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Dark side of the Moondogs: Remembering Memphis wrestling’s most fetching tag team

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“Now, Scott, I’m gonna lay that chair shot in there. Try to keep your back straight.” I’m listening attentively as Larry Booker pulls me aside backstage at the Mid-South Coliseum in 1995 prior to the violence we’ll both soon be orchestrating. When a veteran like Moondog Spot throws you a bone, you’d best pay attention.

Explosive team: The Bombers with their Southern tag straps.

Years ago, in 1979, Booker had wrestled in the area as “Larry Latham,” teaming with Wayne Ferris (the eventual Honky Tonk Man) as the Blonde Bombers, with manager Sgt. Danny Davis.

The Bombers had a good run as AWA Southern tag-team champions, which began in infamy in Tupelo, Mississippi, on June 15, 1979.

Besides being known as the birthplace of Elvis Presley, Tupelo for years after the Bombers’ title win over Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee conjured up visions of mustard-covered mayhem for Memphis wrestling fans–yes, the legendary Tupelo concession-stand brawl between the two teams. This extreme footage was so far ahead of its time that it served as the catalyst for a young Jimmy Cornette to purchase his first VCR so he could have a copy and watch it repeatedly, which he did. (Undoubtedly, a young Paul Heyman received a copy somehow as well.) I love how Lance Russell, struggling to get the cameraman focused on the action as he descends the stairs to commentate on the brutality unfolding before his eyes bellows, “They got a hell of a fight going on down here!”

After turning back challenges from such teams as Hulk Hogan and Tommy Gilbert and The Freebirds, the duo traded the belts with Rick and Robert Gibson before dropping the titles for good to Hector Guerrero and Steve Regal on November 19, 1979.

 

Larry wouldn’t again have an impact on the Memphis tag-team scene until 1983, when he reappeared as Spot, one of the Moondogs, along with partner Rex (Randy Colley). Although the Moondog gimmick had been around for years, the Memphis version can be traced to Capt. Lou Albano’s team, Rex and King (Sailor White, a Canadian grappler) who captured the WWF tag titles from Tony Garea and Rick Martel on March 17, 1981, in Allentown, Pa. Latham was called in for, um, Spot duty, on May 1, 1981, when the Moondog King character was put to sleep when White for some reason was not allowed to enter the United States from Canada. To explain the replacement, Inside Wrestling ran a story that King had been hit by a car he was chasing—even for the Apter mags that was farfetched.

The true origin of the gimmick was a few years earlier. Legendary wrestler Lonnie “Moondog'” Mayne ate glass, live godfish, raw eggs and canned dog food, among other things, on TV in the ’70s in Northern and Southern California and Portland, feuding with the likes of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Reportedly, Mayne’s behavior was even more crazed and erratic outside the ring. He was killed in a car accident days after conducting this interview–promoting, of all things, an upcoming “Mexican Death Match”–at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles.


Resembling nothing of his Blonde Bomber character of old, Spot was nevertheless recognized as Larry Latham by several Memphis fans. With scraggly hair and beards, Spot and Rex wore tattered blue jeans and simple black boots to the ring, always carrying their trademark oversized, dinosaur-looking bones. Jimmy Hart, at the peak of his Memphis run, supposedly had brought the Dogs into the area to sic them on the Fabulous Ones, Steve Keirn and Stan Lane.

In one of their first TV appearances, Rex and Spot shredded the beautiful sequined jackets of the Fabs before using their big bones to bloody up the blonde babyfaces. It may not sound like much of an angle, but you have to understand that these jackets had been given to the Fabs by the godfather of Memphis wrestling himself, the “Fabulous” Jackie Fargo. As girls everywhere cried, a bloodied Keirn blurted out, “We’re pissed!” on live TV—strong stuff for the day.

After taking the Fabs’ pride, the Dogs took their AWA Southern tag belts the following Monday night. The feud later escalated when the Dogs used the ring ropes as a noose of sorts, trapping Keirn’s head between the top and middle strands. Keirn dangled between the two ropes gasping for air as the crowd reacted like Pavlov’s dogs at the sight of the near-death babyface . When some babyfaces from the back made the save and finally freed Keirn, his head snapped back in dramatic fashion as his limp body crashed onto the canvas— you just knew he was dead.

Alas, Keirn didn’t die, but he was deemed unable to wrestle the following Monday night. Back then, if a guy wasn’t able to come back and work the next week, the fans bought it as a legit injury. For years, fans had seen guys take beatings and return the next Monday ready for revenge. Since Keirn was “injured,” it was up to Fargo to come out of retirement to serve up some knuckle sandwiches and show those Dogs who was the alpha male of Memphis. After hitting the dogs with everything but the kitchen sink, Fargo and Lane called in Keirn from the back. Despite his neck injury, Keirn laid in some stiff-looking shots with a 2’ x 4’ on Rex, who was left to play dead. The Dogs then played up the injury angle, leaving to tour Puerto Rico, but not before a funny video aired of them in beds literally licking their wounds as their brokenhearted master vowed revenge.

The Dogs returned over the next few years, most notably working a hot program with Lawler and Jeff Jarrett in the early ’90s. Spot and Lawler even tried to recreate their concession stand mayhem from years ago to spark the feud. By this time, Spike (Bill Smithson) had replaced Colley, who had moved on to such gimmicks as the masked Nightmare in Mid-South and as the original Smash from Demolition in the WWF. Colley came up with the Demolition gimmick for Vince McMahon, but he was unceremoniously dumped from the team and replaced by Barry Darsow (the eventual Repo Man) after too many fans recognized him under the makeup, similar to the problem with Larry Booker’s initial debut in Memphis in the Moondog role.

