She has a big and boisterous laugh to go with it all. There was always something mysteriously exotic about Carol Cannon, an intelligence that spoke of far more then a tall bar girl.
Inspired by Rolling Stones front man Mick Jagger, the Cosmic Sweetheart had a twinkling half-karat diamond that belonged to her grandmother inlaid in one of her front teeth, and she was truly built like the proverbial brick shit house. All of this and her college teaching degree and her time as a high school teacher, plus early work as a musician with the Fort Worth Symphony produced a combination that would help land Carol Cannon speaking parts in two major movies and position her to become a major nightclub owner and operator on the San Antonio scene. She also helped form a small Fort Worth production company that discovered legendary Texas rock band ZZ Top. The fact that she went on to become a bank vice president and stock broker in later life was no coincidence.
The Cosmic Sweetheart is a nickname Carol carried from college. And that’s what she named what might have been the only third world discotheque in the country. Like most San Antonio’s major discotheques of the time, The Cosmic Sweetheart Discotheque was owned and operated by Ronnie Branham under the auspices of Alex Habeeb and El Dorado Vending. The club was frequented by Arab student pilots (Saudis and Iranians) who hated each other, and it was staffed by waitresses ranging from Chinese to Hispanic to Vietnamese descent. The Cosmic Sweetheart was near Lackland Air Force Base on San Antonio’s southwest side.
Those were the days before the Islamic revolution when the U.S. friendly Shah of Iran was in power. The military exchange situation we had with that country is now part of our contentious history with the Iranians.
Although she worked in numerous San Antonio nightclubs, Big Carol, as she was known to many, is best remembered for her tenure as owner/operator of the Foxy Lady Saloon on Perrin Beitel Road in San Antonio.
This came about when Alex Habeeb said, “Carol, we need to put you in your own club. I have been watching you and I know you can handle it. I believe we can make a lot of money.”
So the Foxy Lady Saloon was born. Carol’s Foxy Lady bartenders and wait staff were all female stunners who worked under such titillating titles as Miss Joyful, Patty Perfect, Annie Oakley, Teen Angel, and The Diamond Princess. All were fitting nicknames for a Cosmic Sweetheart’s earthly domain which was to attract country music stars like Willie Nelson and casting directors for major films such as Race With The Devil and Logan’s Run.
I recall the night that we crowded into Willie Nelson’s Mercedes out behind the Foxy Lady Saloon to hear the completed tape of Redheaded Stranger, the album that would go platinum and catapult Nelson into almost instant national stardom.
Carol, me, Willie, Larry Trader, and Billy Cooper were jammed into the Mercedes. The marijuana smoke was so dense we could barely see. Willie was as excited as I had ever seen him. Trader and Cooper were working for Nelson at the time.
Of the new album, he said: “This one is the real motherfucker.” And those were his exact words.
Carol recalls Willie’s penchant for tequila sunrises and Joy Gandy, the dimpled waitress with long flowing raven tresses who answered to the nickname Miss Joyful. Joy was a stone fox, an eyefull befitting of her stage name.
“Willie was married to his second wife Connie at the time, and the crush he had on Joy was just a big crush,” Carol recalls. “But everyone had a crush on Joy. Willie and Joy never dated. She was beautiful with the huge dimples and long black hair. Willie was the biggest name visiting the Foxy Lady at the time, although we did get a call from The Eagles. They were playing San Antonio when someone from their group called and asked for directions, but the Eagles never showed up.”
Carol said, “I have always had a Plan B.
When I left a school teaching job in Fort Worth for San Antonio in the early 1970s, I never dreamed that San Antonio would be my forever home. I was in a marriage that wasn’t working , and my best friend, Joy Gandy, was waiting tables and tending bar in a jumping San Antonio discotheque called Tiffany Palace. Joy recommended me to the club owners and I was hired. My life was never the same again.”
In those days, the major disco nightclubs were built and largely controlled by shrewd and astute business individuals and amalgamations of the same.
When Carol Cannon was hired at Tiffany Palace, the club was being bankrolled by El Dorado Vending, a company comprised of Alex Habeeb, Joe Friesenhahn, and John Fitzpatrick. Ronnie Branham was the club operator/owner, and he hired Carol at the suggestion of Habeeb.
“They were buying and developing these properties all over the city,” Carol said. “They were fixing them up and installing renters (titular “owners”) to operate them. They got their rent from the club operator, plus proceeds from all vending machines their company supplied, including juke boxes, pool tables, and game machines. The money was literally flowing.”
