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Monday, August 6, 2012

Boston Rock Clubs of the 1980s: Green Street Station

Doug Mellon remains a lot of things to a lot of people to this very day. At one time though, he was the proprietor of one of the most revered clubs in Boston Rock Club History: Green St. Station in Jamaica Plain. But the story is not so much about the rock club as it is about the man. Back then, Doug Mellon was a man of many talents and moods.

After “Ed Burke’s” closed sometime in the mid 1980s there were just two places to play in Jamaica Plain: The Midway Café right next to Doyle’s or take a real short trip up the street to Green St. Station. At that time The Midway booked blues bands, lots of blues bands…and The Roys. The Roys were THE big fish in JP’s small pond for years featuring the enigmatic front man and founder Dave Roy.  The other room in town, Green St., was an “Originals Room” that featured 3 or 4 bands a night that wrote their own songs.
Green St Station, previously known as Kilgarrif’s and run by Doug’s father, was housed in a building practically next door to the Green St. T stop on Boston’s Orange Line just before you reach Forest Hills, the end of the line. The building was eventually knocked down during the housing boom and now a condo building resides on one of Boston rock’s most meaningful corners.

My band, Cool McCool, started playing Green St. sometime around 1985 and continued right up until Green St. was taken for back taxes somewhere in 1990. It was quickly purchased by an Irish “concern” and became "The Bog of Allen" and featured Irish folk acts from “Ye Auld Sod” and beyond. I played there often with my next band, The World Renowned Rhythmmen! until THAT place closed just short of 1994.

During the day, Green St. served food to the after work blue collar crowd and, being Jamaica Plain, had a variety of different cooks with different styles. Jambalaya seemed always on the menu and the people who hung out there saw everybody who was anybody whenever they played Boston.

“Dude! I remember the night you broke three strings on your bass in a 45 minute set!”

"I'm sorry, you must have me mistaken for someone else."

"No man, it was you, I remember."

Shit, someone remembers me from that fucking night!

Green St. was a very homey place, cheap beer and some home cooking (when available). And there were bands. Band’s like "Stop Calling Me Frank", "Hell Toupee", “Those Damned Kids”, “The Hendersons”, “Ms. Zanna Don’t”, “The Phil Tawa Band”, “The Infections”, “Uncalled For”, “The Visigoths” , "Girl on Top" and “Nisi Period”. All solid, well rehearsed acts. Doug even booked G.G. Allin one time but threw them out, crowd and all, after people started urinating on the dance floor as soon as the band started playing. G.G. Allin and band never got through their first obnoxious song before they were done and out the door. Although you would think that Doug had seen it all at Green Street over the years, he was incredulous. “What a bunch of Assholes!” he was heard to say about the incident.
Cool McCool played many shows there since we all lived just up the street and drawing a consistent crowd at Green St. was a comparative breeze and at one point played at least a year of Wednesday nights there.

Green St. was a good place to go see a band. The stage was to the right as you walked the room lengthwise from the door and there was a clear view of the stage from every point in the room. The the bar was to the left of the door along the wall so as you walked in, the room opened into somewhat of a diamond shape with the stage at first base and the far end of the bar at third. 

The sound system was better than most by Boston rock standards and in the hands of someone who understood the room's dynamics, a pleasing sound experience could be had by all including the musicians. Since the monitors never seemed to be loud enough, a band derived most of its aural feedback from their sound bouncing off the opposite wall. This worked pretty well most of the time and it was hard to sound bad there. Bill O'Malley, guitarist for the band Seka, ran the board for a number of Rythmmen shows at Green St.  I wasn't aware he was even in the band until I saw Seka in the Rock & Roll Rumble finals. Up until then I only knew him as "Bill the good sound guy."

It was irrefutable that Doug was a tough guy. He was known to hold a black belt in karate and was a force to be reckoned with if things got out of hand but subsequently I can count the number of fights I've ever witnessed at Green St. to half a hand while Dough had the place. 
There was always a crowd at Green St. in those days. As a local “watering hole”, people just went there. I still call J.P. the biggest little town in the world. People there just love to go out and support their local establishments and bands like you seldom see anywhere else. Dave Balerna, owner of The Midway Café with his brother Jay, once said “Give me 5 people from J.P. and we’ll drain this bar dry!” upon witnessing the “Soda & Lime” crowd while visiting a music establishment in Cambridge. There was little doubt he’d be correct.

Doug Mellon also had a band. I don’t recall what the name of it was but the legendary Joe Coughlin, long-time Boston musician and bedrock of the local rock scene’s remaining rock magazine, The Noise, was in the band. There were many anonymous bass players and drummers and Doug…sang.

No, they weren't that good. I don't think they rehearsed much and I don’t know, there was always something funny about the sound when they played. Something beyond their timing was off somehow. But every so often the band would appear on stage and well, there they were.
But I can still vividly recall the night when Doug’s band sounded…well they sounded pretty good. Everybody in the place knew immediately that this was a night to remember. One by one people swiveled around on their stools at the bar to pay attention. Suddenly Joe’s guitar sounded full and loud, surprisingly the drummer, what’s his name, seemed to actually hold a beat through an entire song and eerily the bass player, what’s his face, found his groove. The songs were oddly palatable. Doug was…singing! People were applauding and then it was rounds, rounds for the house! Doug was buying. It was truly a special evening.

Then there was the time Doug ran afoul of the Budweiser Beer Union, which, throughout the 1980s, had an iron-like grip on what beer came into the state. No Coors being served in Massachusetts and very little from the Genese brewery in New York State either.  We never heard of Yuengling back then. If you wanted a beer you got a Budweiser, a Michelob, a Miller High Life or a fucking Rolling Rock.
So fucking Rolling Rock it was for the foreseeable future after Budweiser stopped delivering beer. It was the only group that would still deliver. The only redeeming feature was that RR was a whole lot cheaper than a Bud. I don’t remember Bud ever coming back.

