Interview with Sonny Sykes
“HOW OLD ARE YOU?” was my first question! “I’m 47 years old and I was 9 years old when I saw my first dogfight. “Where were you last night? What’s all that hair in your mouth, you son of a bitch?” I looked at him while he was sitting across the table with a big smile on his face. Sonny Sykes lived in Chicago when he was a young man, just around the corner from the blacksmith shop where Joe Corvino kept all his dogs. Sonny, like Joe, was from Italian background and it was Sonny’s uncle who brought him to Joe for the first time.
While I was talking to Sonny, I noticed a T-shirt hanging on the wall in his living room. On the front of the shirt it said, “The King of the Pit.” Later on he said that the only true King in the Pit was Bert Clouse. This and other lively statements made this interview one of the most interesting so far and, with the permission of Sonny, I would like to dedicate this interview to all the great old time Chicago dogmen, but in particular to Joe Corvino.
We at THE TIMES are proud to bring you this exclusive interview withSonny Sykes and we trust you will appreciate his colorful stories and great old time pictures which would make an entire book themselves.
Read the rest of the story and drift back into an era long ago through the eyes of Sonny Sykes who has been a dogman for 38 years…
Sonny, where did you get your first dog? I got my first puppy from Joe Corvino when I was about 8 or 9 years old. I remember I was in the third grade and that little female lived to be 18 years old. I had her well into my first marriage. I bred her once to a Corvino bred male called JONESY, but it missed and I never bred her again.
What type of man was Joe? Well, he was Italian, very nice and very knowledgeable man. He would talk, but also he would keep a lot of things to himself. He was very hard to please and in my heart I believe that he was ahead of his time. He had a lot of friends in the dog game, everywhere…he always had a lot of guys coming to his blacksmith shop where he worked, but none of them would last very long. He taught me a lot about dogs and even how to shoe a horse. I spent a lot of time in that blacksmith shop and to be honest with you, I believe it kept me out of serious trouble. Other kids would go out and do crazy, stupid things but I spent my time over there.
Was Joe like a father figure to you? Maybe so, but I always looked at him as a friend although he was much older than me. When I met him he was already 50 years old. To me he was like a big brother type. You see, Joe had 9 children, 4 boys and 5 girls, but not one of his kids liked the dogs because he forced them to take care of them, like cleaning the kennels and stuff like that. Now, I was hungry for that, I loved the dogs.
Who were Joe’s best friends? He had many friends. He was very good friends with Bert Clouse, Earl Tudor, Walter Komosinski, Pete Sparks, Leo Kinard, George Saddler, Jack Kelly, Maurice Carver, Mike Ferris, Wiz Hubbard, and so many others… Joe also knew the old Irish men like Con Feely, Pat Conroy, the Farmer brothers, and also John Colby.
Did he tell you how he got started in the dogs? Yes, he told me one time that he stole his very first dog from an Irish saloon keeper and when he got home with the dog he broke it’s front legs because he wanted a dog that was toed in. He was just 8 or 9 years old at the time. Pete Sparks one time put on the cover of his magazine that Corvino stole his first dog and that he stole the show ever since. Pete Sparks had a real good magazine in those days called Your Friend and Mine. Pete only matched one dog in his life. He was not a dogfighter, but he was a breeder and a publicist. He was also basically a Colby breeder and I hear his dogs are doing pretty good these days, even better than in the old days. Joe told me that Con Feely was a good dogman, very hard to beat. A real dogfighter that I believe was born in Ireland. The same goes for the Farmer brothers. They, too, were Irish and very, very tough competition. In those days around that turn of the century, Chicago was the hotbed for fighting dogs because of all the good dogmen that came from Ireland. They were the ones that brought the dogs with them when they came from Europe to this country. Up until those days the dog game was an Irish sport and don’t let anybody tell you different! Joe started with dogs from Feely bloodline and he also got dogs from Jack Williams from Colorado. Not from the Williams from Oklahoma, but from Colorado. These dogs were from Bruce’s LADY LOU and TURK and they too were basically Feely’s blood. Joe also got dogs from a man named Cunningham who was from Southern Illinois. He also got dogs from Menefee and from Tudor. Joe knew a lot of people and he traveled a lot. Like I said before, he knew Colby and I’ve just showed you some letters that proved to you the kind of relationship they had.
What were the best combinations that Joe ever made? I would say the Feely-Menefee crosses. That’s what basically produced Trahan’s RASCAL and DIBO. You see, Joe didn’t breed as close as people think he did. He would breed similar breed males to outcross bitches and breed that together. But, he always said; “These dogs are goofy enough already.” Joe was a devoted game freak. He didn’t like anything more than a deep game dog that would fight the head. That was his belief and that is what I’ve been taught. A dog that will stay on the face or the ear and keep himself out of trouble. Joe didn’t like a stifle dog. He always said that a dog that would go to the back-end was running away from the action, and that he would go to the stifles because there is no teeth there. Joe really liked the smart head master and so do I.
