Remember the six musical frogs you used to see out the car window frolicking on the gas pump roof at Carl’s Corner, the funky old truck stop on Interstate 35 East near Hillsboro?
There aren’t many highway highlights along the tedious drive from Austin to Dallas. But along with the Turkey Shop in Abbott and the Czech Stop in West, the 10-foot frogs, playing musical instruments and dancing, provided an entertaining break from the monotony.
Good news for you roadside art fans: If you want to revisit the frogs, you can catch some of them in Dallas, on top of the Taco Cabana in Lower Greenville, a part of Dallas somewhat similar to Austin’s Warehouse District, only with more mousse.
“It ain’t Vegas, but it’s good enough,” said Bob “Daddy-O” Wade, who lives in Austin. Wade is the artist who created the frog sculptures in 1983 for Shannon Wynne, who put them on the roof of Tango, his night club at 1827 Greenville Ave.
What goes around comes around, right? The Taco Cabana where the frogs have resettled sits at the same Lower Greenville address as the long-gone Tango nightclub.
“What a deal,” Wade said. “They go back to the same spot. That’s pretty spooky.”
Wade thinks Wynne paid him $25,000 for the frogs. “Which for ’83 wasn’t too bad,” Wade said.
No kidding. That’s almost $4,167 a frog. That’s a lot of clams for a frog.
You can’t see all six frogs in Dallas. Only three of the original sextet made the trip to Taco Cabana. The other three serve as a mariachi ensemble at a Chuy’s in Nashville. Hey, that’s what happens with bands; even the Beatles split up.
The frogs have a history. Their appearance on Tango in 1983 set the Dallas sign police into a tizzy. “They were motorized and they had a little gizmo that made them go around in a circle and forwards and backwards,” Wade recalled. “And Tango played Tijuana Brass on loudspeakers.”
The problem wasn’t the noise. The frogs were more than decor, the Dallas Sign Control Board of Adjustment said. The board contended the frogs served as a sign for the nightclub, so they had to go. During the case, Wade was asked what dance his frogs were doing. Could it be the tango, same as the club name?
Wade said the sign cops were trying to prove the frogs amounted to advertising: “I told them, ‘I’m not a frog expert, I don’t know what kind of dances they do.’”
Wade should have told them the frogs were doing the hokey pokey. Or as Wade put it, “The croaky pokey.” Either way, the frogs won and stayed on top of the nightclub.
Wades’ frogs have moved around enough to land their own TV show on the Travel Channel.
After Tango closed in ’84, the frogs went south to Carl’s Corner, a truck stop that at various times was equipped with a topless bar, a drive-in theater for truckers and a flea market inside what had been an indoor swimming pool in the basement.
In 1986, three of the frogs — two dancing frogs and a horn player — were stuck on a flatbed truck and hauled around Texas for a sculpture tour sponsored by Austin’s Laguna Gloria Art Museum. Wade, who served as the band’s roadie, said, “They logged 2,000 miles on that run.”
In 1987, the trio of frogs returned to Carl’s Corner, but three years later, disaster struck. “Fire burns Carl’s to the ground — FROGS UNHARMED!” it says here on Wade’s written frog travel notes. Then, in 2009, after Carl’s had been rebuilt, the frogs were relocated to the entrance of Willie’s Place Saloon at one end of the truck stop.
“They were like the doorman,” Wade said.
Three years later, the truck stop was sold, and the frogs moved across the highway to Carl’s house, where they became yard art.
Todd Coerver, chief operating officer of the Lower Greenville Taco Cabana, says the business decided to buy the frogs to help revitalize the Lower Greenville area. But he won’t say how much it cost to land them.
“Lower Greenville is such a whimsical area that we thought they just fit there,” Coerver said.
Swell. But is Taco Cabana planning to start serving frogs legs?
“No, we are not,” he said.