By Sean Bailey / Staff Writer
On any given weekend night in Corbin the city swells with karaoke singers. Nearly every restaurant that has a bar-area holds a karaoke night — O’Mally’s, Buckners, The Lion’s Den. There’s even a place — Frazier’s Karaoke Tyme — established solely for families and people who love to belt out a good tune on a weekend night.
The singers come from all around — Williamsburg, London, Barbourville all the way up to Richmond — to unwind, sing their hearts out, make new friends and reconnect with old ones.
And on any given weekend night at just about any of the numerous karaoke joints you’ll find 67-year-old Walter Lee Shannon dressed in his cowboy hat and dark sunglasses. He’ll either be walking through the crowd shaking hands or he’ll be under the spotlight wowing the crowd.
Shannon, a Londoner, is something of a Corbin legend.
“I enjoy the people, I’ve made a lot of friends, a lot of people know me, but I don’t know a lot of the people,” Shannon said Saturday night at O’Mally’s.
“I enjoy the people. I enjoy the guys, the girls, I don’t care if they are married or whatever. I shake the guy’s hands, give a hug to their woman. I don’t trash nobody, I try to be friends with everybody.”
Not far from O’Malley’s karaoke machine there’s a plaque in honor of Shannon crowning him “The King of Karaoke.” Gary Hatfield, owner of O’Mally’s, says Shannon deserves the honor — he’s a huge crowd favorite. Hatfield said that on most weekends karaoke draws in anywhere from 100-150 people. And when Shannon walks into the room shouts of “Walter!” bounce around the packed house as he makes his way up to the stage area.
But it took a long time for Shannon to get hooked on karaoke — at least a long while for him to step behind the microphone. Some years ago, he says, while he was living in Naples, Fla. he’d go to a karaoke bar on the weekends. Every Friday and Saturday he’d go to the bar solely to listen to the people sing.
For 13 months he just watched. One evening he got to the bar a little early. By this time, the staff knew Shannon quite well.
“When I got there early the lady that put on the karaoke caught me at the door. She said, ‘You come in all the time, so why don’t you get up and sing a song,’” Shannon said.
“So I went over to the big book and picked a song, I don’t remember what the song was, and then when she called me up, she said ‘What key do you want it in?’ I said, ‘Honey just turn it on,’ I still wouldn’t know what key I’m in.”
Shannon was hooked. He started recording himself singing karaoke songs. He traveled to Nashville, bounced around the karaoke places there, singing all the way. While in Nashville he even sat down with some record industry people to make sure that making CDs of other people’s songs was legal. They told him, as long as you don’t sell him, “it’s just fine.” Shannon has lost the exact count of CDs and cassettes he’s given out, but said it’s up into the thousands.
“I picked people out of the crowd ... they’d tell me their name and I’d put their name on the cassette and I ended up picking people from 11 different countries from all around the world, and I give them the music and they took it back home with them,” Shannon said with a chuckle.
Shannon retired from a telephone company in the early 1990s after he “pulled his spinal cord and they couldn’t operate on it down at the Mayo Clinic in Florida.” Every once in awhile the injury still gives him some numbness in the legs — but usually that doesn’t keep him from singing.
Shannon’s hometown, London, doesn’t allow karaoke at establishments that sell alcohol. So each week he makes the trip to Corbin to be with his karaoke friends and do his rounds.
“They don’t have karaoke. And it’s a shame you know? ... You can block your town off, block a major highway and have singing at the courthouse, or you can block it off and have a singing at Chicken fest. And I understand that,” Shannon said of London’s banning of karaoke, “But you can’t have it (singing) nowhere else in the whole county? For me, I don’t see that, I try to be fair about things, like I say, it’s a shame we don’t have some entertainment in London. You have to go out.”
Shannon is known for playing one song just about everywhere he goes — the raunchy “Strokin’” by Clarence Carter. The adult theme means Shannon only sings it for an adult audience. He first played the song at what was once Angels and Wings on the urging of one of his karaoke friends. After the first performance everywhere he went people requested the song.
