Thursday, October 26, 2017

Remembering the Great Burrhead Jones

by Andy McDaniel
Special to the Mid-Atlantic Gateway

“Bob, what is he doing to my cousin?” 

These words will forever ring in my memory, spoken by Rufus R. “Freight Train” Jones as he was observing the brutal beat down on his cousin Burrhead Jones by the man from Eagle Pass, Texas, Blackjack Mulligan.

Melvin Nelson
aka, Burrhead Jones
Rufus and Blackjack had been having issues and to further enhance things, the much smaller Burrhead was now on the receiving end of one giant butt kicking. As Rufus was on commentary with the legendary Bob Caudle, his emotions were running high, as the action in the ring was taking a turn for the worse or at least for Burrhead it was. Bob answered Rufus’ question in a very Bob Caudle way, he simply said “Rufus, I think he is trying to kill him.” With that, Blackjack, an enormous human being, came crashing down, from the top turnbuckle onto the visibly smaller Jones and the quivering that followed would become a thing of legend. It ended with Burrhead being removed from the ring in a body cast. I remember that show like it was yesterday.

Watching this happen as a young wrestling fan was something I will never forget, but even greater was sitting with the man himself many years later and having him relive that moment and giving me all the details. I would have never dreamed Burrhead and I would become such good friends.

I was in the early stages of promoting some shows and putting together a reunion show for Charleston County Hall. Mike Mooneyham and I had become friends and he shared with me that Burrhead lived in the area and that we should most definitely have him be a part of what I was doing. One day, out of the blue, I received a call and the voice on the other end of the phone, simply said, “Andy this is Burrhead Jones.” I couldn’t believe it. This figure from my childhood, one that stood out because of a terrible beating he took on TV, was talking with me on the telephone. He gave me his address and it would be soon that we would meet in person. It was as if we had known each other forever. Truly one of the nicest people I have ever met. As down to earth and as real as anyone I have ever known.

I was a deputy at that time and Burrhead’s house was on my patrol route, so I got to see him quite often. We would sit and talk several times during the week. To hear him tell stories was one of the favorite parts of my week and boy did he have some stories. He had worked with everyone and as Mike and I would say over the years, “everyone had a Burrhead story.” He was truly something else. His accounts of being chased out of the shower by the original Sheik (Ed Farhat) who was holding a snake, his story of how he got the large scar on his forehead by the hands of George “Two-ton” Harris, these were stories that made me laugh and just form a bond of friendship that I hold dear to my heart. His openness about how hard it was being a black man in the wrestling business and the times he was not allowed to wrestle a white guy, they were a harsh reminder of how things used to be. The young people protesting today about oppression, they have no idea. Burrhead was not bitter, he was not angry, and even his wrestling name, certainly not politically correct, it was how he preferred to be addressed. It was him, he was a beloved character and his stories of how he made it through all the hard times, was truly encouraging. Our world could use a few more like him.

Dick Bourne and I had the chance to talk with Burrhead for a DVD-interview several years ago. He was such a joy to visit with and the memories he shared were special. You could see in his eyes and hear through his words that he enjoyed life and had fun when he wrestled. He did not “shoot” in the sense of being bitter, vile, or spill the beans on everyone. Instead he was just Burrhead, because that is who he was and as he would so often say “there will never be a cotton-picking other.”

Burrhead Jones interviews Sandy Scott
(Andy McDaniel photo)
When I promoted my first show, Burrhead helped me out. He was just a special guy and he loved wrestling. He would still don the tights and work a match if I asked him to. The weekend of the County Hall reunion was incredible. The star power we had there was unmatched. To see the likes of Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson walking back into County Hall, to stand in the ring with Johnny Valentine was a moment I will never forget. However, it was the emcee for the day that made the entire afternoon a blast.

Burrhead unofficially became our emcee and he found a live microphone and went all over the building interviewing everyone. Funny would really not describe it. A hoot would probably be a better description. To watch Burrhead with Ole Anderson, Tim Woods, Sandy Scott, Penny Banner, Tommy Young and Mr. Henry Marcus himself, was indeed something to behold. I am so fortunate to have pictures of these special moments and some video.

It was also during that afternoon that Burrhead unwisely agreed to be on the receiving end of a “Hammer” from Johnny Valentine. Burrhead had asked Johnny if he “still had it” to which Johnny replied, “sure let me show you” and what happened next was a sight to behold. Johnny pulled Burrhead across the ropes and dropped a massive blow and like a stone, Burrhead fell to the ground and sold that move like he has been hit by a truck. From the sound of the lick, truck might not be that far off. I checked on Burrhead afterwards and asked him if he wanted to try that again and he quickly replied, “no thanks.”

I would maintain my friendship with Burrhead, even after moving away and after changing careers. In fact, he and I would even have the chance to tag-team one time in a match against Mr. #1 George South and another Pastor friend of mine, Jim Palmer. I could tell another story about that event, but maybe another time. Over the years, it was always a joy to get that phone call that always started off, “Andy, this is the Burrhead, where have you been? I thought you forgot about me, man you put me down.” Those calls made my day. It was always a joy to hear from, as Mike and I affectionately called him, “the local legend.”

Last week I got the sad news that my friend passed away. He was living in New York to be closer to family and while not as often as I would have liked, we did manage to talk a time or two a year. My last phone call with Burrhead was several months ago. I knew he was having some health issues and was no longer able to see. I called him to check on him and it was just like old times. We were having a great talk, but in the background music started getting louder and louder and Burrhead (who was being moved in a wheelchair by an orderly or nurse) he said “Andy, let me call you back, this fool has parked me by the jukebox and I can’t hear a dang thing.” Typical Burrhead, but a good laugh that I will cherish.

He will never be in the WWE Hall of Fame, he will not get a ten-bell salute or video on a Monday night Raw, but for me, Burrhead Jones was a star, he was a legend in his own way and more than all of it, he was my friend. I will miss him. Thanks for the memories my old friend, I will hold on to them forever. The last time I saw Burrhead Jones in person, he gave me a box. I opened it and inside were his wrestling boots. He had signed them and said to me “I will not need these anymore, I want you to have them.” These are among my prize possessions.