Interview with Robert "Bobby" "Cotton" LeBlanc

PHD: Thank you for being our first Pool Hustler interview. We're honored! My Dad was friends with you and your sister so I know he'd be pleased. He believed pool hustlers were gunslingers with pool cues. I believe they are the folk heroes of subterranean America and want to give them their due here on Let's start with where you grew up and how old you were when you first played pool.

RLB:   I was 15 years old and learned how to play in a bowling alley called Poplar Plaza Bowling Alley in Memphis, Tennessee. I played 10 hours a day.  Mostly playing straight pool, which was the popular game back then because of the movie, The Hustler.

PHD: Who were your pool mentors growing up? What was the best advice you were given when it came to winning at pool?

RLB: The most important person was my friend, Richard Austin, who took me under his wing and mentored me when he was 25 and I was15.  He was one of the best players in the 60s and 70s.  He was a real high roller back then, and I'm sure your Dad knew him.

PHD: What's your favorite game to play?

RLB: When I was traveling for 30 years, my best game was on the bar tables with a giant rock. This gave me a huge advantage over players who only played with a regular-sized cue ball. The players that played top speed with the big cue ball were Joe Salazar, Wade Crane, Boston Joey and Keith McCready.

PHD: What's the best way for an amateur to improve their game?

RLB: Well, you need to learn to play all the games. Banks is real important, straight pool, and one-pocket as it helps you improve at your games. If you only know 9 or 10 ball you're knowledge is limited and you're missing out.

PHD: My Dad said "pool hustling is dead" in an interview in 2014 and Sports Illustrated writer and biographer of the late Kid Delicious, "Running the Table," L. Jon Wertheim said kind of the same thing in his NYT editorial, "Jump the Shark." What kind of fun are pool hustlers missing out on today that you and my Dad, Freddy the Beard, took full advantage of before cellphones and the internet?

RLB:  The fun that the pool hustlers are missing these days is back in the 60s there was so much action. Every pool room had at least 30 who would game with you. Now only one or two will because of the internet, different rating systems and other ways to find out who is good and etc.

PHD: What were your favorite pool halls to play in?

RLB:  I loved Bensinger's in Chicago. In  Houston, at the LeCue every world champion played there and the Rack in Detroit (Oak Park) millions of dollars went through there.    Back then, there was no music playing or sushi to eat, you were lucky to get a Coke and a bag of chips and all you heard was the sound of balls clicking. 

PHD: I know there's Steinway in Queens and Buffalos Billiards in Louisiana. Chicago still has Chris's Billiards and Red Shoes.

RLB: The Sports Palace in New Orleans on Jefferson Highway was also a great old school pool room.

PHD: What cue do you play with?

RLB:  I bought a Joss cue in 1974 and paid $240 for it with two shafts. It was identical to the cue that Wade Crane played with. There are so many great cue makers now it’s hard to keep up with them.

PHD: When did you know you "made it" as a pool hustler?

RLB I don’t really know if a person ever really makes it as a pool hustler because I played everybody.

PHD: What's the largest amount of money you ever won and what's the largest amount of money you (or your backers) lost?

RL: I remember everybody who has beat me. The amount I lost seems like nothing to today's guys. Andy Oguine beat me, Flyboy beat me, $6000 the most in one session. Not that much. Mostly I bet my own money. Most I won is when I was in Detroit where I beat Cleatus for $40K which seems like nothing for that place.   

PHD: The Rack is in The Encyclopedia! Tell us about how your life story became Pool Hall Junkies?

RL:  I was hanging out at the Hollywood Athletic Club a place where every movie star hung out  on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. It was an old athletic club with 50 foot ceilings and an Olympic swimming pool in the basement.  I met Mars Callahan (who was 19) and Chris Corso (who was 45) in 1981 and the two of them wrote a script based on the stories of my traveling all those years.  Over the years, they had to rewrite it ten times and it ended up being completely different from my original stories. That's why I wrote the book, "Confessions of a Pool Hustler" to tell the real stories. I did enjoy making the movie and got to be in it for five minutes and perform the trick shots.

PHD: My Dad played at ye old Billiard Den in Hollywood with Brooklyn Pancho and Little Frankie. They were there when the Manson murders happened.

PHD: Where do you like to play pool now?

RLB: Well, I live in Vegas and Mark Griffin opened a place called Griffs on Decatur which is the nicest place by far. I've been playing more poker lately.

PHD: Why are pool hustlers special and important to pool players everywhere? My father thought that the worst thing pool ever did was try to sanitize the culture and the players. He said Fats didn't look right in a tuxedo.

RLB: I agree 100 percent with your Dad - I've met CEOs from every walk of life and when I tell stories about gangsters and hustlers they love it. Keep the action going. You'll never have another Cornbread Red or Freddy the Beard. There aren't any characters around anymore. I was raised with these guys. I bring them up when I'm doing my commentating because I keep them alive in our hearts. Freddy has to be in peoples' hearts forever, If you talk about Chicago, you have to talk about Freddy. I went to his 4Bs club and watched him play Mike Siegel one-pocket there and I thought,  “this guy’s got some heart.”

PHD: The 4Bs club was in the middle of nowhere. A producer was in town and stood outside watching pimps in fur coats pull up in huge Cadillacs and said, "If I tell people what I've seen here, they'll never believe me."

RLB: It was special back then - I mean back in the day you had to ring a buzzer in Detroit which had a peephole and they had to approve you to let you into the place!

PHD: Do you think you will do more commentating?

RLB:  Yes I will be doing the commentating at the next CSI in July of 2018. I still love to play and compete and the action is getting tougher year. I don't like the senior tournaments I want to play the best.  At the Derby City everybody is there –old to young.

PHD: That's the beauty of Derby City is that you never know who you will be matched against. I've had so many guys tell me they couldn't believe they got to play my Dad there. It's a great experience for both players.


For more on Robert LeBlanc, please read his excellent book, "Confessions of a Pool Hustler" available on our website!

For more on Robert LeBlanc, please read his excellent book, "Confessions of a Pool Hustler" available on our website!




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