Was Joe a gambler? No. He was strictly in the dogs. Usually we would go to a convention or something like that and go early so he could see the other guys come in with their dogs, etc. He liked that. Joe was more interested in how the dogs did and how the bloodlines compared to each other and all that.
Joe was more a breeder than a fighter, right? Right. He was definitely a breeder type. But, he would test his dogs hard, real hard!
How did he do that? Where would he draw the line? Well, you have no idea of what I saw in the blacksmith shop. Like I already said, he had no use for a punishing dog. He was looking for gameness. So he put a hard test on them. He would put two or three dogs on one just to see if he would stay solid. And, if they didn’t pass the test, he got rid of them. He wouldn’t sell or breed them if they weren’t game. He sometimes used a muzzle on a dog so they couldn’t take a hold and frustrated them to see how they did under pressure.
How do you feel about this method now? Do you like to use two or three dogs if you want to test a dog’s gameness? No. I don’t do it. I’ve tried it but I would never do that again. I had dogs that wouldn’t even fight a fresh dog, but you put them in shape, and they would fight their heart out against the same opponent. Now Joe would never test a dog before he was 2 years old. He maybe would see if they would start up, but he never rolled them hard before 2 years old. He would never match a dog before he was 3 years old. I’ll tell you something. If you really want to test a dog, you don’t have to put 2 or 3 dogs on him. It’s very simple. Take them off the chain without any conditioning, and put the against a 5 or 10 pound bigger dog. That will show you something. Let them push that weight for about 15 or 20 minutes and you’ll see! That’s what I would do and did do. I guarantee you that they will quit quicker from the heat than they will from getting hurt!
I heard about some people in the old days putting a muzzle on both dogs and letting them wrestle as a form of exercise. What do you think of that? That’s very possible, but another thing is, put a muzzle on a dog and let him chase a hide for awhile. If you let that go for more than 5 or 6 minutes, you will kill your dog! He gets so mad from chasing that hide that he hurts himself from the inside. When you take that muzzle away, he can hardly stand from all the inside fat that is coming out. It’s good exercise, but no more than 30 seconds. The Cajuns use that a lot for putting a dog in shape. I don’t have to because I know how to cut the inside fat out and bring them down to weight before the working starts. If you do it right, your dog will…listen! The trick is this; have your dog 1 or 1 ½ pounds underweight about 2 weeks before the fight, and the last 2 weeks put the weight back on so he will be just a little underweight at fight time. Everybody does it different, but this is how I do it. I have my own way of conditioning a dog and believe me a dog should never have trouble breathing while he is being worked. Why am I telling you all these secrets, you son of a bitch? Next Subject!
Is that how they did it in the old days? Yes! The ones that knew how to do it. But not everybody knew how to do it.
How important is conditioning to you? Very important. I believe it’s 70% of the fight. Peter, it’s like this; if they can’t breath, they can’t fight. The heart sends a message to the brain and oxygen is the whole thing. If you can’t breath you can’t run, let alone fight. There is a thing now they do these days to build up red blood cells to improve the oxygen level in the bloodstream and this and that, but there is nothing that will take the place of hard work. Nothing can replace hard work!
What was the deal between Howard Heinzl and Joe Corvino?Well, first I want to say that Heinzl has always been good to me. He sent me plenty of dogs that I always liked and did good with. I have nothing bad to say about Heinzl; he and I got along good. I beat Mike Ferris with a dog he sent me, and he sent me all his dogs for free! But, what is right is right, and what is wrong is wrong. Joe and Heinzl didn’t get along good and the fight between them started in the time when Heinzl still lived in Chicago. Heinzl was born in Chicago and later on he moved with his partner Bruce Johnson to Arizona to start a lettuce farm, but they went down. Anyway, Heinzl had his dogs from Colby and didn’t have a place to keep them. So Joe boarded his dogs, and the deal was that Heinzl paid him 25 cents per day(per dog) for the feed. Later on, Joe raised it to something like 30 cents because it was the depression and in that time it was hard to find meat for dogs. Heinzl thought Joe wanted to keep the dogs for himself and that’s how the feud started, for no other reason. Heinzl keep that hate with him for all those years. That was between Joe and Heinzl, but there was something else too! Heinzl and a man named Bud Morelli stole one of Joe’s dogs when his son, Joe jr., was walking the dog down the street. The dog was named BLACKIE and after Heinzl stole the dog he sent him to Earl Tudor. Joe found out about this and Earl also knew what happened, but he never returned the dog to Joe. Joe and Earl were good friends and they remained friends, but the friendship was a little cool after this incident.
Did Joe keep a lot of dogs at his place? He lived in the city and he had limited space. He had kennels for about 12 to 15 dogs and he cooked for them every day. He always had a man living above the shop and this man would take care of the dogs as Joe was always working, shoeing horses and stuff. But he had numerous people in the city that had only 1 or 2 dogs and he always kept track of them.
