NOTICE: Memories from a Mississippi Dive Bar

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In the shadow of the I-59 and Highway 49 interchange in Hattiesburg, there is a small building that was once a thriving bar and concert hall. The address is 9 Rawls Springs Loop Road, and you can see the old structure behind Valero Station, across from Stuckey’s. Thousands of motorists pass by this indescribable place without knowing the colorful history of what was once called Tal’s Music and Dart Emporium.

The little joint was a typical dive, with pinball and pool and lots of beer. What made Tal’s Bar unique was its owner, Tal Decell, a colorful man who always seemed interested in the latest trends and was not shy about trying out new ideas and bringing in bands from all over the country. One of those rock bands was called Firehose, an alternative band that catered to the California punk and skateboard scene. In 1989, Firehose was looking to tour the country and managed to hook up with Tal Decell for an appearance in Hattiesburg. This was before the Internet, so word of mouth was the most common form of communication. At the time, few alternative bands had an interest in playing in Mississippi, as few locals liked the buzzing, harsh and aggressive style of this genre of music. But Tal didn’t care. He was different. He had traveled a lot, had a sense of trends and wanted to offer a place for the group when no one else would.

So, late one night, a road-weary rock band settled in to play a series of songs on Tal’s little stage. They had two records under their belt, and the late Be-Bop Records in Jackson was the only record store in Mississippi where anyone could find their records. Young people from across the state, including many middle school students, drove to Hattiesburg to see Firehose, dance, drink and have a good time. I don’t know what Tal thought of the group, but he surely appreciated their seriousness and the crowd. The drummer was playing furiously on stage, breaking drumsticks with each song. Firehose once said that they made records to promote their tours, rather than most of the bands that toured to promote their records. That night the sound was loud, fast, and the crowd was restless. The flannel shirt group wanted grateful listeners, but were instead dealt with mostly young men who wanted to dance and party. Tal and his team did their best to keep control in the sweaty atmosphere, and I’m sure the group kept a watchful eye to avoid the projectiles from the beer bottles.

At the end of their set, the group mingled with the crowd and staff, and the ever-curious Tal shared stories and jokes with the group using his Southern charm. Tal’s may have been a dumping ground on an old gravel road with a dirt parking lot, but this place has hosted many famous musicians and helped create lasting memories. Every time I walk past the old lair, I smile and remember the days of my youth. I am grateful that Hattiesburger Tal Decell has opened up its place for alternative bands to play their brand of music. Tal passed away in 2015, but his little hole in the wall lives on in the stories of countless souls who have stopped for drinks and a few songs in the tiny hamlet of Rawls Springs.

Clark Hicks is a lawyer who lives in Hattiesburg. His email is [email protected]


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