Total Pageviews

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Boston Rock Clubs of the 1980s: TT the Bears Place

TT the Bear's Place had it's final shows on the evening of July 25, 2015. They have now closed their doors forever. Whether it's a testament to their location, their business model, for what it was, or sheer luck that they lasted as long as they did when other clubs went out, I don't know.

Located on 10 Brookline St in Central Square just off the corner with Mass Ave, TT the Bears Place or better known as “TT’s” is one of only a select few rock clubs that was part of the Boston original music scene in the 1980s that is still in business. Johnny Ds is another.

Places like the Plough & Stars were open at the time but decidedly NOT rock clubs. Not many rock and roll bars survived for long in the land of “Soda & Lime” which is how I describe Cambridge, which certainly was not a town with a reputation for beer drinkers. You would be better off to open a Tall Man’s clothing shop in Tokyo than a rock club in Cambridge, MA.  

At the time, as I can recall, there was anywhere between 14 to16 original rock and roll venues open at any one time in Boston. Some of these were: Jonathan Swifts, TTs, Jack’s, The Rat, Storyville, The Insquare Men’s Bar, The Channel, Green St. Station in J.P., Club III in Somerville, Bunratty’s, The Paradise, Johnny Ds, Harper’s Ferry, Chet’s Last Call, O’Brians and Ed Burke’s in J.P. There seemed to be no lack of places to play and many of the most popular acts like Til Tuesday, Berlin Airlift, Scruffy the Cat, City Thrills, Robin Lane, The Del Fuegos, The Dogmatics, The Stompers and The Neighborhoods we out playing a couple of nights a week. These bands were tight as anything out there since they were working so much.

Our band, Cool McCool, played TT’s maybe about a dozen times in the 6 years we banged around the Boston music scene. We started on a Tuesday of course but never really worked our way into the place past Thursday. You have to draw in this business and although most shows were well attended, we never could pack the place like they always insisted.

We were part of the RosBury Sound (Roslindale/West Roxbury) group of bands of which ourselves, Uncalled For, Stop Calling Me Frank, The Visigoths and The Infections were the better known and it was always a struggle to get people from that area into Cambridge on, say, a Wednesday for an 11 o’clock set. Hell, it wasn’t like they made it easy for you since it was cheaper to get into the Channel, the beer was more expensive there and they didn’t give you a lot of time to play.

A 45 minute set was the most you were ever going to get and many times you didn’t get that. A 30 minute set was always a looming possibility. You just never knew how many bands were going to show up on your night. And if you couldn’t make the 6 o’clock sound check, you were bumped to the last band to step on stage on a work night but none of this was an uncommon practice on the “New Music” or in other words: “ No Money” scene. Not exactly the stuff of legends.

Come to think of it, I really can’t recall anybody of note playing there beyond an occasional Barrance Whitfield and Pajama Slave Dancers double bill. No, TT the Bear’s Place’s stock and trade seemed to come from beating on Boston’s newest bands to bring a drinking draw since they’d give you a gig to start playing somewhere.  Chet’s was at least a square deal but if Chet wouldn’t book you, the next step on the ladder to the bottom that had its own sound system was TT the Bear’s Place.

We could never figure out where all the money TT’s was fleecing the bands out of was going except perhaps up the noses of management. It was six bucks to get in to see your friends play for 30 minutes and the beers, Bud bottles, were like $2.50 and they hardly paid the bands anything in comparison to the draw. I don’t think we ever walked out of there with anything more than $50.00 for the band with 2 free drinks each. If you said anything they’d just tell you to go play someplace else. Needless to say, I was never a fan of that business model.

Musically it wasn’t a bad place to play. The people were cool, the sound was good, people seemed to enjoy our stuff and we managed to get our underage entourage past the doormen (again) with that old standby, “the Roadie Ruse”. But there were a few things that I remember happened there:

At one show James, our guitar player, was having a hard time keeping the guitar in tune. This sort of thing didn’t happen all the time but there are some days you just don’t hear so well and the tuner isn't helping in a room full of chatting rock & roll fans. Anyway the soundman had enough of that after the second song and left his station, took a running leap up onto the front of the stage, takes James’s guitar, tunes it, hands it back to him without a word and goes back to his business as soundman. Then with a quick look to see if everyone was ready we jump straight into the next song on the setlist like nothing happened.

To this day James does not remember the incident. He was probably more concerned with losing the extra minute since we never seemed to have enough of those when we played TT’s.

Another time we were less than a half hour from the first band going on when a woman at the bar right across from me just straight up, mid-sentence, eyes rolling into the head, over backwards, passes out cold (warning: if you’re going to take “downers” don’t chase them with a shot!). So they call an ambulance but two show up coming from opposite ends of the street (Brookline St. is a one-way), causing a totally messed up traffic jam with the drivers out of the vehicles arguing which one is going to take the lady and delaying anything musical from happening for over an hour. I think we all got 20 minutes that night even though the right amount of bands had shown up. It figures.

After 1990, when I got out of the Boston “Originals” rooms and into the GB circuit, I never set foot in TT’s ever again. To quote James recently about the place: “They weren’t that great but they never totally pissed us off and for the Boston music scene in those days that was good enough.”

As for me, Chet’s, Green Street, The Channel, I miss being at and playing those places. TT’s, I miss not at all.

No comments:

Post a Comment