Joe built his own treadmills. Did he prefer to work a dog on a treadmill more than anything else? No, his first choice washandwalking, but then he preferred the treadmill. He had a turn table but didn’t like it. So he sold the table to Bert Clouse and it is still working. Bert Clouse is dead, but the table is still at his place and it still works. Joe built the best treadmills. He had slatmills and todays mills are copies of his. Colbly had a carpet mill, but Joe liked the slats more.
How do you work a dog on a treadmill? A dog should work a mill like he is going to town looking for a female, and that’s a slow tread. I don’t like a dog to go all out because it will burn him out and not put him in shape. That steady trot with his tongue hanging out his mouth, that’s it! Remember this, many a fighter lost his fight in the gym. I believe that a lot of guys are working are overworking the dog. Today there is a better understanding of how to put the dog in shape. In the old days… well, they brought them in skin and bones. If you feed a dog nothing but meat for 20 or 30 days, the protein will take all the fat out of the body and there is nothing left. Now a few guys did it different, like Ham Morris and Walter Komosinski. They did pretty good, but the rest… it was like this, if you had 20 guys in those days to match a dog, 15 of them couldn’t get Lassie to shake hands. Understand?
Who do you believe was the best conditioners in those days? I would say Don Mayfield and Roland Fontenot.
Why? You just said that some people would take too much weight off them, and Mayfield had a reputation of bringing in dogs that were real thin! That’s true, but for those days he was a good conditioner. Now today he wouldn’t stand a chance because he still sticks to the old way. I saw him in his last fight with a dog named SNOW against CHARLIE (which was Jeep’s litter brother) and he didn’t have a chance! Mayfield would bring his dogs in peaked out. Fontenot brought them in like that too, but he slowly progressed with the new way of doing things, and he fought right up until his death.
Who do you believe were the best handlers? Fontenot and Jerome Hernandez were very good handlers. To me they were probably the best all around dogmen.
How important is a good handler to you? Real important. But there is no need to jump up and down and holler and scream when they go at it hard and fast like most do the first 20 minutes or so. Nobody should be acting crazy or wild in the pit because the other dog can hear you as good as your own dog. I think the handling is important when it comes down to the nitty gritty, when they are tired and hurt, or when the turning starts. When it comes down to that moment of truth and a dogfight becomes a real dogfight the handling, like the conditioning and gameness are extremely important, no doubt in my mind!
You told me before that when you were in the pit handling a dog you didn’t like to use a wet sponge. Why not? If you bring that dog fit to fight he don’t need a shower in his corner. I’m not against wiping his mouth out a little bit, but I’ve seen guys wetting them down and that, to me, is just teaching the dog that there is a cool spot in the corner. I don’t think you will make a game dog quit by doing this but if you have a borderline case, a dog is going to think about it. You can’t stop a game dog by throwing a whole bucket of ice water over him but I just don’t like it.
What was the longest match you ever had? Three hours and 10 minutes, and ended in a draw. I was going into Red Howell from Chicago. This was a long time ago before dogfighting became a felony. I’m not active anymore, but I remember that the weight was 48lbs and that I used a dog out of Clouse’s BUTCH. Howell’s dog died but I matched mine 6 months later against Mike Ferris and won in 1 hour and 10 minutes. Mike used a dog that Floyd Boudreaux had shipped to him with a special intention to beat me.
What was the shortest match you ever had? Against Clyde Mason in 6 minutes. I won that one with my AUDREY bitch. She was a STU FOWLER/Mayfield cross.
Did you work these dogs the same way? Yes, they worked the same way, but had nothing to do with the outcome of the fight. They had different opponents.
What can you tell me about Bert Clouse? Bert was a very good person and a good dogman. He was truly the King of the Pit, and a great conditioner in those days. By today’s standard, he would probably be average. But in those days, he was one of the best! Bert was very knowledgeable and well read. Bert, like Joe, liked the head dog and he would usually come with an athletic type of dog. He once had a dog called BUTCH that he got from Joe. He won 6 fights with the dog. BUTCH was a Mason bred dog. Joe bought him from Jimmie Sheer in Louisiana where they used BUTCH in a gate fight. Joe knew the dog was pretty good so he paid $50 for the dog and took him back to Chicago. When Bert came over he liked the dog so much that he asked Joe to sell it to him. Bert kept around 35 to 40 dogs at his place and he had some good ones. He had NUBBIE, WAGGIE, BIG BOY…and others. This was back in the forties and fifties. Bert, like many others, got his first dog from Joe.
What is the best dog you ever matched yourself? A dog called BOB. He came from a man named Eichen in New York. He was a black dog, 46lbs and sired by Clouse’s STABBER. I bet Teal and Cotton’s 5 times winner PLAYBOY with him and prior to that he won over Komosinski in 1 hour and 40 minutes. He was, by far, the greatest dog I ever handled. Several people owned him before I got him, and I found out that he was matched in 5 different states all under different names. He and my SNUBBY bitch were poisoned and he died in my hands. He and SNUBBY were two of my best.