El Dorado Vending was comprised of an unlikely combo as Carol recalls them.
“One was Lebanese, one was a Jew, and the third was an Irish Catholic,” Carol said. “They couldn’t have been better or more efficient at what they did. Habeeb was in for the bucks and the lifestyle. Fitzpatrick and Friesenhahn were in it for the money. John was married and Friesenhahn couldn’t have been any lower profile than he was. Alex Habeeb liked the lifestyle, but his main focus was always the money and he was a financial genius who knew how to deal with people.”
Malcolm Gildart, owner of Allcoin Equipment Co., was also partnered with Habeeb and Freisenhahn in bankrolling many of the Ronnie Branham clubs. Gildart also put Jack Mikulenka in business with the numerous Jack clubs.They all worked together.
During her earlier years in Fort Worth, Carol Cannon was raised in a musician family.
“My mother once worked the road with Glen Campbell,” Carol said. “And I was playing with the Fort Worth Symphony when I was very young. I played violin, viola, and cello. My mom was a violinist.”
Carol had an affinity for all things music, and the importance of secondary education was part of her upbringing. Carol’s natural flair for the dramatic was always near the surface, though, and while she worked her way through three universities and into a junior high teaching job, Big Carol was busily helping form a producion company that was largely responsibe for discovering the Texas rock phenomenon ZZ Top.
“I graduated from Texas Wesleyan in Fort Worth,” Carol said. “I also attended TCU and The University of the Americas in Mexico City. I was teaching Spanish in the junior high level when I left Fort Worth for San Antonio. I think one of my biggest accomplishments while in Fort Worth was teaming up with my friend Jack Ford and a few other little hippie types to sign ZZ Top for a Texas outlaw tour. Each of us put in a few thousand dollars. It’s like I said, I have always had a Plan B. We called our group Brotherhood Productions.The band was unknown when we started this tour through 22 Texas towns and a few cities. We had an old van with ZZ Top painted on both sides in gigantic letters. It was an attention getter and ZZ was really starting to click with the public. We were making some good money when our tour wound up in Dallas. By then we could afford a good hotel, and I recall Billy Gibbons looking out one of the hotel windows at a line of people forming for the show at a nearby venue. He was realizing that his life was never going to be the same again.”
Asked what happened with ZZ Top after the tour, Carol replied with a sharp edge in her voice: “Stone City Productions of San Antonio stole them right out from under us. Just like that, here today and gone tomorrow.”
Carol grew up in Fort Worth, and she did what a number of young women of that day were expected to do. She graduated college, got married, and started teaching school. The marriage was Carol’s first of four and there were major problems from the outset.
“The poor guy had served in Vietnam,” Carol said. “He was suffering from ptsd in a big way. I didn’t know what it was at the time. He was about to drive me crazy when I came to San Antonio to visit my friend Joy Gandy. Her husband was military and stationed in San Antonio. I had no intention of staying for any real length of time, but Joy was tending bar and doing well at the Tiffany Palace, one of the city’s largest discos, and I jumped at a waitress position which came after Joy recommended me.”
A turning point for Big Carol, this new nightclub gig, and one that took no lengthy contemplation on her part.
“Teaching junior high I had been making $392 a month after takeouts for taxes and United Way,” she said. “I was 25 years old at the time, and when I made $94 in tips my first night at Tiffany Palace, it was like wow and yes, I was in the wrong business. I could make more in one week at the discotheque than I was making in a month teaching in the Fort Worth school system. Alex Habeeb of Eldorado Vending told Ronnie Branham to hire me.”
It was the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship. Branham was to operate other large and successful discos like Deja Vu, Hallelujah Hollywood, Last National Bank, Sugar Daddy’s and the live country music Longneck Club.”
Carol Cannon and Ronnie Branham had much in common, the most obvious trait they shared being a propensity for show. Branham tooled around the city in Bentleys, Auburn Boat Tail Speedsters, and other expensive and exotic automobiles, while Carol made a fashion statement that few young women would have the nerve to emulate. She paid San Antonio dentist Jerry Beckel to drill a hole in a perfectly healthy front tooth for the diamond implant Carol was still flashing at age 71 when this writing took place. And Beckel was still practicing dentistry.
