EUFAULA - Ten years ago, country superstar George Strait funded the tiny Plumb Theatre, a Branson, Mo.-like country and gospel showroom on Oklahoma 9 about five miles east of Eufaula in the community of Longtown.
Strait, "The King of Country," who has sold more No. 1 songs (59) than anyone else in history, didn't intend to invest in a 110-seat music hall on the shores of Lake Eufaula.
But in 1987 he bought a song written by Paul Maloy and Paul's son, Paul Jr., called "Someone's Walkin' Around Upstairs."
At the time, Paul Jr., whose stage name is David Anthony, was playing acoustic guitar for Strait's Ace in the Hole band.
The song appeared on the album "Ocean Front Property," which quickly went platinum and then double-platinum.
"My first check was for $11,600," said Maloy, who lived with his wife, Mattie, in Oklahoma City when he struck platinum - working for Yellow Freight by day and playing country music in bars on weekends. "I thought I'd better invest the money before I spent it."
So he and Mattie bought the building in McIntosh County that now houses the theatre.
"My wife moved down here and opened a junk store," said the Seminole native. She eventually started selling hardware in the junk store, then added a bait shop.
"We ran it like that until I could retire," Maloy said.
He retired in 1994 and joined his wife full time, running the store by day and performing at night.
"I played for 3 1/2 years at a barbecue place called Desperado's on Texanna Road (north of Eufaula)," Maloy said. "Then I played for a year and a half at the VFW on Friday night steak nights."
By 2003, thanks to the windfall from George Strait, the junk-bait-hardware business had evolved into the Plumb Theatre, a snug room with theater-style seating and stage where the Maloys and others perform gospel music Fridays and traditional country music Saturdays from 7 to 9 p.m.
"Everyone works all year long for nothing," Mattie said.
But everyone has a lot of fun, and that's something.
The Plumb Theatre is open practically year-round. It closes for a week around Labor Day, when the Maloys go to Iowa and perform about 40 concerts on eight different stages.
Paul Maloy got into music at the age of 15 when his parents bought a house, and he found an abused and neglected guitar inside. He was enrolled in wood shop, so he took the guitar to school, repaired it, polished it, put on some strings, and then a neighbor taught him a few chords.
He went into the Army in 1955 and was sent to Korea, where he joined some musicians who performed in non-commissioned officer corps' and officers' clubs, honing his skills.
When he got out of the army, he ended up in Oklahoma City working a variety of jobs and playing music with various bands.
In 1971, he went to Las Vegas for a year and performed at clubs there, and in nearby Henderson and Boulder City, as well as Kingman, Ariz., and Ely, Nev., in the northern part of the state.
Eventually, he returned to Oklahoma City.
"I always had a weekday job, working five days a week and playing weekends," he said. "One year there I played seven days a week. I had a bass player - just me and him - and he loved to play. He booked us everywhere. I was making more money playing than working at my regular job."
But the bass player got into trouble, and the two-man band broke up.
So Mattie learned to play bass and replaced him. They've been making music together ever since.
"I went to Nashville once and played in a couple of bars, but I was making more in Oklahoma City than Nashville," Maloy said. "I wasn't good enough to play sessions."
He wrote a song about Ernest Tubb and was invited to come to Tubb's record store to perform in a midnight show.
But he got cold feet and didn't show up.
"He was afraid he would make it big," Mattie said.
The Plumb Theatre isn't Nashville, but it'll do.
This is a family place with an audience ranging from small children to retired folks.
"One of our fans had his 96th birthday here not too long ago," Maloy said
There's no drinking or smoking and very little cussing.
Admission generally is $5 on Saturday nights, unless there is a special guest - then, the price is $10.
Special guests have included the likes of Tommy Horton (the late Johnny Horton's son), Patsy Cline tribute artist Sherrill Douglas and 80-year-old Claude Gray, who is known for such songs as "I'll Have Another Cup of Coffee (Then I'll Go)" and "If I Ever Need a Lady."
They figure the admission fee covers insurance and electricity on the building, which they hope to expand someday - maybe double the size.
Friday nights, the gospel music is free, but a "love offering" is accepted.
"We didn't do it to get rich," Mattie said. "We did it because we love music."
One recent Saturday night there was a sparse crowd, maybe 20 loyal fans who also love traditional country music and don't care that the show isn't of the caliber of George Strait and his Ace in the Hole band.
They seemed content with Paul Maloy and the Upright Band and the Plumb Theatre Singers.
"We played for seven people once," Mattie said, giving no thought to canceling a show just because the audience is small in number. "Afterwards they were so appreciative. They said they felt like they had a private concert."
Onstage, Paul Maloy was surrounded by Mattie (on bass); lead guitar Jerry Weeks (also a vocalist); drummer Gene Cokeley; and backup singers and twin sisters Gayle Horn and Dayle Travis.
Maloy introduced a song he routinely plays.
"George Strait once said this was one of his favorite songs," Maloy said. "And I know it's my favorite."
He sang "Someone's Walkin' Around Upstairs."
Before the show, he noted that the song had earned him about $45,000 since it came out in '87.
Someone requested a Merle Haggard number, and Maloy complied. After all, what's a country show without The Hag?
Maloy is in his element. There are no regrets or bitterness, not even over Strait not buying any more of his music.
"I wrote 50 songs and sent them to him," Maloy said. "But he didn't buy any of them."