What was your relation to Don Mayfield? Real good friends. Don had all those LIGHTNING I and LIGHTNING II dogs. They were Corvino bred dogs, but later when I got out of the game he switched to the NIG stuff.
They say Don Mayfield now is crazy, do you believe that’s true? Well, I believe he was crazier before with all that speed and stuff, but to me he is an open book. Anyway, I feel sorry for the ones that are not crazy in this crazy world.
What about Mayfield as a breeder? Ever tried any NIG bred dogs from his breedings? I had no luck with them. I got dogs straight from a friend who bought them from Mayfield. His name is Paul Siofakis. He lived down there in Texas for a while, but now he is back in Chicago. I’m not saying that these dogs are not good, but I just had no luck with them, they all quit! The same with Patrick and Hammonds bred dogs. I’ve tried dogs that Bob Lowery bought from Patrick and I kept them for months and years, gave them every chance possible, but they didn’t turn out.
Back to the conditioners. Why do you believe that Mayfield was so successful in his days? I don’t know. He just was capable of getting more out of a dog than most other people, but again there were only a few guys active in those days.
Maybe he already had some knowledge about the use of steroids? Maybe that’s the reason why, I don’t know. Some people are just blessed with a gift, but there is only one person that knows and that is Don Mayfield.
What is your general impression on today’s breeders? There are two different categories. I have no great love for Sorrells from Florida, but in my heart I would rank him as a good breeder and a good dogman and believe me, there are not many that I would say this about. Patrick and Hammonds are breeding for a different purpose, but Sorrells is active and he uses what he breeds. You see, I have no use for a breeder that is not active at all.
Part Two: An Interview With Legendary Dogmam Sonny Sykes
Do you believe the dogs are more a money game to some people? I don’t know if it is. But if that’s the case, then we made it a money game. Money ain’t going to buy good dogs, perhaps you can buy some good match dogs, but it takes more than money to get yourself a good family of dogs together. There is more power to the determined dogman that keeps going on and uses common sense instead of somebody that thinks he can get there by spending a lot of money. Look at me! I’ve been buying dogs from $800 and up and what did I get. I don’t think you can buy a good dog. Let me tell you something… I don’t believe people are breeding for gameness anymore, they are breeding for mouth! You take all these magazines and you sum up all the fight reports and then divide it by the number of matches and see what you get…. 15 or 17 minutes. So what does that tell you? People are getting away from Gameness, and when you do that you are in trouble! Today for a young guy in the states it’s hard to find a good dog, so how do you think the poor kid in Amsterdam is going to find one!
Don’t you believe that was the same situation a hundred years ago when the American fanciers where importing dogs from over seas? No. Because the Irishman brought the dogs with them and they maintained their ties with their friends in their own country. There was a close relationship and they knew who they were talking to. Now the poor kid in Amsterdam knows nothing about what is really going on over here. He reads the ads in the books and he goes oohhh… this dog is a 5x winner, but he don’t know about the people who own the dogs. Don’t you know more now that you are amongst us thieves? Don’t you have a different outlook now than the rest of your friends back in Europe that don’t realize how it is over here?
In other words it’s real important to have good contacts?Right! Very important! It’s always been and always will be that the guy with the loudest vocabulary will sell the most dogs. Remember that!! All these guys that run full page ads in the mags and are selling pups on a wholesale basis don’t even look at their dogs. They sell papers and the hard work of others that made one of their dogs look good. They capitalize on that one good dog. Anyway… this is how I feel, do you believe I’m telling you something wrong or goofy?
Who do you think is a good breeder? The Carolinas have always been well represented. One of the best (if you like the Redboy stuff) is Fletcher Chavis, the old man himself. He is a good guy for someone to buy a dog from if they want to get started. I have a Mexican friend who bought the whole yard from Chavis and I like what I have seen so far. Maybe he’s got some more, I don’t know… Chavis was the first to make a Champion out of Redboy. That was the YELLOW JOHN dog. Later came S.T.P.’s TORO, JOHN BOY and others, but Fletcher Chavis was the first to do that. Also, Sorrells would be a good choice to go visit in person and buy a dog from, or Carl Winn. Go and talk to these men and see how you do. To me, that Sorrells stuff is the purest family alive because there is nothing in there but Klaus’ ZEKE, Sorrells and Corvino. I like that BLUE MONDAY dog or something with RED JERRY in it. All other breeders are just mixing bloodlines. I have some Greenwood dogs THAT I cross with my BOOMERANG stuff and that seems to work good too.
But Sonny, you must have some pure Corvino dogs around here somewhere. Tell me the truth? No, I don’t have any. I don’t, f*ck you. End interview!
O.K. but what’s that little black bitch in your backyard out of?Well… she is 6/8 Corvino, her name is ASHLEY and I will breed her to ATARI another 6/8 Corvino dog. He is a 6x winner from Roul Jaques, but there is no such animal as a pure Corvino anymore.
