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Gardeners of the Music World

Nightclub owners provide a feeding place for musicians

To say Soffar has had a bad year is an understatement on the order of saying September 11 was a bad day for New York. He was diagnosed with incurable bone cancer in the spring, and his house was washed away in June's deluge. Though he's lost his health and many of his worldly possessions, he's wealthy beyond the dreams of most of us in memories and the legacy he will leave behind. He's living in old buddy Jim Ohmart's little hippie fiefdom tucked away between the Fifth Ward and the Ship Channel with his wife, Gail, old friends, his two dogs and a parrot at his side.

"Worst thing in the world, man, to lose your health," Soffar allows, before quickly changing the subject. He's in no mood to wallow in self-pity.

Our interview is interrupted by his landlady's sister. She comes bearing gifts from the West U Five-n-Dime. Soffar, who grew up in Texas City's tiny Jewish community, is most pleased by a battling rabbi hand puppet. He slips it on his now-bony hand and adopts a Yiddish accent, "Vat are you looking at, ya meshuggenah." The pugnacious little rabbi is made to start throwing punches. His mixed-breed dog Princess comes over to investigate. Soffar picks up the bagel he has been nibbling at and offers Princess a few crumbs.

"Yeah, I know how to share, don't I," he says to himself. Indeed he does.

Perhaps Soffar's greatest legacy is Van Zandt's Live at the Old Quarter, indisputably the one truly indispensable document of Van Zandt's genius. Townes is utterly alone on the album, but for the Old Quarter founders. While Townes sang about Bell in "Rex's Blues," Soffar's is the only other voice on the record. His introduction of Townes to the stage -- which this writer knows by heart -- runs as follows: "A few announcements for the people that just came in, the other people have heard it five times, I'm sure. The restrooms are upstairs. Pay phones, upstairs. Pool tables, upstairs. Foosball, upstairs. Cigarette machines, upstairs. No, we ain't…we ain't talkin' about that. The Old Quarter's been lucky enough to have Townes Van Zandt for four nights, and we're gonna have him for one more night. Townes Van Zandt."

Now Townes is upstairs as well, and has been for five years. Here's hoping that they have all that other stuff up there too, even the stuff that Dale didn't want to talk about, for if heaven ain't much like the Old Quarter, Racket doesn't want to go. And neither would Dale.

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