With Hart long gone, the Dogs had such masters as Ronnie Lotz and Richard Lee, the latter whom penned a song about his canines from the moon: “You’d better watch out for the Moondogs/Or you’ll meet your maker tonight.” Sound advice.

Never the best athletes, the Dogs were now especially limited to brawling, and administering and taking the stiffest chair shots in the business. That style suited Memphis fans just fine; however, the TV job boys weren’t exactly thrilled. This lethal litter eventually produced rookie Moondog Splat in 1995, and the young pup teamed with Spot to beat the hell out of TV jobbers. One Saturday morning, jobber Charlie Laird (who I often referred to on the air as “Charlie Lard”) learned he was working the Moondogs in a squash match and walked out on the promotion, sneaking out the back door like a scolded dog after Eddie Marlin questioned his manhood in front of the boys.

Now looking a lot like Santa Claus, Larry was one of the first who recognized my talent as a finish guy. At first, he’d find me backstage and privately ask for advice on a finish. When it came time to go over it in front of the boys, he’d give them the same finish to the match as I suggested. He did this knowing that some of the other boys might not appreciate a young punk like me coming up with the finish. Eventually, Larry would ask in the company of other boys, “What do you think, Scott?” Before long I was helping Lawler come up with finishes and angles, which didn’t exactly thrill booker Randy Hales.

After another heel run, the Moondogs were turned babyfaces to feud with my team of Tommy Rich and Buddy Landell in 1995. To set up a bout for the following Monday—a Chair-a-Mania match (in which chairs would be scattered about the ring for anyone to use)—the Dogs were booked to dish out a particularly brutal beating to Rich, Landell and … me. When I interfered to save Rich from being pinned, Splat knocked me to my knees. Rising to my feet—and keeping my back as straight as possible—Larry nailed me with a chair shot that sounded like a gun going off. Amazingly enough, it didn’t hurt—at least not until I woke up the next morning.

During next week’s Chair-a-Mania, I’m scheduled to get clobbered at the beginning of Chair-a-Mania and crawl to the back. This time, however, Larry wants to change things up, y’know, for “the people.” (The Memphis boys rarely called the fans “marks.” It was always “the people.” And scary people they could be.) Instead, I’d take this shot on the head. When I ask how I should protect myself this time, Larry looks me in the eye and laughs: “You’re better off not putting your hands up to block it—just close your eyes and take it.” Yeah, easy for him to say. Besides, I seem to recall a certain Moondog Spot using his paws to block all those chair shots from Fargo and Lane more than 10 years ago. When I mention this, he responds: “Yeah, and it looked like shit, didn’t it?” So, I listened to Larry. I took the shot, and he didn’t kill me. In accordance with the boys’ philosophy: More important than my head still being attached, it looked good on TV. For the people. That old Dog had taught me another trick of the trade.

The last time I saw Larry was at the Big One Expo Center, where the Memphis cards were relegated to during the summer of ’96. The Moondogs were, appropriately enough, scratching and clawing in the same building where the town’s largest flea market was held on the weekends.

After years of entertaining Memphis fans, Larry Booker died of a heart attack in the ring at the Mid-South Coliseum while working a match as part of a birthday celebration card for Lawler on November 29, 2003. He was 51…or 9.5 dog years.

  1. June 30th, 2010 at 13:51 | #1

    Very good article. I remember all those hot Moondog angles, and after 30 years of watching wrestling, they are still one of my favorite teams of all time. I remember the first unprotected chair shots to the head I had ever seen were delivered by the Moondogs in the early 90’s. Even though kayfabe hadn’t officially been broken at that time, I was aware that wrestling was scripted, but I was thinking “how in the hell do you do that?” I remember them beating one of the jobbers over the back with a chair one Saturday morning in front of the desk and seeing the whelps come up on the guys back, and he had this look on his face like he was going to cry. Even though most people knew it wasn’t “real” by then, we couldn’t help but be intrigued by this ultra-violent style.

    Another thing I remember about the Moondogs is once at a match at my high school gym in Batesville, Mississippi, one of the crowd punched Moondog manager Richard Lee in the jaw right next to me in my 2nd row seat. Those boys had some serious heat.

    On a more serious note, as entertaining as unprotected chairshots to the head are, and despite my love of the old Memphis territory and of classic ECW, knowing what we know now about concussions and the long-term damage they cause, it is probably best that we see less of those unprotected blows to the head nowadays.

  2. David
    June 30th, 2010 at 14:25 | #2

    Great article! However, I think Splat showed up in ’93. You gave us a teaser in this article, but I wish you’d write extensively about Randy Hales and your relationship with him.

  3. July 2nd, 2010 at 13:25 | #3

    Awesome article, Scott. I can’t believe you took an unprotected headshot! Chris Nowinski would not approve

  4. PG-13
    July 3rd, 2010 at 06:10 | #4

    I agree with David lets hear you talk about working with Hales

  5. March 21st, 2012 at 08:30 | #5

    I remember seeing the Moondogs live at Boston Garden in the early eighties. They were my favorite tag team of all time, and it is a sad comment on the state of professional wrestling today that there is no one around who can fill their shoes- er, their paws- oh, whatever.

  6. Mike Eanes
    May 5th, 2014 at 13:40 | #6

    Scott, we all miss the wrestling we had in Memphis back in the day. You guys were so much more fun to watch than the crap we see now. Trash cans & steel chairs!

    Will you, or anyone help me find the footage of the Moondogs beating the shit out of a bunch of jobbers acting as lumberjacks in the studio. They almost killed those guys with everything from the announce table, the ring bell, garbage cans you name it! I would love to watch that over and over again.
    Thanks a lot, Mike

  1. July 1st, 2010 at 07:31 | #1
  2. July 9th, 2010 at 07:59 | #2