What about if I had a pure Corvino dog, but he was a rank cur. Would you breed to him? If he was yours, I would say no, kill him. But if he was mine I would probably take a gamble. But seriously, there is no dog alive with nothing but gamedogs in his ancestry. Look at all the great ones. Let’s take BOLIO for instance, he was out of RED BABY and she was out of a bitch called SUSIE. SUSIE quit so many times when she was in California that they changed her name to GOLDIE. There’s quitting in all them dogs! BOLIO’S sire ZEKE was a good dog, but his sire and grand sire, a dog named COLONEL quit. So I would probably breed to a pure Corvino bred dog if he did quit before.
Sonny, did you know Walter Komosinski? Oh yes, real good. Walter came from Creighton, Pennsylvania. He lived there most of his life, but he came from Poland when he was just a teenager. Walter worked in the mines and worked himself up to a foreman. In fact, after his retirement, the younger mine engineers with college educations would come up to him for advice when they had a problem. Walter’s education was experience and he was a real smart man. He could carry on a conversation on any subject, Presidents, Senators… you name it. He bought a little farm close to the mines where he worked and he had 88 acres of land. He kept around 40 dogs all the time and he was a good breeder and very good competitor. Very hard to beat! Joe and Walter were good friends, but Walter was basically a Colby breeder. He always brought his dogs in a little heavier than most other guys, and he was very successful. I fought him twice and won both times. One in 1 hour 58 minutes and one in 10 minutes. The dog I used in the 10 minute fight was BRAVO. I got him from Heinzl. I believe he was a 37lb dog, real good. The first time I beat Walter was with a dog called Hunts’ PETE that was the sire to Ciroux’s BEAR. I don’t know if Walter knew something about carbohydrates, but his dogs were always strong and he also brought them in wet with plenty of fluids in their systems. Walter wouldn’t travel. You always had to fight at his place, and the referee and time keeper were usually his friends. You always had to fight in a dimly lit place with an atmosphere between a half coal mine, and a half barn with coal dust covering the light bulbs. He was very hard to beat.
What about Mike Ferris? Now Mike was not a breeder, but a dogfighter. If he thought he had a good dog, he would meet you in Hong Kong. He was a very active man and good too. I know he brought them in fairly thin, but that was the whole idea in those days. Mike is still active and lives in Chicago working for a Catholic school or something. But he got out of the dogs because of his health, he’s got asthma real bad and then his wife divorced him, so he got out of the dogs.
Did you know Floyd Boudreaux personally? Who? Oh, you mean Martin Luther King’s brother! Yes I knew him. I met him many times. He is a good dogman. I believe we were matched into each other several times. I read the interview in the magazine, but he didn’t say much. I don’t know how the old ELI dog was bred, but I do know that we had no black dogs in those days. The only black dog I knew of was Evelyn Start’s CRY BABY. I’ve seen the SCRUB dog twice. The first time Mayfield barely won with him, he had to push him out of the corner and the second time I saw him he quit in 4 or 5 minutes. He was definitely not game. I also seen BLIND BILLY at Floyd’s father’s place, but I couldn’t tell you where he got the dog from. You hear rumors, but that’s all it is as far as I’m concerned.
What happened when you went down to Mississippi and matched into Jim Taylor? I believe I was matched into Jim for $500 a side back in 1964. I won the fight in something like 30 minutes and I remember that when we stepped over the pit wall the beats were upped to $5,000 a side and that was big money in those days. Later on, we matched again and I lost in 2 hours and 45 minutes. He used a bitch from Ed Crenshaw called LEPRCHAUN and I used PATCHES at 36lbs. Both bitches died that time.
What other good dogs did you see? Well, I’ve seen Tudor’s SPIKE kill Smith’s DUGGAN. SPIKE was strictly a shoulder dog. I liked him. SPIKE also had a brother called JEFF and one called BUCK. I saw BUCK lose to CRACKER, but now CRACKER was his half brother so I feel that never should have happened. BUCK was out of DIBO and BLACK WIDOW, and CRACKER was out of DIBO and RED LADY. Both exceptional dogs by today’s standards. There was one dog that was better and that was Kirkland’s NEGRO, he too was related to DIBO. NEGRO was owned by this man from Alabama and he beat CRACKER. Another one that I rate as one of the best I’ve seen in my life is Jerome Hernandez’s NIG as well as Teal’s TIP and SUSIE. Cotton’s BULLET and RENO were good dogs. RENO was a 4x winner out of Corvino blood and I matched into him. That was my first fight. It lasted 2 hours and 45 minutes. Mayfield had a good little bitch called JESSIE, a spotted white and brown bitch. Maybe the gamest scratch I’ve ever seen was when DUGGAN crawled across the pit into SPIKE. His bones were sticking out and even Joe got excited. He threw his blanket in the air and was screaming out of excitement. I seen the WINO dog that Mr. Jolley sold to Bill Cotton quit against Mike Ferris’ ADOLF who was a Heinzl dog. Ferris’ APACHE was a real good little 33lb bitch, a real classy head fighting bitch. I seen STRIDER against CASSIUS CLAY and oh, I’ve seen so many, sometimes I can’t remember their names.
