I only heard about Buddy Damen because of the Wayland Cross fire. It happened in Nacogdoches, Texas in 1968, when Wayland Cross burned down the old Palace Theater in the center of town. The Palace was a popular stop for musicians heading west, and it was also the town’s first movie theater. When Wayland Cross burned it down, the theater’s collection of film prints went up in smoke, including prints of Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, The Magnificent Ambersons, and a single print of a concert played a few years before by a songwriter named Buddy Damen. The manager at the Palace had got a 35mm film camera with the hope of making concert films that could be replayed on the movie screen at the theater, but after the fire he stopped filming concerts, heartbroken over the loss of his growing archive.
The old timer who told me about the fire was especially broken up about losing the footage of Buddy Damen in concert, claiming it was the only filmed recording of Buddy Damen anywhere. His albums are so impossible to find that the concert film was, for a few years, the only real proof that Buddy Damen existed, and now it’s gone. What does remain, though, is the memory of what folks around those parts call the “best durn show ever seen”, as Buddy Damen’s one-night-only stop at the Palace lives on in local lore.
No one knows why Wayland Cross burned down the Palace Theater, but that lost concert footage has become Americana music legend, just like Buddy Damen himself.
-Kizzie First, Folk Historian and Documentary Filmmaker