But life was pretty good for a while until Doug fell behind financially for many reasons. Green St. was taken by the City of Boston and The Bog of Allen was born just in time for my next band, The World Renowned Rhythmmen! to be ready to play an entire evenings worth of tunes. We had done a handful of opening sets just before Green St. was padlocked and Doug had stiffed us at the door each time so at that point I was not too broken up about the situation and as it turned out the new owners took a liking to us.
The Rhythmmen! played The Bog on a monthly basis as well as Christmas and New Year’s. We also played every Sunday for 4 months during this time all while playing through a bitchen’ $12,000.00 brand new JBL stereo sound system that these guys put in. In fact, these guys totally redid the place. No more Jambalaya and the legendary stink and soggy floor of the men’s bathroom was relegated to the dung heap of history.

But Doug Mellon wasn’t about to go away quietly.

One evening while we were on stage playing a set on a crowded Saturday night, I see Doug come through the door, walk straight across the floor in front of the stage right over to the new manager an "off the boat" Irish guy named Collum-something and just straight on punch the guy right in the nose. No hesitation and no warning “bam”. Cullum saw him coming and was leaning, one arm against a doorway, looking pretty smug just before Doug knocked that look off his face but good. Down goes Cullum! Down goes Cullum! But he was back up as Doug was walking out the door. That was the first shot.

Then there were a couple of times we would come out of The Bog after a show and there was a dump truck sized pile of broken asphalt dumped in the parking lot entrance. We had to slowly drive off the high curbs to get out. This happened one other time when I was there along with the occasional burning automobile which was almost a cliché in those days.
But eventually something good broke for Doug. The owner of Bunnratty’s, a notorious yet prominent Boston club located in Cambridge was going to retire or something like that and asked Doug if he could run the place on an "option to buy" arrangement. But things went downhill fast for Doug as he was off to the worst start in Boston Rock history when he announced that he was going to re-name the venue, “The Coconut Grove”!

Yes, it’s true. Doug apparently had no idea that it was actually against the law in Boston ever to name another establishment “Coconut Grove”, ever since the worst fire in the city’s history occurred there on November 28th 1942 killing 491 people in a sudden flash of flame and smoke and is listed as one of America’s Great Disasters right in the same pages as the Johnstown Flood, the Dust Bowl and the fucking Hindenburg! This Doug did not know. So not everybody can be a historian, right?
Anyway, Doug’s idea makes front page news on both Boston newspapers and after being personally denounced by the Mayor of Boston, Doug relents and decides to call the place “The Melody Lounge” which was bad enough since the original Coconut Grove sign also listed the “Melody Lounge” after its name. But it all didn't last that long after that.

The “retired” owner of Bunratty’s decides he’s going to un-retired and he took the club back and tossed Doug and the nefarious crew he had as an entourage at the time back into the depths.
During this time The Bog wasn't doing too well either. The day after our New Year’s Eve gig, the City Licensing Board walked in and shut the place down. The story was that The Bog hadn't filed their liquor license renewal in time for the new year. Either that or it was just a naked shakedown by the city. Either way the city closed the place for a month until the proper “paperwork” was filed. But The Bog never recovered that one month lost revenue. It was too big a hill to climb over. They hung on for a while but closed before the end of the next year.

The place lay empty but then became a day care center for a spell before being razed.
Doug Mellon moved out of Massachusetts and was running a club up in Nashua, NH for a few years. Last I heard he had moved again, this time to Rhode Island to try to get another rock club going. That is where the trail ends.

Epilogue:
We had some great times at Green Street Station both as performers and spectators but I would like to mention that my most cherished musical memory happened while we were playing all those Sundays at The Bog of Allen as The World Renowned Rhythmmen! One Sunday evening the aforementioned local celeb Dave Roy himself walks in and asked to sing a few songs with the band. Make no mistake, this was a high honor! So we ran through a list of tunes we all knew like Elvis’ “Little Sister”, Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love”, Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City” etc. until we get to “Secret Agent Man”. Dave  says to me “Yeah, I know the song, what’s the first line again?” So I says “You know, There’s a Man who lives a life of danger…?” “Oh yeah” Dave says, “I got it.” So we jump into the song and Dave sings that same line over and over through the entire song ending with the chorus “Life of Danger Man! Life of Danger Man! He lives a life of danger; he’s life of danger man!” Perfectly in time with the music and people were rolling, it was so funny. It was a great moment. Who would've known that Dave Roy didn't know the words to “Secret Agent”?

At the end of a most memorable evening Dave suggested that since The Bog only had a one o’clock liquor license, that we should go down the street and “take over” The Midway Café which closes an hour later. We still had to load out so Dave went on ahead of us and when we got to The Midway a little while later, no Dave Roy. So I ask Dave Balerna if he had seen Dave Roy and he tells me; “You wouldn't believe it, Dave Roy takes four steps into the place and passes out cold!”

And that, boys and girls, is Rock & Roll.




2 comments:

  1. Great story here! Loved the short cool run of Green Street, both when it became "hip" and the slow run out of hipness for the Boston rock thing. They also had great food there in the day. I saw Cool McCool a few times, and Uncalled For, who had Mike on guitar. He passed away a couple of years ago. Change happens, but it is not always good.

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  2. I grew up up the street from there & caught Gwar(!) there one night. Also played a couple of open mic's on drums, and saw my friend's band, The Eels, on more than one occassion. Mostly I recall getting blitzed off my gourd, thanks to the walkability factor.

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