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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Boston Rock Clubs of the 1980s: Scotch & Sounds

The best Boston rock club that wasn’t in Boston was named Scotch & Sounds. Anybody who was anybody in Boston played there and even some big name New York groups you wouldn’t believe played there.
My friends Bill and Steve loved this place and we went there frequently during its run in the 1980s I’d have to say I saw some great shows there. Bill and Steve weren’t so interested in the music as there were in all the new chics each band would draw. The Sounds had hot and cold running chics! Bill and Steve were “regulars” and were on a first name basis with the entire staff which meant when I was with them there was no cover and the likelihood of being arrested if and when an altercation took place was low. This came in handy on more than one occasion.

Scotch & Sounds resided at the Westgate Lanes bowling plaza at the Westgate Mall in Brockton, Massachusetts, about 22 miles from Kenmore Square which, to me, was always the epicenter of the Boston Music Universe of the 80s. the legendary Rathskeller was there, the two most popular discotheques in town, Celebrations and Narcissus were there just across the square from "The Rat" where the BU bookstore now resides. The Paradise rock club sat just up Comm Ave and Lansdowne Street was a short walk around the corner where other Boston clubs like The Metro, Spit and that "$5 dungeon" called 9 Landsdowne St all resided in a row. There was no other place you had to be to catch a band from Boston.
Except for Scotch & Sounds.

This place was too different to be in Boston but they loved booking Boston bands. It was actually a NICE PLACE to go. You could even dress up and not be out of place there and people did. It was a big room, had a thoughtfully lit interior, tables with lights, lots of glass and wood, a nice bar, an open center placed stage, a good sized dance floor and while writing this now, I don’t think they ever had a night when I was there that the sound was bad.  They had door men, a coat lady, waitresses and they served a stiff drink in a real glass. It was a classy joint in those classic cocaine days of the mid-to-late 1980s, a real nightclub where people came to meet and see what they otherwise would have had to travel for. They also had a police detail for when things got out of hand. If there was a full moon, it was best you get out in the parking lot first to watch the fireworks.
Robin Lane and the Chartbusters played there often. I was told this was after Robin had previously left the band to go back to California to be “discovered” and apparently she wasn’t so she was back and the band dropped what they were into to reform. I had never seen them previously so I don’t know if they were different from before but judging by the Scotch & Sounds shows, although well played, lacked the intensity of their best selling albums that had been out for about 6 years by that time.

Part of the problem could have been that a few times they were put on the same night with the Neighborhoods who would make anybody else following them look low-fi. Having won the inaugeral Rock & Roll Rumble in Boston in 1979, I've seen plenty of "Hoods gigs and I can say with all honesty I’ve never seen them play or sound better than when they played The Sounds. One time they were opening for Til Tuesday and there were tables and chairs already set up on the dance floor for the headliner's crowd which drove the ‘Hoods lead man, David Minehan, to announce to his audience who were looking for room to dance, “I don’t give a shit, come up and dance on the stage!” And they did and it was great! There were so many people pogoing on and around the stage while the band weaved through them playing, it was a riot! They blew anybody else on the bill off the stage when they played Scotch & Sounds and that included Robin Lane and Til’ Tuesday.

David Johansen of the New York Dolls played Scotch & Sounds with his band not long before he became “Buster Poindexter”, had his big hit “Hot, Hot, Hot” and was in the movie “Scrooged”. He looked and dressed like a regular guy and put on a real professional show and the Dolls hit “Personality Crisis” was a memorable highlight.
There was a local southern rock cover band that played  The Sounds regularly called “Midnight Traveler” and they would play “Whipping Post”, “Rambling Man”,  “Freebird” and any southern rock song you can think of note for note like the record. I wasn’t into cover acts much at the time but they really jammed and were the best southern rock band I've ever seen before or since. Other than that, where they came from or where they went, I know nothing about. 

The Boston band The Lines played the Sounds as did the The Drive and if anybody didn’t know, The Lines were a popular Boston band and I remember WBCN had put their picture up on a bill board in Kenmore Sq for awhile but there was some sort of split and some members left to form The Drive. The Drive was the far more dynamic and popular act after the split, had catchier tunes and released a big Boston hit called “Doing the Countdown”. The Lines had sort of disappeared by that time. I know for a fact that the guitarist/singer Jaime Walker and the bass player Paul Kochanski are still out there as part of The Swinging Steaks, an original country band and having seen them play a number of times, they’re really good.
Charlie Farren played the club regularly with both his post-Joe Perry Project acts, The Enemy and Farrenheit. There weren't many "hooks you could hang your hat on" and I couldn't tell you one name of any of his songs but Charlie Ferren was wildly popular and his bands were fucking LOUD!