“I go wherever, and people corner me for that song. It’s got good dancing music to it. I try to not trash it other than what’s on it, you know. The crowd enjoys it,” Shannon said, “I didn’t plan on doing it any more, but the crowd likes it.”
Shannon never drinks when he’s singing karaoke. He’ll have a Pepsi, or a water, but he doesn’t believe in drunk driving. He admits once in a great while he might enjoy a beer in the comfort of his home, but karaoke isn’t a drunk act. He does it for the people.
“I have my health problems. But I’m thankful I can walk and get around. And I get to play karaoke,” Shannon said. “You just can’t beat the love of the people. And I’m so thankful to the Lord for that.”
“Oh, I know Walter, I’ve seen him up in Lexington once,” Haley Stark said as she sat with a table of friends eating dinner at O’Mally’s. “He’s a really sweet man.”
Haley was waiting for her turn at the mic with her mother Brenda Stark. Haley goes to school in Richmond, and comes to Corbin every other weekend to meet her mother. The Starks are from Williamsburg and before Haley spends the weekend at home she meets her mother at O’Mally’s for food and song.
“All of us woman in the family grew up singing,” Haley said. “It’s just what we do.”
Just after Haley explained her family’s love for song she was called up to sing “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” by Stevie Wonder. And she sang — powerful enough to get a huge swell of cheers and claps from the 100-plus in O’Mally’s.
Later the mother and daughter duo would sing together. Haley said the two usually sing songs they both know from their long road-trips together every weekend.
“I don’t really know how we chose the songs. We’re in the car together so much, I guess it’s whatever we hear in the car,” Haley said.
O’Mally’s owner Gary Hatfield says karaoke has been a huge draw since his restaurant started it two-and-a-half-years ago. For whatever reason Saturday seemed to be one of the most crowded nights in memory.
“I don’t know where they’re coming from tonight,” Hatfield said with a smile as he scanned the crowd.
Because O’Mally’s sells alcohol, patrons who want to sing have to be at least 21 to get into the bar area, but that’s where the demographic limits stop.
“We cater to all types of music, from hip-hop to country. And you’ve got people from 21 years old to 70 years old, there’s something for everyone,” DJ Tony Brown said.
Sean Bailey can be reached at email@example.com
Karaoke Tyme: Not your average karaoke joint
A few miles down Falls Highway from Interstate 75, Morgan King celebrated her 16th birthday at Frazier’s Karaoke Tyme on Saturday night.
“I’ve met so many people here. Friends. I can come here and there are no cliques, not like at school, or the movies or other places like that. You can meet so many people here,” King said.
Frazier’s Karaoke Tyme is a joint-effort by Steve and Judie Frazier and Karaoke Tyme, a father and son DJ business. And their goal is to bring the love and joy of karaoke to all people, in a family-friendly, alcohol-free atmosphere.
The Fraziers moved to town in 2001 and opened a flea market on a property they bought a few miles from the Moonbow Shopping Center on Falls Highway. After a few years of operation, the Fraziers just were not having fun running the flea market anymore.
The “space for rent” sign went up at the old Glen Market. At first Steve Frazier said bands would come and play on a newly constructed stage. But then the father-son Karaoke Tyme stepped in and asked if they could use the space for karaoke.
“We had always liked karaoke and when they showed up, we thought what the heck, let’s give it a try. And we did. We started a family place,” Steve Frazier said.
Karaoke Tyme is made up of Denver Eaton, and his son Denver “Denny” Eaton. Denver (senior) grew up singing and playing guitar. As he got older the guitar fell by the way side when work got in his way. For a time he wasn’t making too much music.
But then his mother gave him a gift that, in it’s own small way, changed the direction of his life.
“My mother wanted me to get back into playing gospel music. I’d quit playing guitar years ago. So she bought me something where I could play music,” Denver said. “My mother bought me a karaoke machine for Christmas. I started off with nine songs, now I’ve got 102,000.”
