Greek Immigrant "Tex Louis" Gotsis: King of the Singing Cowboys
Greek Immigrant "Tex Louis" Gotsis:
King of the Singing Cowboys
By Steve Frangos
Published in The National Herald, November 18, 2017
I am excited that The National Herald has given Hellenic Genealogy Geek the right to reprint articles that may be of interest to our group.
Louis Gotsis was born in Greece on February 3, 1939 and did not arrive in the United States until 1957. In a 1988 interview with the Asbury Park Press “Gotsis recalled his grandfather telling him tales about cowboys and working in the western U.S. As a foreman during the construction of a railroad line from Reno, Nevada to San Francisco. “While my schoolmates were studying Greek history, I was studying the cowboys and Indians,” Gotsis told the Press, “I told them one day I would have a cowboy place, but they all laughed. I bet they wouldn't laugh now.”
Aptly enough, when Gotsis came to the United States, in 1957, he first settled in Texas, where he lived for ten years. Then, in 1969, after a brief stay in California Gotsis moved (“by accident,” he later claimed) to the unincorporated community of Bayville found in Berkeley Township which is located in Ocean County, NJ. Once in Bayville, Gotsis purchased a 65- seat one-story restaurant on Route 9 called the New Village Family Restaurant. Since his arrival in Texas Gotsis had been saving money to one day, open his own restaurant.
While published accounts vary it is clear that Gotsis slowly but with definite intent began to change his family-style restaurant into something completely different. Gradually decorating his new place with western decor, Gotsis (who quickly became known as "Tex Louis" to friends and customers) paid $30,000 to install a 45-foot-tall neon cowboy on Route 9, in front of the restaurant. With a large right arm t h a t w a v e d this unique road sign soon made Gotsis' establishment a much recognized Bayside fixture.
Gotsis, it is reported, soon began sporting cowboy hats as part of his daily attire. In 1980, Gotsis obtained a liquor license and changed the name of his restaurant to the Cowboy Steak House and Saloon located at 938 Atlantic City Boulevard in Bayville. This specific address is noted given that Gotsis had purchased adjoining property and during the time of the restaurant's name change he built an addition to the building and started offering live country music on Saturdays and Sundays. Ever the entrepreneur, Gotsis soon added a liquor store and a western wear shop were added to the complex.
As part of the physical evolution of Gotsis' establishment from a family-style restaurant to a western honky-tonk musical dance hall Gotsis began decorating (adorning might be a better word) the interior of his place with cowboy/western memorabilia calling this assembly, in time, the Cowboy Hall of Fame. All this growth was made possible due to the ever growing numbers of country music fans who quickly flocked to Gotsis' honky-tonk saloon-style restaurant, not only for the music and food, but for the country dance lessons offered there. It is said that the general public simply referred to Gotsis' cowboythemed establishment as the "Cowboy." All sources agree that Gotsis' dream restaurant/dance hall/saloon “played an outsize roll in the growth of country music at the Shore in the 1980s and early 1990s.”
Yet Gotsis was clearly after something else. It must be stressed that Gotsis' complex was the location for some of the most prominent country/western music performers in the nation. Individual performers and national acts such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, the Bellamy Brothers, Lynn Anderson, Jimmy Reed, Willie Nelson and Mickey Gilley – to name just a few – all played at Gotsis' venue. Published accounts report t h a t e v e r y week, an estimated 1,000 people weekly flocked to Gotsis' complex to listen and dance to country music. Notable was the July 1989 all-day country festival sponsored by Gotsis featuring Willie Nelson as the headlining performer. More than 4,000 people crowded the grounds, braving sweltering temperatures, to listen while Nelson crooned his hits "Always on My Mind," "Nightlife," and "To All the Girls I've Loved Before." Gotsis had proudly hung a sign over the Cowboy Steak House and Saloon's main stage that proclaimed, "Tex Louis' Cowboy Saloon. The Man who's keeping Country & Western music alive in South Jersey." It is hard to think of any other establishment that could even come close to challenging this claim. Without question fans of country/western music, due to Gotsis' personal dream, soon began traveling long distances to Gotsis' honky-tonk to hear their favorite artists live.
During an interview in the late 1980s, Gotsis told the Asbury Park Press that his dream “had always been to host Johnny Cash at his saloon.” In 1988, after a reported $1 million renovation was completed Gotsis' (once again) renamed his establishment, this time as the, Cowboy Hall of Fame Saloon in honor of his long-time dream becoming a reality. In February 1988, Cash gave two performances on Gotsis' stage. Gotsis told local reporters he was “ecstatic” and furthermore "this is something I wanted since I came to the United States 30 years ago. Having my own cowboy restaurant and having my favorite performer, Johnny Cash, on hand is what I've worked for years. Now the hard work has paid off."
Gotsis further elaborated that "country music is the backbone of this country. Without country music there would be no America." Expanding this view a bit Gotsis continued that country music “is powerful because it's authentic...It's all about real life. It's like taking any event in your life and putting it to music."
I would be misrepresenting Gotsis' larger involvement in his community if I did not point out he was “also became known for his charitable endeavors, hosting an annual Thanksgiving dinner for more than 1,000 people at his restaurant, and donating proceeds from various country shows to local charities.” Accounts also report that Gotsis, ever the showman, once auctioned off a large stuffed bull to raise money for an expansion of Berkeley's library.
In August 2005, for reasons not elaborated on in the public press, Gotsis sold the Cowboy Hall of Fame Saloon and retired. Gotsis took the 45 foot tall cowboy neon sign and other memorabilia from his Cowboy Hall of Fame collection to his home in Forked River, New Jersey. On Friday, November 1, 2013, at age 74, Tex Louis Gotsis passed away surrounded by his family. He was laid to rest in Good Luck Cemetery located in Forked River, NJ (memorial no. 130870631).
A pappou's tales of life along a faraway frontier first inspired the dreams of a young Greek boy. Nonetheless, Gotsis, worked long and hard to not only support himself and his family but in so doing also entered the ranks of Greek immigrant promoters. Lost to the vast majority of historical accounts on Greeks in the United States is the pivotal roles Greeks played in the very development of popular entertainment in North America since the 1870s. Part of this is due to the established immigration narrative, that newly arriving immigrants were hardscrabble workers limited to physical labor. But it is not true. As we learn of the lives, accomplishments, and influences of Greeks since the 1870s into an array of popular culture art forms, such as those of Gotsis, we simultaneously discover how much we are told of American immigration history is a total fabrication. This false accounting demeans those hearty pioneers, who each with their own gifts created through hard work and imagination the place we call today the United States of America.