'em up with
Leonard 'Bugs' Rucker, Part 2
Ranked right up there with Eddie Taylor as a banking genius, 'Bugs' was among the first class of inductees into both the Bank Pool and One Pocket Hall of Fame. In recent years Bugs has been suffering from the progression of diabetes, which limits his activity. This interview includes major contributions from fellow Chicagoans John Henry, Glen Rogers and Freddy Bentivegna -- all regular companions and competitors who know'Bugs' very well.
© 2006 Steve Booth, OnePocket.org
1P: You and Artie used to play?
Bugs: All the time. I couldn’t ever beat him, but I used to play him.
1P: So how did he do it? Because they say he didn’t run balls as well as other guys, and he didn’t bank as well..
Bugs: He moved so good. Then when he got close to the balls he could run out. Very few people could out move him; I don’t know none who could.
1P: So even with your banking, he was able to keep you off the banks?
Bugs: Yeah, he’d hide that ball from me.
1P: Did you ever play Clem?
Bugs: Yeah, I played him Bank; I never played him One Pocket.
1P: It sounds like Artie played the same style as Clem…
Bugs: Yeah, Artie was a tough player.
1P: John Henry told me there was another guy you used to play by the name of Hank who played that style also…
Bugs: Yeah, that’s right. Hank Montague.
Bugs & Artie Bodendorfer at the 2006
One Pocket Hall of Fame dinner
Steve Booth photo
[Continued with John Henry…]
1P: Did you ever see James Evans play?
JH: Yes, I saw him play. When I saw him play he was an old man. He was in his late 60’s. He was a good player. I remember he was playing ‘Country’. Then Cicero [Murphy] started playing; he was a young guy then, that must have been ’58 or ’59 or something like that.
1P: I guess he had trouble with his eyes when he got older.
JH: Him and Marvin, their big downfall was drinking. He was one of the greatest players that I’ve seen, but he was like Ralph Greenleaf; drinking was his downfall. When he got old he was drunk every day. When he started drinking whiskey, just like Marvin, he couldn’t stop.
1P: You mean Marvin Henderson?
JH: Yes. It was the whiskey, something about whiskey. He was like an Indian, when he started drinking whiskey he just went crazy.
1P: Marvin was good at all the games too.
JH: Great, great player. You know what happened to Marvin, don’t you? Marvin was playing as good as anybody in the world and he was going from ‘Frisco to Los Angeles and his car broke down on the side of the highway and he was fixing his car. A car ran into him and broke his leg in 12 different places. That’s why you saw him with a limp. He had to quit playing pool for about two or three years. He was never quite as good as he was before he got hit.
1P: That is a shame; he must have been a great player. So what kind of a player was the Youngblood fellow that Bugs learned from?
JH: Youngblood would play everybody that would come to Chicago. He told anybody that came that they would be his guest. He would play them on any table they wanted. Cornbread was a five by ten player; he was the greatest five by ten player. So when he got there, Blood said, ‘I hear you like to play five by ten.’ He said, ‘I want to play you, you’re my guest.’ He said, ‘You’re an amateur bank player so I have to spot you,’ so he told Cornbread he would play him ten to seven. He won the break, made a ball on the break and ran ten. So Blood says, ‘I’m out’. But Cornbread says, ‘No, you made two balls on the break so you only have nine.’ So they argued about it for a little while. So Blood was a little nutty and he turned and said, ‘Look Cornbread, if you wanted more spot why didn’t you ask before the game started?’ Cornbread wanted to play some more but Blood wouldn’t play no more because he said Cornbread wouldn’t play fair.
1P: So he would take on all the challengers that came in the door?
JH: What you had to tell is, you had to tell him your name. If you walked in there; they might call you something, let’s say they call you 'Swamp Rat'. He’d want to know, what is your real name? And if you asked him what difference that makes, he said, ‘It makes a lot of difference. I’m going to play you at pool. If something happens, I want to know your name so I can report you. How can I go to the police and tell them a guy named 'Swamp Rat' did this?’
John Henry -- the first man to take Bugs
on the road
Steve Booth photo
1P: That’s the way Youngblood was?