Said Carol: “He was a little hesitant about drilling into my perfectly good tooth, but I kept after him until he agreed to do it. The diamond idea came from Mick Jagger. I have always been a Jagger freak and I was intrigued when I saw a diamond implanted in one of Jagger’s side teeth.”
Carol said she met the Rolling Stones lead singer in the old Marriott Hotel Bar on Austin Highway when Jagger was dating the Texas girl he eventually married. She has seen 11 Rolling Stones shows, the most memorable and thrilling of them all being the San Antonio Municipal Auditorium Stones performance when the glint of her diamond-studded incisor caught Jagger’s eye.
“He saw the diamond, and when he saw it, he moved out to the edge of the stage in front of me and poured champagne on my head,” Carol said. “It was his way of acknowledgment and his approval of my diamond smile.”
Attention with a flair for drama was always Big Carol’s forte. At a convention center Taste Of The Town event which featured displays by restraurants and pricey bistros from all over the city, Carol Cannon was the focal point for the Branham discotheques.
She showed up in a silver lamé space suit topped by a blinking lighted turban powered by a battery pack. With platform shoes, Carol said she stood 6-7 while heat from the turban all but fried her brain.
“It was a statement,” she said. “The Branham clubs were there and represented with the best eateries in the city.”
If there is a touch of narcissim in Big Carol’s makeup, nobody ever objected, let alone the spectators and film techies who watched her bare-assed naked interviews with two major film casting directors.
“A bunch of us were in the Foxy Lady when this guy walked through the door. He handed me a card and said he was a casting director. He said, ‘Well, you must be the Cosmic Sweetheart.’ He told me a number of people had recommended me for a part in the movie. If I wanted to try for a part I was to meet him the next day at one of the bigger hotels downtown.”
Carol eventually wound up with speaking parts in Race With The Devil with Peter Fonda, Warren Oates and Loretta Swit, and in Logan’s Run with Farah Fawcett and Peter Ustinov. Logan’s Run was Fawcett’s first movie. The casting director for both films was the same, and the Cosmic Sweetheart was required to appear naked for both casting sessions.
She vividly recalled that first casting session for Race With The Devil:
“I took Teen Angel with me. She was 18 and gorgeous. The hotel lobby sign said ‘20th Century Fox Casting. I’m all dressed up for the occasion, mingling and jingling, wearing a yellow dress that was barely tied in the front. There were about 30 people sitting around this big room. They watched me walk and listened to my voice. Then the casting director told me he wanted me to take off all my clothes. I thought..Whoa, what is this? But I went into the dressing room and came out wearing nothing but high heels.”
Boom Boom Cannon had scored a direct hit.
“They called the next day and told me I had a part. I think more than 200 girls had been considered.” Carol got her friend Joy Gandy parts in both films. Carol was called in to audition for Logan’s Run where, once again, she was required to completely disrobe. Carol said, “I played the head witch in Race With The Devil, an American action horror film. My part was in a human sacrifice scene.”
Logan’s Run, Carol said, was a futuristic film in which nobody lived to be older than 30. She played a dancer in the Love Shop.
In the San Antonio nightclub industry of the 1970s and 1980s, every club owner with a brain knew the value of a charismatic and physically attractive “day girl’ bartender. The nights took care of themselves, but daytime business often depended on the looks and steady line of bullshit produced by the great “day girls” of the time. Although horny male customers who sat for hours in rapt anticipation were seldom afforded even a sniff of the tantalizing day bartender goodies, they stuck around nevertheless until the shift ended. No matter how remote and unlikely it might be, there was always the hope a bright and loquacious day bar girl could stoke and nurture until the inevitable end: No pussy, boys, just a lot of happy hot air.
To the club owner, female day bartenders with these attributes were worth their weight in $10 bills. It ain’t easy to tell six different off-color jokes to six different bar patrons at the same time without losing a name or a punchline while mixing and shaking margaritas and daiquiris and washing dirty glasses without missing a beat. These girls were deceptive mistresses of illusion, and the suckers never tired of them.
Lana Seekatz of Squirrel Cage and Sugar Shack fame was one of San Anonio’s best day girl bartenders. Lana also sold ads for Act-ion Mgazine. And there were a limited number of others who fit this special bar category. But none of them ever eclipsed the Cosmic Sweetheart when it came to keeping a day bar full of restless roosters entertained.