Jon Butcher was another regular and his live performance of “Ocean in Motion” I can still see if I close my eyes. Anybody who’s every caught one of his shows knows how dynamic a musician he was in those days and he really worked the stage and the crowd.
Berlin Airlift played Scotch & Sounds of course! And I was there every time. One memorable moment I can think of was one time Rick Berlin asked the crowd, “Did you ever throw up a little but catch it in your mouth and swallow it? Well that just happened to me.” A Berlin Airlift gig would find Rick playing the keyboards, singing and dancing and fronting one of the tightest acts Boston ever produced. Two keyboards, bass, drums, Steven Perry on guitar and everybody sang. Rick Berlin is certainly one of the most insightful lyricists to ever come out of the Boston music scene. And his tenor voice on “Can I Fall In Love?” would just rip your heart out. Steven Perry would bring 6 guitars to every show and was the first guitarist I ever saw who had guitars handed to him between songs. Just who the hell is this guy, needing a different guitar for a song? They were on a different level in my mind.

Arguably the biggest band to play the Sounds was John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band who sounded so much like Springsteen you wouldn’t believe but who also had those two Eddie & The Cruisers albums they recorded go triple PLATINUM and GOLD respectively and yeilding two number one hits (C.I.T.Y & Dark Side).  The Beaver Brown band was what I call one of those “12 year overnight sensations”. They had been gigging the East Coast regularly all those years and finally hit it big. Very professional act and they would come out and sound just like the record.
The Outlets and O Positive played the Sounds on a couple of occasions. Neither were memorable sets as I recall and they were "go get a beer and try to talk to chics" bands.

I don't know if anybody remembers the pop metal band L 88 but they had a big local hit with "I Want You" or rather "I...Want You". They played a couple of shows at the club and were both tight and entertaining. They didn't take themselves too seriously and looked every bit like they enjoyed their time on stage.

Digny Fingus of "Girl with the Curious Hand" fame played on at least one occasion that I can remember. Scotch & Sounds at most times had quite a diverse mix of patrons but my impression was that Fingus and the people that followed them somewhat weirded out the locals a little bit.

The Ramones played The Sounds near the end of their career and it was a mob-scene! Never saw a crowd that big in the place and it was most likely way over legal capacity. It was an impenetrable mob of Ramones fans and getting close to the stage wasn't going to happen unless you were prepared to fight for it.
Occasionally the Sounds would have a comedy night and none other than the late, great Sam Kinison himself did a show. He drank two bottles of champagne during his routine which included his Ethiopian jokes “If I could, I'd get a bunch of trailers and I'd take ‘em to where the food is! Look, this is SAND! Nothing grows here, asshole!” and he did his song he said he wrote about his ex-girlfriend, enough said.

I’m not 100% sure when Scotch & Sounds bit the big one but I believe it was around 1989. By then the owner, Mr. "I can’t remember his name” most likely succumbed to his habits and the club changed hands. As I recall, he was a classic nervous club owner who ran a club in one of the biggest cocaine trafficking areas in the state. There was a lot of Blow and the Bickford’s Breakfast Restaurant was always packed from 2 to 5 am after a full evening of music.
Yep, Scotch & Sounds was quite a place and it was quite a time.


  1. Thanks for the blog. I was actually the DJ there for 2 years!

  2. Midnight Traveler's lead singer/guitarist Eddie Rieck moved to South Florida and created a new band called Sierra Band...still going strong today, playing from Stuart to Palm Beach Gardens! Fun article to read, thank you.

    1. Debbie:
      Eddie and his group was Traveler(formerly Broadside), not the group Midnight Traveler. Followed them for yrs, even made up T shirts for my friends and the band.
      Will try to see Sierra Band when in S. Florida.

  3. PBS a local band opened up for the Hoods, The Fools and others

    They did a rendition of the MR Roger Song

  4. My hangout! Saw everyone there as well. FYI Ed Reick WAS indeed the lead singer of Midnight Traveler, they were friends and my father helped produce them.