What can you tell me about that CASSIUS CLAY dog? Where did he come from? O.K. CASSIUS CLAY was brought from a preacher by Pat Bodzionowski for $10. The preacher was from Southern Illinois, just south of Chicago, and he got rid of the dog because he was killing dogs on the street and dragging them back to the church. He was driving the preacher crazy. Nobody knows how CLAY was bred and he, for sure, was not out of TEDDY or any other Corvino dog. I had TEDDY until he died and he was never bred to any bitched outside my own yard. TEDDY was never bred to GOLDIE, CRAZY MARY or any of those other bitches that I see in the magazine ads. Anyway, back to CASSIUS CLAY. He was a bid red dog with a black mask and he was a crazy acting dog. When Pat bought him he rolled him numerous times, but never matched him for money. I tried to stop that dog but I couldn’t stop him. In the pit he would bark, growl and lay down, but he wouldn’t stop. Once a man told me that he won 18 or 19 fights. Well let me tell you, he was never conditioned for a money fight until Pat sold the dog to Don Devine of Florida. Don came up here to buy the dog because he thought he was a Corvino bred dog. He paid $900 for the dog and that was a lot of money in those days. When he was over here he was so nervous walking around with that money that he asked me to put it in my safe. At that time, I had a bar that was always full of Mexican and black people and they would do more cutting amongst each other than they do in the hospital. Devine gave me the money and the next day he bought the dog. He matched CLAY into STRIDER from, I believe, Greenwood or Maloney. The fight was in Pickens Mississippi at 5:30 in the morning. CLAY won that fight and then Devine won another fight with him that was not too good, so he never matched him again. One time when Pat still owed the dog, I asked him to give me the dog so I could work and match him. He gave him to me, but the dog was trying to kill me because he didn’t like me. Even when I came close to feed him, his eyes would turn green and he was going crazy. So, I called Pat and said “get that son of a bitch out of here!”
Who put the false papers on CASSIUS CLAY? Do you know if Devine knew about that? I’m sure Pat put those papers on the dog. I don’t care, it’s not my business. I don’t do it, but if somebody else will do it, it’s their business not mine. There are a lot of dogs with false papers on them that the public knows nothing about. You have to understand one thing; we are dogfighters first, foremost and always… like I already told you TEDDY was never bred to the females that are being mentioned in that ad on the back of the Journal.
You just said that Bert Sorrels would be a good choice to buy a dog from! Yes. TEDDY was never bred to those females. They were bred to Syke’s DUGGAN II. So anywhere you read TEDDY you should read DUGGAN II. He was a litter brother to Giroux’s BEAR out of Hunt’s PETE and MUGGS sometimes called REGGIE.
Who made the pedigrees with TEDDY up and do you know if Sorrels knows about this? I don’t know who made them up and I don’t know if he knows about it, but he will know it now. You see, TEDDY had a big reputation. I matched TEDDY into Al Offer and won in 2 hours and 14 minutes. At that time he was already 7 years old and no teeth left. He was a game dog, but DUGGAN II was a good dog too. TEDDY died February 14, 1964, and I’m telling you the truth he was never bred to those bitches. I will tell you something else, too, about GOING LIGHT BARNEY; Joe sold his sire ( a dog called BOOGER) to Morris Rootberg for a guard. Rootgerg wrote Joe a letter asking for a guard dog and Joe had a different type of dog for different kind of people. So he sold him this dog which was not out of his fighting stock. Joe put the dog’s papers on his name then sold him to Rootberg. Then Rootberg sold his restaurant and moved to California and bred that dog to a Corvino female named CRAZY MARY and that breeding produced GOING LIGHT BARNEY. His father was not a Corvino dog!
Why would Joe put false papers on a dog? Because he knew that some people that asked him for a guard dog, or a pet wouldn’t match them anyway. That’s how I feel about it. He would just polish up the dog by putting another pedigree on him, that’s all.
Do you know if the owner of GOING LIGHT BARNEY knew all this? I don’t know. I doubt it!
