Cimarron Ballroom
Long-lost tape relives Patsy Cline's bravest performance

Patsy Cline probably thought it was a night to forget-but now, through a new album lovingly restored from a long-lost tape, fans can hear one of her most memorable shows.

On the night of July 29, 1961, heavy makeup masked deep scars across her face, but nothing could hide the crutches Patsy needed to hobble onto the shell-shaped bandstand at the Cimarron Ballroom in Tulsa, Okla.

The 28-year-old legend asked for a stool to sit on, then sang for the first time since a near-fatal car accident in Madision, Tenn.

Exactly 36 years later, MCA is releasing a restored recording of the show, including 17 songs-three not previously released-and her earthy between-song patter.

For the fans who loved her, and the new generation of fans who never saw her perform, the album Patsy Cline Live at the Cimarron Ballroom is a treasure.

Just six weeks earlier, she had nearly died in a head-on collision. In addition to the terrible cuts on her face, she suffered a broken wrist and dislocated hip. Walking was still painful and singing seemed to tire her out.

"I'm kinda out of wind," she told the sell-out crowd afer her opening three numbers, "Come On In," "A Poor Man's Roses," and "Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home."

"This is the first time I worked since I got out of the hospital. Oh me, I tell you them women drivers are rough on us good folks," Patsy said. "We'd like to slow things down so I can get my breath."

On Wednesdays and Saturdays, the 2,200-seat Cimarron Balroom was home to Leon McAuliff and the Cimarron Boys, one of the country's top bands for western swing. They backed up Patsy, who said they produced "the sweetest music this side of Heaven."

While she mesmerized the crowd that steamy summer night, a tape recorder ran in the dance hall's broadcast booth. No one is quite sure why, although Ray Bingham, the booking agent, said it was common for McAuliff to tape shows to critique his band's performance.

How the performance tape came to light is a story in itself: A copy was given to Patsy and her husband, Charlie Dick, and made its way into the basement of their Nashville house in a box with several other reels. Two years after Patsy died in a plane crash in 1963, Charlie sold the house to another Decca recording artist, Wilma Burgess. The tapes were left behind.

Ten years later, Wilma's brother Ken, a jeweler, sold a tape player to another jeweler, William Frazee, for $50. To sweeten the deal, he threw in a couple of dozen tapes. One of them, he mentioned, was a recording of a Patsy Cline show. More of a rock 'n' roll fan at the time, Frazee left the tape untouched until the early 1990s, when a friend in the music business suggested that it might be valuable.

MCA, which owns the Decca label Patsy recorded on, agreed and began work on restoring the fragile piece of history.

Several things make the CD unique. It contains three songs Patsy never recorded in a studio: "Stupid Cupid," "Shake, Rattle and Roll," and "When My DreamBoat Comes Home."

And that's a thrill for Patsy's fan club, says Charlie, who adds, "I've said for 30 years that there's nothing else out there." It's also the only recording of a complete performance that has surfaced. But most exciting, Charlie said, is her conversations with the audience and the band between songs. "People want to hear her talk," Charlie said. "A lot of them have never heard her say a word. I think they like that as much as the music."

That was the favorite part for Alan Stoker, the audio restoration engineer at the Country Music Foundation, whose father, Gordon, sang backup for Patsy as a member of the Jordanaires.

"We have some opry takes, but those are pretty scripted," he said. "To hear her banter with an audience was great. She could dish it out when she needed to."

The 2,200-seat Cimarron Ballroom, a former theater and opera house built by the Tulsa Shriners, was packed that night. The ornate building, with minarets and elaborate murals, featured a large dance floor, a balcony for extra seating and a broadcast booth for live remote radio shows.

Despite being on crutches, Patsy was determined to give the audience a good show.

"She said, 'If you'll gt me a stool on the bandstand, I'd just like to sing a few songs," recalled Peck Allen, then manager of the ballroom. "She was so good, it sent chills. Everybody quit dancing and we just had a floor show. She was so grateful she could still sing and perform, she just sang and sang and sang. I think she sang every song she knew."

As for William Frazee, the jeweler who didn't know he had a diamond in the reel-to-reel in his closet, he's thrilled that it's being shared now with the world.

"She was way ahead of her time for country music," he said. "I'm glad that I'm a little bit of a part of this. I had a nasty habit of recording over things in those days."