JH: Yeah, and he wouldn’t play no amateur person. You had to have a reputation for him to play you. When you first come there looking for him, he’d say, ‘Who have you beat?’ Or he’d ask, ‘Are you a champion?’ If you said no, then he’d say, ‘John Henry, play this guy,’ or he’d pick out somebody else to play you. He’d say, ‘I’m going to watch you play and I can tell you whether I’ll play you, because I haven’t heard of you and I don’t recognize your name.’ You had to prove that you were a good player before you could play him.
|1P: Did he make the trip down to Johnston City too?
JH: Yeah, he tried to play for five years. One year he went to play in Johnston City; I think it was in ’66. What happened was, he put his money in that he was going to play before the tournament started. Maybe it was ’67. When he got there, Joey Spaeth was there, so Joey Spaeth said, ‘Do you want to play some banks?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ So ‘Blood got his stick and he put the balls on the table. They started playing bank for $100 a game. Cornbread and all of them were there. ‘Blood beat him the first game, I think 8 to 2 or something like that. So Joey Spaeth said, ‘I’ll go get the money.’ So Blood was waiting for Joey Spaeth to go and get him the money, and it took him like 20 minutes to get $100. So he came back and paid Blood but Blood put his stick away and said, ‘That’s all; you ain’t got no money.’ And Joey Spaeth called him a name. So he got one of the Jansco Brothers to get him to apologize. He said, ‘I want him to apologize to me in front of all these people.’ So Joey Spaeth said he’s sorry to George Jansco, but he wouldn’t do it in front of all those people, so Blood left without playing in the tournament. It was the same year that Cicero won.
1P: So that was the first year that a black guy could play?
JH: I think it was ’67. We used to go there in like ’61 or ’62. We could play for money but we couldn’t play in the tournament.
One year, maybe ’65 or ’66, they had a vote for the black players; they took a hat around and when they counted the hat it was even. Then another player walks up to the door and they said, ‘This guy is the deciding vote.’ He’s going to write his yes or no and put it in the hat. He wrote no, so we didn’t get to play that year. Finally the next year they were able to play and that’s why Cicero went in the [BCA] Hall of Fame, because he was the first black guy to win. But definitely ‘Blood was there.
Javanley 'Youngblood' Washington
For years he spotted Bugs 10-8 in Banks
Photo courtesy Fred Bentivegna
1P: I never realized that happened at Johnston City.
JH: Cornbread, they all know Blood. Blood played all of them. Whoever won a championship came to my poolroom. I had a poolroom for 30 years. They would come to my poolroom looking for action. I had Bugs, Youngblood, a guy named Odell; they would play anybody. Blood would play anybody that came there. So when the tournament was over they all came down for two or three days; they stayed there just to play pool because nothing could happen to them there. Nobody ever got robbed there. You couldn’t get a $20 bet in some poolrooms but you could come in my poolroom and bet $200 or $300. That was way back in the 50’s or 60’s. Plus everybody always bet on the hometown guys. So a guy could win $2000 or $3000 at anytime and that was a lot of money back then.
1P: So after the Johnston City tournament ended a lot of players made the trip up to Chicago?
JH: Yeah, all the good players came here -- my poolroom and another guy’s poolroom where Blood hung out at 53rd Street. All the good players played Blood. Eddie Taylor played him. Clem used to play him.
Bugs was a good player when he was 19 years old and he was a great player at 25 years old. But Blood never thought he could play pool. Blood always spotted him. He played Bugs 10 to 8 playing banks. And I remember the first day Bugs finally beat him. He gave Bugs 10 to 8 like he always did and Bugs used my stick. So Bugs finally beat Blood; beat him by four games. So I said, ‘Look Blood, you’ve been spotting this guy for the last 10 or 12 years and I’m just going to say you’re the best bank player, but why don’t you play even.’ He said, ‘I’m not going to play him even. I spotted him for 10 years and if he wants to play me he has to spot me for 10 years.’ They never played even.