What was your relation to Maurice Carver, Leo Kinard and Howard Teal, for instance? Teal was a good dogman and I’m good friends with him. Teal is from North Carolina and he owned a restaurant over there. Teal had some of those old Colby dogs that originated the REDBOY line. I don’t know if his SARGE dog was a Colby dog. I believe somebody dropped the dog off at his place and that he put the papers on him. But SARGE would be REDBOY’S sire. SARGE was a good dog, but he lost his last fight. That part of the country where he came from always produced a lot of good dogmen. Leo and Maurice were both good friends of mine. Leo had a super nice place and I’ve been there many times. He would always give you a fair and square deal. I remember I was asking him some questions once like you are asking me now and bla, bla, bla… and he said, “Sonny, the more I’m around these son of a bitches, the less I know.” Just look around you and see well bred dogs that have won 2 or 3 fights, and then comes one of those scatter bred dogs and just kills them! On a scale of 10 I would say that breeding your dogs in a family and looking at the pedigrees will bring you a 4 or a 5, but them real good sons of bitches…. They are where you find them. Maurice was a good dogman. There is some controversy about him faking pedigrees and I’m sure he did to some extent, but I’m also sure that all those big time breeders do the same thing. When the bad overshadows the good I think you have a problem, but he sent me a lot of good dogs. Let me tell you what kind of man Maurice was. If he knew I had a good dog he would be on the phone asking me if he could breed to him. Carver told me he made a mistake by breeding to BULLYSON and that he wanted to breed to a dog called BOOTS the BLACKSMITH. Carver was with the border patrol and he had two 44 magnums. He gave one to Eddie Klaus and the other one to Hernandez. Hernandez gave me that 44 after Carver died. Earl Tudor was a very active dogfighter, but people that say he was just a fighter don’t know what they are talking about because he bred some real good dogs too. Joe had a friend who worked at the post office where Tudor got his mail. This was a black man, his name was Silvers, and this Silvers would open Tudor’s mail and tell Joe what was in the letters… it’s incredible but Joe got Earl’s mail before he did.
Do you believe that a pure Corvino dog would be enough to compete these days? Well, I would sat that they are basically game dogs. Now, they would be a little clumsy and they would need a little dunky in them now and then.
What kind of dogs do you have now? I am no longer in the game, but I do have a few dogs that I keep because I like dogs and really my wife Bridgette was the one that talked me into this. I have some BOOMERANG dogs that I like and I got them from a guy in Minnesota named Reuvers. He was a policeman and got a lot of people in trouble, but at the time he spent a lot of money buying good dogs. BOOMERANG goes back to that Elias PISTOL and he was out of that RASCAL dog.
Boudreaux’s RASCAL you mean? Or Trahan’s RASCAL or Pete Lormond’s RASCAL, whatever you want to call him. Listen , a man named Hanson wanted to buy a dog from Joe, so he wrote him a letter. Joe was out of town that time so they forwarded his mail and called back telling Joe Jr. to send this Hansen a pup. Hansen wanted to buy a show dog, but Joe Jr. sent the wrong dog and sent RASCAL who was out of Joe’s fighting stock. Hanson didn’t like the dog because of his build and gave the dog to a man named Claville. This man called RASCAL, PIMPLE, but it’s still the same dog. Then Pete Lormond had him for a while and RASCAL stayed around Lafayette, that’s for sure. From there on he went to, I believe, Trahan and I seen him chained up behind the grocery store that was owned by a man named LaVergne and that’s how far I know about him. There was another dog over there that was also a Corvino dog called Pete Lormond’s BLACKY. They rolled BLACKY into RASCAL, but BLACKY was beating RASCAL so they picked him up. Lormond was a truck driver who drove between Lafayette and Chicago and he brought these dogs down South with him.
What can you tell me about Altieri’s TIM? I owned TIM. Alieri was Joe’s son-in-law and he gave the dog to me, I never changed his name. At the time a man named Wilson who was a friend of mine and Joe came by with a bitch and bred to TIM. He had two pups in the litter and I told him he could keep both. I never expected him to sell these pups to Indian Sonny. Otherwise they would never have left Chicago. But, anyway, Wilson was a friend of mine and I really didn’t care, but that’s how Indian CRUSHER went to California. In Chicago they called this dog RHINO, but Sonny changed his name to CRUSHER.
When did Indian Sonny come into the picture? One of the first to ship a dog to California was Freddie Jones and then Vern Baker brought COUNTRY BOY over there. He paid Gaboon Trahan $500 for the dog and we thought that was the end of world. $500 for a bulldog! Then Indian Sonny followed and you really didn’t have a whole lot of people. Glen Jones in Oregon had a few, but that was about it. Now they’re everywhere and the younger generation are 100% more knowledgeable than the first. Indian Sonny is of the older generation. He is a good dogman and conditioner, but he bears watching.
What about that poem you wrote? Well, the people that I talked about, they know what I mean. Stratton wrote that book about all those people from that part of the country, but what ever happened to the people from New York or from Chicago? If it really comes down to it, all the good ones come from Illinois. You can trace every one of them back, and they all go back to BOUNCER, GIMP, and DIBO and all that stuff. These dogs were Corvino, Feely and Menefee. In Chicago, you had all the good dogmen like Feely, Pat Conroy, Patty Mallet, the Farmer Brothers and so many others.
Do you believe there will ever be a state where dogfighting will be legal like the chickens? No, I don’t think so because it has gone too far in the media, but they can never stop it. This is America! Like Pete Sparks said, as long as there are two men and two bulldogs, there will be dogfighting. Did they ever stop the drugs? Did they stop the Klu Klux Klan? Aren’t they more a threat than us? Then how can they stop dog fighting?
