In the Pine Belt, when music of days gone by comes to mind, many may think of Tal’s Music and Dart Emporium, The Stone Toad, Tal’s Corral or The Library. All were hangouts of Tal DeCell through the years. And they too featured their fair share of big name musicians during the day.
A former Marine, boxer who made a name for himself, and University of Southern Mississippi graduate with a degree in psychology, DeCell sold insurance for about six months after graduation.
In 1968, he purchased a jukebox bar on U.S. 49, The Capri Lounge, which he later renamed The Stone Toad.
Rumors have long circulated that Tal won the bar in a boxing match, but according to DeCell’s daughter, Nicole Kossum, who lives in Vidalia, La., that’s not correct.
Kossum said her dad’s timeline mimicked that of John Travolta’s career.
“When he (Travolta) did Saturday Night Fever, dad had The Stone Toad, and had a lighted dance floor built here locally, but this one had two lights per square instead of one. When Travolta when country and did Urban Cowboy, Dad switched the bar to Tal’s Corral, even manufacturing his own mechanical bull and selling some to others.”
At some point during the early ’80s, Tal’s Corral closed and Tal’s Dart Bar and Music Emporium was built and opened. It featured dart boards, pinball machines, video games and pool tables.
“It was the dart bar until the early ’90s, when he really tuned into the rock ‘n’ scene and changed the name to Tal’s Music Emporium,” Kossum said.
“I’ve been told by many people that he paved the way for a lot of bands and musicians and had a venue for them when others wouldn’t.”
According to Kossum, there was another bar in there, Poonanny’s, but she’s not sure where it fell in the lineup.
Tal’s Music Emporium closed in 2011 due to lack of business and dementia had really started affecting her dad. “It was a bittersweet time for sure. Closing the doors and selling the place I basically grew up in was tough.”
Decell died in 2015 at the age of 75. Following his funeral service, it was only fitting that a celebration of his life be held at the Keg & Barrel.
But his death didn’t take the many memories of those who were lucky enough to fraternize with a beer in hand and new music being played.
At times there might be 500 to 600 people at The Stone Toad on Friday and Saturday nights. But the largest paid crowd was the night Hank Williams Jr. performed. Reports say they stopped counting at 1,200.
Other than Williams, other big-name attractions included
Gregg Allman, Foghat, Steppenwolf, Leon Russell, Tanya Tucker, Johnny Paycheck (a regular), Percy Sledge, George Jones, Cowboy Mouth, Southern Culture on the Skids and David Allen Coe. And among noted visitors were the likes of Clint Eastwood, Miss Mississippi and USM’s own Ray Guy, also a regular.
The menu, which was a requirement for selling liquor, was mostly just bar food type stuff.
Tal’s was described in one report as a guaranteed hangover, in the best possible way.
It went on to say, “Tal is no longer operating nightclubs, but his bars and the wild nights had in them will forever live on through the memories of his beloved customers. The Stone Toad, Tal's Corral, Tal's Dart Bar,Tal's Music Emporium and others opened doors to Hattiesburg's entertainment industry that can never be closed. Closed, but the legend lives on.”
Hattiesburg’s Lhay Thriffiley, a musician, has her own memories of the bar/musical establishment.
Thriffiley remembers it as a “grimy, dingy, sticky, and generally questionable, in terms of cleanliness and safety.”
Thriffiley said she’d always heard that because the mic was not grounded, it would shock your lips if you touched it.
"Take your fights outside," is the only rule I can remember,” she said. “Honestly, it was a place where bikers, day drinkers, college kids and musicians could all co-exist peacefully, often without much interaction.
“For local musicians, it was the kind of place where musical bravery was appreciated, and being kind of lousy was forgiven. It was also a place where you could get a gig if you were a young, local musician who was experimental or if your band was kind of weird. “
Thriffiley said she knew a lot of important bands played there, often before they were important, but in the late ’80s and early ’90s, bands would put their stickers all over the stage area and the back door. I remember seeing some cool ones.
She remembers a "one night only" band, which was a gender-bending show band made up of all kinds of local players.
“It was the stuff of legend, she said. “This was midway through the grunge era, when everyone wore flannel and ripped jeans, 24/7. For members of the band, the guys came dressed in very bad drag, and the women wore all manner of very revealing/experimental outfits. This just goes to demonstrate that it was so far underground that performers felt safe to be experimental in that way, despite there being no actual gay/transvestite people involved.
“The environment that was created there, which was surely a combo of the lack of structure there and the social current of the times, seems important.”