One time when he got out of the nuthouse there was a guy named Masked Marvel going around. He was making a statement that he was going to play pool at a certain place, and this guy was beating everybody. So when Blood got out of the nuthouse we told him about the Masked Marvel, and he started practicing. Three weeks later the Masked Marvel came to town and Blood made an appointment to play him and he said, ‘They say you beat everybody; can’t nobody beat you, so I came down to play you.’ And the Masked Marvel said, ‘If you beat me you can pull the mask off.’ So the Masked Marvel says, ‘What do you want to play?’ Blood says, ‘I’ll play you some Bank Pool.’ So they start playing and Blood banked some fives, sixes and sevens. Blood beat him seven games in a row. So after Blood beat him, the guy pulled the mask off and says, ‘You can have the mask, but I’m not going to play you any more Banks! You can keep this mask.’
Everybody found out that this guy was named California Red. He was a California State Champion. He was putting on an exhibition with Mosconi. He would go around with a mask on so nobody would know him so he could play pool. Youngblood was the only guy in Chicago who beat the Masked Marvel.
1P: Do you know what Youngblood’s real name was?
JH: Javanley Washington.
1P: And he was originally from Chicago?
JH: From Chicago. The story that he told everyone, the reason we call him Youngblood is his mother and father they were on the poor side, his father was a lazy guy so when his mother would go to work she would leave him to baby-sit and he liked to drink so he would take him to the bar and set him on the pool table. His father was a bartender. When Blood got big enough he would shoot pool. When he got eight or nine he could beat everyone around him. He would hustle drinks while playing pool.
1P: When he was just a kid?
JH: That’s why they called him Youngblood. When he got to be 11 years old he could beat everyone in the neighborhood. When he got to be 15 he was able to go in the poolroom and he loved the big table because he had a lot of room plus he was tall enough to reach the ball and he just played and played pool. His father would hustle people to play him so they could buy him some whiskey, because his father was a lazy guy. He made a lot of money for his father. His father just died a few years ago. His father owned the whole block, which all started from Blood.
1P: He ended up owning the whole block?
JH: Yeah, because he started getting one place, then another from what Blood was winning. That’s the story of Youngblood.
[continued with Glen ‘Piggy Banks’ Rogers and Freddy ‘The Beard’ Bentivegna]
1P: John Henry was telling me that Bugs had a bet where he would throw the cue ball and one ball out on the table and wherever they stopped, he would bank that ball for all the money.
GR: Yeah, that was Bugs. I’ll tell you another fellow who did that was Javanley Washington, his name was Youngblood.
1P: Oh, so that’s where Bugs got that!
FB: Yeah, Youngblood was a monster because he could call things. Like he would call that he was going to bank six and out. I’m talking about the original Youngblood. He was a little bedbug too; a little looney.
1P: He’s still alive apparently.
GR: He might have been the greatest Banks player that ever lived.
FB: Yeah, if he had a shot and liked the layout, he’d say, ‘That’s all; it’s all over now.’ He talked kind of sissy like. He’d say, ‘You’ve lost this game,’ and he needs like six! And then he would bet; in incredible situations, he would bet he would get all the balls! And he won a lot like that.
When I was a kid I wanted to play him. It was brutal. He’d say, ‘I can’t play you, you’re an amateur; I’m a professional. I can’t play an amateur player.’ That really broke my heart because I was trying to give him some money, but he would not play sucker action. He only wanted to play top guys.
GR: He didn’t want to play no amateurs. The story on Javanley Washington, which is Youngblood, Chicago’s finest. He was playing Bugs one day and Bugs had him down to his last money and Bugs was on the hill. Javanley Washington told a guy on the side, ‘I bet another $100 I bank out.’ There were seven, eight balls on the table and he needed everything. So Bugs took the bet and Alfonso got so mad at Bugs because he took that bet. Javanley Washington banked the first ball, and sure enough he banks all the way out. Can you imagine how strong that is? This guy bet his last money that he’s going to bank out and his opponent is on the hill! You can imagine the pressure that was. This man was a phenomenal banker. There are some untold stories about him.
Billy Palmer, 'Bucktooth' and 'Bugs'
Photo courtesy Grady Mathews
FB: Alfonso tells some terrific stories. He used to go get Youngblood when he was in the booby hatch over on Herman Park. Alfonso used to meet him; he used to scale the wall to escape. Then he’d take him to the west side to go play Lefty, John Chapman. He’d still have the hospital band on his arm! Those were like world series tournaments.
1P: When he played Cannonball?