Do you believe the magazines are doing any good to this cause? I don’t know. We are the only ones that advertise our last and next move in the magazine. Do you know of a bank robber that puts in a magazine that he robbed a bank in only 3 minutes and that he is going to this and that bank next month? We are the only ones that advertise things in the book that we know are against the law, so what does that tell you Peter Parker…. THAT WE ARE LOUSY BANK ROBBERS! Right, now shut off your tape and let’s get out of the dogs! The end….
Mr John P Colby was an active breeder for many years and produced some of the best dogs of his time. Much of his foundation stock was from the Gas House and Burke strains, as were the dogs of many other breeders. The difference in the quality of the dogs Mr Colby produced was the result of breeding principles he employed. Also, Mr Colby in my opinion possessed a very important attribute, which I refer to as a gift.
Mr Colby practised a simplified version of genetics, Best to Best, selective breeding
Pictured is John P. Colby Age 20.
Best to Best does not mean performing dogs alone. It entails all aspects of the dogs, from performance to pedigree. The most obvious qualities would be gameness, biting power, talent, stamina and a great bloodline. A bloodline is the result of a breeders influence.
Over the years dogs bred by Mr Colby began to exhibit physical and mental characteristics such as conformation, colour and gameness which distinguished them. These dogs were then referred to as Colby Dogs. Thus we have the Colby Bloodline. People were proud to say, “This here is a pure Colby dog”. This sounds simple; and it leads people to ask; why there were not more top breeders? I believe deciding on what is Best to Best is the key.
I’m not sure that every dog Mr Colby bred to was Dead game; and I’m equally sure he did not breed to every Dead game dog he owned. This is where the gift comes in. It seems to be an in-born sense or ability. I believe most outstanding accomplishments have been made by men who were endowed with a gift for their respective fields.
I do not believe that man knows enough about genetics at this time to produce great animals; and he most certainly didn’t know enough in the days of Mr Colby. Race horse people spend millions of dollars a year, trying to produce great horses, with only marginal success. Similarly, there is no pattern for producing Great dogs.
FriendsThe most essential qualities a breeder may possess are; dedication, a gift, a knowledge of Best to Best, and money might come in handy. If a breeder combines these attributes he is likely to produce, with luck, a great strain of dogs.It doesn’t take too much effort to recall the great Colby dogs of the past. These dogs were bred from the pit and for the pit.
But all of this brings us to a very important question; When a strain of dogs that were once highly regarded, such as Colby’s, stops producing consistently good pit dogs, is this strain still to be considered good? I have heard people say, “I know he’s a cur, but the blood is there”. While this is true in many cases, I wonder how long we can continue to breed to curs and hope to produce game pit dogs.
What is good blood and how long will it remain good if we continue to breed to dogs, who do not possess the qualities of their ancestors? While great breeders can breed to dogs who themselves do not exhibit good qualities; can the average breeder afford to take this gamble?
I have seen strains of dogs that have not produced dogs fitting this description for many years, and people who are active in the sport refer to them as good blood or good brood stock. Many seem to proceed under the assumption, that once a bloodline is good it remains good forever. Many well-meaning people have continued to breed Colby dogs exclusively, thinking all that was necessary to preserve the quality of the strain, was to breed to a dog that had the name Colby on his pedigree.
Pictured is Colby’s Jerry 1900.
I believe that we have to continuously strive to improve the strain, in order to keep it as good as it was or is. It’s an accepted theory, that in order for an institution to continue, it must change and continuously seek to improve. To preserve a bloodline, there is more required than just breeding to dogs whose pedigree shows a particular name. Change is required in order to prevent change in the quality of dogs produced. The Colby strain was developed by change.
FriendsI have heard people say, that the dogs of yesteryear were gamer than those of today. Could it be, in some cases, because we have tried to play Pat and in doing so have lost ground. The people that have bred Colby dogs exclusively for these many years, thinking they were doing what was best, have perhaps underestimated their own ability to breed good dogs.Many of them have bred dogs for 40 years or more and could have perhaps contributed much more to their own dogs, by using their own ideas and experience. New ideas are necessary in every field. Sports records are consistently surpassed by those not satisfied with repeating someone else’s past performance. Last year’s record won’t win this year’s meet.
Were the dogs of yesteryear really superior? I’m sure many dog men of the past would think we have it too easy, because we don’t have to grow secret vegetables and cook our dog’s food or boil their water. Penicillin has replaced many old remedies, making better dog care possible. I have read some diets that top dog men used. While some were good, none could compete with any good commercial dog food available in countless supermarkets. The poorest feeder today is able to provide better nutrition than the best feeder of yesteryear. We also have refrigeration and other conveniences.
It is not my intention to criticise old-timers and their methods. How many of us would be feeding as many dogs if we had to cope with the same adverse conditions? I think our mission however, is to pick up where they left off, emulating their objectives rather than their methods. The Colby dogs of the past, fit the description of good blood, as their pit records indicate. The Colby strain was developed on the principle of Best to Best. When that principle is no longer employed there is bound to be a drastic change in quality. In a very short period of time a great strain of dogs can be reduced to a strain that can do no more than refer to their pedigree and say “My great, great, grand-daddy was a pit dog….I think!