A Rodeo Tradition

Charlie Daniels has been coming to Las Vegas since 1959, when he met one of his heroes, lounge legend Louis Prima.

He reckoned this trip to Las Vegas and the National Finals Rodeo was going to be a special one, too.

"It's their (NFR) 50th year and it's my 50th year, too," said Daniels, who is appearing at the Golden Nugget tonight.

A big rodeo fan, he was honored by the NFR to be part of the 50th anniversary celebration. The Charlie Daniels Band performed "Ghost Riders in the Sky" to open a session.

He was 23 years old, making his first trip to the West Coast, when his band, The Rockets, stopped here before heading to the California cities of Riverside, Barstow and Victorville for one-nighters.

Prima and Keely Smith were bringing down the house at The Sahara. Daniels and his bandmates not only saw the show but got to meet Prima.

"That was a big thrill. I was a big fan. And we were invited into Donald O'Connor's dressing room to meet him. It was a great night."


Jimmy Dean, often credited as the first country headliner in Las Vegas, took Elvis Presley's pharmaceutical advice just once.

Dean complained to Elvis one night that his schedule of two shows at the Desert Inn was wearing him out.

Elvis had the answer. He said he would have his doctor call the next day.

Sure enough, Dean, fortified by some little yellow "energy" pills, sailed through both shows the next night.

That was the upside. The downside came when he tried going to sleep all revved up.

In an instant, he realized what had happened. He got up and flushed the pills down the toilet, he said in his book "Thirty Years in Sausage, Fifty Years of Ham."

That was half a lifetime ago. Now 80, he's been retired for so long that more people know him for his breakfast sausage than his songs.

Dean had hit it big in 1961 when "Big Bad John" topped both the contemporary and country charts. A year later, "P.T. 109," about John F. Kennedy's torpedo boat, reached Billboard's Top 10. "Big Bad John" won him a Grammy for Best Country & Western Recording and he parlayed his easygoing persona -- Elvis called him a "country genius S.O.B." -- into a television variety show that gave country music performers rare network exposure.

The high point of his acting career came when he landed the role of an eccentric Howard Hughes type in the 1971 James Bond film "Diamonds Are Forever," much of which was filmed in Las Vegas.

After his sausage pitchman career ended, he retired and lives in a home overlooking the James River near Richmond, Va.


Restaurateurs have the best stories.

I ran into old friend Roy Saunders on Friday at Rino Armeni's Pips Cucina & Wine Bar at Aliante Station.

Saunders was general manager at Prime, the Bellagio steakhouse, when I moved here in 1999.

Tiger Woods came in one night, recalled Saunders, and requested the Dover sole, but he wanted it blackened, in the New Orleans style with Cajun spices. With a fish that sweet and delicate, most chefs would wince at the request.

But it was Tiger Woods. "He came back at least 30 times for it," said Saunders, now general manager at MRKT, Aliante's signature steak and seafood restaurant.

Saunders' favorite high-roller story from his Prime days: One night a regular came in with friends. Everyone in the party of eight had a Caesar salad and a chicken entree, along with numerous bottles of Hardy Perfection cognac, which goes for $700 a shot and almost $20,000 a bottle.

When presented with the $109,000 check, the high roller picked up a spoon and tapped it against his water glass for an announcement. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new record."

Then he turned to Saunders and said "Make sure the waiters get 20 percent."

Norm Clarke can be reached at 702-383-0244 or norm@reviewjournal.com. Find additional sightings and more online at www.normclarke.com.