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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Boston Rock Clubs of the 1980s: Chet's Last Call

There were two clubs we really called “home” during Cool McCool’s stay on the Boston original music circuit roughly from 1983 to 1989. First was Green St. Station in Jamaica Plain and the other was the first place to give us a show: Chet’s Last Call. Chet’s was located on Lancaster Street in the North End of Boston right across the street from the old Boston Garden and which sat right above the Penalty Box bar.

Legend told of how, sometime around 1982, Chet, a short and somewhat heavyset but not overly so guy who always wore a sweater and a beret,  leased this former Discotheque that had been shut down since the mid-1970s, with its tacky shiny orangey colored contact paper, it’s elevated dance floor with iron railings, mirrored walls and a big ol' mirror ball hanging from the drop ceiling and decided NOT TO CHANGE A THING. He just trucked in a sound system and mixing board and called it a rock club! Chet's booked 3 bands a night,Wednesday through Sunday.

Although many bands playing Boston in those days played Chets like Throwing Muses, The Bags, Treat Her Right etc. there were also bands I never saw anywhere else play there. Strange and intriguing bands like Sleep Chamber with their b&w flyers always featuring women in leather bondage gear, The Flys, The Pajama Slave Dancers, The Bent Men, The Bosstones (before they were “Mighty Mighty”) and one of my favorite bands in town, The Wandells with their Punkabilly sound and songs like “Basket-Case Boogie” and “Who Cares Anyway?” There was a real underground atmosphere at Chet's.

Don’t know what the “Vomit Bunny” stickers were all about but they were discretely placed and featuring a cute little white rabbit spewing a copious amount of red liquid. Who thinks of this stuff and why did they make a sticker out of it? I didn't even know if they were a band.

Cool McCool actually made money at Chet’s meaning over $125.00 as a band on weekends. It was a popular joint and there were nights it was just elbow to elbow. The first time we headlined a weekend night I remember turning around during set up and being totally surprised to see a room full of people looking back! It wasn’t something I was used to seeing that much at the time, ha, but it’s one of those feelings that you never want to let go of.

We also lived every band’s nightmare at Chet’s when the band I’ll Never Name as Long as I Live managed to clear the room of everybody but the people who worked there when they opened for us one night for the first and last time.

Since the trains stopped running at midnight in those days (early for a modern city, right?) the soundman at Chet’s would set up the board for the last act and then literally run out the door for the train.

Chet was a pretty funny guy and would have some great lineups. One year on the anniversary of Woodstock, Chet had “Chetstock” which the posters displayed a Woodstock parody picture of a buzzard sitting on the neck of a guitar. That night had an unbelievable array of acts from The Condo Pygmies (I don't wanna live in a nuclear apartment!), Scruffy the Cat, The Turbines to The Flys and a rare appearance by Valdez the Sinner and climaxed when the Dogmatics ripped what was left of the ceiling over the stage down. Classic.

So three of the best shows I’ve ever seen at Chet’s were: The Wandells who like I mentioned were a great Punkabilly Trio and I tried not to miss any of their shows. I never knew the lead singers name but he was a "born to be" rock & roller with a brown leather jacket, jeans and dark hair so long in the front that you couldn’t see his eyes EVER. It was just hair with a cigarette sticking out of it and he talked so fast that even though I was born in Boston and lived here all my life I couldn’t understand hardly a word he said. I don’t think they ever recorded an album so their music is lost to the world. Don’t know whatever happened to any of them but they were the BALLS!

 The Bent Men, Bill Desmond’s band, featuring Reeves Gabrels on guitar who I believe went on to tour with David Bowie in Tin Machine in the 1990s had a reputation for putting on a theater of the absurd. They were Pink Floyd-ish in sound but visually and content wise they were astounding and they drew big crowds where ever they played. There was a “mime” seated near the stage and he would visibly tremble every time Des would come near him. The show was dedicated to a certain controversial incident happening in Boston at the time. Des still owns The Sound Museum, a rehearsal and recording facility he opened later in the South End of Boston.

But the best show I ever saw there, or anywhere really, was The Pajama Slave Dancers where the house was packed and people were so fucking loud. They were Punk, they were Surf and they were hysterical. They would apologize after some of their songs and sometime even before. Songs like “Homo Truck Driving Man”, “Defreeze Walt Disney” with the immortal line: “Walt was a great old geezer, will someone please take him out of the freezer.”, the instrumental “Fast Cars, Girls in Bikinis” and my favorite “Farm Rap”. People were physically pushing these guys around while they were playing and at one point one of the guitar players (Steve) runs backwards over the railing and is caught and thrown back onto the stage by people in the crowd. That was a real leap of faith because if they decided to dodge him, he would’ve busted his fool neck. But he didn’t and it was great.

Chet’s, for all the awesome rock, was also a heroin den. Chet and most of his staff were reportedly also addicts. The dead giveaway could have been the excessively sweating patrons spacing out at a table or the bartender leaving the bar and going through the door marked "No Admitance" to get a nose-full or every now and then there would be someone who mistakenly tried to go out the back entrance and was caught between the self-locking door and the locked security gate and would have to beg for someone to go upstairs and tell them they were there so they could let them out. They were always three sheets to the wind. I had heard that Chet got clean quite awhile ago now and I hope he’s doing well.

Chet's was always a hard sell to our crowd. "Call me when you play someplace nice." was a familiar refrain. But the area Chet's was located had a certain air of uncertainty about it after nightfall and there were a couple of times after a show when the patrons had gone where I felt more than a twinge of concern being out on the street on my own but that's showbusiness.

And then there was a murder on Lancaster St. (Chet's was on the corner of Lancaster and Causway St.)two nights before one of our shows and our people wouldn’t go anymore. Chet started having troubles to the point where the name of the club on the wall outside was painted over. Chet was still booking bands but the place closed shortly thereafter in the late 80s.

Chet’s has passed into Boston Rock Folklore and rightfully so. Some good bands got to see the light of day at Chet’s Last Call. Chet gave bands a chance to play and for this I am forever grateful.


  1. All true. Chet's was also your chance to see acts such as The Zinnias, Mr. Butch & the Holy Men, In Case of Jerome, and many many more....

  2. Please contact me at

  3. We are doing a documentary about Chet.
    here is a teaser film
    Click here to support Chet's Last Call Documentary Fund by Dan Vitale
    Chet's Last Call : A Story of Rock & Redemption This is the story of CHET’S LAST CALL “Ground zero of the underground Boston music scene in the 1980’s” and of its owner Richard (Chet) Rooney, a man who came full circle in his far too short life. Chet died suddenly in his sleep on December 10th...
    Hope you like me.....we need more old photos and video....please help