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Where have all the honky-tonks gone?

The rough-and-tumble dance halls of the past have been replaced with cleaner, sweeter discos

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It’s show time at Coyote’s, Louisville, Kentucky’s hottest dance hall, and Joe Diffie is roaring through his new single, ”Honky Tonk Attitude.”

But what exactly is honky-tonk attitude? In the old days — make that pre-1990 — it was, ”Get loose, get loud, and maybe get lucky.” But with yuppie & western night spots like Santa Monica, California’s Denim & Diamonds springing up across the country faster than jimsonweed (and even a J. Chisholm Hand- Crafted Boots line of Honky Tonk Attitude footwear), the genuine article is getting harder to find.

The old honky-tonks were often smoky places with sticky bar stools and live music — a rougher, harder country music with songs heavy on the romantic misery (as in Webb Pierce and Hank Williams). Working-class joints where the pipe fitter with busted knuckles went for a longneck and maybe even a fight at the end of the day.

What passes for honky-tonks now are mostly squeaky-clean discos with polyester cacti and often canned music, frequented by Garth Brooks clones who find the organized line dancing the perfect nonthreatening singles activity for the ’90s. ”There’s no tradition — it’s a contrived atmosphere,” scoffs Mary Jane Nalley, co-owner of Gruene Hall, the oldest honky-tonk in Texas, which started in 1878 as a community meeting place and where a guy would as soon wear ladies’ underwear as line-dance.

But Coyote Calhoun, co-owner of Coyote’s and program director for Louisville’s WAMZ-FM radio, argues that there’s nothing wrong with people wanting a place where they can ”dance more and drink less.” Another plus and sign of the times: In an era of safe sex, ”You can line-dance by yourself if you want to,” says Diffie, whose own song sounds more dance-hall than real honky-tonk. ”It’s a no-touch proposition.” And no go if you’re hard core.