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Arts & Culture

James White, Longtime Owner Of The Broken Spoke, Dies At 81

James White, the longtime owner and operator of the Broken Spoke, died Sunday.
James White, the longtime owner and operator of the Broken Spoke, died Sunday.

James White, the owner and operator of the Broken Spoke, died Sunday. He was 81.

The longtime country music dancehall confirmed White's passing in a Facebook post.

"[James White] is a legend," the post read, "and Austin, Texas and country music is better because of him."

White opened the world-renowned honky tonk in 1964 on South Lamar Boulevard after he got out of the Army. He told KUT in 2017 that, at the time, it was largely the only draw in the now-bustling neighborhood.

"This was kind of a pasture land and had trees and mesquites," he said. "It wasn't another building in sight."

Starting out, White admitted, he learned as he went in the early days of the Broken Spoke, but he always tried to stay true to a simple ethos: "treat people like you want to get treated."

But the dancehall took off, hosting the likes of Bob Wills, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Asleep at the Wheel and Dolly Parton, while also serving as a hub for local and touring country acts.

In recent years, the Broken Spoke remained a stalwart holdout in the face of encroaching development along the South Lamar corridor. White remained fiercely committed to keeping the club open until his last days, even as the dancehall became hemmed in by towering developments.

"I kind of drew a line in the sand, and I'm here to stay. A lot of people think that I was going to leave, and I said, 'No, why would I leave? I'm having fun here,'" he told KUT. "It doesn't matter how much money is stacked on the table. I mean, I'd rather say I own the Broken Spoke than say I've got a couple of million in the bank."

The club's ability to weather that change while staying true to its roots was a point of pride for White.

"I'm real proud of that," White said. "I guess I've lasted longer than any other dance hall operator there is."

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