Ballad of the Unknown Urban Cowboy: Isaac Payton Sweat Part 2

winchester 66 975 isaac peyton sweat

Isaac Payton Sweat, far right, at the Winchester Club

In the mid-1960s I had a paper route in my hometown of Groves, Texas, and every day it took me past this two-story, tar-papered building with a sign saying “The Black Kat Club.”  Some days I’d hear loud, raucous music coming out of the wide-open second story windows.  Sometimes it was the blues, sometimes it was a cover of a pop song, it always sounded great.  One day I came by with my newspapers and the musicians were outside smoking cigarettes.  One of them asked me if I would give him a newspaper, and I did.

As I handed it to him, I noticed this guy was the whitest man I had ever seen.  His skin, his hair, his eyelashes, everything was pure white.  There was another guy who looked just like him, too.  “They’re albinos,” said one of the band members, “they’re okay.  What’s your name, my name is I.P. Sweat.”  To a 10-year-old kid, that name was even funnier than the two albino brothers named Johnny and Edgar.

Almost 20 years later, I would meet up with Isaac Payton Sweat again.  IP Sweat clubHe had tasted fame – but not fortune – with his regionally popular recording “Cotton-Eyed Joe.”  Sweat really had not come far from the Black Kat Club near Port Arthur;  he was a popular guy in Houston dancehalls but no place else.  “Cotton-Eyed Joe” had only earned Sweat a few hundred dollars in royalties, so he sued his former manager.  That case didn’t work out, and neither did the nightclub Sweat opened, “I.P. Sweat’s Cotton-Eyed Joe Club.”

Over in Louisiana, Cajun musician Rockin’ Sidney (Simien) had a breakout hit with “My Toot Toot,” and other regional musicians like Jo-El Sonnier and Zachary Richard were whooping it up with people like John Fogerty.  Urban Cowboy the movie had created a fad and there were mechanical bulls everywhere.  By the late 1980s country music had become a huge business – the Judds and Reba McEntire slicked up the music and the twang seemed almost like an affectation.  People had stopped coming to Gilley’s, and the monster club closed in 1989.

Ikey Sweat was working hard, writing and recording new music.  He cut a song called “A Redneck Is The Backbone of America” and a handful of other tunes, hoping to attract a major label contract.  Inspired by the success of Houstonian Clint Black and San Antonio native George Strait, Sweat hoped to get airplay on country radio.  He didn’t.

Isaac Payton Sweat

Sweat in the late 1980s

Sweat tried to sue radio stations in the Houston area for conspiring to keep him out of the spotlight, but that went nowhere.  Frustration mounted for Sweat, and he even checked himself into a hospital for what he later said was exhaustion and depression.  Sweat’s second marriage also seemed to be in trouble.  In the spring of 1990, Isaac Payton Sweat filed a divorce petition against his wife Sharon but she apparently never got the papers.

On June 23, 1990, a gunshot rang out in the garage of Isaac Payton Sweat’s Houston-area home.  Police found the singer dead from a gunshot wound through his left temple, and a .25-caliber pistol near his left hand.  An autopsy found no traces of gunpowder on Sweat’s hands.   The gun, some sunglasses and car keys were found near Sweat’s left hand but the singer was right-handed.

Sharon Sweat was indicted for murder and the case almost went to trial in 1992.  Experts were set to testify that Isaac Payton Sweat could have been murdered, another would say that he most likely committed suicide.  However the case against Sharon Sweat was finally dropped for lack of evidence before it went to trial.  Many people, particularly friends and family of Isaac Payton Sweat, believe she got away with murder.  The house where Sweat died burned down, and although authorities promised to investigate the case further nothing ever came of it.  Country music became bigger and bigger, and artists who scrambled around Texas dancehalls in the 1970s and 1980s became international superstars.

Isaac Payton Sweat helped create the big “Urban Cowboy’ movement in the 1980s but never tasted any of the fame and fortune that others did.  If you look on the internet you can find remembrances of Sweat by his friends and fans, and you can still collect some of his songs.  If you listen closely you hear a talented musician at the top of his game, his voice full of youth and hope and the promise of good times.  It is the voice of a long-gone era in Texas – a voice that, sadly, few people even remember.

MP3: “A Redneck Is The Backbone of America” by Isaac Payton Sweat

MP3: “Lovin’ On Backstreets” by Isaac Payton Sweat

Isaac Payton Sweat MySpace page

The Winchester Club in Houston (picture at the top of this post comes from this website)

5 Responses to “Ballad of the Unknown Urban Cowboy: Isaac Payton Sweat Part 2”

  1. Graeme Lynch Says:

    Great real country voice from an artist I hadn’t heard of before. Some fine songs. Thankyou…

  2. Michael Roberts Says:

    I remember meeting Ikey several times when he would visit his friend where we both worked. I can never forget when Sharon met him there once, and he exclaimed to me… “That is one crazy bitch”…He was killed that same weekend. As for me, I know it was “that crazy bitch” that pulled the trigger!

    RIP Ikey

  3. Jim Richardson Says:

    I remember going to the Winchester Club over a hundred times when Ikey played there and my friend Danny Rainwater played in Ikey’s Band. I remember seeing Ernest Tubb on stage at the Winchester and going on his Bus and there set Ikey. He said: “Bobo, did you ever think we’d be a tour bus of a famous Nashville-Texas singer.”Ikey was a great performer and entertainer and he had his click of fans. I know several times he walk to the front door of the club and go out the adjoining glass door and shake hands with folks standing in line and then hand pick 2 or 3 out of the crowd and tell the Houston Police Officer watching the door. …”let these folks on in…” KNUZ Radio DJ Arch Yancey would be a regular guest emcee as Ikey would let customers get on stage with him and participate in singing the Cotton Eyed Joe and even let some of my friends, Paul Pickell & Danny O’Dell sing Eddy Arnold’s and Conway Twitty’s songs. I left Houston in 1984 and always will remember the good times and fond memories of this deep voiced, thinbeared, big hearted, pony tailed, white boots wearin thin gentle man. RIP Ikey, God knew your heart and I know your up there with Ernest Tubb and many others and you too are now a Big Star.

  4. David White Says:

    I grew up with Ikey! We had the first band called the Continintals. We both learned to played the guitar together and bought our first guitars togather @ Port Neches Music Store. I bought a Fender Stratacaster (Sure wish I still had that guitar) and he bought a jazzmaster bass. Will never forget that day, we were pretty excited. We played together until he went with Johnny Winter and I went into the Air Force. Ikey was a fun and great guy, but that ole nasty music business just swallowed him up. He was about 10 to 15 years before his time. Will always miss the times we had.
    David White

  5. I was friends with Sharon’s Daughter Sheila in highschool before they got married. His Friends called him Ikey but Sharon and Sheila and Sharons Mother called him Isaac. My circumstances were destatute and he claimed that since I didn’t have a Dad he would be my dad. Had Thanksgiving with him and his Father and Step Mom along with Sheila and Sharon in 1984. Impressed that his Dad was willing to sell his house so that Isaac and I think his sister could own a home. I loved his apartment the furniture was 2 big but I liked how it was decorated. I didn’t know he died until I heard the Rednex Version in 2004. There is only 1 way to do the Cotton Eyed Joe and it isn’t the rednex version. Miss you Isaac.
    Kimberly Doss Wright

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