Denver started having people over to his house to sing, and soon 20-30 people were showing up. While karaoke was a burgeoning passtime in Kentucky, Denver’s son was in the Army, DJing his own karaoke nights on the side. Denny has DJed all over the world — Iraq, Kuwait, and all in more than 11 states.
While Denny and Denver were worlds apart they shared their love of karaoke in a uniquely late 20th century/21st century way — over cellphones.
“We would tell karaokee stories. We would put our phones down by the speakers and sing a song. And he’d put his phone by the speaker an sing a song, that’s how we got so close,” Denver explained, “We’d lay the phone down there by the speaker and he’d say that ‘You need to practice old man’ and I would tell him, ‘That’s not too bad for a kid, but you need to practice.”
When Denny got out of the Army, Denver convinced him to come back to the area and help him run a DJ business. Eventually they saw the Frazier’s sign, and “Frazier’s Karaoke Tyme” came into existence.
It’s all about family fun at Frazier’s Karaoke Tyme. The very young, and older seniors come out every Friday and Saturday night to sing.
“We have a little guy, about this tall,” Denver said, raising his hand about four feet from the ground, “Who can just loves singing Metallica songs.”
“And then you have an older person, who comes here, and doesn’t have a spouse anymore. It’s a place where they can come and enjoy themselves,” Steve Frazier said.
Besides having a nearly endless list of songs to chose from Frazier’s Karaoke Tyme has snacks, non-alcoholic beverages, and food.
Besides being just a place to have “good family fun” the Frazier’s and Eaton’s say they’ve witnessed the power of karaoke. At Frazier’s Karaokee Tyme, karaoke isn’t about drinking — it’s about being a star, in your own way, for a few hours every weekend.
“When you’ve got a live band, you just go there and dance, and stuff like that. You’re going out to just be entertained. When you do karaoke — let’s say the average song is four minutes — for that four minutes you are the entertainment,” Denny said. “You might not be good enough to be in a band, you might not be good enough to be a rock star, but for four minutes you are entertaining at least 50 people here.”
The Fraziers admit it’s daunting getting on stage. Judie says she remembers time where she’s gotten up on stage and just forgotten words. But in the family atmosphere of Frazier’s Karaoke Tyme, Judie said people just cheered her on — it was about the fun not just hitting the notes.
Steve Frazier said getting up stage in an atmosphere like Frazier’s Karaoke Tyme can be a powerful learning tool for children.
“It builds self-esteem for kids. When you first get up them up there they are scared to death, but then you can’t get them off,” Steve said with a laugh.
Karaoke at Frazier’s Karaoke Tyme is pretty affordable too, the Frazier’s stress. Six dollars gets adults and older kids in for singing from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and kids under 10 get in for free.
“It’s cheap family fun. I mean you go to a movie and you know what it costs to get in ... and then you have to pay for three kids. It’s a lot,” Judie said, “And here you can have fun for 3 or 4 hours for just $6.”
On Saturday night members of just about every age group were represented at Frazier’s Karaoke Tyme. Morgan King and her friends represented the younger teenage crowd, while Larry McClure and his wife, who are in their 60s represent an older crowd.
“I just drove down the road and saw the sign one night, and we’ve been coming here every Friday and Saturday since,” McClure said. “You don’t have to be any good at singing to enjoy it. If anybody, anybody, wants to have fun they can just come here.”
McClure said he never really did much karaoke before the night he saw the sign, but since then it’s been a way for him to relax, unwind, and just have a good time.
“The best way I can say it, I guess, it’s fun for everyone,” McClure said.
Morgan King and her friends and family got on stage around 9 p.m. Saturday and all sang “Happy Birthday” to Morgan. Under the lights it got a little warm for everyone, and so Morgan and her friends, after singing “Happy Birthday”, went into the cold night to cool off. Outside she explained why she chose Frazier’s Karaoke Tyme for her sweet-sixteen.
“I just like to sing,” Morgan said, “And I wanted to get everybody together to sing for my birthday, and this is the best place.”