In the shadows of the I-59 and Highway 49 interchange in Hattiesburg, there is a small building which once was a thriving bar and music venue. The address is 9 Rawls Springs Loop Road, and you can see the old structure behind the Valero station, across the highway from Stuckey’s. Thousands of motorists pass the nondescript locale without knowing the colorful history of what was once called Tal’s Music and Dart Emporium.
The little joint was a typical dive, featuring pinball and pool and plenty 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 would not hesitate to try new ideas and bring in bands from all over the country. One such rock band was called Firehose, an alternative group who catered to the punk and skateboard scene of California. In 1989, Firehose was looking to tour all over the country and somehow managed to connect 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 interest in playing in Mississippi, because few local folks liked the buzzy, hard, and aggressive style of that genre of music. But Tal did not care. He was different. He had traveled a bunch, had perception for trends, and wanted to offer a place for the band when no one else would.
So, late one night, a road weary rock group set up to play a set of songs on the little stage at Tal’s. They had two records to their name, and the now defunct Be-Bop Records in Jackson was the only Mississippi record store where someone could find their records. Young people from all over the state, including many college kids, drove to Hattiesburg to see Firehose, dance, drink, and have a good time. I’m not sure what Tal thought of the group, but he surely appreciated their earnestness and the crowd. The drummer played furiously on stage, breaking drum sticks every song. Firehose once said that they made records to promote their tours, rather than most bands who toured to promote their records. That night, the sound was loud, fast, and the crowd was rough. The flannel-shirted band wanted appreciative listeners but instead were treated to mostly young males who wanted to slam dance and party. Tal and his staff did their best to maintain control in the sweaty atmosphere, and I’m sure the band kept watchful eyes to avoid beer bottle projectiles.
At the end of their set, the band mingled with the crowd and staff, and the ever curious Tal shared stories and jokes with the band using his Southern charm. Tal’s may have been a dump down an old gravel road with a dirt parking lot, but that place hosted many famous musicians and helped create lasting memories. Every time I drive by the old haunt, I smile and reminisce about the days of my youth. I’m thankful Hattiesburger Tal Decell opened his place for alternative bands to play their brand of music. Tal passed on in 2015, but his little hole in the wall lives on in the stories of countless souls who stopped by for a drink and a few songs in the little hamlet of Rawls Springs.
Clark Hicks is a lawyer who lives in Hattiesburg. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.