Such was the case when Big Carol took Patty Wall (aka Patty Perfect) to work a celebrated day gig on Boerne’s main drag. Carol couldn’t recall the exact name of the saloon, but she won’t ever forget the opening day.
Enter Janet Quist, the Cosmic Sweetheart’s friend who just happened to be Hugh Heffner’s December 1978 Playboy centerfold model. Big Carol had invited her up to sign some Playboys for the Boerne cowboys.The Boerne saloon was jammed to the scuppers. Carol said the testosterone was all but dripping from the rafters.
“I think every cowboy in Kendall County might have been in the joint,” Carol said. “They were pushing and shoving, all eager for Janet to sign their copies of Playboy. I never smelled so much Old Spice in one place at one time in my life.”
Going back to the beginning, the Cosmic Sweetheart Discotheque operation will forever be seared into Carol Cannon’s memory. It was truly a third world disco, staffed by large waitresses of varied nationalities, and patronized by an odd mixture of Arabs who were in pilot training at Lackland.
“The Arabs loved large women and a lot of the waitresses I hired were big ones,” Carol said. “We had waitresses of Chinese, Hispanic, and Vietnamese descent, and our clientele consisted almost exclusively of Arabs, both Saudis and Iranians, plus the big mamas who followed them. This arrangement proved to be tricky at time because the Iranians and Saudis hated each other.”
Branham and his associates picked the right girl for this job, for few others could have maintained order and some semblance of sanity and still realized a profit in a club like the Cosmic Sweetheart.
Carol was the DJ who spun the records and she was the manager who served as sergeant of arms for the Cosmic Sweetheart.
“We catered to the Arabs,” Carol said. “No one else in town wanted them. They all drank Johnny Walker Red scotch with orange juice, and every single one of them smoked Marlboro cigarettes. And we had a rule that kept the Iranians and Saudis from declaring all out war on one another. Anyone who got out of line had his picture taken by our house photographer. That photo was put on the wall and the offender was barred for life.”
Carol said the Middle East pilot trainees were constantly on edge.
“The Saudis were okay with the Arab designation,” Carol said. “But don’t call an Iranian an Arab, although that’s what they are. They insist upon being referred to as Iranians.”
The club regulars called Big Carol “The Sword” in Arabic. They had it right.
One of Carol’s biggest thrills was a trip to the Apollo Theater in New York’s Harlem, courtesy of the politically-connected Sutton family of San Antonio. G.J. Sutton was a powerhouse on San Antonio East Side for years, while his brother Percy owned the New York theater. Included in the San Antonio entourage were Carol, friend Karen (Red on the Head) Dittman and boyfriend. and longtime friend Michael Teas and his partner.
“We took the A-train to Harlem in 1985,” Carol said. “It was billed as Motown Returns to the Apollo. It was an incredible show and gathering with the greatest names in show business there. Bill Cosby emceed and the performances were unbelievable. We saw and heard Little Richard, Patty Labelle, Sammy Davis Jr., The Four Tops, Etta James, and Diana Ross. It was televised. Boy George was there along with Rod Stewart. Jesse Jackson, and Coretta King. Just too many names for me to remember them all.”
As disco was born with John Travolta and Saturday Night Fever, disco was to die with the advent of Travolta and Urban Cowboy.
“The disco dancers all went to the two-step,” Carol said. “That was when I moved on to work for John McCormick at the Dallas Nightclub. John owned several clubs, including the Midnight Rodeo. I worked for more than 10 years as John’s inspector general. This included doing payrolls and even carrying a tool belt to work on club airconditioners and other equipment.”
Finally weary of the nightclub scene, Big Carol applied for a job at Citi Bank, was accepted, and eventually retired as a vice president in the bank’s brokerage department. She always had the Plan B.
Boom Boom Cannon was retired at this writing. She is now Boom Boom Cannon Carpenter, living happily in San Antonio with her husband Larry Carpenter and their two dogs. Caroll is now an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church, and she has performed her first wedding ceremony. She says the church is about everything spiritual. She says that’s where she is today.
While Larry stays home with the dogs, Carol travels abroad about three times a year. She recently returned from the Holy Land. She laughs a lot and when she smiles, one may see a diamond’s twinkle. And think, perhaps, of Jagger and the Stones. Maybe about longevity. Or maybe about large females with cosmic insight and X-ray eyes that can see your soul.
“I think we die the first time when we quit breathing,” Carol said. “The second time we die is when people stop talking about us. You and I may live for eons.”