FB: Yeah, Cannonball at his heyday. These were phenomenal matches. Youngblood was from the south side and Lefty from the west side. So they used to exchange playing back and forth and it was a back and forth deal how they played, because Lefty could really play then.
GR: Have you ever seen somebody draw the cue ball four rails?
GR: I see these guys here that are playing bank now and they have no clue about people like Freddy, Alfonso, Youngblood, Lefty [Johnny 'Cannonball' Chapman], Eddie Taylor, Clem; all those great players.
FB: I’ve got a great story about Lefty; I don’t know if you ever heard of Mexican Johnny?
1P: I’ve heard of him, but don’t know much about him. Is he still playing around Chicago, like in Chris’s Billiards?
FB: No, he’s dead. He’s been dead for a while. He died in LA. He left town. He had borrowed $200 for the juice from one of the mob guys and he couldn’t pay it back so he left town. And the guy who lent the money was sick; he tried to put out, please come back. In those days they used to break your arm if you didn’t pay. But this guy wanted Johnny back in town. ‘Please tell him he’ll owe nothing; just come back.’ Just for the action. The guy that lent the money had some bars with pool tables in it.
Anyway, Mexican Johnny was one of the top players around Chicago. If the road players came to town they had to get through Johnny. He played everything, five by ten pool and pretty good bank. So, when I was starting to get pretty good myself, he was my first target. So he’s telling me he played Lefty on the West Side. So I asked Johnny, ‘What’s the game? What does Lefty give you?’ And he said, ‘14 to 8.’ I said, ‘What?! How in the f**king Christ does he give you 14 to 8 playing bank? How could you lose?’ Johnny said, ‘Shit, man, that ain’t such a good game!’ He said, ‘Lefty gets a shot; he banks 11, he banks 12, he banks 9.’ Fourteen to eight and he’s still playing under! I couldn’t believe it because Mexican Johnny really was a top player.
John 'Cannonball' Chapman (also known as 'Lefty' )
Photo courtesy Fred Bentivegna
GR: We had some heck of a lot of good stories in pool. Some of the guys is dead and gone who have played the game that set the tone for some of these guys playing now. I’d like to see guys like Cannonball and Youngblood go in the books.
1P: Freddy, you were telling me about a partners game with Jack Cooney -- was that with Bugs?
FB: That was Jack and Artie. They were playing a friend of mine, Grady Humphries. It was Artie and Jack against Grady Humphries. Playing them about 8 to 5 or something. And Artie fired Jack. Artie had been afraid of Jack. Artie was afraid of everybody. I don’t know why, he beat everybody. But now he’s playing partners with Jack and he gets to see Jack’s shot selection and he sees weaknesses there. I mean weaknesses to Artie, who was the greatest mover that ever breathed.
1P: So you guys in Chicago have the tradition of the banking plus the moving. No wonder you’ve produced so many great players!
FB: I’ll be honest with you, all of the moves, a lot of the movers really come from Chicago. Like Nate out of California, he’s living in Washington now. All those guys hung around North Shore Billiards and Bensinger’s. Chicago originated some of the best movers in the history of pool.
1P: Plus bankers. That combination, that’s tough to beat in One Pocket. And you guys use a lot of safety play in your Bank Pool too, right?
FB: 'Chicago squeeze' they call it.
GR: Freddy was real good at that. I ain’t never played any pool player in history who was squeezing that way. Bugs wouldn’t squeeze like that. When Efren came here. This guy here was the one who showed Efren about the moves of one-pocket.
FB: I finally got it on paper. I got him to write that down. Thanks for teaching me. I got him yesterday when I got some autographs to put up in the basement. ‘Freddy, thank you for teaching me how to play one-pocket.’
GR: Bugs would always give me two hit and the pick. He beat me for a long time like that; even when I beat people that he couldn’t beat giving a ball. He couldn’t beat Howard with a ball and Scotty and all them people with a ball. But he can give me two and I couldn’t beat him. So I just told him, ‘Well, I don’t want to play you if I can’t beat you with two. I don’t know what you’re doing to me.’
