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Arts & Entertainment

The Sex Pistols came to the Longhorn Ballroom on Jan. 10, 1978, and Dallas is still recovering

Dallas musician Barry Kooda, who got his fictional name for having played his guitar with a fish as the Pistols’ warm-up act, came close to starting a fistfight with Sex Pistols’ bass player Sid Vicious.

Barry Kooda and I have never had the pleasure of meeting, but Kooda and I discovered recently that we are aging veterans of one of the weirdest, most insane nights in Dallas history.

It was Jan. 10, 1978. Historians, write that down. For as President Franklin Roosevelt once said about another American milestone, it is a date “which will live in infamy.”

The infamy of the night came in the form of four dodgy dudes from England dubbed the Sex Pistols. They surfaced in a story I broke on Monday about Edwin Cabaniss, the owner of the Kessler Theater, landing a contract to buy the now-defunct Longhorn Ballroom.

Cabaniss hopes to restore the Longhorn to its former glory, preserving a history that includes Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Nat King Cole, and yes, the Sex Pistols.

The “four nasties” invaded Dallas to perform one night before another iconic act took the stage at the Longhorn — Merle Haggard. Hence the famous photo of the marquee that advertises two upcoming acts, the Sex Pistols and Merle.

The show has wormed itself into the DNA of Dallas’ pop culture history. As Kooda says, “There are now 5,000 people who say they attended the Sex Pistols” show at the Longhorn,” whose capacity has never exceeded 2,000.

One of those who was there is my former colleague Mark Sims, who now lives in Southern California.

“I most remember observing [bassist] Sid Vicious. He was incredibly wasted,” says Sims, who managed to get his picture taken with Vicious, who barely a year later suffered a fatal heroin overdose in a Greenwich Village apartment.

Sims remembers Vicious “throwing up” during the performance. Kooda and I remember blood gushing from his face, but how the blood got there is part of the folklore of that night. More about that later.

Sims says the Sex Pistols had just finished a cacophonous version of their signature anthem — “God Save the Queen” — before taking a break. Vicious ambled to the bar, where Sims hoped to meet one of Britain’s leading anarchists. “I asked him, what did he think of the Beatles. And he said, ‘I wouldn’t piss on them if they were on fire.’ "

The Sex Pistols, from left, Paul Cook, Sid Vicious, Steve Jones & Johnny Rotten (John Lydon)...
The Sex Pistols, from left, Paul Cook, Sid Vicious, Steve Jones & Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) onstage at the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas on their final tour. (Richard E. Aaron / Redferns)

Now 68, Kooda holds the distinction of having performed with the warmup act that preceded the Pistols. His was a band called Nervebreakers, which still has its own website, Kooda even got his name (not his real name) the night he opened for the Pistols.

“Somebody threw a dead fish onstage during our set,” he says. “I bit it in half and was playing my guitar with it.”

But his lasting memory of the night is how he and Vicious “almost came to blows.”

Kooda was wearing a leather bracelet, hand-crafted by a friend.

Vicious told Kooda he wanted it — and demanded he give it to him.

“I said, ‘I’ll trade you for yours.’ He had a dog collar on,” Kooda says. “He said, ‘I stole it from a dog. Ya can’t get much lower than that, can ya!’ I said, ‘Well, was the dog pregnant?’ For some reason, that set him off. So, he starts throwing punches at my face. I said, ‘Dude, this is Texas, you can die from screwin’ with people down here.’ ”

So, what about the blood? Legend has it that a female fan climbed onto the stage and did what Kooda wanted to do — punch Vicious in the face. And yet, Kooda says, the story is pure fiction — though the blood was real.

“There was a wooden railing, which meant you had no chance of getting on the stage. Plus, they had security. Here’s what happened: Someone in the mosh pit was jackin’ around, and they slammed his microphone stand, and it popped him in the mouth — hard. Busted his lip. There wasn’t that much blood, but Sid was really good at making it spread. He used it.”

I confess to Kooda that the Sex Pistols’ show is easily the worst I’ve seen in 50-plus years of concert-going.

“Oh, I agree,” he says. “Absolutely horrible.”

Even so, Kooda contends that the Sex Pistols’ album, Never Mind the Bollocks, released in 1977, “changed music forever. It was a brilliant, well-produced album.” Plus, it did nothing less than ignite punk rock, which galvanized unemployed youth in Britain and served as a much-needed protest against the crass commercialism of mainstream pop.

Randy Eli Grothe, who worked at the time as a Dallas Morning News photographer, was also on hand.

“They had a really good, rocking, caustic, cynical, sarcastic song called ‘God Save the Queen’ that just jumped out of your speakers as you were flying down Central Expressway. Which is why I went to the concert. I really wanted to hear that one song. But the rest of the show was not very memorable. And ‘God Save the Queen’ was characteristically out of tune.”

Still, the night carried with it what Grothe calls a lasting memory of “crazy punk energy.”

Was it a spectacle? Incredibly so. And to borrow the title of one of my favorite songs (not a Sex Pistols song), sung by a really good singer named Bonnie Raitt, it has given those who were there “Something to Talk About” — which we continue to do endlessly, almost half a century later.

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