Grady Mathews and Fred Bentivegna congratulate Bugs on his induction into the Bank Pool
category of our Hall of Fame at
last year's Hall of Fame dinner
Steve Booth photo
Then I got him drunk one day. Bugs used to like that six-pack and a half a pint. So we got real blasted, him and I. I could out drink anybody then. That’s when he told me, ‘You learn how to hold that rock and work out of that patch you’re going to be a great player like me.’ I said ‘Oh, what do you mean by that?’ So Bugs says, ‘This is a patch.’ So he spread the balls around in a circle and stuck the cue in the patch. He hits a ball and slides to the right a little bit; he gets perfect shape. He makes another ball and slides to the left a little. I said now I see what the patch means. We sat there until 4:00 a.m. and I’m playing him for $20 a game, and I had a big bankroll.
When I picked that patch up, about a week later I came down and beat Bugs, I beat him all that day with just a ball. Then I knew I had it. That’s when I started branching out and playing all those great players. It’s amazing what one person can teach you. And Bugs passed it to me, the patch.
1P: I never heard of the patch.
GR: 90% of the pool players playing pool right now don’t know the patch. They bank and swing.
1P: Well you’ve got to be real confident in your banking to go for the patch!
Glen 'Piggy Banks' Rogers
Diana Hoppe photo
[October, 2006 follow-up with Bugs]
1P: How are you feeling?
Bugs: Oh, I'm feeling pretty good.
1P: Do you have the use of your legs a little bit?
Bugs: Not real good.
1P: So you're getting around in the chair?
Bugs: No, I'm walking with a cane.
1P: Oh, that's great; you weren't walking last time I saw you! So that operation helped out some...
Bugs: Yeah, it helped a little.
1P: Are you getting out at all?
Bugs: Not too much. There's no place to go.
1P: Well I was just wondering if you were thinking about going to Louisville in January, for the big Derby City tournament.
Bugs: I was thinking about it.
1P: Well this year we've got a couple of old friends of yours on the ballot for our Hall of Fame, Cannonball Chapman and Youngblood Washington.
Bugs: Yeah, they deserve to be in there.
1P: Youngblood was the guy that pretty much got you going as a great banker, right?
Bugs: Yeah, he was before me. He was a little inspiration.
1P: How about Cannonball; what kind of a player was he?
Bugs: He was a great player. He played all games good.
1P: You played him quite a few times?
1P: How did that go?
Bugs: Well in his latter career I beat him pretty good. In the beginning I couldn't beat him, but I was really just learning.
1P: So it got to a point where you could. Now that's the same thing that happenend with you and Youngblood, right?
Bugs: Uh huh.
1P: I've been told he spotted you 10-8 for about ten years, until he told you that you had to give him 10-8 for the next ten. Did you do that?
Bugs: No, I never spotted him.
1P: Did you guys just stop playing at that point?
Bugs: Yeah, we stopped playing. He was very temperamental; he couldn't stand to lose too much. He didn't like to lose, so we just quit playing.
1P: Did you see him play some of those other great players, like Clem [Eugene Metz]?
Bugs: Yeah, I've seen him play Clem.
1P: Was that Banks or One Pocket?
Bugs: Bank; he and Clem never played One Pocket to my knowledge.
1P: Youngblood would have had an edge in Banks, though.
Bugs: Oh yeah.
1P: Did Clem try to squeeze playing Banks, too?
Bugs: There wasn't much Clem could do.
1P: Did you ever see him play Taylor?
Bugs: No, I didn't get a chance to see them play.
1P: You must have seen him play Canonball...
Bugs: Yeah, I've seen that.
1P: Did they play even, then?
Bugs: Uh huh.
1P: Did it pretty much go back and forth?
Bugs: Yeah, they beat each other, but Youngblood was the best player.
1P: Would you say he banked better than anybody you ever saw?
Bugs: Well, I would say him and Eddie Taylor.
1P: He's a good candidate for the Hall of Fame, then. So, Bugs, who taught you about the patch; was that something you just picked up yourself?
Bugs: No, Eddie Taylor.
1P: But you have to be a real confident banker, right?
Bugs: Yeah, stay close to your shots.
1P: So you picked that up from Eddie Taylor?
1P: Well that figures!
Click here if you missed Part 1 of this interview
Photos by Steve Booth (except where noted); all rights reserved.
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